Monday, 5 December 2011

2011 where did you go

Well that year went quickly! I've been assured by those older than me that the years do tend to go faster the older you get, certainly feels that way. I don't tend to look back to often or remember years specifically but 2011 will be a year to remember for independent bottlers. Demand has never been higher and supply has never been smaller. In particular old whiskies and anything (and I really mean anything) peaty have disappeared, gone, almost over night.

It would appear that the success of certain markets and in particular brands like Smokehead, have meant that the demand for Islay/peaty style whiskies has driven it out of the market. There was a time when Caol Ila was as available as any malt. Not so now. Even whiskies like Ledaig are so rarely available and of course demand such a premium...

I'm not going to moan about it too much though. I have always believed that Independent Bottlers should survive by bottling great whisky. Whether this comes from the largest grain distillery or the smallest malt distillery is irrelevant - it must be great. There will be those privileged independent bottlers who are able through sheer size to buy direct from the distillers but for the rest of us, we must seek out those unusual drams that make us what we are.

So what does this mean for 2012? Well, certainly from my wee organisation, I will take great pleasure in bottling some Fettercairn (for the first time), Glendronach (I managed to get one), some astonishing young malts (5-7 years old) and a couple of outstanding old casks. I may also break with my own tradition and bottle a grain whisky. So, things are different, but I am still looking forward very much to bottling some great whiskies in 2012 and hope to meet you sometime along the way.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Whisky Show, London

I have to report back on this. I went last year and thoroughly enjoyed it and enjoyed it even more this year. I started with No 1 Drinks trying an '81 Karuizawa and Ichiro's Malt both of which were superb - always good to catch up with Marcin too (he once saved me from making a very disastrous mistake... a story for another time). From there I went to The Whisky Show stand that had some extraordinary drams - my pick from the 5 I tried was the Lochside Single Blend (Adelphi also had one and the two could not have been more different).

I tried a unique Balvenie (not really worth telling you about that as you'll never get to try it), a super '71 Benriach which, for me, totally eclipsed the '71 Glendronach. The Glenrothes John Ramsay was also very good but a touch out of my price range. The show really does give you a perspective on value!

The upstairs is worth a mention as there were some excellent food pairings and I sadly did not have enough time to try all of them. Suffice to say that Cashel Blue cheese (made in Ireland) is superb with a Port Charlotte (and if you can do it without spilling, put them in your mouth at the same time). There was a yogurt-based Indian dish that was being paired with... yeah, you guessed it, Amrut! Didn't have time to try that but was told it was a real revelation (good or bad, don't know?!)

Back on the main floor, the Glenfarclas Chairman's Reserve (where have I heard that name before...) was incredible (thanks Kate!) although you may need a few bob to buy one of those. The Shackleton blend was also surprisingly good (and I even told RP as much) - forget the gimmick and get a glimpse of what a blend tasted like 100 years ago (most intriguing part is that the Dalmore provided the peat-smoke to the blend - may we be getting a peated Dalmore in future?).

Things are obviously a little hazy of all that I tried but I have to give a huge shout out to Dr Sam Simmons (of Balvenie fame - or is that the other way around). Sam and I must have very similar tastes. He suggested I tried a Scotch Malt Whisky Society Glenugie. I had previously been a member but left the SMWS 10 years ago after been treated akin to a turd that had made its way into the Vaults in Leith on the bottom of a 'real' members shoe.

The two chaps on the stand, who treated me like Royalty (perhaps because I was no longer a member) forced me, really, to try about 6 of their whiskies and every one was absolutely cracker-jack - but the pick was the Glenugie and I immediately signed up and bought two bottles (and now wish I had bought everything they had). I am in good company here as the world-renowned, and nicest whisky-blogger there is, Serge Valentin gave this Glenugie 92 (I don't usually score but I would give it 95 if I did). Sadly the member's pack included 3 piss-poor whiskies out of 4 but I was not overly-annoyed having got my two bottles of the Glenugie!

All in all, this is THE Whisky Show, certainly for the UK. In fact if you can only do 2 whisky shows in a year and you are whisky mad then the Whisky Fair in Limburg and The Whisky Show in London are the only 2 candidates (note I said 'shows' - for festivals seek out The Speyside Whisky Festival). As soon as the date goes live for next year I will be pencilling it in my diary and I reckon that the boys at The Whisky Exchange may have to have add a session on Sunday.

My only real gripe is that I had so much fun I completely, and rather stupidly, forgot to buy the Kh1 - Elements of Islay... D'oh!!!!!

So well done to Sukhinder and the team (nice to meet up with Tim again too)! See you next year if not sooner.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Forgot what I was going to say

Its been quite a while since my last blog so decided I'd better get my writing cap on. This year, so far, has been fantastic for many reasons but from a business point of view, I think my whiskies are finally gaining a bit of wanted interest and respect from those that report back on such things. Not that there wasn't any before but I believe I am now firmly on the map as an independent bottler - gone are the comments such as 'I've heard of Creative Whisky but never heard about or tried any of their whiskies' etc.

I am also pleased at a very real shift in the buying public with regard to independent bottlers. Not sure how or why this has come about but there is as much talk now about a single cask bottling of Braeval or Teaninich as there is about a new Port Ellen or Ardbeg. I have always been enthusiastic about my lesser-known bottlings but it seems the buying public are now just as keen.

This is good for a whole host of reasons but the Most important one being the availability (or lack) of the more famous malts. My next bottling will include my first cask of Deanston, Auchroisk and Glenallachie - and they are all, for me, stunning (well of course they are otherwise I wouldn't bottle them). I get a much bigger kick out of someone oohing and aahing over a distillery like these rather than an Ardbeg or Macallan. (I suppose I count it as a little victory for the independent bottlers).

So what is in store for The Creative Whisky Co? Well, several things actually. I have a wholly new product on the horizon (and not even a whisky) as well as a change in production. Hopefully both changes will be positive for the future and for helping create what the public want.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Vulgar, tasteless, shameful - yes, but all part of the game isn't it?

(Stolen without permission from the Macallan press release)
So the Macallan LaUnique '57 is worth £500 gazillion and the Dalmore St Trinian's has gone for Twelfty bazillion Dollars and we musn't forget the Glenlivet 70yo worth a paltry central-African country's GDP.

Does it annoy me? Yes, Should it annoy me? No. Am I going to join in? Of course.

The whisky industry is a luxury industry and therefore no different from all of the others. You don't have to buy a Bentley Continental, you can buy a Ford Focus (an ST if you really want to push the boat out). You don't have to buy a Glengoyne 40yo, you can buy an Aberlour a'Bunadh.

However, there are people out there who can afford a Bentley and the Glengoyne and for a company to flourish in the luxury world, it is daft not to create those products available to the privileged few.

So when you see one of the below for sale, don't hate me, it's not personal; it's just business. I'll promise though to keep the prices on planet Earth.

(One day I need to get Mark C. down here to take some proper photos)
[For those interested, the above are odd bottles kept over the past 7 years - left over from bottling special casks for customers all over the world. Each decanter is unique - being 1 of 1 - but the boxes are even rarer considering there are currently only 6 in the world, are hand made from English oak etc etc. For those really interested, there is the following available currently: Highland Park '81 Port cask matured (not finished), Macallan '80, Laphroaig '87, Glenglassaugh '86, Strathisla '69 and a few others...]

PS - for those really, really interested email me:

PPS - it won't happen again. Honest!

PPS - I will pesonally vouch for the uber-premium, limited, awesome, 'take-your-breath-away', stunning, inspiring, must-have, collectable... I will personally vouch none of those words appear on the label. (It does state 'Exclusive' but only as part of my 'Exclusive Malts' range... too late to change that).

What I am currently listening to:
Good to have the boys back and a stunning album to boot. Recommended to anyone who likes Rock.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

A whisky world without independent bottlers?

Duncan Taylor hand bottling one of their single cask whiskies.
I was asked at the Danish Whisky Messen ('festival') in Kolding whether there was a long-term future for independent bottlers. That's a tough question actually. Short-term, yes, but long-term? For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, independent bottlers are companies who buys casks of whisky and bottle them under their own label and more often than not use the distillery name to identify the contents.

There is a lot more to this than a simple blog so you will have to excuse me simplifying the discussion. In a nutshell, the big companies do not like independent bottlers, and even the small distillers, in fact anyone with a distillery, does not like IBs. IBs feed off the reputations of the distilleries to a certain extent (ask anyone which cask is going to sell faster, a Glentuachers or a Macallan - easily the Macallan and that is simply due to reputation) and the distillers see this is as an intrusion to their market share or niche.

There are a number distillers who are also independent bottlers; Springbank/Glengyle, Edradour, Bruichladdich, Benromach & Bladnoch (and of course Moet Hennessey owners of 2 distilleries and also owners of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society). The interesting thing that occurs when an IB becomes a distiller is they immediately prevent any of the whisky from their new distillery being sold to other IBs. Double standards? Well yes and no. Would I do the same? If I could afford to, hell yes.

And here is the overriding issue; if this becomes common place then what future for the IB? Should there even be IBs?


At the moment, we have a real mix of casks being bottled from a multitude of distilleries. Never in the history of whisky has the choice been greater and this is in a large part due to IBs. It is annoying to the large companies who spend millions each year placing their brand only to find that the best scores for their whisky go to a cask bottled by an IB or a really bad cask gets out there and affects the reputation.

St Magdalene Distillery, Linlithgow closed 1983
(To buy bottles of St Magdalene click here)
I personally can't see this availability from IBs continuing. For one, very good reason, certain stocks will simply no longer be available. In the next few years we will see the last of Port Ellen, Brora, St Magdalene, Rosebank, Glen Mhor, Littlemill etc etc. The total number of distilleries with whisky available is going to get considerably smaller (about 80-ish). Of those, certain distilleries never release casks; Oban, Lagavulin, Talisker, Springbank, Glenmorangie, Ardbeg etc. (In some of these cases it is simply because they can sell, usually as a single malt, all they can make and therefore have no need to sell or swap casks).

Distillers are also now protecting brands that were otherwise quite readily available. Whiskies like Aberlour, Glenlivet, Benromach, Bruichladdich & Macallan are going to become quite scarce and command a hefty premium.

So how many distilleries does that leave the IBs for the future? Hard to say, but I would guess in the region of 40. Sounds like a lot, but it isn't. In my 10 years working for IBs (including my own company) I estimate that I have bottled whisky from nearly 100 different distilleries, narrowing the choice down to 40 will make a huge impact on the longevity of IBs.

I don't want to end on a complete downer though. I think the IBs have a hugely important part to play and a part I wish the distillers would pay heed to. Take Amrut Distillery, makers of probably the finest Indian whisky there is. Until Blackadder bottled one of their casks (specifically chosen by Robin Tucek who has at least 20 years experience in picking single casks) which was given exceedingly high praise and marks from the Malt Maniacs no-one had really heard of them. Now they are on everyone's lips. (

Ardbeg, silent for a number of years, was almost completely written off had it not been for the slow but steady stream of casks bottled by the IBs. Once it had re-opened by Macdonald & Muir it was and is a huge success - thanks to the continued interest made possible by IBs. What was the thanks the IBs got - availability of casks was taken away.

The IBs have their fingers on the pulse of the malt whisky zealot; they can bottle casks of whisky that leave big distillers scratching their heads, whilst the malt drinker purrs in delight. I will relate a small story of this; I was invited on the Malts Advocate Course at Royal Lochnagar. We tasted a few casks that were deemed unbottleable. One of them was an ex-Sherry butt and it was superb. To the large distiller though, it was not within their peramaters of acceptability - didn't fit in their 'recipe'. To me, a malt drinker, it was pure heaven. Some of the so-called 'off-notes' were what made it different and exciting.

IBs are also the main draw for regular festival-goers. Imagine a whisky festival without IBs - dull thought isn't it! Imagine the Malt Maniac Awards withouth IBs - very dull. Grain whisky would still be completely ignored if it wasn't for IBs (and you have to include Compass Box in this as they are also an IB). IBs spread the word, keep interest alive, bottle small quantities for clubs, societies, fairs, charities etc (try and get Diageo to bottle 100 bottles for your next whisky festival?!).

Until the distillers realise this and allow greater access to whisky (rather than a select and priveleged few) the future for IBs is certainly murky and I hope you will agree that the whisky world will be much less interesting without Independent Bottlers.

I'm currently drinking:

...actually, nothing, I'm giving my body a rest after some over-indulgence recently.

I'm currently reading:

You're either a fan or you're not. Later on in the month I'll be writing a blog on why I am such a fan of Stephen Fry. Early days in the book but so far loving it.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Can Support Companies Smell Fear?

There is something about how when you're in a rush, last mintute etc, the support companies around you can almost sense this and add to your dilemna. It's as if urgency has its own pheromone and anyone near it suddenly becomes inept, slow, rude or just plain dumb.

Take DHL for example. Normally a very reliable and proven company. If I have an urgent parcel though, they will pick it up at 5.29pm (stating they always pick up between 9am and 5.30pm - so an entire day is wasted waiting and stressing), they'll forget to leave a tracking number, lose all trace of the parcel if you phone customer services etc etc. Take Windows Explorer, you can guarantee that when you are putting in your credit card details to book the last seat on a flight that Windows will suddenly panic and close (quite often to protect you from a website that you've used a hundred times before).

Of course, when there isn't any urgency, your passport arrives weeks early, your money is in your account the same day and the flight isn't delayed 'cause someone got drunk.

Life, I guess, has a way of reminding you how unimportant you are, and support companies have a way of reminding you of all of those swear words you'd forgotten.

Sometimes you feel like the cat...

Currently Drinking:

This weekend I'll mostly be drinking whisky in Groningen, North Holland. And next weekend I'll be at WhiskyMessen in Kolding, Denmark... tis a hard life sometimes!

Currently reading:

Starts almost exactly as 'Lustrum' (also by Robert Harris) but so far so good. Will have finished it by the time I get back from Holland (& Denmark).

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

A ramble on remembrance...

Tough to remember the last run-of-the-mill dram I had. Tough to recall, in detail, most of them. The problem is, I suppose, that we remember the greats and the disastrous. I can recall the very best drams, the Springbank's from the 60s and 70s; the Glenfarclas 40yo; the Glenfiddich Aged over 40; the Springbank 1918; the... well, you get the message. Equally, I can remember the Old Rhosdhu; the High Commissioner; the (so-called) Thai Whisky (paint-thinner more like). In between these drams, everything can get a bit hazy.

Its not our fault, we can't help but remember the biggest and best and the poorest or worst. Describe to someone your favourite dish and its easy, now try describing to someone brocoli. I can go into great detail why I hate Sprouts but have difficulty waxing lyrical about a bowl of porridge.

There are currently anything up to 50,000 different bottlings of whisky available in the world. Yep, 50,000! What portion of this staggering amount of whisky falls into the 'memorable' category? A very small percentage (remembering that for Scotch whisky, only about 8% is bottled as single malt whisky, the rest as blended) - maybe 0.2% or perhaps as much as 0.5%. That means there's an awful lot of 'ok' whisky out there you're going to have to wade through before you get to the top or the bottom of the pile.

And here's the real problem for you: no-one can help you find the best or avoid the worst because it is completely personal. For me this makes it really hard to pick casks and I can only subject each and every cask sample I taste to one important question; 'would I buy a bottle of this'. As I often quip in my tastings, there are only 2 important things when sampling a whisky;

Do I like it?
Will I buy it?

So, more often than not you will find yourself commenting upon a whisky as being 'ok'. Occasionally it will be outstanding and memorable and hopefully rarely, it will be poor and therefore also memorable. The real fun, is finding your way!

What have been your best and worst?

Currently Drinking:
This arrived in the post today so was opened straight away. Smoky Marshmallow - another example of the extraordinary peated Bunnahabhain. Giving the rest of Islay a run for their money! Sue-poyb!

Currently listening to:

A truly classic album and the one that kept Rush in business, well, for the rest of their lives. Worth buying just for 'Passage to Bangkok'.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The Australian Pink Floyd Show... pink kangaroos?

I'm reduced to this. Thankfully not alone though. Born about 20 years too late for my taste in music, many of my musical heros are geriatric or deceased (or indeterminably, one of the two). So it is often tribute bands that offer me the 'live' experience my music deserves. The APFS (I'm not writing it out each time I mention them...) have been going now for around 20 years and are the closest you're going to get a real Pink Floyd experience.

I first saw them over 12 years ago and they have come a loooong way since then. Close your eyes now and only the truest of fans will miss Gilmour's unmistakable (and clearly unmimmickable) voice and the fluency of play that can only come from the original artist. At times though, even the most ardent fan has to acknowledge how good the APFS are. Sorrow, Time and Wish You Were Here are the clear stand out tracks from the current set-list (which incredibly includes a number from Animals - when was the last time you heard one of those tracks live?).

Tears were being shed through Wish You Were Here as everyone in the small Hammersmith Apollo Theatre joined forces to drown out the band, singing in complete harmony, mournfully watching the images of Syd Barret and Rick Wright (both now departed from our world) and pictures of the rest of the band in their youth and more recent. We were all wishing they could be with us, perhaps not to be on stage but more to experience their legacy. They would have been touched, no doubt.

The new 3D element was unnecessary and a slight distraction if anything, but complaints are hard to find. The new lead singer, taking many of Gilmour's parts was the campest Gilmour I've ever heard, but then he did not miss a note, word or emphasis and how do you copy Gilmour's voice?

A great night with great fans and a great band paying homage to a great band.

What I'm currently drinking:
...well, I've still got some left after St Patrick's day...

Currently listening to:
The album that convinced me there was more to the Boss than just being Born in the USA etc. A great album with some outstanding songs from a fella that can apparently write songs in his sleep. (If you get the chance, check out how many songs he's written for other people!)

Friday, 18 March 2011

'The Fountainhead' a quick review

As a huge Rush fan (more on them another day, lots more...) I've just finished Ayn Rand's 'The Fountainhead'. Neil Peart, Rush's lyrcist and drummer often mentions 'The Fountainhead' and 'Anthem' as major influences on his writing.

Ayn Rand, for those of you who don't know and can't be bothered to google, believed in egotism and the power of one rather than collective efforts (she opposed fascism, communism, well nearly all of the other 'isms' apart from 'egotism').

'The Fountainhead' is the story of 4 main characters; 2 architects; 1 slut and a captalist, media-mogul (think Rupert Murdoch, but 20-30 years younger). The 2 architects are juxtaposed; one, Howard Roark, is brilliant (gifted perhaps) whilst the other, Peter Keating, is also brilliant but a plagiarist. The slut (Dominique, named after her ability to fall like a domino on men) manages to marry all of the main characters simply because she has to. It is impossible to like any of the characters, their actions being almost foretold by fate or legend. Half of the book is spent describing how characters 'did not need to express their desires as they knew what the other was thinking' (not a direct quote but close enough).

At first you find yourself fascinated by the Howard Roark character until you realise he is an unbelievable, fantastic ideal - how Rand would like all men to be I guess. That's at about page 30 with another 700 pages to go.

The main problem with the book is that it didn't start me thinking... aren't you supposed to question your values, beliefs and thoughts when reading so-called profound books? Well, not with this one.

The greatest compliment I can give this book is that I finished it, although towards the end of it, I was losing the will to read on. Oh and there's a movie of this too (not sure how they made an interesting movie of one woman sleeping with three men...)

Recommended if you like long monologues, lots of 'unspoken things', outdated philosophical twaddle and a complete lack of real character development or explanation.

Not recommended to anyone wanting to read a good book.

And I still have 'Anthem' by Ayn Rand to read...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Welcome to my blog

I'm a bit late. I realise that. I tend to be in life but it doesn't usually stop me. I was late finishing school (20); then University; late in writing my Malt Whisky Guide (Michael Jackson had already written 4), late in becoming an independent bottler and definitely way behind every other human and their dog in starting a blog.

Problem is, see, I'm one of those annoying gits who has something to say on everything (whether its p.c. or not or whether it is an informed opinion or not) so I've put off starting a blog as my mouth (or in this case, fingers) can get me in trouble. I can't put it off any longer though...

I work from home; alone. Sympathy please, I'll need it now before you know what I do for a living. Working from home is GREAT - I get to see my kids more than most other dads and can turn on the XBox during my lunch break. It has several drawbacks though, mainly interaction with other humans and boredom. Most of my work is done by email so my time actually spent talking to another human is very limited... hence the need for a blog.

So this blog is my chance to communicate on the mundane, to rant, rave, discuss (with myself), reveal and eventually recant on everything that 'normal' people get to talk about in a 'normal' office environment. Expect a lot about Sport, Music and Whisky as these are my three biggest passions. Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions.

Currently Drinking:
Finishing off the last of my bottle of the WWW Forum Tamdhu. I've really noticed a Huge change in the character of this one as the bottle has slowly emptied.

Currently listening to:

A real return to form for the Durham crooner - was really surprised to find the standout track (Song To The Siren) was written by Tim Buckley (Jeff Buckley's father). Recommended if you like any of the latter Roxy Music stuff, Simple Minds, adult pop etc - and definitely check out some Tim Buckley on YouTube -