21st Century MaltsSeptember 12, 2011 By: Robert Plotkin
Glorious New Drams From Scotland
When it comes to marketing Scotch, intrigue sells. A superior malt with a compelling story line sells better than one draped in medals. Consumers have become jaded to marketing superlatives, such as “oldest,” “rarest,” or “most expensive.” Most people would rather be intrigued than impressed. Tempting clients with some engaging insights into a particular whisky and the decision to purchase is a foregone conclusion.
It’s all tied up with the sense of discovery, of which intrigue is an essential element. Sharing insider information with a whisky aficionado is an irresistible hook, instilling the person with a sense of ownership in the brand that won’t soon be forgotten. In fact, there are few things more gratifying to one’s ego than passing along insider information about a whisky to friends and associates.
Offering your clientele a discriminating selection of blends and single malts requires that you market a balanced offering, one that best represents the varieties of styles of each Scotch-producing region.
This past year or so has featured the release of new and exciting blends and malts, each nudging the envelope and expanding the horizon. Instead, line your shelves with genuinely intriguing whiskies. The following honor roll provides an excellent start.
New Highland Releases
Located in the northern part of Scotland, the Highlands is the largest Scotch-producing region and the home to a majority of the country’s distilleries. The region’s peat-laced waters and cool, moisture-laded air is perfectly suited for making classic malts. The heartland of the region is the Speyside. Its malts are known for their sophistication, elegance and complexity.
The Glenlivet is the bestselling range of single malt Scotch in the United States, and it may well remain that way with the 2010 expansion of their Speyside distillery. Issued to commemorate the reopening of the facility, The Glenlivet Founders Reserve was created using the same techniques that would have been employed when the distillery first opened in 1824. The limited release, 21-year-old malt is non-chill filtered and bottled at cask strength.
Also new to the range is The Glenlivet Nàdurra, a single malt aged for 16 years in ex-bourbon American oak casks and bottled at cask strength (57.2% alcohol). The Glenlivet range also includes category leader The Glenlivet 12 Years Old, 18 Years Old, Archive (21 years old), and Cellar Collection vintages 1983, 1959 and 1967.
The Speyside district of the Highlands is also the home of the Balvenie Distillery. The Balvenie range is a compilation of five artisan expressions. Their flagship is the Balvenie PortWood 21 Years Old Single Malt; a whisky double barreled, first in traditional oak and then 30-year-old, oak port pipes. The wine influences every aspect of the whisky.
The Balvenie distillery has released a series of cask strength marvels of late that includes The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, a 14-year-old malt finished in Caribbean rums barrels, The Balvenie Madeira Cask, a 17-year-old malt finished in Madeira barrels, The Balvenie Sherry Cask, a 17-year-old malt finished exclusively in Oloroso Sherry oak barrels and The Balvenie Vintage 1975 Cask.
Tucked away by the banks of the River Alness in the Northern Highlands, The Dalmore is one of the region’s best-kept secrets. The Dalmore 12 Years Old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is a malt comprised of whiskies aged in American white oak and Oloroso sherry casks.
The award-winning Dalmore Gran Reserva Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is aged 10 to 15 years in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks and American White Oak. The Dalmore 15 Years Old Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky is a blend of malts matured entirely in sherry wood, specifically Matusalem, Apostoles and Amoroso butts from Jerez de la Frontera. The distillery’s crowning achievement is The Dalmore 1263 King Alexander III, an expression comprised of malts matured in six different types of oak.
The vintage-dated Speyside single malts of The Glenrothes are highly sought after by collectors and aficionados alike. The first — vintage 1979 — was released in 1994 for the centennial anniversary of the distillery. Over the years, the distillery released 16 more vintage malts with The Glenrothes 1994 and 1998 currently on the market. Like their previous vintage malts, The Glenrothes ’94 and ’98 are slices of life never to be repeated.
The distillery also markets The Glenrothes Select Reserve Speyside Single Malt, a blend of malts matured in American oak and Spanish sherry casks. The ex-bourbon barrels lend lush vanilla and coconut character, while the sherry casks imbue the malt with spice and a resinous quality.
New Island Malts
There is no more memorable road on the voyage of discovery than the one leading to the adventurous malts of the Scottish islands.
One such franchise belongs to Highland Park from the island of Orkney, the northernmost distillery in the world. The microclimate of the isolated and wind-swept island is dominated by the North Sea and North Atlantic. Its U.S. portfolio includes seven expressions of Single Orkney Malts — the standard bearer 12 Year Old, the 15 Year Old, the limited-edition Highland Park 18 Year Old and the 25 Year Old Highland Park. The latter is an unfiltered, cask strength (96.2 proof) whisky made with several malts over 35 years in age. The distillery’s highly acclaimed Orcadian series now features three vintage bottlings: 1964, 1968 and 1970.
The Isle of Jura is in the Inner Hebrides off the eastern coast of Scotland. For 300 years, the island’s lone distillery has produced whiskies using mountain water and lightly peated malt. Isle of Jura Superstition features a blend of peated whiskies and older, traditionally finished malts. The range now also includes a 21 Year Old Single Malt and Isle of Jura Prophecy, a 92 proof blend of old heavily peated malts finished in Oloroso sherry butts and bottled unfiltered in its natural state.
When it comes to adventurous malts, the Scottish island of Islay reigns supreme. The isle’s oldest distillery is Bowmore, which still crafts whiskies with its own floor-dried malted barley peat-enriched water from the River Laggan. Their range in the United States includes Bowmore 12 Years Old (40% alcohol) and Bowmore Darkest Sherry Malt, which is aged 15 years and bottled at 43% alcohol. New to the portfolio is the Bowmore Tempest Small Batch Release No. 2, the second in a series of small batch releases, but the first offered in the United States. Bowmore Tempest (56% alcohol) is aged in first fill Bourbon casks for 10 years in the distillery’s famed vaults.
New Malts From Campbeltown and the Lowlands
Located on a peninsula near the island of Islay, Campbeltown once was considered Scotland’s whisky capital. Where more than 30 distilleries once flourished, Springbank and Glen Scotia are the last remaining entities.
Springbank is the oldest, family-owned distillery in Scotland. The principals are fiercely independent, insisting on making their whisky in the same manner as they have for 150 years. The family is involved in every stage of production — from the cutting of peat to final bottling. The distillery’s range of handcrafted triple-distilled, lightly peated malts is awash with choices. Its core releases are 46% alcohol and include bottlings at 10 years old, 15 years old and 18 year old.
Among the distillery’s creative range of single malts are recent arrivals Springbank 11 Years Old Madeira Wood Finish Cask Strength (110.2% alcohol), Springbank 12 Years Old Cream Sherry Wood Finish Cask Strength (112.2% alcohol), Springbank 12 Years Old Fino Sherry Wood Finish Cask Strength (112.6% alcohol) and Springbank 12 Years Old Amontillado Sherry Wood Finish Cask Strength (110.2% alcohol).
First introduced in 2005, Hazelburn Single Malts are the newest releases from the Springbank Distillery. The unpeated whiskies are triple-distilled, matured in sherry oak and bottled at 46% alcohol. Hazelburn malts are bottled in limited quantities in two expressions — at 8 years old and the recently released 12 Years Old.
Malts made in the Lowlands of Scotland often are overshadowed by those produced in the Highlands. It’s an unfortunate oversight, as Lowland malts are soft, light and fruity, largely because of the region’s propensity for triple distilling.
The best-known distiller of the Lowland malts is Auchentoshan, the core range of which includes the Classic Lowland Malt (no age statement and 40% alcohol) as well as Auchentoshan 12-year-old (40% alcohol) and 21-year-old (43% alcohol) malts. The most prestigious of the region’s whiskies is Auchentoshan Three Wood Lowland Single Malt, a distinctive triple-distilled malt finished in three different types of oak casks — used bourbon barrels, oloroso sherry butts and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks (43% alcohol).
The Big Blends
One of the great milestones in history of distillation was the advent of blending complementary spirits together to obtain something that’s more than the sum of its parts. Melding dozens of various whiskies into a unified, cohesive spirit is such a rarified skill that only a handful of individuals can lay claim to the title of master blender. When done with skill and intuition, the various elements meld together into something genuinely sensational — a spirit made better for every strand in its blend.
Sterling examples can be found throughout the often-overlooked sector of blended Scotch. By their nature, these whiskies are artistic endeavors, the combination of dozens of spirits varying in ages and compositions, all produced by a number of distilleries. These are certainly the best of times for devotees of exceptional whisky. The biggest names in blended Scotch have line extensions that will be hard to improve upon.
• Black Bull — This exclusive blend is comprised of 12-year-old single malts and single grain whiskies from Duncan Taylor’s limited cask collections. The blend is 50% malts and 50% grain whiskies bottled at 50% alcohol. Black Bull is also available in 30-year and 40-year expressions.
• Chivas Regal Gold Signature — The special reserve blend is comprised of more than 40 whiskies, all of which were barrel-aged at least 18 years. The super-premium marque is aromatic and accessible.
• Compass Box Whisky — Founded in 2000, Compass Box produces a full range of blended Scotches from richest grains to the peatiest of malts. Compass Box Hedonism is a 100% grain whisky aged between 12 and 23 years in American oak, while limited-edition Hedonism Maximus is a blend of 42-year-old Invergordon whisky and 29-year-old Cameron Bridge whisky. The firm also produces Compass Box Peat Monster, a blend of super-peaty Islay single malts, a peated Speyside single malt and a malt matured in French oak from the northern Highlands.
• Johnnie Walker Green Label — A dramatic break from convention, Johnnie Walker’s latest release is an assemblage of exemplary single malts that create the signature house style. Its lush palate presents seemingly endless waves of satisfying Highland flavors and tantalizing hints of sea-imbued Island malts. The minimum age of the malts used in the blend is 15 years.
• Mitchell’s Glengyle Blend — This blend is comprised of whiskies from Mitchell's Glengyle distillery, as well as Springbank and Longrow. The majority of the malt in the blend is Kilkerran, which is the distillery’s inaugural whisky. Mitchell’s Glengyle Blend is a well-rounded dram from the nose through the finish, a fine example of a smooth Campbeltown malt.
• Whyte & Mackay Supreme — Created in Glasgow by master blender Richard Patterson, Whyte & Mackay Supreme is a luxurious, 22-year-old blend twice barreled in sherry butts. The range also includes a regal 30-year blend.