It’s been a busy month over here at Miss Whisky HQ – though not quite as busy as it has been in the whisky industry which is always working at a fully frenzied pace in the lead-up to Christmas.
New releases, big awards, whisky festivals, charity events, tastings and distillery happenings have all been in the diary and on the radar since the last round-up. A quiet November and early December it was not!
First up, I was lucky enough to recently be invited to Edinburgh airport to check out its new set-up at World Duty Free. With more whisky sales than any other airport in the UK, this revamp was wholly welcome from the staff.
With an extended walkthrough area, large tasting bar and hundreds of whiskies beautifully displayed on dozens of shelves, it is a sight to behold. I recommend including an extra 20 minutes into your airport schedule the next time you travel through so you can check it all out. The team are extremely knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to work with them for the day.
Next up was the launch of Whiskey Union. This most intriguingly titled initiative is the brainchild of Diageo, which has created what it calls an ‘experimental whiskey collective’. The ‘e’ is inserted here on the basis that the conglomerate uses that spelling for the water of life whenever it is referring to the collective of whiskeys or the global term for the drink. It’s only been going for less than a year, and has already put to bed two whiskies (my spelling for the plural, ahem). This is a huge feat for a major company like Diageo, which can spend years developing new launches. The idea behind it is to bring out whiskies that more readily respond to what it believes the market wants. In this case, that comes in the form of an entry-level, younger look blended Scotch called ‘Smoky Goat’ and a hop-infused whisky spirit drink called ‘Boxing Hares’. Both are to be only launched in Germany and Austria, where the brand research team found that there were some of the coolest bar scenes in Europe. They will also only be for sale through Amazon, another bold move. The Smoky Goat was pleasant enough – made from a majority of Caol Ila and some Highland malts, alongside lowland grain whisky all matured in 1st fill American oak, refill and rejuvenated and re-charred casks, it has been designed to be drunk on the rocks. Goat on the rocks anyone? It features lots of honey, grassy smoke, and a gentle spice on the nose, and was quite hot on the palate. I personally enjoyed it most on ice, as I felt it was needed to bring down some of the bite.
Boxing Hares, meanwhile, is something really different. Made through infusing whisky with cascade and hallertau hops, alongside sugar, naturally, it is a spirit drink that is unlike anything I’ve smelled before: citrus, wax, honey, dehydrated strawberry and blackcurrant all came to mind. While it was too sweet on the palate for me – even when mixed with lemonade – I had to remember that I’m not exactly the target market. I can see it working incredibly well in the summertime, served with lemonade to sunshine revellers in a beer garden. It’s a shame that it’ll only be available in Germany and Austria but I look forward to hopefully seeing it in the UK next year. The final release that we were let in on is Huxley, which was my favourite of the day. Made from a combination of American whiskey, Scotch and Canadian whisky, and bottled at 42%, it is an inspired idea. If you own distilleries in all of these countries, why not play around with it? The answer: it’s bloody difficult to deal with the regulations. This is still in production and won’t be out until 2016, but it’s one I’ll be looking out for. It had great balance, a nice mix of sweet and spice that reminded me of Wild Turkey’s Forgiven, which was made from a combination of bourbon and rye whiskies.
A bit later in November came the IWSC (International Wine and Spirit Competition) Awards at London’s Guildhall. This is a big affair in the world of wine and spirits and I was excited to see the winners in the whisky world. I was thrilled to see Three Ships Whisky and its owner Distell pick up the Worldwide Whisky Trophy and African Spirits Producer Trophy, respectively. Having just visited them in October (check out my thoughts in last month’s round-up here) it was great to see them get the honours. Kavalan, meanwhile, took home the Asia Pacific Spirits Trophy, and Chivas Brothers was named International Spirits Producer. The Whisky Exchange was named Online Retailer of the Year, while Glen Grant‘s MD Dennis Malcolm was awarded for his years of service to the Scotch whisky industry with the Outstanding Achievement in Scotch Whisky award.
A couple of days later, my attention shifted from awards to charity with the Whisky Picnic at Oxo Tower. Organised by a team of spirits industry veterans, the ‘Picnic’ was done in good spirit: raising money for Movember. Leading bartenders such as Dandelyan’s founder and International Bartender of the Year Ryan Cheti and brands like Grants, Port Askaig and Compass Box came together for the night, which saw bars face off against each other in a bid to create the best cocktail. Thousands of pounds were raised for a great cause and I have to admit rather enjoying a night off amongst industry greats.
Meanwhile, in the news, much has occurred this past month. In Ireland, Tullamore D.E.W. – which opened its €35m distillery last year – is now open to visitors, while Glenfiddich, also a part of William Grant & Sons, has announced it is to invest millions of pounds in expanding its distillery in Dufftown to meet global demands. Also in Scotland, Kingsbarns distillery celebrated its first anniversary with the launch of its Kingsbarns Distillery Founders Club. Open to 3,000 people globally and costing £500, the membership includes a 20cl bottle of the distillery’s new make, a Founder’s Club Glencairn glass, access to the first bottles of whisky the distillery releases, and another bottle for the subsequent four years after that. In London, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has launched an office, the largest permanently staffed presence it has ever had outside Edinburgh.
In Europe, PUNI – the Italian single malt distillery, which I wrote about in 2013 here – has launched its first whiskies called Nova and Alba, which also happen to be the first ever Italian made single malt. The packaging is my favourite part, resembling a cross between leather trousers and the colour of a Ferrari. I look forward to hopefully finding some to try in the future.
Also in Europe, Distill Ventures – which I wrote about here last year – has made its first major investment in Danish whisky brand Stauning. Distill is a Diageo backed venture and it’s good to see investment coming to a less well known part of the whisky world and to a group of young entrepreneurs (Stauning was set up by nine whisky enthusiast friends in 2005).
As I said, a rather busy month in the world of whisky, but a great one indeed. As we trundle on towards the holiday season, I wish you all the most merry of celebrations, whatever you choose to celebrate! So long as there is whisky and friends to share it with, I’ve no doubt it will be wonderful. Happy holidays everyone!