Huge crowds, huge enthusiasm as the 2016 Islay Festival begins with a very special birthday party.
In writing the update to the World Atlas of Whisky (that’s enough plugging – Ed), I was aware that, when I asked about their inspirations, how many of the new wave of the world’s whisky distillers said they were looking to Japan rather than Scotland (or, maybe I should say, as well as Scotland).
It is an approach which can encompass production techniques, or just philosophy. Whatever way it is being applied, the fact is that Scotland is no longer the only template.
This made me wonder whether there is anything which the Scotch industry could learn from its counterpart in Japan, which in turn made me think of my first distillery visit there.
It was to Yamazaki, with my mentor and buddy Michael Jackson. I was already excited just approaching the mashtun. ‘Wait until you see the stillhouse,’ he whispered to me. ‘Your jaw will drop.’
MJ wasn’t a man given to hyperbole, but even knowing that, I thought that this time he might be overstating the case. I mean, how amazing could a stillhouse be? Then I walked in and, yes, my mouth gaped. He laughed. ‘Told you.’
There sat stills of different shapes and sizes, lyne arms going up, down and probably sideways, heated by steam or fire, vapours being condensed in shell-and-tube condensers, or worm tubs.
A distillery set up this way because of the need for blending complexity, producing a multiplicity of variations on the Yamazaki theme. These were then to be aged in different cask and oak types, adding further new spins.
You can understand why this technique is required for blending, but in Japan, this same approach extends to single malts, which are also blends of these distillates, but not to one recipe. Yamazaki 12 and 18 are from the a single distillery, but they are made up of different component whiskies.
Multiple streams: should Scotch heed Ghostbusters’ Dr Egon Spengler?
So, the question I was asking myself was, could this approach to single malt be tried in Scotland? The multiple stream thing is hardly unknown there – think of Springbank, Bruichladdich or Roseisle, while various other distilleries make peated and unpeated.
When it comes to combining the different streams, the Scotch industry has obviously taken the words of Dr Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters to heart. After all, doing so might result in life stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
As a result, the distillates are always kept separate. Here’s our unpeated, our medium-peated and our heavily-peated. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great, but surely there is a further option to add another selection?
I mean, look what happened when the Ghostbusters disobeyed Dr Spengler’s directions.
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Features 15 February 2016
From Kirkliston to Ailsa Bay via many detours, the history of the flexible whisky-making facility.
The collectors 08 June 2016
Myths, escalating prices and how he was ‘trapped’ into collecting the legendary Islay single malt.
Rare bottlings 05 April 2017
Two Scotch and one Japanese, featuring a 1971 North of Scotland, 1949 Strathisla and 1979 Yamazaki.
On the road 24 September 2015
Campbeltown’s rich history encompasses herring fishing, coal mining and – most famously – whisky.