Monkey Shoulder’s global brand ambassador on video games, cockiness and the trendiest Scotch.
From the Editors
Shorts from our editorial team
15 October 2015
The guitar on the wall was unnecessary. It’s not that I want to moan. Perhaps it’s because I spend a considerable part of my life in hotels that I’ve become (over-)sensitive to their design.
Take the other weekend. Between Friday and Monday I was residing in an achingly hip one in Shoreditch, where my room was stuffed with suitably ironic touches. A pencil sharpener attached to the wall? Yes, of course I used it.
It has to be said that the room was rather lovely and tried to make you feel as if you were, if not at home, then a guest at someone else’s, perhaps the new hipster mate you ran into at Callooh Callay the night before and who had offered you a bed when you realised you'd missed the last train home (does that sort of thing still happen?).
Anyway, I felt comfortable – which is what hotels are about. Apart from the guitar, perhaps.
I mean, the last thing you want in a hotel is everyone serenading themselves, or trying to impress their partner with Smoke on the Water or, even worse, seeing that guitar as a symbol of their inadequacy.
‘Oh, can you play?’
‘Er... well… no.’
End of budding relationship.
Still, there was a kettle. I need a kettle. I get grumpy without my tea (and I mean my tea). It also had an iron. I get grumpy if there isn’t one of those either. Iron over guitar every time. Kettle over iron. It’s the way I roll.
The guitar was an example of how hotel designers over-think rooms. There was the central London hotel which had an electric guitar – and amp – in the room (double inadequacy, double irritation as Smoke on the Water echoes from 50 bedrooms).
There was, however, no kettle. Or iron, come to think of it. Maybe the thinking was that no-one who plays an electric guitar would ever need to have a pressed shirt… or a hot drink. I’m sure Robert Fripp would.
There was another east London establishment which had a hot water bottle on the bed. A lovely, quirky thought that made me feel all fuzzy.
There was, however, no kettle, meaning the only way you could try and force hot water into the bottle was via the espresso machine in the corridor.
Of course there was an espresso machine in the corridor! Hipsters don’t drink tea. The result was that I was insanely grumpy.
Impeccably turned-out: the neatly ironed Mr Fripp (Photo: Sean Coon)
Over-thinking might not be the worst aspect of modern life, but it is symptomatic of the way in which ‘irony’ (which in this case is, for once, truly ironic as there are so few irons) has replaced any form of deeper thinking.
The surface is all, the instant, unthinking reaction is all that matters. There is no need to sit down and make a cup of tea and think. All that matters is the sheen, the glance, the smirk, then you move on.
Design has got in the way of function and the core essence of the room – a place to rest – is forgotten or overlooked. Such is it with brands.
Maybe I’m just an awkward customer. Perhaps I just need to get out less.
14 October 2015
It sounds like just the sort of thing to get the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) lawyers firing up their laptops and composing a series of increasingly threatening ‘cease and desist’ missives.
An American whisky, produced in Virginia, but claiming to be a ‘Scottish-style’ single malt? Ok, the barley was malted in Scotland and the casks were re-coopered on Speyside, but half of it was only distilled once, for heaven’s sake.
As it happens, the SWA isn’t merely sanguine about the creation of the two bottlings made at the George Washington distillery in Mount Vernon – it’s directly complicit in it.
Joining forces with American spirits industry body DISCUS, the SWA flew three Scotch luminaries – Glenmorangie’s Bill Lumsden, Cardhu’s Andy Cant and Laphroaig’s John Campbell – over to help Mount Vernon’s Dave Pickerell to create the ground-breaking spirit.
No mod cons, though. The team had to use 18th century techniques at the restored plant. ‘We didn’t measure anything – it was all just done by taste,’ Campbell told Washington’s WTOP website. ‘And, eventually, I think we came to the conclusion that what we were making wasn’t half bad.’
Transatlantic tipple: Scottish malted barley was used to make the whiskies
The venture, set to benefit charities and educational ventures, is a nod to the influence of Scot James Anderson, an experienced whisky-maker who in 1797 persuaded a reluctant Washington to build a distillery at Mount Vernon as a sideline to his milling operation.
Two years later, the plant was churning out 11,000 gallons of whiskey, was the biggest in the young nation – and even the family physician was being paid in liquid form. Livestock, including Washington’s prize hogs, were fattened on the left-over cooked mash.
The ‘new’ George Washington whisky, however, bears little resemblance to the liquid the Founding Father would have known and tasted – Washington’s recipe was 60% rye, 35% corn and 5% malted barley.
Then again, it was also shipped in cask without having to undergo the inconvenient and time-consuming process of maturation, while the SWA-approved 2015 spirit was at least aged for over three years.
After all, you have to draw the line somewhere…
09 October 2015
‘Do you actually like whisky then?’ ‘This can’t be your real job.’ ‘Let me buy you a vodka and coke instead,’ are just a handful of phrases I, and many other women working in the whisky industry, encounter daily.
Granted the thoughtless misogynistic comments are spouted by the minority but still, with more women than ever enjoying a wee dram why does gender stereotyping still exist at all?
According to a 2012 Simons Market Report, 30% of whisky drinkers are female, while some of the most talented master blenders in the Scotch whisky industry are women – Maureen Robinson at Diageo, Rachel Barrie at Morrison Bowmore and Kirsty McCallum at Burn Stewart (who is now in an ambassadorial role) to name a few. Heck, one of the largest Scotch whisky-producing companies is led by a female CEO.
Indeed, women have been distilling Scotch since the 19th century when it was commonplace for farmhouses to operate a still – illicit or otherwise – for domestic consumption. Some distilleries would not be here today if it weren’t for the pioneering resilience of female distillers like Elizabeth Cumming (Cardow, now Cardhu) and Bessie Williamson (Laphroaig). As Fred Minnick says in his book Whiskey Women: The Untold story of how Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey: ‘For a business steeped in tradition and history, whiskey has forgotten its better half. Women have always been a part of whiskey history; they’ve just never received credit.’
Women working in the Chivas Brothers bottling hall in the 19th century
Even now women are referencing whisky in popular culture more than ever. Christina Hendricks may have kick-started the renaissance through her tough, whisky-swigging character in Mad Men, but you needn’t look much further to find female whisky drinkers in film, music and art: Rihanna, The Staves, Mila Kunis, Lady Gaga, Aisha Tyler... the list goes on.
Stardom aside, taking in The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in London this week also dispelled the myth that Scotch is exclusively a man’s drink – ladies poured in to try a dram with as much passion and interest as their male counterparts.
So next time you see a lady drinking a dram at a bar, working at a whisky exhibition or even making whisky in a distillery, she doesn’t need saving with a vodka and coke. Instead she needs thanking for her contribution to the industry.
Women's contribution to the whisky industry is even making national news in America:
02 October 2015
Welcome, friends, to what we want to be the first stop for any whisky lover on the internet. That word ‘any’ is important. Geeks can get their fill here, but so can newcomers – and it is this breadth of remit which will make the site prosper.
Whisky is simple, but it is deep. A website such as this therefore needs to be able to offer information which appeals to and satisfies all readers – those who want to plunge in, as well as those who are happy paddling in the shallows. Hey, I live by the sea, it’s the best metaphor I could come up with.
If you want in-depth distillery, brand or company information, you will find it here. That in itself is an amazing resource and we believe our Whiskypedia is the most comprehensive database in existence.
If you want to know what that new whisky is like, we will have the review as soon as it is released. If you want to know the thinking behind the big decisions, we will be asking the awkward questions to the executives who make those decisions.
We will make you laugh (we hope), we will be authoritative, critical, stroppy, contentious, obsessive, passionate, amusing and celebratory. That’s what whisky is all about, isn’t it?
Whisky is also about people, and they will be the heartbeat of the site – not only the amazing writers we have from around the world (whisky is, after all, global); but also the people who are often hidden from view, those forgotten heroes from the past and the present, the keepers of the flame.
It is also our belief that whisky doesn’t just sit apart from daily life. It springs from a culture and a landscape, it reflects the interests of the drinker, so we will write about the things which people who like whisky also like, but which aren’t whisky.
That means talking to other like-minded craftspeople, artists and artisans to make this a place where whisky becomes part of the world.
We are excited by the possibilities. We hope you are too.
01 October 2015
There’s beauty in spontaneity. The honesty of an unscripted moment feels endearingly charming and reassuring, and serves as a reminder of our humanity. Which is why Laphroaig’s #OpinionsWelcome campaign, created to celebrate the Islay Scotch whisky distillery’s 200th anniversary, is one of the finest whisky marketing initiatives ever.
This post may seem belated – the campaign launched in the summer last year – but in light of Johnnie Walker’s new ‘Joy Will Take You Further’ promotion it’s worth revisiting.
Last month Diageo unveiled the new campaign for its leading blend based on years of research into consumer behaviour. Joy, it seems, is now a bigger measure of success than money or fast cars.
Both these campaigns, at first glance, purport to be bringing whisky back to a human level, but how many of us can really relate to a stiletto-wearing motorcyclist wearing a jetpack? The image is more terrifying than joyful.
Which brings me to my point about Laphroaig’s campaign, which features real people giving their honest, unscripted opinions on the whisky. It’s relatable. It isn’t rehearsed or convoluted or showing off. It’s real, and while they may be beatnik poets or Islay locals rather than movie stars or race car drivers, they are convincing and utterly entertaining.
More than that though, this series of videos and tweets illuminated on the side of the Laphroig distillery is doing something much greater than simply promoting the whisky. It’s reassuring us that there is no right or wrong when it comes to drinking whisky. Think it tastes like burnt knickers? That’s okay, but a bit gross. If this industry is to encourage more consumers to try Scotch, this is precisely the approach that’s needed.
We may not like to hear it, but Scotch whisky still carries an air of unattainable sophistication that’s off-putting to some people. This association needs to change if the category is going to compete against American and Irish whiskey in the future.
So Bravo Laphroaig, and thank you for showing us that it’s okay to have an opinion on what’s in the glass, no matter how weird.
25 September 2015
I’m just back from Japan, where the whisky category appears to have been given another boost in sales.
The highball craze may have slowed slightly, but continues to bring new drinkers into whisky – even if not all of them know that a ‘Highball’ is a whisky drink. Bridging that gap remains an important task.
The category’s biggest kick has been given by Massan, the daily morning soap opera on the life of Masataka Taketsuru, which ran from September 2014 until March this year.
Yes, a whisky-related soap. Neighbours with drams. It has, seemingly, so captured the imagination of the public that it has directly boosted sales. Could that happen here? I doubt it.
Massan could even be a further factor in the ongoing squeeze on stock, one topic which was aired at a panel discussion I chaired with four Japanese chief blenders: Shinji Fukuyo (Suntory), Tadashi Sakuma (Nikka), Ichiro Akuto (Venture Whisky/Chichibu) and Jota Tanaka (Kirin/Gotemba).
It used to be that the companies were as reluctant to share a stage as they were to share their whiskies. Things have changed. They laughed with each other, nodded in agreement, complimented each other.
It’s a reflection of the new openness which exists within the Japanese industry. What would once have been considered secrets are now freely shared.
Maybe it is confidence that their competitors won’t steal techniques, that they now realise that the Suntory way is different to that of Nikka, or Kirin, or Chichibu.
One of the questions was whether they thought Japan could be behind the ball when equilibrium between stock and demand returned.
‘No,’ was the polite answer, ‘because [and I paraphrase] we continue to innovate, believe that quality is paramount, and want to further define and fine-tune what it is to be a Japanese whisky.’
More specifics emerged in a further discussion with Fukoyo which looked at Suntory’s new ‘The Chita’ grain.
‘We had always made three styles of grain at Chita,’ he explained, ‘but the grain whiskies we use for the blends couldn’t be the same as we needed for a single grain. It was… boring.’
I’ve tasted the Chita grains and they’re not… but I suppose that also proves a point.
So, he has used the three styles of grain, but aged in a mix of woods including ex-wine casks, and new (fresh) European oak casks.
What is our whisky?: Hakushu’s small grain plant is unafraid of experimentation
Fukoyo then went on to outline what was happening at the small grain plant at Hakushu where he has overseen runs of malted barley, wheat and rye, and all at different strengths.
‘We always distilled to 94%,’ he said. ‘Then we asked why and realised it was because that’s what the Scots did.
‘So now we are distilling at different strengths, using those different grains, mashbills and woods to see what Japanese grain whisky could be.’
This willingness to ask: ‘What is our whisky?’ is also seen in the creation of Irish Distillers’ new experimental distillery at Midleton, which initially will be looking at 19th century recipes.
The reason? They exist, they have been forgotten, they could shed light on Irish whiskey, they could help widen the category.
It all seems so... sensible. Now, I know that there are wild things being trialled in Scotland, but so far there is no evidence of any of it appearing. Keeping these developments behind the curtains simply reinforces the (incorrect) belief that Scotch’s template is fixed.
Neither Suntory nor IDL is exactly small. Both are asking, openly: ‘Where do we go now? What else can we learn?’
Realising that they couldn’t run experimental batches through their existing plants because the batches would be too large, they simply built smaller sites.
Hopefully the Scottish distillers working on similar schemes will show what they have been working on, but – and here my impatient journalist’s brain takes over – how will they commercialise these small batches?
Split an existing (small) distillery’s production schedule? Build a small site to run them through? Buy a ‘craft’ distiller and use it as their experimental arm – the model taken by the big American brewers?
As it stands, there are other whisky categories that seem to be more nimble, and are able to see opportunities. They are the ones who come across as wanting to move whisky ever onwards without losing their identity.
It makes Scotch seem as if it is being left behind. Time, I suspect, to throw open those curtains.
18 September 2015
One of the best recent developments on long-haul flights has been the addition of box sets to your in-flight entertainment. No longer do you have to eke out the (few) movies you actually want to watch into outward and return viewing.
This time, however, I was stumped as to what to watch. True Detective? I love it, but the mumbling dialogue can’t be heard above engine noise. Breaking Bad series three? Haven’t yet completed series two.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I chose Outlander. I vaguely recalled it had received good reviews, and it had a Scottish theme.
I knew it was escapist fantasy, but unless you are trying to unsettle the person in the next seat by watching Australian horror movies, that’s not a bad way of passing a few hours.
I also figured it would have fewer moments which would induce involuntary sobbing – I’m a blubbering mess at 37,000 feet.
So, I began at the beginning, fully aware that it would require a certain willing suspension of disbelief. I couldn’t, however, have anticipated how appalling it was.
Outlander, for those of you who haven’t experienced it, mashes together The Wicker Man, Highlander, Quantum Leap, The Perils of Pauline, Macbeth, Braveheart and Balamory (but with more sex and less Archie the Inventor).
Witches, standing stones, time jumps, perfidious English, hunky men running around in kilts, woad, mud, plucky feisty heroine… and an execrable script.
Like Balamory, but with more sex: Outlander
I gave up in a rage. That’s the other thing about emotions at 37,000 feet. You either weep uncontrollably (never watch Toy Story 3 on a plane) or become immensely irritated.
So infuriated was I that, on arrival in the US, I searched for Outlander reviews and was amazed by how it was being taken as a mildly exaggerated manifestation of the truth.
Outlander, it transpires, fits in with people’s notions of what it is to be ‘Celtic’ (or, as many of them prefer to spell it, ‘Keltic’).
Things came into focus on the return journey when I was reading a piece in BA’s High Life magazine on modern Scotland by the ever-astute A L Kennedy. She opened with this gambit:
‘Scotland is a land rich in interesting history and, should you meet an American or Canadian tourist while you’re [there] you will hear a great deal about it…’
Too true. Many is the time I have been asked which clan I belong to by some Tam o’Shanter-ed Yank. To be honest, I reply politely, I’m more busy getting on with being an ex-pat 21st century Scot.
There’s the irony, I thought. Scotch whisky is regularly accused of playing up to these stereotypes, even though the reality is that, while the tartan-and-heather approach worked in Edwardian times, it hasn’t been part of the arsenal for many years.
‘Tartan-and-heather’ instead has become shorthand for ‘out of touch’ and, while I may fulminate on occasion for the need for whisky firms to understand contemporary Scotland, I do think that in this case it’s consumers who are out of date.
I’d argue that Scotch needs to be more Scottish – just not clichéd, but maybe drinkers want there to be misty glens and hunky men running around in kilts.
Then I got back home, sat at my desk, started to write this and looked around me. Books of Scottish folk tales, Gaelic poetry, stacks of traditional music, stones chosen not just for shape and colour, but for their connection to a place.
The myths I was dismissive of are alive. I like the fact that on Islay a remedy for toothache is to hammer a nail into a stone in a field above Port Charlotte.
When I’m teaching Scotch, after the talk of reflux and esters has abated, I remind those still awake: ‘Don’t forget the magic. This spirit is about more than just science.’
So, now I’ve got a more nuanced view of what Outlander represents. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still shite, but my objection is its (lack of) quality, its easy embracing of cliché.
The true weirdness that roots Scotland still exists. Scotch treads a fine line between cliché and magic.
Who would be a marketeer?
14 September 2015
‘Is this your first time to South Africa?’ asked the taxi driver.
‘No. I’ve been coming here since the mid-‘90s. I started coming to Jo’burg about 12 years ago.’
I sat back for a few seconds – he was a fabulously chatty guy – and watched as Sandton’s increasingly weirdly-shaped buildings came ever closer.
I thought of other trips like this, sweeping down from Rosebank into a purple bowl of jacaranda blossom, of hidden radio stations, endless malls, no-go areas downtown where we had to go because that’s where the second-hand vinyl was.
‘What’s your business?’
‘So why are you here this time?’
‘I’m one of the judges in a cocktail competition.’
‘You can make cocktails from whisky? Really?’
‘Indeed. They’re becoming more popular. Do you drink whisky?’
‘I love whisky. Not the blended stuff of course. The malt.’
We chatted on. He was from Zimbabwe. ‘Now I have arrived. I am here. I can’t afford anything, but I have arrived!’
It seemed to sum up where Africa – and whisky in Africa – is at the moment.
The next day a group of us headed into Soweto. It, too, has changed since my last time there, which involved wandering around a beach party wearing a kilt and being mistaken for Captain Morgan in drag.
Yes, you can still eat from vats of tripe (a good thing in my mind), but the roads are paved, there are bars – and the welcome is as genuine as before.
‘Tell people to come,’ we were told. ‘This is a safe place. By coming here you show people it’s nothing to be feared. Welcome To Soweto!’
That night we went for a cocktail or five in Braamfontein, close to the shady parts of town where the record store was. The no-go area.
Now we were drinking on the outside terrace of the Anti Est bar watching the happy chaos outside. This is a new South Africa.
Welcome: Soweto epitomises the new South Africa (Photo: Harvey Barrison)
Africa has been the big gap in Scotch’s masterplan. No longer. Whisky cannot ignore the potential in South Africa, Nigeria, Angola (Luanda is the most expensive city in the world), as well as rising stars like Ghana, Ethiopia and Kenya.
In terms of players, Africa could yet be Diageo’s get-out-of-jail card. No surprise that the firm has invested $1bn since 2010.
It has a head start on its rivals, but Pernod Ricard is there as well, William Grant has built steadily, while Burn Stewart and BenRiach are both South African-owned (partly in the latter case).
Why now? All the triggers for a Scotch explosion are there. A rapidly expanding middle class, growing economies (remember them?), greater political stability.
Africa has the youngest population in the world – there’s going to be 85m people of drinking age in the next decade – and, bar South Africa, it is new to spirits.
It is hardly perfect – there remains ghastly poverty, corruption and war – but Africa is changing.
It isn’t as straightforward for Scotch as it was. Irish (Jameson basically) is on the march, while Jim and Jack are swinging in.
That night in Braamfontein we were drinking vodka (hey, deal with it), while there are gin bars in Cape Town. What was almost exclusively a brown spirits market is broadening in scope.
Scotch, however, still has an allure which gives it a slight advantage in this increasingly cosmopolitan continent. While some dismiss the new consumers in Angola as people who just drink everything with Coke, it doesn’t take long to change those habits.
A decade ago, I was explaining to new consumers what whisky was made from. Today, thanks to the work of guys on the ground, Jo’burg has its own whisky specialist (the excellent Whisky Brother), one of the largest whisky bars in the southern hemisphere, Wild About Whisky, is in Dullstroom, and taxi drivers who know the difference between malts and blends.
I’ll wager he’ll soon be drinking whisky cocktails. Education is the key. Africa awaits.
04 September 2015
Brands give reassurance. It’s why we return to them on a regular basis, it is the foundation of loyalty. We know what we are getting, and what the brand stands for.
In time, a brand’s range may be extended, but only to demonstrate variations on a central theme. Retaining the brand’s identity, its DNA, remains paramount. When a brand deviates too wildly from its core values it is an indication that the brand owner is panicking.
Take Ritz. Cheese crackers, right? In fact, the definitive cheese cracker? Think again. Ritz now makes crisps as well. There might have been Ritz crisps for a while, but I’m not fully up to speed with the snacks market.
What I do know is that salt and vinegar flavour on a cracker which is still trying to to be a Ritz does not work. The flavour is wrong, the texture is wrong. There are just some things which you leave alone because they work.
Have you ever heard of avocado-flavoured cat food? Of course not. As my daughter said when I mooted it: ‘It would never happen. Cats are carnivores.’
In other words, cat food manufacturers are sensible. They know that their consumers would turn their little furry noses up at such a ludicrous offering. They stick to what they know.
Which brings me (seamlessly?) to Johnnie Walker Rye Cask. Why was something as absurd as this given the green light? The whisky itself is a well-made blend, but it is not Johnnie Walker.
It tastes like a Canadian rye whisky – not quite Crown Royal (also part of Walker owner Diageo’s portfolio) but more in line with a rye-accented whisky from Hiram Walker.
Why?: Johnnie Walker Select Casks Rye Cask Finish
This raises the question of why, if you have a Canadian whisky already, do you try to make Scotch taste like it? Does it not make more sense to try to sell more Crown Royal?
I don’t see Canadian distillers trying to be Scottish, nor is there any evidence of Bourbon producers trying to produce Scotch copies – in fact it’s widely agreed that when they did so in the 1960s it almost killed the category.
But then who in marketing departments ever studies history?
Instead, what you see in whiskies around the world is distillers doing the exact opposite. They define themselves as being not-Scotch. This, as I’ve argued before, is a wise strategy which also benefits Scotch because it allows the latter to define itself.
Walker Rye Casks ignores all of this. Trying to make a Scotch taste like a North American whisky shows an unnecessarily defensive approach to the category – and the brand.
Johnnie Walker isn’t just a Scotch, it is the best-selling Scotch whisky in the world. It therefore defines Scotch for more people than any other brand. It’s a benchmark, a reference point. Where, therefore, is the logic in making it taste like a Canadian whisky?
I hope it’s a temporary moment of madness because this says: ‘We have lost faith in our brand and in Scotch as a category.’ It is a white flag being run up in the face of a perceived threat.
Making Walker more Scotch – more Walker – makes sense. That would involve Diageo working out what Walker stands for in terms of image and flavour. Knowing what it can do – and, just as importantly – what it can’t. That’s not difficult.
04 September 2015
Fans of nominative determinism would have you believe that nomen est omen, to give the Latin term or – in Greek – όνομα ορίζοντας. The idea is that, sub-consciously, you gravitate to pursuits that fit your name.
Clearly, this theory has its limitations – as far as I know, the Chief Engineer of this parish has no burning desire to become a roadsweeper – but it also has its charms.
Are distilleries sometimes governed by this phenomenon? I think so. For me, the very sound of Mortlach’s name conjures up shadows of primeval threat and a sulphurous subterranean stench. Think of H G Wells’ morlocks in The Time Machine and you’ll get the idea.
As you will when you taste the whisky. The ‘beast of Dufftown’ is a famously powerful dram of enormous intensity and old-fashioned heaviness – like being trapped in a Bovril jar and striking a match to find your way out.
That very robustness makes Mortlach, when paired with the right cask, a malt of huge potential longevity, as evidenced by the release of Mortlach 75 Years Old by Gordon & MacPhail, the latest in the company’s Generations series and The Oldest Whisky in the World.
Humble beginnings: Cask 2475 was filled in 1939, 75 years before bottling
The liquid is remarkable – after an initial sawmill buzz on the nose, it shifts and changes with all manner of elusive perfumes – and I found myself identifying a feral edge to the manifold flavours as classic Mortlach.
But what is classic Mortlach? Perhaps more importantly, in the case of the G&M whisky, what was it? Read the accompanying book by Charlie Maclean and Alexander McCall Smith and a complex, semi-paradoxical blend of continuity and change emerges.
Mortlach’s official history begins in 1823, but illicit distillation predated this legitimacy; its kit was removed by John and James Grant little more than 20 years later, to fit out Glen Grant at Rothes. Was there an identifiable Mortlach character even then? Was it lost? Recovered or rediscovered?
Or did it come when the distillery sprang to fame in the later 19th century under John Gordon and then George Cowie? More likely it emerged from the revamp and expansion of the distillery under George’s son, Alexander.
This introduced the complex, Heath Robinson distillation regime that persists to this day: six stills, including the tiny ‘wee Witchie’, a spirit that’s distilled, er, 2.81 times, cold worm tubs. Sulphurous, meaty, classic Mortlach has remained unchanged for over a century. Except it hasn’t.
Go back to the 75-year-old. That whisper of smoke – does it owe its existence to the fact that, in 1939, Mortlach’s barley was malted on site and dried over a mix of peat and coke? A practice which stopped in 1968?
What about that luscious, concentrated apricot character (you can almost feel the juice trickling down your chin)? Does the historic use of brewers’ (rather than distillers’) yeast play any part here?
Or is it down to the fact that, until 1946, distillers were prohibited from fermenting and distilling at the same time, resulting in typically longer fermentation times and the consequent promotion of fruitier flavours?
We could go further: what impact did resting the copper have on pre-1946 Mortlach spirit (if the stills were only running, as seems likely, three days a week)? Not to mention the fact that the distillery was rebuilt in the 1960s, with the stills converted to mechanical stoking and then steam.
That these questions remain all but unanswerable only adds to their fascination. What we’re left with – that last drop of precious, 75-year-old liquid sitting at the bottom of the glass – is a whisky that performs an elusive and paradoxical role.
It simultaneously fits our mental template of classic Mortlach – and makes us question exactly what that character is, and how it developed.
The link with nominative determinism – even the connection to The Time Machine – seems apt.
- Macallan’s new distillery: the story so far
- Tomatin unveils first Scotch barrel-aged tea
- Distillery cats: Scotch’s legendary mousers
- New whisky tasting notes: Batch 104
- Bladnoch distillery restarts in Lowlands
- How to make whisky ice cream
- New whisky reviews: Batch 105
- Whisky’s age of uncertainty
- New Macallan distillery to open next summer
- Glenallachie sold to Billy Walker
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