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Category: Homework

Here’s my homework outline for my presentation at the KOTQ Las Vegas, 15Q3/Q4 on January 16, 2016. I’ll put the summary first:

The Glenglassaugh Distillery in Summary:

1) Tradition of quality from water, coastal location (warehousing), and equipment configuration; resisted blend corruption
2) Beneficiary of large Portsoy warehouse (Rare Cask Series, Massandra Collection, perhaps focus of Scaent Group) and 21st century single malt boom
3) Benriach Distillery positive future (Benriach, Glendronach, Glenglassaugh – pronounced GlenGlassOCH) characterized by traditonal operations and high quality, high character expressions
– “2015 has been a stellar year for the company. As well as winning these coveted ‘Malt Maniacs’ medals, we took a further ten medals…at the IWSC (International Wine and Spirit Competition) awards…and we became the ‘Global Whisky Distiller of the Year’ at the ‘Icons of Whisky’ awards.”
– Look for Benriach’s approach to standard expressions in the upcoming months and years

1875-1907: THE FOUNDING

– Coastal distillery (which I believe they prefer to be categorized as a [Eastern] Highland! I’ve updated their region in our database); popular among illicit distillers of the time
– Col James Moir and 2 nephews; emphasis on quality
– Upon the death of 1 of the nephews sold to Highland Distillers

1907-1960: DARK TIMES

– Highland Distillers kept the assets but mothballed operations
– Used as a military bakery in WWII

1960-1986: SUPPORT OF BLENDS

– New design, facilities, and increased capacity for the purpose of supplying to blends
– Highly complex character problematic to blenders
– Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark
– Victim of 1980s recession; large warehouse retained operation leading to advanced-aged expressions

1986-2008 WAREHOUSE OPERATES

– stocks available as an asset for future purchase
– 12yo and 19yo released by the Highland/Edrington group (available at TWE)

Post 2008: REVIVAL!

– Two owners: The Scaent group (whisky enthusiasts, used stores for revenue; began spirit operation) and The Benriach Co (quality emphasis: unique combination of water source, nor-eastern coastal warehousing, and equipment configuration (most of the important original equipment endures with low automation and small, highly-skilled craftsman operation)
– 16 DEC 2008 first spirited casked

CAMPAIGNS

– “Spirit That Cannot Be Named” et al (because it wasn’t legally scotch due to its age) expression released in 2009
– “Revival” release in 2012 (4 yo); first scotch from new operation. KOTQ tasted 6 yo in June, 2014.
– Rare Cask Release Series (“fruit bombs”), (Benriach release, Scaent designed), ancient single casks; available at Binny’s in a triple-pack
– Massandra Connection (2010); (Benriach release, Scaent designed), ancient single casks with an unprecedented finishing in various wine caskets (Sherry, Muscat, Madeira, Port and Aleatico) from Yalta/Crimea/Ukraine region of winemaking
– 30 yo and 40yo: FIRST RELEASES BY BENRIACH, vatted, not single casks
– Look for Benriach’s approach to standard expressions in the upcoming months and years

What unique problem did Glen Elgin face at the end of the Victorian era?

Last distillery built in Speyside for 60 years at the end of the whisky boom of the 1890s. Designed by notable distillery architect Charles Doig, work on the buildings began shortly before the 1898-99 collapse of Leith whisky blender, Pattisons, famously drove a buoyant market for malt whisky into recession. Local legend has it that many of the workers went unpaid and that the steeplejacks only got their money when they threatened to demolish the chimney stack. Glen Elgin’s next act was to impoverish its creators, who were forced to sell it for perhaps a quarter of its cost (13,000 BPS to 4,000 BPS) within a year of its eventually beginning production in May 1900.

What is unique about Glen Elgin’s distillery configuration?

In walking around the distillery you are struck by the contrasts in old and new, big and small. The distillery has a huge storage capacity for malted barley. The 36 malt bins can hold 400 tonnes – more than the 3 other distilleries in the Elgin group combined. However the ISR (intermediate spirit receiver) which collects the spirit from the stills is very small and has to be pumped empty 3 times a day.

What interesting job did one person have full-time back then at Glen Elgin?

Until the 1950s the distillery was entirely operated and lit by paraffin. All machinery was driven by a paraffin engine and a water turbine. It was a full time job to keep the paraffin lights burning.

Known as an important component of the White Horse blend.

I came across a posting by Brother Lakeview following the 06Q4 tasting (sushi paired tasting at Bluff’s) where, after much discussion, a number of future homework assignments, considered to be of interest to the group, were posted. For the most part we haven’t touched these ideas much at all. One of them was “what are Scotland’s three officially oldest distilleries?” I think this question may have sprang from Balblair, a very old distillery, finding its way to a tasting for the first time in 06Q4.

Deciding which distilleries are the oldest largely lies in the definition of “official”. Based on the following factors, which you may or may not agree with, I have formulated a list of the three oldest distilleries. I also annex to this list three other stories of distilleries and their claims to which I will let you decide their merits in overwriting the “official” list. One other item of note, I find in the data that the older distilleries tend to be on the smaller end with respect to capacity. This makes sense to me for a number of reasons (building technologies, scale, demand, etc.) and may be a factor in the demise of old distilleries like Littlemill (isn’t bigger always better?!?).

Factors in establishing “old distilleries”

Rule: Distillery = physical plant; not (brand) name
Implication: Producing spirit in the same building is the single most important consideration even if the enterprise changes names along the way

Rule: Name<>Distillery
Implication: Just because a distillery shares a name with an earlier, separate, and older distillery doesn’t mean that there is a historical connection to that older distillery

Rule: Distillation does NOT require an official license and may be founded before the Excise Act of 1823.
Implication: Illicit and/or established whisky production is considered in the chain if documented and remaining in the same building

Rule: Active NOT Dismantled/Demolished
Implication: To be the oldest “distillery” you have to be currently “distilling” spirit

So, with the above rules in mind, here are…
SCOTLAND’S THREE OLDEST DISTILLERIES

Bowmore, 1779
From the Malt Whisky Yearbook: “Founded in 1779, by John Simpson, Bowmore is Islay’s oldest distillery”
Capacity: 2,000,000 litres/year

Strathisla, 1786
From the Malt Whisky Yearbook: Strathisla is the oldest distillery in the North of Scotland
Capacity: 2,400,000 litres/year

Balblair, 1790
From the Malt Whisky Yearbook: One of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, Balblair was founded in 1790 by John Ross.
Capacity: 1,330,000 litres/year

I give you the following list as alternatives to the above “official” listing. I will leave it to the reader to decide where these place on the “official” list.

For You To Decide

** Undocumented Evidence **
Glenmorangie, “early 18th century”

From the Malt Whisky Yearbook: The Glenmorangie distillery was established in 1843, on the Durnoch Firth by brothers William and John Mathesen. The site originally held a farm distillery under the name Morangie. There is evidence that distillation was carried out at this site during the early 18th century. Officially documented production began in November of 1849.

** Distillery refurbished after dismantling…is it the same? **
Glenturret
, 1775

From the Malt Whisky Yearbook: The owners claim the distillery is one of Scotland’s oldest and it is certainly rumoured that distillation was carried out in the area during the early 18th century. Whisky smugglers establish a small illicit farm distillery named Hosh Distillery in 1775. John Drummond is licensee from 1818 until 1837. In 1875, the Hosh Distillery takes over the name Glenturret Distillery and is managed by Thomas Stewart. Between 1921 and 1959 production ceases and the buildings are used for whisky storage and later agricultural storage. 1957 James Fairlie buys the distillery and production restarts in 1959.

** Very old but now demolished **
Littlemill, 1772 (or perhaps the 1300s?)

From the Malt Whisky Yearbook: There are rumours that Littlemill is Scotland’s oldest distillery, possibly even the oldest in the world. Of course, such things are hard to say for certain, though Littlemill has indeed had a long history. The site may have been used for distillation as early as the 1300s. The distillery proper was founded in 1772 by George Buchanan of Glasgow following the acquisition of the Auchterlonie estate.

Brother Bop was kind enough to assign me to select 5 active distilleries that the KOTQ has never tasted that I would like future fir en tighes (hosts) to consider for an upcoming meeting in 2o10.  One of the things I found is this appearance of debate within Scotland of bringing single malts to more people with fancy drink recipes and slick websites that would appeal to a younger audience vs. the classic “here’s your single malt, open it, drink it neat, seal it… repeat”.

Here is my 5 (with some slight edits from the temporary list I had at the meeting – didn’t finish because our site was down…)

1 –Glenglassaugh – Speyside – This distillery closed for 22 years 1986 – 2008 but has reopened and still has an impressive, albeit limited availability, vertical lineup as well as an exciting new spirit dubbed “The Spirit Drink that dare not speak its name”.  The Spirit Drink cannot be called scotch whisky because it was bottled before it had aged the requisite 3 years… something for us to consider… a single malt < 3 yrs old… what is it like?  Should we drink it with a mixer (blasphemy?)

2 – Isle of Jura – Jura – By far my favorite site with one of the best embedded videos of a Scotch purist facing off with a French mixologist debating the merits of true scotch whisky drinking vs. making it more “accessible” to the masses (mixing / etc.)  I had failed to recognize Brother Tao’s prior posting of this phenomenal short but if you haven’t seen it, check out  – http://www.isleofjura.com/richardandcolin/detail.cfm?contentid=349   Also, interesting fact – Jura has roughly 30x more deer than people on the island… The 16yr expression is their bread and butter but they have some nice differentiation/variation as well…. check them out!

3 –  TomatinNorthern Highland – Huge producer – >5MM litres per year… and yet we’ve never had their spirit flow down our collective palates or uttered a kind description of the body of this fine whisky.  Additionally, they’ve been owned by the Japanese since 1985 and I’m curious to know if they’ve influenced the process at all, whether it be from an economic / political / or process point of view.  Additionally, given their size, they have nice vertical potential from an expression perspective.

4 – Arran Isle of Arran (Lochranza) – Distillery opened in 1995 and has done some rather interesting things… including some traditional and avant garde finishings to their main expression – 10yr.   I really debated adding this one because they do promote recipes on their site that would involve mixing the 10yr with other liquids, but they have a nice lineup and we have some finishing fans (see Tao, Balgum, etc.)

5 – Tomintoul – Speyside – Another very large producer – > 3MM liters / year and a nice product mix.  Also, their claim to fame is the World’s Largest Whisky Bottle (per Guiness  Book of Records) – 5 ft tall and the equivalent of 150 std bottles (750ml),…. Quite a number of their products are available locally, which was a key factor as I started to get further down the list.  There were a number of others that were like 5b – 5n but I picked this distillery because it could be easily rotated in and has a nice history we could research further.

Slainte!  I’m getting parched just writing this….

PREMISE:

Numbered among Macallan’s large Special Release line is their Vintage Travel series. The whiskies bottled reflect the style of spirit produced during the eras of the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. To re-create the style of The Macallan in each decade, their Master Distillers sampled bottles of The Macallan from that decade, refered to specification documentation and records from each era, and matched their aroma and flavor with more recent distillations taken from the casks maturing in the warehouses.

Unlike most other distilleries, Macallan had long held back significant quantities of its spirit, with some stores laid down as early as 1926, allowing it to quickly market special rare aged releases. In 2007, for instance, a 1926 vintage Macallan was sold at auction at Christie’s for $54,000, making it the most expensive whisky ever sold. These reflections of their eras happen to have some very old Macallan in it reportedly including 25 years and older in some cases.

The Macallan vintage travel range was initially launched in 1999 as an exclusive to World Duty Free. After the initial trial period the product was re-packaged into its current form and put on general sale in the Autumn 2000. This highly collectable range is now on sale again.

THE HISTORICAL IMPACTS:

Spanish Civil War 1936-1939; IMPACT: reduced availability of sherry (Oloroso) casks for export affected the aging methods of the Macallan. Second-fill and perhaps ex-bourbon barrels were used for some of the whisky in the 1930’s.

Second World War 1939-1945; IMPACT: sherry casks remained in short supply and coal was also in less supply due to the war and its increasing industrial activity so Macallan relied on peat-fueled fires. During the 1940s, The Macallan would refill their oak sherry casks more often than is the current practice. This, combined with the use of peat to dry the barley, resulted in a whisky that was less spicy and peatier than modern day Macallan.

20s – early modernization of the malt whisky industry hits its stride. The vintage series’ actual bottlings (1926 for example) provide a great benchmark of this halcyon age

30s – less spice and peatier than modern day Macallan

40s – lean. a war-time scotch. increased peat. less sherry flavor.

50s – most modern of this series. raw materials were more readily available. this expression should most reflect the modern Macallan.

PROS:

A fun diversion into the past with the opportunity to reflect on the realities each historical period placed on the day to day lives and of the people who made and drank these whiskies.

CONS:

Difficult to validate whether or not they were accurate. Of all Macallan’s bottlings, these expressions may be the most variable. Some feel that Macallan can put anything they like into these expressions since there is no standard for comparison purposes.