Interview with Sandy Hyslop – Royal Salute Master Blender

Last Saturday I went to pick up my daughter at a children’s party. When she got into the car, I noticed that she was radiant. More than usual. And when inquired of the reason of such enthusiasm, she replied “The party theme was Star Wars, and I met Leia. When I grow up, I want to be just like her“.

I didn’t quite understand if she wanted to be a princess, control the Force, fall in love with a scoundrel or be kidnapped by a giant slime with a sickly lust for females of other species. But deep down I understood the reason for her happiness. Leia was an absolute idol of my little one.

It would be as if one day a car enthusiast bumped (ops!) into Sir Stirling Moss. Or a movie buff could talk to Jean-Luc “Cinemá” Godard. Or a fine art fan to Jackson Pollock. Or, finally, a whisky enthusiast like me had the opportunity to interview a great master blender. As, say, Sandy Hyslop – Chivas’ director of blending and responsible for creating the Royal Salute new range.

And that’s exactly what happened, thanks to an incredible invitation from Royal Salute. During my recent trip to South Korea, I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Sandy, who was extremely friendly. The master blender told us about the restructuring of the brand’s permanent portfolio, his career as a master blender and some of his interests outside the whisky world. The conversation is reproduced below.

1.Your job is probably the most coveted by every whisky enthusiast. What does it take to become a master blender? And how is it?

Its absolutely fabulous being a master blender for royal salute. It’s a huge honour for me being responsible for such a prestigious whisky with such fabulous history and lineage.

To become a master blender, you need to have a good sense of smell, you need to be passionate about scotch whisky. You need to understand a blender works at the whole spectrum of the whisky making process. A lot of people think a blender is making new whiskies, working with matured 21-year old whiskies. But I’m working from the day the whisky is distilled. When the whisky is made new, we have distillery managers in our distilleries, but it is me that is responsible for the quality of what they make.

Sandy working

And I split my week, I work two days from Speyside and three days from Glasgow, so, I move about managing the whisky making process at both ends. I’m responsible for the quality, but also for the casks we purchase as well. So there is an overlying quality to be met over the whole process.

Tell me a little about the recent releases, and what the consumers should expect from each blend. Would you reveal the core malts for each of these outstanding creations?

Absolutely, I can give you information. This is personally really exciting for me to be able to introduce two new expressions from Royal Salute under my tenure as a master blender. Because it is not often that there are new permanent releases added to the Royal Salute Family of Whiskies.

Obviously, we are intending to continue with the classic signature Royal Salute, wich has that rich, velvety, fruity flavours. WHich is just amazing, it’s super creamy and smooth.

We are going to add to that the Malts Blend, which is really exciting for me, because I think for people that drink malt whisky, this is going to be something special, because it is very complex. We are using a range of different malt whiskies. We are using more than 21 individual single malts whiskies in the malts blends. It’s complex. Every single cask is being nosed, and in the end you have somthing that is elevated in fruitiness. It’s like peaches and syrup. It’s really sweet. Just like those old fashioned boiled sweets, on a jar. And it has a little spiciness as well. It’s really luxurious. Lots of flavour, really concentrated.

Lost Blend

The lost blend is interesting as well. Because I wanted all three expressions to be very different. With the classic royal salute, then I wanted something concentrated in rich and fruitiness, and then the lost blend, I wanted to have some nuttiness and spiciness but I wanted it also smoky. We are using some distilleries that are no longer in existence mixed with other distilleries. So, it has some very rare whiskies in the mix of the blend. There are things such as Imperial distillery, Caperdonich Distillery, Dumbarton Green amongst many others in the Lost Blend.

That’s why it is called the lost blend?

That’s why. Because it has some distilleries that are silent, no longer in existence, malts that are really hard to find.

So, but I also wanted it to have some traditional feel to it. I wanted it to have some smokiness, but also I used some more traditional wood, some hogsheads and butts rather than the American oak barrels, that’s why it has that wonderful sort of hazelnut flavour in there as well.

Whereas the Malts Blend uses more of that American oak. It has Strathisla distillery in the blend, also Longmorn, some real classics, but obviously, being a malt, it has dialled up that fruitiness. Absolutely fantastic if you want to mix it. We are going to have it in a cocktail tonight. It is amazing, it will be without a doubt, the most luxurious cocktail you will ever have.

Just a whisky geek curiosity. Does Chivas have any peated whisky of their own?

We do. Alt-a-Bhainne. We peat Alt-a-Bhainne. But we also exchange with our competitors every year. In Scotland we don’t like to buy, we don’t like to spend money. So we swap to get extra flavours. For me, it’s like buying extra ingredients into the portfolio. And we bring them as new whiskies, we never buy them matured. We buy them new, and put them in our own casks, and manage the flavour from day one. So we have complete control from the start. It makes the end result much easier.

Luxury blends tend to get some fire from whisky geeks, especially those who appreciate single malts more than blends. What is your opinion about such prejudice?

I think single malts – if you like a particular type of flavour, you will love single malts, and you will be drawn to that flavour all the time. But I think something as a Royal Salute Malts Blend is far more complex than a single malt. It’s going to be much more multidimensional, have so much more layers of flavour when you drink that whisky. It won’t be only one blast of a particular flavour. You’ll get sweetness, a little bit of citrus, and the level of finish you will get – when the whisky starts to disappear on the palate – is much longer. A little bit of smoky there as well.

It’s about balance, complexity, and smoothness as well, you can reach a great level of smoothness bringing all these different malts together.

NAS is a trend in whisky industry. However, Royal Salute remained faithful to the 21-minimum age. Do you foresee this in the future?

Absolutely. It’s the benchmark of Royal Salute. If we were to make something wasn’t 21 years old – which we haven’t today – it would have to be something pretty special. It would be something of a really exotic cask

I think our consumers understand the quality. 21 years ago we laid down the stock, and committed to making it. It’s the only whisky in the world that has been continuously available at 21 years old since 1953. No other whisky can give you that benchmark.

And there are some whiskies out there that are very well thought of, but any of them is guaranteed that every single drop of whisky there is 21 years old. And that’s minimum. This year I’m using whiskies from 21 up to 25 in the blend.

So, there is a mixture of ages in that blend, but every single drop is over 21 years of age.

Last, a more personal question. I’ve seen your Instagram. So, Nissan Cubes and watches. Any other passions/hobbies?

Oh, I really love the shape (of the Nissan Cubes), i think they are really funky. In Japan I saw a lot of them, and I just had to have one. So that one came from Tokyo. It has blue wheels. My wife is not so keen on the blue wheels. She says to me “the car is ok, but does it have to have blue wheels?”

My father had his own antiques business, so, collecting antiques and old things are really in the blood. I have lots of collections of things. I have fountain pens, I’m a hoarder. And I drive my wife crazy bringing things in that I have purchased in my travels. Sometimes I sneak into the garage first, and after a few days I work it into the house.

That is a good strategy!

It is, it works!

Royal Salute The Lost Blend – Familiarly Distinct

By invitation of Royal Salute, in July I travelled to South Korea to try their brand new core range – read all about the experience here. And I was surprised. With both, whiskies and country. It’s funny how South Korea – despite the oceans and continent dividing us – is very similar to Brazil. They have almost everything we have here. But things are a little bit different. For example, there is chicken, meat, fish. But the spice is distinct. Beans are scarcer. But almost virtually every meal has something with kimchi.

In our superstition, number thirteen is unlucky. There, it’s four. The streets do not have many palm trees there, but there is plenty of cherry trees. In South Korea, almost everyone wears makeup, and that’s fine. Traffic lights speak and make a funny little noise when you cross the street, I don’t know why. And people wear pollution masks.

And the language, well, the language is totally and hopelessly different, to the point that I didn’t even know how to say yes and no or ask the taxi driver to take me to the hotel, because when I asked, he understood something else and dropped me in a bar. Which was a good surprise in the end, because I found it helpful to drink a few shots to cope with the jet lag. Of course, after having to use signs language to explain to the bartender what I wanted to have.

Per favore, I mean, bitte, ah, I give up.

And – to make a parallel with the purpose of my trip – Korea is to Brazil just like Royal Salute 21 The Lost Blend is to Signature Edition – that classical Royal Salute we all know and love. Because they share the same DNA. They are sophisticated, delicate and extremely pleasant whiskies.. They have beautiful porcelain bottles and exude sophistication. But, sensorially, they are distinct. While Signature is floral and fragrant, Lost Blend brings a wonderful spice and smoke.


In the words of Sandy Hyslop, master blender and creator of Royal Salute 21 Lost Blend, during its official release “I wanted a whisky that was very traditional in flavour. But when you nose the whisky, you will notice it has some spicy and bonfire smoke. And I encourage you to have a little bit of water with your whisky. When water is added, it brings an amazing type of clementine orange flavour. If you take a little sip of the lost blend, youll see the orange flavour comes through in abundance. But overlaid with this, is an amazing bonfire smoke. It’s a wonderful hazelnut flavour coming from traditional oak casks used in blend. Again, this Royal Salute Lost Blend has an amazing long finish. It takes a long time to disappear on the palate, and then is when you get the smoky flavours coming through.”

Sensorially, for this Dog, Lost Blend is very close to Sandy’s description. It is a delicate blended scotch whisky, extremely sophisticated and not aggressive at all. It has a discreet smoky taste. In the nose, however, what stands out is a citrus fruity aroma, very characteristic, indeed, of the traditional Royal Salute. However, in the palate, one can easily notice a dry smoky taste, more present in the finish. It is an extremely complex whisky that looks – and tastes – both familiar and new.

Royal Salute 21 The Lost Blend contains in its composition some rather rare malts from silent distilleries – the name given to those that have been mothballed or demolished. Among its most precious ingredients are Imperial and Caperdonich malts, as well as Dumbarton Green grain whisky. Incidentally – in an educated guess – the deliciously smoked component of the Royal Salute 21 Lost Blend is probably the desired Caperdonich. It is because of the use of these rare elements that whisky bears its name “The Lost Blend”.

The Caperdonich

Royal Salute 21 The Lost Blend is part of Royal Salute core range. However, it is the only expression of the trio you will find exclusively in Duty Free shops around the world. That is, to get a bottle, you will need to travel – but not to Korea. Lost Blend will probably be available soon on our international airport freeshops.

For me, tasting the new Royal Salute 21 The Lost Blend is like traveling to Korea. It is something new and exciting. But there is also a pleasant sense of familiarity. That it is not totally unknown to us, and it brings us a feeling of both joy and comfort. Feeling, this, that only a blended scotch whisky so traditional and sophisticated could bring.

ROYAL SALUTE 21 THE LOST BLEND

Type: Blended Scotch Whisky – aged 21 years
Brand: Royal Salute
Region: N / A
ABV: 40%

Tasting notes:

Aroma: Floral, with almonds and lime orange.

Palate: Sweet, honey, citrus and fresh fruits. Black pepper, cinnamon, cloves. The finish is long and becomes progressively dry, smoky and spicy.

With Water: Adding water slightly reduces the peppery flavor and makes smoky more evident.

Availability: Duty Free shops from International Airports

Royal Salute Launch in South Korea – Fairy Tale

I’ve always been passionate about books. I like to read almost everything, even though I have some preferences. I prefer prose to poetry, and I have a certain tendency for fiction. But I also appreciate a poem or some biography, as long as it is written with care. I’m ok with watching a bad movie every once in a while. They don’t last long. But life is too short for subliterature.

My interest in reading awakened when I was still a child, when I heard fairy tales told by my father. Like any child, I was fascinated by fantastic stories in distant kingdoms, magical and populated by kings, queens, alchemists and magical creatures. Castles and unusual objects complemented the captivating atmosphere.

And even though I would always see myself in the role of some character in the story, I imagined that fairy tales belonged to the world of make-believe. In the atrocity of our reality, they would be no more than a literary genre. But apparently, I was mistaken. As if in an instant of magic, I had one of my most unlikely wishes granted. I mean, at least for a whisky enthusiast such as myself.

I was invited by Pernod-Ricard to travel to South Korea – a country far away – to try, before almost everyone else, two new expressions of the permanent portfolio of a whisky fit for a king. The Royal Salute range. And, moreover, meet the alchemists, I mean, creators of that luxurious and exclusive blended scotch whisky. But not alone. Raphael Vidigal, head of prestige brands of Pernod-Ricard Brasil, would be my guide and partner in the legendary trip.

The initial air journey took twenty-five hours to that distant kingdom, I say, country. And when we got there, even if there were no carriages, we were greeted by a friendly driver in a comfortable Korean sedan. Which, incidentally, exhibited a curious design reminiscent of a kind of chimera between two German sedans. And so, without saying anything – communication was impossible due to language barriers – we were led to the luxurious hotel in the heart of Seoul.

I spent one day acclimating to the twelve o’clock time zone. By tomorrow morning I could barely contain my enthusiasm. I would interview the alchemist behind Royal Salute – master blender Sandy Hyslop. Also, I would have the opportunity to talk to the magician responsible for enticing people with all the charisma of those creations: Mathieu Deslandes, director of marketing for Royal Salute. Except for my nervousness, there was no villain. The two of them were extremely nice and approachable.

Mathieu revealed some details about the creation of blends, their positioning, strategy and the reason why they had decided to diversify the portfolio after so many years. And Sandy was technical and laid-back, and told us details of the elaboration of those incredible creations. These interviews will be timely reproduced here, in the Bottled Dog.

And at night, the big event happened. A gala dinner, fit for of kings and queens, at the Seoul Art Museum, which had once been a palace. The event also featured speeches by Jean Christophe Coutures, CEO of Chivas Brothers and Sandy Hyslop. As fairy tales always abuse the number three – three little pigs, three fairy godmothers – would be presented to three whiskeys. The triad that now made up the Royal Salute permanent line: Signature Blend, Malts Blend and Lost Blend.

I settled comfortably in my chair, in a central position on a huge banquet table and listened to Jean Christophe, who explained the reason for that wonderful evening. “Royal Salute refers to the celebration of British royalty (…). And as the royal world has evolved, Royal Salute must also evolve with it. That’s why we created a new packaging, designed by Kristjana Williams. What we try to do is bring more charm, more creativity and design to the brand, but still maintaining its substance

The history of packaging refers to the Tower of London, which had long ago been used as a zoo, where all animals given to kings and queens lived. But the illustration is not serious – it has a certain air of relaxed creativity, because in British culture one must show substance but at the same time a sense of humor.

The new packaging design

At that moment, taken by Jean Christophe’s words, he was beginning to realize the almost excruciating attention to the details of that dinner. Everything in that enchanting atmosphere – lights, flowers, real butterflies (yes, there were real butterflies) dishes, music, and scents – had been millimetrically thought to elevate that experience. Nothing was left to chance. From the marked table seats, through the engraved ice, to the background music.

Following Jean Christophe’s speech, it was Sandy Hyslop’s turn to explain a little bit about the real stars of the night – the Royal Salute scotches. According to the alchemist, Royal Salute was the only blended scotch continuously available at twenty-one years of age since its creation in 1953. And that would be the first time in history that two expressions were added to the brand’s permanent portfolio. That, for him, was as big a responsibility as an honour.

And so began the most important part of that awesome event. The tasting. The first bottle presented by Sandy was, actually, rather familiar. It was our well-known 21-year Royal Salute, which had been renamed Royal Salute Signature Blend – a delicate, floral, soft, deliciously easy-to-drink blended scotch. That was our benchmark, the starting point. And we continued through the line.

The Royal Salute Malts Blend would be the result of the union of twenty-one different malts, all with at least twenty-one years of maturation. Its flavour, sweet and fruity, would be more intense than the traditional Royal Salute, but still extremely smooth and enjoyable, as all ultra-luxury blended whiskey should be. According to Sandy, the core malts were Strathisla and Longmorn, two of the most beloved distilleries in the Pernod Ricard portfolio.

Malts Blend

The Royal Salute Lost Blend, in turn, would bring innovation to the Royal Salute line. A blended scotch whiskey with smoky profile, which has in its composition many malts from the well-known silent stills. Like Imperial and the incredible Caperdonich, which produced peated single malts. Despite the smoky and delicately medicinal taste, the Lost Blend still retained the delicate and luxurious personality of the Royal Salute range. And it was the favorite of this canid.

After introducing the new trio, Sandy told a bit about the essence of his job. “Most of my job is to ensure the continuity of the Royal Salute blends, making sure we have the inventory needed to maintain quality, year after year (…). Many people think that a blender only works in their sample room, mixing whiskeys and creating new expressions. That’s true, but it’s only a small part of what I do. Every week I travel to Speyside, to our distilleries, to taste the new make of each one. And twenty-one years later, my work begins again. At this point, my team and I know each of the Royal Salute barrels before they are combined to create such blends. “- he explained.

Sandy talking about his creations

After the remarkable speeches, the guests were able to sample some cocktails created with the new expressions – some as luxurious as the whiskeys themselves. For example, one that carried Queen Elizabeth II’s famous rose – Centifolia – even more expensive than gold.

I looked at the clock. Almost midnight. If it was past that time, it would not turn into a pumpkin or anything like that. But it was a prudent time to go back to my royal quarters – the hotel – and get some rest. That was for a whisky enthusiast like me, surely a memorable night, crowned by three incredible whiskeys.

But on the way back, a thought would not leave my head. That, in fact, was not a fairy tale. There were no chimeras, no kings or queens. There were no distant alchemists or kingdoms. And lastly – and most of all – there was no spell.

That, in fact, was the result of the hard and tireless work of extraordinary people and passionate about what they do. Dozens of people, each with their specialty, their knowledge, who together have created something incredible. People who have dedicated their lives and made an epic effort for a perfect dinner. And, above all, to create one of the most recognized scotch brands of ultra-luxury whiskey in the world. The Royal Salutes – so that ordinary people, like me, could have moments worthy of fairy tales.

Monomyth – The History of Irish Whiskey – Monomyth

Do you know what the Little Mermaid, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have in common?  No, it’s not an irritating protagonist, although this might be true.  It is the monomyth, also known as the hero’s journey.  It is a narrative structure widely used in fiction and, of course, myths such as that of Perseus.  If you look carefully, these stories – and a lot of others – have exactly the same framework.

The term ‘monomyth’ was first described by Joseph Campbell in his book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”.  Campbell borrowed the term from one of the works of James Joyce, called Finnegan’s Wake.  The monomyth is divided into three acts: departure, initiation and return.  Each of them has subchapters, such as the everyday world and the so-called Call to Adventure, Road of Trials, the moment where all is lost, the apotheosis and return.

It may or may not be because Ireland boasts some of the world’s most important writers, like Joyce incidentally, but Irish whiskey, over the centuries, traces a similar path to that of the monomyth.  From the monastery gates to glory and subsequent decline, to being reborn and retaking its place in the world, Irish whiskey is a true Perseus of drinks, facing ethylic gods.  I’m going to explain its journey here in two parts.  Prepare yourself, dear reader, for an ethylic Lord of the Rings, without the irritating hobbit.

There’s no use crying.

Our journey begins on the Iberian Peninsula.  The process of alcohol distillation – formerly rather rudimentary – was being perfected by Arabian alchemists of the eighth century in Spain.  It was here that what can be considered the first still was used.  In time, the technique was to be passed on to Christian monks from various European countries and taken by them to Ireland and Scotland during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Although there is no historical document that proves this theory, Ireland was probably the first place to produce whiskey.  It was the island of choice to house Christian monks, who had escaped from barbarian invasions in other European countries.  Irish missionaries led by the, currently world famous, Saint Patrick would have settled in the country, bringing the technique they learned from the Arabs on the Iberian Peninsula, to produce the best drink in the world.  Following this theory, whiskey would have been brought to England and Scotland when King Henry II invaded Ireland and met his fearlessly intoxicated foes.

Incidentally, the word “whiskey” is an anglicised reduction of the expression ‘uisge beatha’, which literally means ‘water of life’.  The monks who produced the distillate believed it possessed medicinal and healing properties.  They believed it could be used to prolong life and improve simple evils like stomach ache, smallpox and the incurable existential boredom of life in a wet, cold place with no television, internet, smartphones or cinemas…

What a life

Whiskey might have been produced exclusively in monasteries for a long time, had it not been for King Henry VIII and his Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.  The suppression was a set of administrative and legal rules that ordered the dissolution of the places and the appropriation of their assets and revenues.  This is where our hero, Irish Whiskey, begins his journey.  The call to adventure and the abandonment of the everyday world.  Here, there was no room for inhibition or fear.

With the King’s orders as they were, the Christian monks had to turn to something that could only be described today as a private initiative.  They were forced to produce whiskey on their own, outside the seclusion of the monasteries.  But something not-so-unexpected (since we’re talking about whisky) happened: The popularity of the drink grew enormously.

During the sixteenth century, distillery after distillery appeared.  It is estimated that there were over two hundred whiskey distilleries in Ireland at the turn of the seventeenth century.  Curiously, at the time Irish whiskey was known as a refined product and Scottish whisky was considered unhinged and crude.

However, our hero’s path is littered with difficulties.  The first of them, incredible as it may seem, was friendly fire: The invention of the continuous distiller by an Irishman, Sir Anthony Perrier.  The invention, somewhat rudimentary at first, was improved by the Scotsman Robert Stein, and later perfected by another Irishman, Aeneas Coffey, an Irish taxman, who specialised in alcoholic beverage taxation.

Diagram of a Coffey Still

The continuous distiller – known as the Coffey Still – allowed Scotland to create a new class of whiskies: The blended Scotch whisky.  By putting their heavy, oily malts together with the light distillate of the continuous distillers, the Scots produced an extremely palatable product whose production method cost just a fraction of the Irish method (distillation in stills).  Efficient production, coupled with the endless marketing efforts of the Scottish, has significantly reduced worldwide consumption of Irish whiskey.

In 1919, Ireland separated from the United Kingdom and gained its independence.  It was an important historical event but caused instability for Irish whiskey.  Independence made Ireland’s access to the lucrative markets of the British empire more difficult.  To make matters worse, the Irish government, which considered the distilleries favourable to the crown, imposed heavy taxes on the drink, making it expensive even in Ireland.

Add to that the fact that Irish whiskey was imported in bulk, inside barrels and bottled and cut at its destination.  This practice, although economically advantageous, made falsification and tampering easier.  Scotch whisky, on the other hand, was imported in bottles making this pretty difficult to reproduce.

However, all was not lost.  Our protagonist still walked with his head held high, despite the latest events.  After all, Irish whiskey was still well-known in the USA.  Well, it was until the fateful year of 1919, when the Volstead Act – better known as the Prohibition Act – was passed and with it the biggest Irish whiskey market in the world vanished.

Where’s the American Market?

There was our hero, in his all-is-lost moment.  There was no hope.  The Prohibition Act had undermined any chance of survival for the spirit that was once considered one of the most beloved in the world.  Down-trodden by Scotch whisky, inhibited by the Irish government and rejected by the USA, there was nothing left.  The years whittled away and one by one the Irish distilleries began to close.  In 1960, from the hundreds, there were only five remaining: Corelaine, Bushmills, Jameson, Cork Distilleries and John Power & Sons.

Desperate for survival many distilleries joined forces.  In 1966, Jameson, Cork and John Powers merged forming the Irish justice (or ethylic) league, called Irish Distiller’s Limited.  In 1975, the three halted production transferring it to a single plant in Cork, which would later become the world-renowned Midleton.  The following year, Colaraine closed its doors and Bushmill’s became the only producer of Irish whiskey, located in Northern Ireland, despite all this consumption of Irish whiskey continued to fall.

But in 1987 something remarkable happened.  A gentleman named John Teeling acquired a chemical distillery – Ceimici Teoranta – with column distillers and he installed two stills there.  He then renamed the plant Cooley Distillery.  The first new Irish distillery in over a century was born.  At the same time Pernod-Ricard showed an interest in Irish Distiller’s Limited.  The acquisition, which took place in 1988, put Irish whiskey back on the international market and raised Jameson to unprecedented fame.

Our distilled hero had reached his apotheosis.  With Pernod Ricard’s resurrection of Midleton, investors took more kindly to the whiskey.  By 2016 seventeen distilleries had opened, some more rustic, like Dingle, and others much larger.  Midleton itself, noting the sudden growth of its product, invested more than one hundred million to double production capacity in that same year.

Pernod was not the only giant to turn its attention to Irish whiskey.  A Diageo bought Bushmills in 2013.  William Grang and Sons – the name Family empire behind the Scottish Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie and Ailsa Bay – acquired, expanded and modernised the huge Tullamore D.E.W.  The year before Jim Beam, the current Beam Suntory, took over the pioneer Cooley.

In 2018, the number of distilleries is still growing.  There are eighteen in operation (although some haven’t released products into the market yet) and another sixteen are being planned, according to the Irish whiskey Association.  In the light of such numbers, it is undeniable that Irish whiskey is in an important phase of resurgence and rediscovery – The Irish whiskey Renaissance.

Another sector indirectly encouraged by the revival of Irish whiskey is tourism.  In 2016, six hundred and fifty thousand people visited distilleries with visitor centres and this number is set to rise. Now, that are hero numbers, are not they?

An Interview with Danny Dyer, Grant’s global ambassador

Smartphones were perhaps the best invention of the last fifteen years. Not because they are practical and versatile devices, or because they contain all the knowledge of the world, literally by the touch of our fingers. And not because they help us save precious minutes in a world which greatest commodity is precisely time. No, the most important function is to disguise my social phobia.

The smarphone is a shield. A real invisible force field. When you look down and slide your opposing thumbs over the black screen, everything is forgiven. There is no remorse in silence, even in the most awkwardly social environment in the world – the elevator. With my cell phone in my hand, I never had to talk about time, the football game I did not see, or any other randomness.

And it may seem counter-intuitive, especially coming from someone whose job is essentially communication. But it is not. I have a hard time talking to others. I am afraid of the awkward silences. And of being boring. Or too excited. That, of course, sober. After a couple of drams, I can talk about everything – from the technical specifications of the hadron collider to the latest hit “Together and Shallow Now”.

So when I received an invitation from Interfood to do an exclusive interview with Daniel Dyer, Grant’s global ambassador, to learn about the recent visual redesign of the brand, I was tense. But in the first few minutes I met Danny, I realized that my fears were completely unfounded. And it was not just Grant’s Old Fashioned in my glass. The chatter flowed, to me, as well as new-make spirit down the Glenfiddich spirit safe.

Danny was chosen from more than five thousand participants in one of the biggest competitions in the beverage industry. The program was called “The Greatest Job Interview in the World” and was intended, precisely, to choose an ambassador for the new phase of Grant’s. That now bears the expression “Triple Wood” on the labels of some labels of their portfolio, as well as a more sophisticated bottle. But the best person to explain all this is not me. It’s Danny.

So, to start, you’ve been travelling a lot. What was your best experience?

I get this question quite a few times. I dont have the ones i like the most. I have the ones that were quite a shock to me, because i really did not travel before I got this job. And the biggest shock i got was when I went to Africa. You have an idea of how it’s like, but you really don’ t know until you get there.

I went to Tanzania and then to Kenya, Nairobi. We went from car to tanzania to kenya, and when we got to Nairobi, it coud be two different places. It was like a place with fashion, and energy. It was the first time I saw poeple with Grant’s on their tables. That never happens. I was really taken aback, and had a really great time there.

So, what did you think of Brazil? And what were your expectations?

Brazil is great. I did not know what to expect. Except for football. I’m a great football fan, I love the Celtics. And Brazil for me was always football. When I got here, it was pretty early in the morning, and went straight to Guilhotina (for a guest bartending and presentation to the bartenders). And from there, I felt more comfort, I was a bartender for a few years, so, from there, I could get an idea of the lay of the land.

From step one, they were so attentive and friendly and warm with me, sharing their knowledge, I knew it was a cool place. When you see the bartenders, you know how consumers will be like, how the nightlife will be. Very friendly people.

All going well, my boss sais i shall come to brazil in the next year, and hopefully I’ll have more time to explore and get to know the places. Fingers crossed I’ll come back next year.

Moving to whisky, tell me a little about Grant’s.

I think Grant’s is a great blend. Everything is balanced. The whole point of blended whiskies is this. When we were making single malts, and that was before we even had licences, we sold our single malts to the english, and they said it was too harsh, too strong. And so, we decided to blend it, to make it easier for the english palate. For me a blend really should be this perfect mix of parts working together. I like all whiskies, but for me, Grant’s is the one that stands out. It’s a classic speyside.

Glad you mentioned Speyside. You guys only use Speyside malts in the blend?

No, no. We actually use 25 different single malts from all over Scotland. Some are not from our portfolio. And we have our grain whisky distillery, whichi is a massive tall column still, 100 feet in the air. It’s stunning, it’s where they make it. The grain whisky is made with wheat instead of barley, and I had the opportunity to taste it. And the new make has pear, grapes. And when you have the opportunity to taste the single grain, matured, it’s like american hard candies, with a creaminess coming trhough.

Girvan Distillery – Grant’s Home

You have to mind that 60% of the blend comes from the grain, so when you have the most sought after grain (whisky) in the whole industry, you are strating off well. And we have Brian Kinsman as our master blender and Kelsie as his apprentice blender, they have to pick up 25 different single malts of all sorts, that have to work well with the grain. And five years from now, today, and five years later, Grant’s has to taste the same. The hardest thing in the portfolio is this – new distilleries are dying, and some are born. So it’s not like there’s a recipe. It changes all the time.

Tell me more about the triple cask maturation.

That’s something we’ve been doing for a good time in Grant’s. Been using three particular types of casks to mature all of or whisky. But no one knew about it. And last year, with the launch of the new bottle, and the new portfolio, it was the time to tell the people of the quality that goes into our blend.

So, the three casks are new oak, a refill bourbon and american oak. When you are drinking it neat, you get a spiciness, that’s from the virgin oak, that’s coming through. A tannic, dry, oaky flavour. The ex-bourbon brings a sort of classic bourbon notes, vanilla, hazelnuts, brown sugar. And finally, with the first fill american oak you get the distillery character coming through, because the influence of the cask is lower, and the new make shines through.

Using virgin oak is pretty rare in scotch whisky industry. You guys use it a lot?

Well, I’m not sure I should tell you, I might get in trouble. Well, sorry Brian, here goes. We use about 5% of virgin oak. 5% of the fill is virgin oak. The reason is that it is so intense. The flavour is so strong. And it brings this spice, and quite affects the colour as well. It looks like a sherry cask, but when you taste it, it has that tannic, oaky flavour. And that’s only 5%;

And what about the composition? What are the core malts there? Glenfiddich and Balvenie? And what about the new distillery, Ailsa Bay?

We’ve opened Ailsa bay designed to be almost a replica of Balvenie and how it distills. I’m not gonna say it is the most technologically advanced distillery, but it is incredibly advanced. One person can run the whole show, it is very impressive. I’ve spent some time with the stillmen there, and he explained me you can actually change what the mash is doing – don’t get me wrong, there’s six screens in front of the guy, and they actually know exaclty what’s happening and what will happen if you change something. Grant’s Triple Wood and Grant’s Smoky have Ailsa Bay, and you can really feel it in the blend.

Ailsa Bay has a still with a stainless steel worm still, instead of copper. Copper cleans the new make, but the steel makes the smoky, sulphury aromas come through. And when I saw it, I though – It can’t make such a difference. But it does. And it’s one malt. One malt changes everything.

Ailsa Bay

Glefiddich and Balvenie are massive single malts. So, I’ll probably be killed for saying that, but about 6 or 7 years ago we stopped using Balvenie in Grant’s purely because the whisky world is going mad for single malts. So, Glenfiddich makes Glenfiddich, and Balvenie makes Balvenie. There’s no Glenfiddich or Balvenie in the blends, because it’s all bottled as single malts. Unfortunately, we cannot use it. But there are so many other distilleries we can use to our specs and our standards and use in the blends. With Glenfiddich and Balvenie, that’s with their whisky.

Tell me about the rebranding. Why is it important to put the info about the casks on the label?

I think consumers are getting more savy. In the past there was a lot about the product being still in the family, and choosing the best grains and all that, but I think anyone can say that, right?

It’s not about catching your eye in the travel retail. But it feels better and looks better. So, for a bartender, when the bottle looks good and they know the story, it just makes sense.

When putting “triple wood” there, although not everyone that buys whisky is as geek as you and me, they see the importance. Wood is 60% of the flavor that comes in the blend. That’s what’s affecting the flavor. But it is not just the name. it’s the change of the bottle. The old bottle is a little like a tall and uncomfortable guy. The new bottle is stronger, it feels stronger. And consumers also feel that way. Way more confident – I know where I’m going.

And it’s true, that’s great.

Yes, and it’s real information, it’s not bullshit. It’s real (laughs).

Grant’s should be for everyone. We have a stigma on grant’s that it is an old man’s liquid. It’s not. The quality of the liquid is so good that it is a shame someone does not get to try it. So, if it means that if we change the bottle and the name to show how good we really are, then so be it. We can start showing. We’ve been doing it for 125 years, so, we’re doing something right. We are the third biggest alcohol company in the world and the third best selling scotch.

Grant’s has received a lot of awards. The one that I really think is important is IWSC. Just last year Grant’s won distiller of the year. Also won scotch whisky producer of the year. And it’s not an one-off. It won distiller of the year 12 times. And this is the biggest change we’ve done in our portfolio for a long time.

It’s not just the name. It’s also our clan motto “Stand Fast”. It means to hold strong to your views, to stand with your family and friends and grow strong together, and that’s what Grant’s is about. We also have what we call “our muscle”, “our master” and “our maker”. Our muscle makes the casks. Our master blends our whisky together. And the maker, makes the whisky. And we are the only distillery in the world to have the three under one roof.

The facelift

You’ve been ambassador for how long? And how many countries have you been?

For eighteen months. And I’ve lost count of the countries. But at least 20. I’ve been to amsterdam last week. And from here, I’ll go to Mexico, then Africa. It’s great, I love it.

So, now, about that job interview.

That question always makes me smike and laugh. It was the most silly thing that happened. An year and a half ago i was working at a whisky bar, and one of my friends gave me a call one day and asked me if I wanted to travel the world. I did not have instagram or anything, and not really into social media.

So I made this instagram, bought some bottles of grant’s and invited my friends over, bartenders, to make some cocktails. Actually, I don’t remember much of that night, but a cocktail was made and posted. And a few weeks go by, and I receive an e-mail with “congratulations”, quickly followed by “you are among the final 250”. So, congratulations and 250.

And it said I had to make a video and tell about your take as an ambassador, and you’ll be off to Dufftown (where Grant’s is) if you are selected. Then I called a friend, who’s a filmmaker and actor – I used to be an actor as well. And I said “i know what I want to do, I have the script in my head, we’ll go down to the Water of Leith in Edimburgh. Bring your camera, ok”. We actually had a dram of Grant’s for breakfast that day. And in the first take it was perfect, and we sent it off. A week later, I was down to the final 20.

And it was great. I don’t know if you ever been in a place full of whisky fans, and enthusiasts. The people from Grant’s are really good at picking people. There was a great energy there. They managed to pick up 20 people that were not only enthusiastic, but no completely assholes about the subject. We did a lot of challenges, and I remember the last day, when we had a few drams to celebrate. And in the next day we were by the Distillery shop in Glenfiddich, all lined up for the selection. I was the second name they called, and I started crying. I could actually taste it.

And they said I was going to travel to Russia and then Taiwan over the course of ten days to present the whisky. And those ten days were the most crazy ten days of my life. I landed in Russia, and it was quite a flight. I was exhausted, but very excited. And the next three days with the team in Russia, I did not sleep. I was doing cocktails in Speakeasies and everythere I went, it was like “go behind the bar”, “are you sure”, “I’m sure, go behind the bar”. So I get a fuzzy memory of what was Russia, but a lot of fun. I was also doing some scottish poetry for them too! “I’ll do some Robbie Burns”. And end up with Bukowski.

And then I went to taiwan, and the places could not be more different. Russia has like a mask, that when you remove it, you got to love it. Though Taiwan I had people randomly running up to me and waiving at me because I was a little different. It was amazing. They had some challenges, or tasks, as they called. One of them was pairing food with Grant’s. It was really lovely.

Finally I went to Australia and met the team there. Justin, who is our Monkey shoulder ambassador was there, and said to me “you should be really really tired, we will give you a break”. And as soon as I got off the plane and to the hotel he said “joking, you are about to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge”. I was everywhere making cocktails. In a boat, also. I met some great people had, we had a laugh.

And when I went home, I felt weird. I went to work a few days later, and it was like a part of a motion has left my work. It was like “Im here, I’m doing it, but everything changed”. And about three weeks later I got a call from our brand director at the time, he said “you got the job!”. I was starring at the wall at the phone, and said “are you sure?” and I was swearing, and saying “I’m sorry, but are you sure?”. From there, I told my mum and dad, and it was great.

Let’s move briefly to cocktails. what’s your favourite drink?

I think Old Fashioned. Old Fashioned shows really what the whisky is. But there is one that I love just because I absolutely hated it as a bartender. What’s the cocktail we hate because we are ten minutes from closing and someone asks for one or two, and then suddenly everyone is ordering them? Expresso Martinis!

And a Expresso Martini with Grant’s is great. Because you switch that neutral spirit with something with more taste, and it makes it warmer.

Back to whisky – what’s your favourite Grant’s whisky?

When it comes to Grants, the smoky is very, very good. I also love Grant’s Ale cask. It was the first whisky ever to be finished in an ale cask. Not Glenfiddich IPA. This one was twenty years later. Mr. Balvenie (David Stewart, master blender at the Balvenie) did this in 1996. And I still think its one of the best Grant’s out there.

But the one I like most is probably the Rum Cask (finish). At my second week at the job I went to see Brian Kinsman, and he had these whiskises in front of him. And he said “you are going to try some whiskies”. “ok”. “so, what do you think about them?”. And I said “well, they are very nice”. And he asked me “which would you choose?” And I picked one. He then looked at me and said “You’ve just picked Grant’s Rum Cask”. And I said “noo, really?”. This make me really happy.

You and Grant’s were made for each other

Yes, I guess it just makes sense!

How to (genuinely) identify a fake whisky

I’ve just bought a pair of earphones.  Another pair, in fact, as my last, amazing ones met their fate when they hit the ground.  They lasted less than two years and cost more than a bottle of Prosecco for New Year’s Eve.  Annoyed, I decided to buy a cheaper pair, but still something that looked good.  An international website selling ‘replicas’ solved my dilemma – a beautiful pair of aviator style headphones.  Had it not been for a vowel of difference, the brand would have been one of the best in electronics – Buse.

My Buse headphones were almost identical to the original.  Seriously, it was almost impossible to spot the difference, apart from in what really mattered – the sound quality.  The base was too high and the highs were too low.  The maximum volume was about as loud as my daughter whispering.  Worst of all was the way they rattled when I shook my head – probably due to a screw that had come loose on the long intercontinental journey made before they finally got to me.

It was a pity.  At the end of the day, my pseudo-real headphones weren’t real where it mattered the most, despite the impeccable appearance.  As everything in my life ends up in whisky, a quick thought occurred to me.  It was like a fake whisky.

So, armed with my (not so dear) newest acquisition, I decided to write a post explaining about fake whisky and how to identify it.  Dear readers, get ready for a text of public, and ethylic, service, written by the Bottled Dog.  Prepare yourselves too to be deeply disillusioned.  No spoilers – but I have to rid you of any ideas of infallible and simple methods.  As Dante wrote, “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate”*.  Finding a fake whisky is like losing weight – there’s no magic formula.

Let me be more incisive.  It’s no use shaking the whisky to see if it froths.  It’s no use hitting the bottle with a pen, unless you are part of a hipster percussion band – and don’t even think about pouring it on bread.  The reason is very simple: there are dozens of different types of forgeries and no test works across the board.

Well, I can explain where each of these myths came from.  Beginning with shaking the bottle, which in addition to not working, in the long-term spoils the drink because it stimulates oxidation (read more here).  Theoretically, more viscous liquids produce more persistent bubbles, and whisky, whose cut is between 62 and 67 ABV, has little viscosity.  So, an original whisky would produce fewer bubbles than a fake, which by some lapse on the part of the forgers or some other reason I can’t fathom, would be more viscous.

Bro’, it’s not chocolate milk you shake before drinking.

The problem is that each whisky has a different oiliness.  I actually don’t need to say that, because you already know as you follow the Bottled Dog.  In this way, The Macallan is much oilier than a Glenmorangie, for example.  In addition to this, there is the maturation.  Wood oils often increase the viscosity of whisky, so it’s not really easy to judge whether those bubbles are normal or not.  The myth about the pen follows a similar logic.

The same goes for the bread test.  Crude forgeries can use iodine to simulate the colour of real whisky.  This method is very rare nowadays and for obvious reasons – it’s ridiculously easy to uncover.  As well as this, it’s not very economical and much more difficult to do than other better and more popular methods.  The principle is simple.  There is a chemical reaction that occurs between bread and iodine, which leaves it blueish in colour.  It is exactly for this reason that this type of falsification has become rarer and rarer.

In fact, the use of iodine is not just rare, it’s obsolete.  As it happens, most of the blended whiskies available in the market use artificial colouring, just not iodine.  It is the well-known and controversial caramel colouring, or E150.  The idea is not to disguise a fake whisky, but to standardise the colour of original products so that they don’t seem strange to consumers accustomed to drinking the same colour drink.  E150 does not show up on bread, and it’s just as well, otherwise many genuine whiskies would be considered fake.

And there you have it.  As I explained, most of these tests don’t work simply because the most common way to fake a whisky today is to use an original whisky.  That is to say, the fake whisky you bought is actually a real one.  It’s genuine, it’s just not the whisky on the label.

It’s not exactly a Ferrari, but it’s a car!

This is the well-known falsification by transposition or transplantation.  You use a bottle of some other more expensive brand, say Black Label for example, and fill it up with another cheaper whisky – maybe Teacher’s or Passport.  The empty bottle might even be original, so you have an original whisky in an original bottle.  However, it would be an original Teacher’s or Passport in an original Black Label bottle.  Therein lies the genius – or rather naughtiness – of this method: It is not identifiable by any of these tests because the whisky is a real one.

Recently, this happened with The Macallan.  The Waldhaus Hotel in St. Moritz had a bottle from the distillery dated 1878.  A guest – the Chinese writer Zhang Wei – paid 9,9999.00 Swiss francs for one measure.   However, the digital world began to suspect the authenticity of the bottle.  Finally, experts suggested the bottle was fake, as the label described a company that never existed.

It wasn’t long before the mystery was uncovered.  The contents of the bottle were indeed whisky, but it was far from being a nineteenth century The Macallan.  According to the laboratory Tatlock and Thomson’s, which carried out a series of chemical and physical tests, the liquid was probably a blended whisky, made between 1970 and 1972.  An extremely well-made fake.  So well-done in fact, that it fooled the distillery itself – after all, it had bought and stored bottles in its vaults from the same origin.

The problem of transplant forgery though, isn’t even when whisky is used, but a spirit, which is produced without due care and whose consumption is, well, not very advisable.  This alcohol, often full of methanol and other toxins, is used to dilute the whisky.  It’s a bit like putting cream in the carbonara to make it seem like there’s more.  Yet, in the case of whisky you don’t you don’t just make it seem like there’s more, you die.  I mean, it’s not instant death or anything and we’re all going to die, but it does speed up the unpleasant process.

Another myth about fake whisky has to do with solid waste.  No, not poo, but crystals or powder that can develop inside the bottle while still closed.  An urban legend said that bottles such as these were false.  Even if there is some truth behind this, of course a fake whisky can develop a certain residue, this story is far from being completely true.  This can happen through many phenomena.

Don’t panic.  It happens (Source: The Cutting Spirit)

One of them is filtering.  Some whiskies, especially single malts cask strength, undergo very slight filtering before being bottled and for this reason, a powder resembling ashes can arise in the bottle over time.  These are small remains of the barrel, which were not removed during the filtration process.  To give you an idea, the bottler Blackadder even has a line of whiskies that are not filtered at all.  The result in an original whisky, which is almost always opaque and full of fascinating, small particles floating in it.

In addition to this, there is a curious, but well-known, chemical phenomenon called flocculation, of which there are two types.  The first is reversible flocculation.  Most fans of more alcoholic whiskies have witnessed this.  It occurs when the temperature of the whisky drops dramatically in a very short period of time, or when water is added to dilute it.  Whisky contains countless fatty acids (seriously) that give it that special taste.  With the drop in temperature or dilution, these acids precipitate and make the whisky opaque.

The second is irreversible flocculation.  This is much rarer.  It manifests itself in the form of small crystals in the bottom of the whisky.  The crystals are made of calcium oxalate and seeing as I have no idea what calcium oxalate is, I’ll just stick to what I know: This can be avoided or reduced during production by using demineralised water.

Of course, there are crude counterfeits and some, which are more sophisticated.  Obviously, for a small portion of those badly-made fakes these rudimentary tests will work.  However, the truth is that there is no infallible way of being sure that what is on the label is in the bottle.  So, my dear readers, I apologise once more for disappointing you.  Leave the pens and the bread rolls at home, don’t bother stopping at the stationer’s or the bakery on the way to the bar.  The reality is much more sophisticated than a simple chemical reaction or jingling a bottle of fake whisky.  There is no formula for identifying a fake, except of course, taking care.

When buying whisky, be wary of the details and don’t take unnecessary risks… oh, and if you don’t mind me mentioning something I don’t know much about – the same goes for headphones.

(*abandon all hope, ye who enter)

Gadgets from Used Whisky Casks

Reincarnation.  Transmigration.  Metempsychosis.  The harsh concept of life after death.  The belief that, somehow, part of our ephemeral being will continue to exist even after our last breath.  The key concept in many religions, and obviously vividly present in the Brazilian’s beautiful religious syncretism.

I myself have my doubts, to tell you the truth.  Once a woman stopped me on the street and said that I was the reincarnation of Winston Churchill.  I smiled, because of course, that was almost a compliment.  I didn’t believe her though.  Listen, Lady.  I’m only a reincarnation of Churchill is as far as I like whisky, because I’m a useless leader.  I can’t even get my dog to pee in the garden let alone lead a nation through a time of war.

Even though I have my doubts in relation to human beings, I have no doubt it’s true for whisky – or better still whisky casks.  The fact is, every year, more than twenty thousand barrels are discarded as they no longer pass on their taste to the spirit.  However, this doesn’t mean that they can’t be used in other ways – like for example, for decoration.  They are transformed into table tops or potted plants for example.

All Jack (photo: DrinkIT)

Even here there are very creative and innovative ways to reuse a barrel that has already fulfilled its function.  I’ve put together five of them.  From single malt surf boards to Irish whiskey eye glasses, these are five must-haves for any whisky lover.  And best of all, they’re made from the skin that brings the best drink in the world to life.

JACK DANIEL’S GUITAR – THE PERFECT GIFT

What translates the American spirit of freedom of Jack Daniel’s better than rock ‘n roll?  Based on this concept, the world-renowned Tennessee whisky brand developed this special guitar together with the designer Matias Flocco.

The instrument is made from barrels previously used to mature Jack Daniel’s and is part of a project similar to that of Glenmorangie, which includes a surk board and bicycle.

In the words of Luiz Schmidt, Marketing director of Brown Forman for South America.  “Each of these barrels tells a little of our history, reveals our essence and how we believe that our way of making whisky might not be the easiest, but it’s the Jack way – done the same way and in the same distillery for more than 150 years.”

LINN & HIGHLAND PARK RECORD PLAYER

Perhaps you enjoy the simple cliché: jazz, vinyl and a good single malt.  There’s nothing wrong with that. Clichés exist because they work.  Throw in a cigar and you’ll be the most commonplace cliché – but definitely perfectly content.

Well aware of this – delicious – habit, the Highland Park distillery teamed up with the producer of high-end sound equipment Linn to produce a record player made from Spanish oak barrels from former sherry.  The (literally) very fortunate buyers also get a bottle of Highland Park 40 years.

The total price of the package is a staggering £25,000.00 libras.  It’s an expensive cliché.

GLENMORANGIE SURFBOARD

The Glenmorangie surfboard takes the phrase “surfing the wave of single malts” to a whole new level.  It is a partnership between the distillery and Grain Surfboards in the city of Maine and is part of a project called Beyond the Cask, which creatively makes use of disused barrels.

Each one of the boards uses 12 wooden slats from barrels previously used for maturing Glenmorangie whisky, as well as a special cedar wood covering.  The price however, is certainly higher than any wave it will ever surf: $5,500.00.

SHWOOD & BUSHMILLS GLASSES

If you’ve got a hangover, but don’t want to put the whisky down for a second, here is the solution to your problems.  Sunglasses by the American brand Shwood, made in partnership with the Irish Bushmills distillery.

The sunglasses are made from American oak barrels of over one hundred years old, which were used to mature Bushmills – and to top it all off, Carl Zeiss dark lenses.  The price of this dark shield to guard against hangover-induced photo-phobia is $225.00.

FENDER 80 PROOF BLUES JUNIOR AMPLIFIER

The best match for a good whisky is really music.  In a similar spirit to that of Jack Daniel’s, the legendary Fender produced a limited edition amplifier from used bourbon barrels taken from various distilleries.  Only one hundred were made in the world.

According to Fender, just as with the casks themselves, no two amplifiers are the visually identical.  The original marks from the barrels can still be seen and when turned on and with heat generated, they even emit the scent of whisky from their oak pores.

How much are these scented speakers?  $1,999.00.

Ole Smoky Harley Davidson Moonshine – Drops

Easy Rider, starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper is probably the best-known motorbike film in the world.  Despite not having much of a story, the film celebrates the sex, drugs and rock n’roll cliché perfectly.  Of course, with so much rock, pot and sex, no one will ever remember the script anyway.  The film was the icon of a generation and defined a genre and everything that goes with it – hair blowing in the wind, leather jackets and chains around the neck.

However, nothing comes close to representing the Easy Rider style like a certain brand of motorbikes.  One that maybe, from the title of this post, you have already guessed: Harley Davidson.  The Harleys are the motorised version of the iconic, anti-establishment spirit of Easy Rider bikers.  Even though, let’s face it, it has always been closely aligned with the establishment.

Obviously, such success needs to be used to advantage.  Harley Davidsons aren’t just motorbikes.  As I said, they are ultimate symbols of a lifestyle and what could be more natural than the brand expanding into products related to that lifestyle.  The official Harley store has it all – jackets, helmets, boots, gloves, glasses and posters and a myriad of accessories.

Ah, the north American spirit!

Catching a lift (get it?) on the back of this fame, Ole Smoky, a well-known producer of American moonshines, has released a special edition in conjunction with Harley Davidson.  Ole Smoky Harley-Davidson Road House Customs Moonshine is matured in highly charred American oak barrels.  Visually, the product is incredible.  It comes in a jar, with a crooked label and a metal lid, exuding all the rebelliousness of motorbikes.

It isn’t, however, very aggressive to the palate.  Ole Smoky Harley-Davidson Road House Customs Moonshine is very sweet, almost reminiscent of burnt syrup, and the alcohol is not very well integrated, so not exactly aggressive.  The alcohol content is high, by the way, 51.5%, but hides behind the moonshine’s excessive sweetness.  Incidentally this is intentional.  In American measurements, this corresponds to 103 proof – a tribute to Harley Davidson’s twin-cam 103 engine.

Ole Smoky Harley-Davidson Road House Customs Moonshine is produced by Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine, a corn whisky distillery located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  In addition, the distillery produces more than twenty different expressions, among them aged and unaged whiskies and moonshines.  There is for example, a moonshine with peach and another with strawberry and even a weird blue one with more than 60% alcohol content.

It’s hard to compare it to any other bourbon whisky.  It might be best to use a metaphor here – imagine that any bourbon – a Woodford Reserve for example – is a rock song.  Now, turn the instruments up, distort the voice and change the tempo.  The result will be a set whose elements don’t really match.  Ole Smoky Harley-Davidson Road House Customs Moonshine is exactly this: the juxtaposition of whisky elements but don’t get to communicate very well.

None of that matters though, because Ole Smoky Harley-Davidson Road House Customs Moonshine has a beautiful caramel colour and is sold in a jar.  On the jar is a black label with the coveted motorbike brand in the world: Harley Davidson.  As I said, with such a rebellious look, nobody is going to stick to the script.

OLE SMOKY HARLEY-DAVIDSON ROAD HOUSE CUSTOMS MOONSHINE

Type: moonshine (corn)

Brand: Ole Smoky

Region: N/A

ABV: 51.5%

Tasting Notes:

Aroma: Caramel sweets, burnt sugar and alcohol.

Flavour: More burnt sugar – sweet molasses, alcohol and pepper.

Availability:  International shops

Aberfeldy 12 YO – Protagonist

There are films I always stop to watch, when I come across them on television.  It’s as if my brain goes onto autopilot and comfortably surrenders to the sense of familiarity.  There’s nothing I can do about it.  It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen each one, the outside world can wait.  Examples are Casino Royale, Fight Club, Pride and Prejudice, The Green Mile, Gladiator, As Good as it gets, Lethal Weapon, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Bourne Supremacy, Inception, Gattaca, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Mission Impossible 4.  It’s strange because they have nothing in common, other than the fact there are hypnotic.

The most magnetic of all is Constantine.  Constantine is, for me, is the equivalent of Peppa Pig for the little pup.  But instead of Peppa counting to ten, there are demons.  Instead of George and his dinosaurs, there’s Lucifer – who by the way deserves some deference here.  Played by Swedish actor Peter Stormare, the devil completely steals the show from the moment he appears on screen.  In fact, perhaps therein lies the appeal: watching Keanu Reeves and waiting for the dog to appear. Not me, the Devil.

#annoyed

Something similar happens with Dewar’s 12 years and its main component, Aberfeldy 12 years.  Once firmly in the background and used mainly for blended whiskies – especially the Dewar’s line – the Aberfeldy whiskies are comparable to the devil.  The Devil in Constantine.

They have recently gained prominence thanks to Bacardi, owner of Dewar’s and the Aberfeldy, MacDuff, Brackla, Aultmore and Craigellachie distilleries, which finally decided to bottle its single malts.  The result was the group called Last Great Malts of Scotland.

Bacardi couldn’t have made a better decision.  Taking its malts out of the background, the brand was able to demonstrate the quality and personality of each of the main components of its blends.  Previously, unbeknown even to those interested in single malts, these whiskies were given the chance to shine.  Some, like Aberfeldy 12 years, stole the scene from the other lead roles.

Aberfeldy 12 years is the youngest expression in Aberfeldy’s current portfolio.  In addition, the distillery has a 16, an 18 and a 21 year old, as well as certain limited editions.  What is curious about Aberfeldy – and indeed, all the distilleries belonging to Bacardi – is that their entire ranges have age statements.  When questioned about this, Fraser Campbell, Dewar’s ambassador, jokingly quotes Tommy Dewar, “We have a great regard for old age when it is bottled.”

While we’re on the subject, let’s talk about Tommy Dewar.  Although Aberfeldy has only recently been revealed to the public, the distillery is a central character in Dewar’s history.  It was founded in the mid-1890s, when Tommy and his brother John decided to start producing – and not just blending – whisky.  The place they chose was then three miles from where their father and founder of the company was born.  It wasn’t chosen solely for sentimental purposes.  Water is a very important component in whisky and back then it was important to have a source nearby that could be used by the distillery.  In the case of Aberfeldy, the source was Pitilie Burn, which is also famous for possessing gold.

One of the most vaunted characteristics of Aberfeldy 12 years’ production process is the long fermentation of its wash.  It takes between 72 and 88 hours, much longer than the average for distilleries.  According to Aberfeldy, it is this long fermentation that produces the honey and caramel aromas characteristic of the single malt.  The Aberfeldy stills are heated with steam and the second distillation is relatively long – resulting in an only slightly oily malt.

Well done, Aberfeldy!

The 12-year-old Aberfeldy has received numerous awards since its relatively recent release.  Among them is a 2014 World Whisky Awards gold medal in the Highlands Single Malt aged 12 years or less category.  It was also named a “master” by the Scotch Whisky Masters, for being a whisky from the Highlands and Islands aged 12 years or older, in 2013.

Even for those trying it for the first time, the 12-year-old Aberfeldy has a very familiar flavour.  It’s an herbal whisky, with honey, vanilla and fruit.  The finish is medium, sweet and extremely pleasant.  You can drink it effortlessly and the next sip is almost automatic.  It’s almost like the film you stumble across on television.  Even if you’ve seen it a hundred times, there is a mesmerizing fascination in all of them.

ABERFELDY 12 YEARS

Type: Single malt with age statement – 12 years

Distillery: Aberfeldy

Region: Highlands

ABV: 40%

Tasting notes:

Aroma: Honey, vanilla, floral and light.

Flavour: Honey, vanilla caramel with milk, fruit compote.  Medium finish, sweet with lots of honey.

Glenkinchie 12YO – Meritocracy

If you’re an engineer or a meteorologist, you probably know the Chaos Theory.  If you’re not, I’ll explain.  The Chaos Theory suggests that in complex systems, where there are a large number of variables, the sensitivity makes a certain result unpredictable in the long term, due to action and repetition – although there is a recurrence of these variables.

If you don’t understand, let me give you an example of a simple object – the umbrella.  Deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when you go out depends on many factors: the temperature, the amount of clouds in the sky, humidity in the air, among other things.  Maybe you get it right, but you might be wrong and end up getting soaked, or even leave the stupid thing in a restaurant on a beautiful summer’s day.  The truth is, it’s impossible to predict the weather with absolute certainty, because there are so many variables.

The Chaos Theory is not only used to explain meteorological phenomena.  It can be applied to everything in our lives and whisky is no exception.  A good example is the story of Glenkinchie and its late – now reborn – sister, Rosebank.  When both were launched at the beginning of the eighteenth century, no one would ever have imagined that the euthanasia of one would be as pointless as its beauty.  However, that is what happened.

Rosebank was founded in the mid-eighteenth century, just a few decades after its sister Glenkinchie.  Both were in the Lowlands – but Roseland was in a relatively ugly place near the Forth & Clyde Canal.  Years later, the water flow of the canal was interrupted due to the build-up of rubbish.  Glenkinchie on the other hand is nowadays located in the Kinchie Burn Valley (hence the name Glen-Kinchie), a beautiful place, close to the, similarly beautiful, village of Pencaitland.

Ugly by Scottish standards, of course.

It turns out that in 1914, Rosebank, Glenkinchie and three of the region’s other distilleries decided to found a commercial group called the Scottish Malt Distillers.  This group was purchased by the Distillers Company Ltd in 1919, which later became the giant, Diageo.  Legend has it that the group decided to close one of their Lowland distilleries in 1993 to concentrate the investment on the other.  Rosebank was considered the queen of all the region’s distilleries.  Their whiskies were among the best in Scotland.  Those of Glenkinchie, however, were merely considered good.  Logic would have dictated the closure of Glenkinchie and keep the crown on Rosebank’s metaphorical head.

I wouldn’t have started this port talking about the Chaos Theory however, if this is what had happened.  As I said, Rosebank was on an ugly canal, Glenkinchie in Scottish picture postcard landscape.  In addition, a few years earlier, Glenkinchie had been selected to be one of the Classic Malts of Scotland – a group of Diageo distilleries representing their respective regions (including Talisker, Lagavulin and Oban among others).  In fact, one of Diageo’s projects was to build a beautiful visitors’ centre so that tourists could experience the processes of their most prominent distilleries.  There was no discussion.  Rosebank’s fate was sealed by its appearance, something which no one could have ever foreseen.

Of course, there are other factors at play.  Glenkinchie was a more well-known distillery thanks to its inclusion in the select group of Classic Malts.  Its productive capacity was also superior.  In turn, Rosebank only had a supporting role – providing malts for blended whiskies.  Its only expression was part of the somewhat obscure line, Flora & Fauna.  Glenkinchie on the other hand, had its own expressions, such as its backbone at the time – Glenkinchie 10 years.  Recently replaced by Glenkinchie 12 years, the subject of this post, this is the only representative from the Lowlands that has officially come to Brazil.

Glenkinchie 12 years is a light bodied, pretty delicate whisky.  Many attribute this to triple distillation – common practice in the Lowlands in the not-too-distant past.  Glenkinchie, however, employs only double distillation – common practice in the Scottish industry.  The little body is owing to the size and shape of its stills, which encourage the reflux.  The serpentine condensers help to bring a certain sulphur taste to the malt, which is lightly peated.

Glenkinchie stills.
Glenkinchie stills.

The distillery does not clearly divulge the Glenkinchie 12 years maturing process.  By the sensory characteristics however, this Dog’s educated guess is that it takes place entirely in American oak barrels previously used for bourbon whisky.  This makes sense, when you consider that the other expression in the portfolio – Glenkinchie Distiller’s Edition – is matured in European oak barrels formerly used for sherry and is the same age.

In Brazil, a bottle of Glenkinchie 12 years costs around R$ 250,00.  Sensorially, Glenkinchie 12 years is floral and slightly bitter with a slightly sulphuric and short finish.  Although not a very complex malt and (arguably) expensive for what it is, it is also easy to drink and please most palates.  It is one of those whiskies that dispels the Chaos Theory and can be drink in any situation, come rain or shine.

GLENKINCHIE 12 YEARS

Type: Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Distillery: Glenkinchie

Region: Lowlands

ABV: 43%

Tasting notes:

Aroma: sulphuric and floral (vegetal).

Flavour: lightly bitter and spicy, with a clear vegetal note.  The finish is dry and short with almost no smoky taste.

With water:  the whisky becomes even drier, with a shorter finish.