Saturday, 24 April 2010

#376 - A Darker Glen Grant?

Over the years, a lot of official bottlings have evolved beyond my financial comfort zone. So, my interest in the affordable 'bottom shelf' segment of the single malts market has only grown keener over time. I'm very happy that quite a few affordable 'daily drams' are entered into our annual Malt Maniacs Awards competition each year, so I can stay informed about the condition of a wide range of affordable single malt whiskies that are available these days.

Unfortunately, some distilleries and bottlers never participate in our competition, so I have to buy bottles or swap samples if I want to know what the latest batches taste like. With that in mind, I bought myself a bottle of the regular Glen Grant NAS a wile ago, so I could publish fresh tasting notes and a score. I didn't really notice the colour initially, because it was a dark amber 'whisky colour' like so many other bottles on my shelf. However, then it dawned on me that the Glen Grant NAS used to be unusually light in colour in the 1990's - perhaps the lightest regular OB available at the time. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but could it be that Campari started using lots of caramel when they introduced the new packaging in 2007? I decided to share my thoughts with the maniacs...

Olivier: "More caramel, absolutely… I am sure it increases image value. In Germany you can see all these ‘Mit Farbstoff’ on all these bottlings. I recently looked at a big range of Dalmore and they ALL had this mention on the back label. Unless they use a standard back label for all products, I would say that most commercial 12yo or less have caramel added in order to avoid colour differences between batches, but now it also adds a certain image of quality (darker = more tasty and older). However, I am happy that one of my favourite 12yo is now made without colorant: Highland Park 12yo. In 2008 they started using again older sherry casks to adjust colour.".

Ho-cheng: "Dear Johannes, You are certainly right. When I visit Glen Grant in 2007 summer, they just release the new labeling,  I did remember the distillery manger, Dennis Malcolm, showed me both versions, the new one with caramel the old one don't, He asked my opinion about it. (Please see the attached photo.) He mentioned that the marketing team believe coloring is better for the sales and he think it has very minor effects with the taste. Honestly, I did remember I taste them in spot and also brought some back for the second blind tasting, I can only tell very little difference but hardly to say which one is better." 

Dave Broom: "Without wanting to stir up the bloody caramel debate yet again it's worth noting that from this year Burn Stewart are bottling their malts with no caramel, no chill-filtering and at a higher strength. Just got the samples through. I think (well.. hope) that as single malt begins to move into the premium price area where it always should have resided that we will see more of this." 

Luca: "In Italy, one of the selling points of Glen Grant was the light color of the whisky. "Colore chiaro, gusto pulito" (Light color, clean taste) has been the classic lines used for the ads and TV commercials. I wonder how they will change marketing strategy now, after using that approach for so many decades. Another case of Macallan turning from "we only use sherry casks" to "we are using all kinds of crappy casks and the result is wonderful"?"

Davin: "Don't forget the Van Meersbergen experiment which showed some Maniacs couldn't tell the difference or  marginally preferred the flavour of vatted malts with caramel added.  That Jim Murray hates it so, has campaigned so hard against it, (and detects it in places it isn't), almost makes me hope Burns Stewart change their minds."

Nabil: "OK, I don't want to raise the wrath of Davin...I'm going to see him in a couple days!  Let's set flavour aside.  Ho-Cheng's and Olivier's comments are really the crux of the issue: The industry wants the colour of the whisky to make a (perhaps deceptive) statement about time in the cask, type of cask, and tastiness.  I understand the marketing challenges, but on principle I wish they wouldn't use caramel....I prefer au naturel."

Serge: "Nabil, I guess it's hard to resist what the consumer wants and anoraks do not quite make for 'a market'. In the 1960s they had to 'de-colourise' some whiskies because the people wanted 'light' or 'light-looking' whiskies! And I've heard Coca-Cola, were it not caramelised, would be green ;-). As they say, 'tastes and colours!'..."

These wise words were not the end of our debate (in fact, we seldom finish our debates with wise words ;-) but the 'Ask an Anorak' discussion derailed a bit after this. I'd like to stress that I'm not against colouring by definition. In fact, a recent tasting from Bert, Paul, Michel and myself sort of proved that caramel doesn't only work as a colouring agent, it also has a positive effect on the taste and cohesion of the whisky. I wouldn't be surprised if this is also a reason why many producers add it these days. It's not allowed to add flavour components to a pure product like Scotch whisky - but if a change in flavour is a side-effect of the colouring agent, there's little they can do about it, right? 

Oh, it looks I'm growing cynical in my old age ;-)

Sweet drams...

Sunday, 18 April 2010

#375 - The Shelf Situation in 2010

During my reconstruction work on the 'Malt Madness' site, I recently stumbled across my old 'stock list' with a detailed overview of my malt whisky collection in 2004. I published the reconstructed page last week and I've received quite a few positive responses from readers that enjoyed the revival of this 'little look over my shoulder'. 

I don't actually plan on reviving the detailed overview of my single malt whisky collection, but since I've recently obtained a new telephone with a crappy camera, I have the opportunity to share a peek at part of my current whisky collection.

As you can see, I only use my top shelf for big bottles at the moment; the rest of my cabinate is reserved for whisky samples, whisky books and my 'reserve stock'. At the moment, my top shelf contains a fair share of 'light antiques' - (among other things);

- Braes of Glenlivet 1977/2000 (43%, Montgomerie's)
- Glenglassaugh 1973 Family Silver (40%, OB, +/- 2000)
- Glenmorangie NAS '100 Proof (57,2%, OB, 100cl, +/- 1999) 
- Greenore 15yo (43%, OB, Single Grain, Ireland, +/- 2008)
- Knockando 1984/1998 (40%, OB) 
- Lagavulin 16yo (43%, OB, +/- 2009)
- Lark NAS (46%, OB,
Cask LD51, Btl. 2007, Tasmania)
- Macallan 12yo (43%, OB, 100cl, +/- 1997)
- Port Askaig 17yo (45.8%, TWE, +/- 2009)
- Tomintoul 12yo (43%, OB, Perfume tube, +/- 1990, 75cl)

Meanwhile, I haven't posted too many fresh entries lately, but that's mainly because I've been busy updating and re-vamping the distillery profiles. During the work on the pages I had the opportunity to sample a handful of ancient samples that had been on my shelves for at least two years. A lot of these samples were donated a long time ago by Serge and Bert. I'll only list the scores here; you can find many of the tasting notes in the distillery profiles.  

78 - Bunnahabhain 10yo 1997/2008 - Revised score
(46%, Signatory UCF, Refill Butt, C#5355, 852 Bts.) 

88 - Dufftown-Glenlivet 21yo 1978/1999 
(55.2%, Cadenhead's, Sherry Hogshead, 264 Bts.) 

82 - Glenfarclas 1991/2004 
(46%, OB, Cask #5619, 649 Bts.)

59 - Glen Grant NAS
(40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)

71 - Glenrothes 1986/2005 
(46%, Helen Arthur, Plain Oak, 600 Bts.) 

86 - Glenury Royal 29yo 1970/1999 
(57.0%, UD Rare Malts)

66 - Inchmoan 1994/2005 
(55.4%, OB for The Whisky Fair, C#647, 222 Bts.)

89 - Linkwood 16yo 1990/2007
(58.7%, Single Malts of Scotland, Sherry hogs., C#5038, 283 Bts.)

87 - Linlithgow 31yo 1970/2002 
(52.4%, Douglas Laing Platinum, 139 Bts.) 

That's all the news at the moment - stay tuned for more.

Sweet drams...

Monday, 12 April 2010

#374 - Glenrothes Approvals

A few days ago our Taiwanese malt maniac Ho-cheng Yao wondered about something that I had wondered about as well a few years ago. Around the turn of the millennium, the labels of every official bottling of the Glenrothes malt whisky contained two dates; a 'checked' date and an 'approved' date. Oddly enough, the bottling year was sometimes different from the approval year.When Ho-cheng brought up this question again, there was quite some speculation amongst the maniacs before Martine Nouet was clever enough to simply pass our questions along to Ronnie Cox of Glenrothes. This afternoon I received this enlightening response from Ronnie;

"Dear Johannes, I received this from one of the Malt Maniacs and perhaps you'd like to share this reply with the others.

The Glenrothes Vintages are a collection of casks chosen to represent a style,  mood or personality of The Glenrothes. Each Vintage will be different and vary in accordance with time spent in the cask and the type of casks selected. It is certainly true that some Vintages have sold several thousand cases (sold over a few years) but others can be measured in hundreds of cases. A Malt like The Glenrothes which sells less than 20,000 cases of combined vintages p.a. is tiny compared to the top volume malts. Vintages of The Glenrothes represent no more than 2% of the distilleries' annual production capacity. To put it into perspective Glenrothes can produce 870,000 equivalent cases of spirit @ 43% per annum.

To your doubts:

The "Checked" date merely indicates the year when the New Make Spirit was approved, by the laboratory or distillery, for maturation in the casks selected for this Vintage.

The "Approved" year is when is was originally approved by the Malt Master and ourselves in London, for bottling.

If there is a difference on the label between the "Approved" year and year of bottling, it means that whilst the whiskies were from the same original vatting, they were bottled after the approval date. The process is as follows: once vatted and reduced to 45% the vatted Vintage is returned to cask where it remains until it is needed. This "marriage" will occur over several months (normally about 6) before the first bottling is made. A second bottling of this same Vintage (and original stock) is sometimes made in a subsequent year.

The casks used for the marrying process are what we call "inactive" casks - having served their useful and active life. They contribute nothing to the flavour at this stage but simply act as a vehicle to store the Vintage and to allow the marrying process to take place following the disturbance of water reduction.

I hope that this answers Ho-cheng Yao's question as well. I should perhaps add, for clarification, that when the marrying takes place in "oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres", it is legally ageing.  This isn't relevant to The Glenrothes as we don't talk about age (as age tells us little about the maturity and flavour) but, of course, we make sure that the correct year of bottling is on the label for those who want to know.

Let me know if there are any other questions.....(...) A lot of whisky has crossed the bar since we last met." 

Excellent - I think that answers all our questions... Thanks, Ronnie!

I will update the Glenrothes distillery profile accordingly.

Sweet drams...