Tuesday, 19 October 2010

#389 - Awards Season Is Here!

This afternoon my heart was filled with glee and my eyes were filled with tears. Tears of joy, because the samples for the Malt Maniacs Awards 2010 had finally arrived. To be more precise: more than 260 samples have arrived! As you can see from the picture at the right, I've cleared out most of my whisky shelves to make room for the little buggers. 

It seems that the folkloric strikes in France may have delayed the awards parcels for a few days, but at least most now seem to have gotten out of the country safely. From what I see on the TV News, the pressure in France is rising to a boiling point. France is a really beautiful country, but I'm glad I don't have to be there at the moment... ;-)

Fortunately, I'm in Holland now, sampling my first "blind" drams for our little whisky competition as I write this. 
The other jurors and me can't afford to waste any time, because we're expected to submit our scores around the end of November. That means that we have around 5 weeks left to sample more than 260 different whiskies. That means we'll have to taste around 50 whiskies every week! 

So, I'm afraid I'll have to give my liver a rest and keep it brief this time. I can confirm that I've now received a copy of the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 though. It looks sharp, as usual. I'll use the breaks between the awards samples to write a review for the book - as well as a more thorough examination of Dave Broom's excellent new Atlas of Whisky. 

Watch this space...

Sweet drams,

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

#388 - World Atlas of Whisky

I'm a fairly content person to begin with (I imagine that's why my current job title is 'content manager'), but the past few days I've been particularly happy. We've been enjoying a bit of an 'Indian Summer' here in Holland, and the weather has been absolutely glorious for a week or so. Clear skies & brilliant sunsets - great!

And even better; I've found a little piece of 'ersatz' forest near my apartment in Amsterdam. Two years ago, real estate developers demolished the nearby park where I used to go when I needed to escape the chaos of big city life for a while. I really miss that park! Fortunately, I've now managed to use Google Earth to locate the last pockets of nature in the 'Bijlmer' ghetto where I live. 

So, I've now laid out the route for a hugely relaxing walk of half an hour that takes me through some woodland and along some small ponds and streams. If I squint and look through my eyelashes a lot (and use both my hands to cover my ears so I can't hear the sound of the nearby highway), it's almost like being back home in 'the woods'. This 'fleeing from reality' trick works especially well with the help of a stiff dram of whisky or two... ;-) 

Anyway - as I said, this summer has an Indian quality to it. 
The leaves on most trees are still pretending to be green, although you can see that they don't really believe in it any more. In a few weeks time the trees will be al bald as I am - which always signals the return of whisky season for me. And that's usually signalled by the arrival of the 'Malt Whisky Yearbook' from Ingvar Ronde. However, this afternoon I found a much bigger book in my mailbox instead: Dave Broom's World Atlas of Whisky

Wow! Or rather: WAoW!!! I've only read a few pages so far, but I'm already deeply impressed after flipping through it for half an hour. The book looks like the secret love child of the aforementioned 'Malt Whisky Yearbook' and Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' - on steroids. The photography is stunning and the same goes for the large, detailed maps. Like the name 'atlas' would suggest, the book looks at the whisky distilleries of the world from a 'geographic' point of view. That means that the distilleries in Scotland are grouped into regions as well. Scotland covers roughly 65% of this hardback tome, but there's plenty of information on the distilleries in the rest of the world as well. From what I've seen so far, Dave has tasted at least one expression from every distillery and brand that is discussed. In short: FANTASTIC!

Or, in the words of the publishers; 

"The World Atlas of Whisky is the only guide the connoisseur will ever need to understand everything there is to know about the international life and love of whisky. It is an in-depth and comprehensive journey through the history, process, distilleries, and expressions of world whiskies, featuring detailed maps of the key whisky-producing regions. Heritage, romance, flavour, and craftsmanship are all celebrated in this complete study of the most versatile of drinks.

In-depth descriptions of all the key Scottish distilleries can be found, while Ireland, Japan, India, France, Canada and the USA, and the rest of the world are given exhaustive coverage. The World Atlas of Whisky includes detailed maps, and sample single malts from Aberfeldy to Tormore, great blends from Bushmills to Yoichi, and the best of the bourbons and ryes from Barton to Wild Turkey. It also offers tasting notes on over 300 selected expressions.

Whisky expert Dave Broom has divided the whiskies of the world into six flavour camps to provide a perfect one-stop guide for selecting the right one for your palate and your preference. Experience the entire range, from ‘malty’ malts, with their crisp, biscuit-like aroma, to ‘peaty’ expressions, where smoke is the dominant aroma. ‘Fragrant’ malts, delicate and perfumed with aromas of cut flowers, grass, and fresh fruit; ‘oaky dried fruit’ malts full of Christmas cake, cloves, walnuts, and figs; ‘oaky soft fruits’ aged in American bourbon casks and infused with aromas of vanilla, butter, pine, coconut and sweet spices; and finally, the small and unusual group of ‘waxy’ unctuous malts, full of texture with an oily rich nature. The appreciation of whisky offers a world of variety, subtlety and gratification.

So, experiment with a new taste or relax with an old favourite and prepare to immerse yourself in this stylish, beautiful collection. Whether you savour with experience or are looking for that perfect first taste, this is the ideal whisky bible."
The World Atlas of Whisky by Dave Broom, £30, Published 4th October by Mitchell Beazley, www.octopusbooks.co.uk or on Amazon: http://tiny.cc/d3t5u

Hah! "the ideal whisky bible" indeed. Now HERE we indeed have a book that deserves to be called a BIBLE on the topic of whisky. From what I've read to far this seems to be a very worthy successor to Michael Jackson's Whisky Encyclopedia. I'm very proud that this work of whisky art was produced by a fellow malt maniac.

I will delve deeper into the book in the coming weeks; I'll need many breaks during the tasting for the MM Awards 2010 anyway. Now I can improve my theoretical knowledge about whisky while I'm improving my practical knowledge of whisky. 

That's it for now - more about the awards later...

Sweet drams,

Saturday, 2 October 2010

#387 - Whisky Disneyfication

Perhaps I'm becoming just as selective about my memories as I am about my whiskies (or perhaps it's just because I'm growing older), but it really seems to me that malt whisky marketing has suffered from "disneyfication" in recent years. 

At the end of the 20th century, single malt whiskies were hardly 'marketed' - at least not compared to well known blends like Ballantine's and Johnnie Walker. This situation was caused mostly by the fact that the single malt whisky category was a small niche market that represented only a fraction of the value of the blended Scotch whisky market. The focus of PR and advertising for single malts was mostly on product and heritage.

However, these days the marketeers use a much wider range of tools. I receive press releases about whisky festivals, competitions and charity events on a daily basis. I also receive regular press releases about 'Donald Trump whiskies' - like a new 50yo Highland Park that's supposed to fetch the nice round sum of 10,000 GBP per bottle. In the various articles that have been written about the launch of this whisky, most of the attention was reserved for the sterling silver casing that comes with the bottle and the Manhattan jeweller that produced them. 

I'm suffering from a progressive case of oldfashioned-ness, so it's entirely possible that the next generation has no problems with the growing gap between the actual product and the image or "extended experience" of the whisky brand. However, my body has already reached middle age - and now my brain is rapidly catching up. As a penny-pinching Dutchman I'm having problem with this growing gap. The Dutch phrase for hollow, meaningless boasting is "gebakken lucht" - which means something like 'fried air'. One of the problems with fried air is the fact that it isn't free. In fact, sometimes you have to pay dearly for it.

That's why I'm extra happy to report that we've received plenty of entries in the 'Daily Drams' category) priced below 50 Euro´s a bottle' of the Malt Maniacs Awards 2010. In fact, the total number of entries was a whopping 260 bottles of whisky - and it would have been even higher if half a dozen bottles hadn't broken during transit. The record number of bottles means that the members of the awards jury will have to put their personal lives in sleep mode until December 1. 

Oh, the pain we endure for the sake of good whisky ;-) 

Sweet drams,