Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Spirit of Freedom - Vote Yes to that

This blog has always been a mixture of opinions - in general - mixed with views on and experiences of the world of whisky and its culture.

From day one, support and favouritism has been given to the 'wee guy'. We firmly believe that small is beautiful. That doesn't mean that big = ugly but really you can't beat something close and tangible to something that's distant in all meanings of that word.

Recently, the media made much of 130 'Scottish' companies who opposed Scottish independence and 200 who are in favour of it. Amongst the names on both sides were some from the whisky world.

Two of the names I noticed were Inver House distillers - in opposition to independence - and Springbank who see it as a golder opportunity. Inver House distillers produce many fine whiskies. But, how to they compare to the well respected Springbank?

This is from Wikipedia's page on Inver House:
Inver House Distillers Limited is a Scottish malt whisky distiller, based in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire. The company is now a subsidiary of Thai Beverages, one of the largest alcoholic-beverage companies in South East Asia, with a market capitalisation in excess of US$4bn.
Inver House Distillers is a leading distiller of single malt whisky, owning and operating five distilleries: Old Pulteney Distillery, The Speyburn-Glenlivet Distillery, Balblair Distillery, Knockdhu Distillery and Balmenach Distillery.
This, from Sprinbank's Wiki page:

Springbank is one of only two distilleries in Scotland to perform every step in the whisky making process, from malting the barley to bottling the spirit, on same premises: the other is Kilchoman Distillery who also grow their own barley. While a few others still maintain the first step in the process, the malting of barley (which is becoming more rare), Springbank also bottles their own whisky.

Springbank is one of the few remaining family owned distilleries. Nearly all of its whisky is sold as a single malt, with little of it finding its way into blends. Most blends are produced by larger conglomerates who tend to use the single malts from the distilleries that they own in their blends. Springbank produces two of its own blends, 5 year old Campbeltown Loch, and Mitchell's 12 year old.
So, here we have it. One group of distilleries is owned by a 'faceless' international conglomerate and the other is, well, independent. As to the whiskies themselves, all have their qualities though personally I have found in the last two years that my whisky purchases increasingly include those from the Springbank stable. The new Longrow Red is likely to be my next.

Quoted in the Scotsman, Neil Clapperton of Springbank:

But Mr Clapperton, managing director of Springbank Distillers, said: “The Scottish whisky industry has nothing to lose and everything to gain from independence. Whisky is an iconic Scottish product hugely important to our economy. It accounts for a quarter of all UK food and drink exports, earning £135 every second.

“We must do all we can to support every stage of its production here in Scotland, from our barley farmers through to our whisky producers. I am certain that is best done as a normal nation with the full powers of an independent country.”

He warned: “The biggest threat to the whisky industry comes from the in/out European Union referendum the UK is planning, and the fact this could close EU influence in getting whisky into foreign markets.”

In the pro-Yes letter, the Springbank boss and others state that “independence is in the best interests of Scotland’s economy and its people”.

As with crofting communities, local ownership has to be the preferred option for whisky distilleries if they seek to benefit the local community as well as those with vested interests, financially, in the business.

This must count for nations as well. There is always uncertainty and there will be whether or not we vote yes or no to our self-determination - not least will we see a Tory-Ukip coalition in Downing St that takes us out of Europe whether we like it or not. However, at the end of day, do we want to leave control over important issues to a handful of distant millionaires or do we trust ourselves to do what's best for our country.

Who should deal with...
  • welfare? Who is best placed to provide for our pensioners, working families, disabled, students as well as those without work?
  • pensions? Why are we working longer and paying more to receive smaller pensions when we can 'afford' an unelected House of Lords with 800 members who receive £800 a day expenses?
  • political priorities? Is it really necessary for the UK government to spend £billions on Trident and more recently, £4billion on 600 armoured vehicles?! Or could we provide something more tangible to our citizens in the form of more nurses, doctors, teachers and better public transport?
  • our wealth? Whisky apparently brings in £130 per second to the London treasury. Oil, tourism, the financial sector, food, research, technologies and renewable energy adds to this wealth. Do we trust ourselves to spend it according to our needs or do we leave it to a succession of Westminster governments who have, arguably, wasted it for the past 40 years?
I have always been decided on this issue. But for those who aren't, I am reliably informed that the Wee Blue Book is an invaluable source of information on what Scottish self-determination could look like.

Otherwise, vote Yes on September 18. Then, enjoy a dram or three at the mother of parties that will follow a Yes vote and look forward to a bright new future.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Redemption in Uigeadail

Holiday time and a trip through duty-free sees me in 'boy in sweetie shop' mode. Edinburgh Airport's selection doesn't seem to be what it used to though. There is variety but much of it seems to be underwhelming 'travel-retail only' from some of the industry's big guns who jump at the chance to proffer a new name or two with no age-statement and the auld ABV of 40%. Some of it is more or less the same stuff you can buy in a local supermarket except that here you have 'trained' sales-rep types mangling the Gaelic names on the likes of Glenlivet or Glenmorangie.... "La Santa? You mean LASanta?!"

I had decided beforehand that the bottle to keep me warm on this holiday would be the Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof or maybe the Ardbeg Uigeadail. The absence of the Bowmore rendered the decision an easy one.

Ardbeg though has been disappointing of late. Last year's purchase of the Corryvreckan was a mistake. It was underwhelming. More so when I had the choice of the Uigeadail. It may be another NoAgeStatement but it's reasonably priced and it's a flaming great dram. It has a fabulously filthy flavour if you excuse the alliteration. Oily with flavours of TCP, dirty leather and the old Portobello swimming baths back when they were filled with seawater from the Firth of Forth. On top of the peat though there's a little sweetness. It's drinkable at the ABV of 54.2% though a smidgen on water does no harm.

Here's hoping Ardbeg get back to the robust and direct approach to whisky that gave us Renaissance and Airigh nam Beist as well as Uigeadail. An approach that married simplicity with complexity without over the top marketing or cask-strength gimmickry.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Bread, beer and whisky from one year to the next

What else do you need for the glum darkness of a Scottish December as it merges into a new year?

I hardly ever make any sort of bread but seeing a recipe on Innis & Gunn's site for their IPA bread gave me renewed confidence in my baking skills. The recipe here, worked a treat. For good measure, I threw in a variety of other ingredients to add interest to the mix and to 'beef' it up a bit - black Greek olives, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and some battered brazil nuts. I'm not usually an IPA fan - tastes too much like a bunch of flowers for me - but Innis & Gunn's habit of maturing their liquid in casks makes this the most palatable.

Around the same time, a triple barrelled package with a combined age of 67 arrived from Whiskybroker. Though myself and others were disappointed that the promised Macallan didn't materialise, due to price apparently, the other releases were both of significant interest and high quality.

Having exhausted my previous bottle of grain, the Invergordon 25yo was a welcome addition to the shelf. It has all the hallmarks of an aged grain - smooth, creamy with lots of vanilla but this one has a little lemon zest in there.

In all my years of imbibing, I had never knowingly drank an Auchroisk. Whiskybroker's 21 year old is an excellent place to start. Smooth, sweet and so damn tasty with a wee hint of wood.

Lastly was the 21yo Ardbeg. Much sought after though more so for the reputation of it and the perceived kudos at having such a bottle on the shelf. The nose is fantastic - lots of peat and saline that takes me back to Airigh nam Beist. As is usual for the age, the peat on the palate is not as pronounced but is there nevertheless. Dignified and quiet and well worth it at the price.

And there's enough left over for an impending Burns' Nicht.