The wonderful world of whisky

The wonderful world of whisky

People | 25 Sep 2003 | Issue 33 | By Dominic Roskrow

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Diamond drams: Duncan Elphick
Duncan Elphick is the proprietor of the Craigellachie Hotel, famous for its whiskies across the world. Here he selects three personal favourite bottles.GLENFARCLAS 29-YEAR-OLD SINGLE CASK 51.2%
This was the first Craigellachie Hotel single cask bottling bottled exclusively for us at the distillery. I selected the cask with John Grant so it is very special.GLENLIVET 23-YEAR-OLD SINGLE CASK 59.1%
This was our 2002 single cask bottling and again it is special because I collected the cask with Jim Cryle and it is very important to me and to the hotel.ANY GLENFIDDICH
I have chosen Glenfiddich because no matter what people think of the whisky, the company opened the first visitor centre in the 60s and because of that it has helped raise the profile of malt whisky significantly. Without Glenfiddich there wouldn’t be half as many people interested in whisky as there are.Discovering whisky: The Macallan Fine and Rare
Dominic Roskrow goes behind closed doors to see fine whisky at its finestStanding in the centre of a small room surrounded by a collection of whisky worth a cool £14.5 million makes for a sobering experience. For you get the feeling that whatever the people who buy the whisky might do with it, drinking it isn’t high on the priority list.You don’t just pop in to take a look; the whisky, all part of The Macallan’s Fine and Rare Collection, is kept under lock and key in an area outside the normal tourist trail. But the room sits in the middle of a mini bottling plant dedicated to the range of old whiskies from selected years between 1926 and 1972.Your approach to this treasure chest takes you past the casks, from which most of the whisky was drawn. But little prepares you for the upmarket cottage industry within.Here the whisky is poured into large Famous Grouse bottles for storing – a bizarre enough concept in its own right. Then the boxes are stored around the room by their year. Larger piles of boxes obviously mean more whisky. Some sit in very small piles indeed.With the normal lighting on and the boxes piled up round the room, it’s like being in a supermarket warehouse – no more no less. Until you start working out the value of the stock before you.In a separate area there is a mini bottling plant where the large Famous Grouse bottles are brought to fill the 5cl, 70cl and 75cl bottles that the customer buys.For each vintage year some stock has been bottled so that customer demand can be met quickly. Once bottled the whisky receives a personalised label, which is created at a little desk nearby. But it’s the little room off to the side where the serious action is.Here Norman Shelley’s record breaking £250,000 collection sits, and there are mounted bottles worth £20,000 plus placed carefully on the shelves.To one side are the 19th century vintage bottles, many of them open, which The Macallan has bought back at auction to augment its collection.The bottles, many labelled to show that they have been tested for authenticity, stretch back in to the mists of time and collectively make a striking impression.But what strikes you most is the care that has gone in to putting the collection together. And how innocuous £14.5 million can seem.At the coal face
We ask retailers to recommend a lower and higher priced whisky in a different category each issue. For this issue: Port wood finishesALLAN ROBERTSON, ROBERTSONS OF PITLOCHRY LOWER PRICED: BOWMORE DAWN.
I am suspicious of special finishes in general, but Bowmore has done sterling work in the wood finishes market. This whisky follows on from the original Limited Edition Voyage. Dawn is matured for 12 years in bourbon barrels then finished for two years in port pipes. Dawn noses of peat, iodine, red fruit and flowers. In the mouth it’s chewy, with rich red fruit, sea salt, and a touch of peat. The other serious figure is the 51.5% volume which Bowmore has bottled at. This gives added fun to the whole experience, as each drop of water shows more layers of hidden flavours.HIGHER PRICED: SIGNATORYPORT ELLEN PORT WOOD FINISH
An amazing coup by Andrew Symington of Signatory. This must be one of the ultimate buy one to keep, buy one to drink whiskies. This bottling may well be one of those few gems you wish you had bought 10 to 20 years down the line. At just under £100 this whisky is presented in a stylish decanter in two editions. We have stocks of both. The whisky, the bottler and the finish make this a good deal and a great deal more.ADRIAN MURRAY, THE WEE DRAM, BAKEWELL LOWER PRICED: BOWMORE DAWN
Depending on the customers’ preferences I would go for Glenmorangie, Balvenie 1989 or this one, but this would be my choice for the more adventurous customer. It has a wonderful fruitiness, fortified wine sweetness on the nose and palate, without losing the heart and soul of a smoky Islay whisky. I also like the fact that it is cask strength, as it can be easy to over-water a wood finish and lose some of the complexity. Cask strength allows the consumer to add water to their taste.HIGHER PRICED: THE BALVENIE 21 YEAR- OLD PORT WOOD FINISH
This whisky is every bit as smooth and rich as you would expect from a 21 year-old Balvenie, with the extra complexity which finishing in a port cask gives.MALCOLM MULLIN, THE VINTAGE HOUSE, LONDON LOWER PRICED: GORDON MACPHAIL BENROMACH 19- YEAR-OLD PORT FINISH
At about £40 this is reasonably priced, approachable and not too aggressive. Very easy to drink with no burn, and you could serve it after dinner with a coffee. It has a nice texture and flavour but needs to be drunk in small amounts.HIGHER PRICED:HART BROTHERS BALMENACH 30 YEAR OLD
Not strictly a finish because it is aged in port casks but it is truly excellent. The flavours have combined much better and the finished whisky is not too sweet. The age really works in its favour.You couldn't make it up A look at some of the stranger stories behind the whisky trade* Regular readers of this magazine will no doubt be well aware of the debate that has been raging over fake whiskies, and in particular ones purporting to be from The Macallan.Indeed in the last issue David Cox, director for Fine & Rare Malt Whiskies wrote an article about it.Clearly The Macallan is as keen as we are to weed out the forgers.But we were given some grounds for doubt when we received an email fom Mark Powell, a customs and excise officer in the West Midlands, about an illegal still discovered on a farm in Shropshire, England.“I use the term distillery advisedly,” he wrote, “given that there were three stills in operation at the time of discovery.“The whole set-up was as professional as any I’ve seen outside the real thing.“As a result of customs enquiries a man was charged with fraudulent evasion of excise duty. David Cox, aged 51, of Six Ashes near Bridgnorth….”We should reassure readers that there is no link between the two… * We were asked recently who polices distilleries to make sure that the whisky really is as old as it claims.It seems like it is a good question. Apparently it is left up to the distilleries themselves, and their honour and professional pride are guarantee enough. Indeed in one case we were told of, the casks are taken out the night before the whisky is due to reach exactly the age statement on the cask, and is opened at the precise time it was put in the cask. Then it is sent off to be bottled, as no stock held in reserve.“We don’t say this sort of thing because readers just wouldn’t believe us,” said the source. “But it is absolutely true.”* And on a related note, if you’re wondering why there is a shortage of Oban at the moment, it’s because all the stock is bottled when it is 12 years old and there are no reserves of it. Twelve years ago, between April and October 1991, production stopped at whilst a visitor centre was built. Result?Six months with no whisky to bottle.
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