By Mark Bylok
The WhistlePig Distillery is not your typical distillery, with a founder that is not your typical whiskey tycoon. The distillery presents itself more as a farm, with a woodsy charm straight from the pages of a Hollywood studio.
Tucked away inside a refurbished red barn is a copper pot still and a large room for events on the second floor. On the grounds, near the office located in a repurposed old dairy barn, three sheep will happily bleat at you with curiosity. If you explore just a little, a sugar shack, a retro abandoned bus from the 1960s and a yurt are all within short walking distance. This is not an average distillery. It is, though, the imagined world of Raj Peter Bhakta, the founder of WhistlePig. Bhakta is of Irish and Indian descent; with a history in the public eye from the time he was a contestant on The Apprentice in 2004 and in his failed run for congress in 2006.
The dream was always to create a 'farm to bottle' Vermont rye whiskey. Raj calls the concept triple terroir: made from grain, wood, and water from the same land. Though first, the distillery needed to sell whiskey. For that, they purchased barrels of rye from Alberta and earned great accolades with WhistlePig 10 sourced whiskey. WhistlePig has been distilling its own rye since late 2015. Dave Pickerell, once a master distiller for Maker's Mark, is running the still. The rye coming off the still is delicious, with floral notes on the nose and spice that pops the palate. It's not a shy rye. It's a rye distilled to make great whiskey. One that, with enough barrel maturation, consumers will love.
WhistlePig FarmStock is the latest release from the distillery. It's proudly labelled as 'Bottled in Farm', a playful knock on the popularity of 'Bottled in Bond' American whiskey. It's the first whiskey released that contains a component of rye made entirely on the farm realising Raj Bhakta's triple terroir dream. One-fifth of Pickerell's rye has gone into FarmStock. It's then tempered with 49 per cent of Indiana rye that's been aged for a time in Vermont white oak, and 31 per cent is 12-year-old Canadian rye from Alberta. The results are complex in personality, with the older ryes taking hold of the front of the palate and the young peppy rye demanding all the attention toward the middle and finish.
This is a transitional time for WhistlePig Distillery. The distiller is planning a new batch of FarmStock rye for annual release. Each year it's likely to contain more Vermont Rye. Raj Bhakta is driven to make WhistlePig the best rye in the world, even better than the star rye he purchased from Canada. As the distillery gains independence by selling its own rye, this is a taste of WhistlePig's evolving vision.
'Self Learn' kits from Aroma Academy
Aroma Academy, global leader in the development of Aroma Recognition skills, now has five 'Self Learn' Aroma Kits in its range with the addition of Bourbon and Rum to join the Whisky, Wine and Gin Aroma Kits.
The 'Self Learn' kits not only provide a set of standards that allow the development of nosing ability but they also provide an opportunity for people to experience aromas and flavours with which they may be unfamiliar. Alan Gordon, managing director and co-founder of the Aroma Academy explains, "This latter factor was particularly noticeable when we recently released the Rum Aroma Kit and people were very interested to learn what a typical 'fusel oil' aroma note smells like after encountering it in rum books and rum flavour notes. We first experienced this type of interest when we launched the Whisky Aroma Kit and people were intrigued by the term 'phenolic'. We provided a number of different aroma nuances from the phenolic family in the whisky, including one Aroma Standard chosen as a generic representation together with a 'smoky' Aroma Standard and a 'medicinal' Aroma Standard."
With the release of each Aroma Kit, the Aroma Academy team has worked with experts in the field to produce a set of standards that are just right for the signature notes of the category. As Alan explains, "We are very fortunate to have Dr George Dodd - the other co-founder of the Aroma Academy - as our director of product development. George is a world leading Aroma scientist and a globally recognised expert on the sense of smell who has overseen the development of each of the Aroma Kits. George is a great believer in the term 'one nose is not a nose' and so, in addition to seeking advice on the selection of the spectrum of Aroma Standards for each category, we have also engaged in a lot of practical nosing with the associated feedback helping to determine the nuancing in the creation of the final Aroma Standards."
Alan notes, "We believe that the Aroma Kits are unique given the level of development involved in the creation of the Aroma Standards and the methodology that we teach. We view the range of Aroma Kits and the Aroma Academy Training Programmes as complementary to the excellent education and training programmes for wines and spirits now available.
Each kit is supplied with a set of Aroma Standards, Aroma Strips and an explanatory Guide Booklet. More information on the 'Self Learn' kits and Aroma Training Programmes can be found at www.aroma-academy.co.uk
Scotch whisky exports return to growth
Scotch whisky exports increased last year by four per cent to more than £4 billion, with the value of single malts exceeding £1bn for the first time. This success marks a return to growth for Scotch exports, following a few years of levelling off and small declines as a result of economic head-winds and political uncertainty in some markets.
Last year, Scotch remained the biggest net contributor to the UK's balance of trade in goods. In 2016, without the impact of Scotch whisky, the UK trade in goods deficit would have been 2.8 per cent larger at almost £139bn. Scotch whisky accounts for more than a fifth of the UK's food and drink exports.
Scotch also continues to lead the way for the rest of Scotland's food and drink sector. The 'national drink' makes up 73 per cent of total Scottish food and drink exports.
The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) has analysed the reasons for the resurgence of exports and the outlook for the future.
While the industry is optimistic about renewed demand for Scotch, there are challenges as well as opportunities on the horizon, including the seismic changes that Brexit brings to an increasingly competitive global marketplace. The weakness of sterling, for example, had a significant impact on exports in the second half of last year. This short-term positive currency impact should be seen in the context of continuing uncertainties around Brexit in the longer term.
All categories of Scotch whisky grew last year, but bottled blended Scotch is still by far the biggest. It accounted for 69 per cent of all Scotch volumes and values exported in 2016. Bottled blended Scotch has traditionally been the largest category of Scotch and last year value increased for the first time since 2012 by 1.4 per cent to £2.75bn.
Single malt was a stand-out performer last year. With single malt exports growing at a faster rate than that of Scotch overall, market share is increasing. It now makes up just over a quarter of the total value of Scotch exports.
However, this is an uncertain time for all business and the industry's success cannot be taken for granted.