It can’t have escaped your notice that Edinburgh’s Napier University has filed a patent for a new biofuel produced from pot ale and draff. Though this does beg the question what Scotland’s cows are going to eat, it could be good news for the motorist. For two years, the team at Napier has been processing samples from Glenkinchie, the end result of which is biobutanol, a fuel which it is claimed gives 30 per cent more output power than ethanol and which can be used by any current model of car. Could we see petrol stations selling whisky fuel?
More pertinently, will each distillery take advantage of what is surely a heaven-sent marketing opportunity and have its own biobutanol pump? Could we see Glenrothes’ vintage biobutanol; Macallan’s luxury fuel (only for use in Rolls Royces); Bruichladdich’s issuing of a different fuel for every make of car in the world? When will the Biofuel Maniacs emerge claiming that they can detect a difference in exhaust fumes between Mortlach and Tullibardine? Will Islay biofuels be banned from the mainland because of the overpowering smell of peat? Diversification is inevitable.
Prior to the Napier announcement, I was musing over that very point when at lunch with a Young Athenian of my acquaintance. The question of how the small distiller can compete was being discussed and we were chatting about how most distilleries these days were making multiple styles of new make spirits.
“It use to be that making a single spirit consistently was the key,” I said. “Maybe now variation is the new consistency.” Making a single style makes sense when you have to supply in volume - either for a major single malt brand or, especially, when making fillings for blends. When that model changes however, the distiller needs to find as many ways of getting his spirit in front of the consumer. Offering a range of different spirits is one option.
This is fine in principle, but as ever an element of balance is needed. The more expressions there are, the greater the chances that your distillery’s identity is diluted. Multiple iterations can only work if there is strict quality control and, let’s face it, the rush to get the largest number of facings has often led to bottlings which should have been used for biofuel. As ever, the answer is moderation.
The need for this diversification has come because of the growing single malt market. The answer to this growing demand might not lie with distillers trying to fill every niche available, but in the continued development of specialist retailers and bars in order to ensure that the drinker has a wide range of whiskies to try.
It’s a not a wild exaggeration to say that the UK licensed trade’s attitude to whisky is appalling. Yes, there are exceptions, but go to most hostelries in Scotland and the selection of whisky is execrable and the level of staff knowledge hovers just above zero.
Maybe, just maybe, things are about to change.
Edinburgh’s Vintner’s Rooms sits under the SMWS’s club rooms in Leith and is one of the Scottish drink trade’s legendary haunts.
I hadn’t been there for a while when, post-lunch the Young Athenian and I headed there in the need for continued refreshment.
Expecting to find the same old crepuscular cavern I walked instead into a bright, spartan, space with bottles lining the whitewashed walls. Whisky bottles. I look closer.
Rare whisky bottles. I scan again. Really rare whisky bottles. 1,200 of them, mostly from between the 50s and 70s.
It’s the open collection of collector Guiseppe Begnoni of Bologna who bought the site a few months back and represents the finest collection of rare whiskies available to try anywhere in the UK - and at extremely fair prices.
It is quite simply the finest whisky bar in the UK and one which answers that issue of consumer choice, variety and quality.
Go, learn, enjoy.