A week in whisky: World Whisky Day looms

Peter Ranscombe takes his irreverent weekly trek through the world of whisky…

WORLD Whisky Day is almost upon us once more, and what better way to celebrate our national drink than pairing it with another Scottish favourite – tatties.

Bottler Douglas Laing and teamed up with potato king Albert Bartlett to create three recipes combining its Big Peat Islay brand with spuds.

On the menu, we have: rooster potatoes duchess-style, infused with whisky cream and topped with Stornoway black pudding; lamb neck, apache potato, pearl barley, and whisky stew; and maple and whisky-glazed butter gold potatoes, with smoked bacon and ginger.

Unsurprisingly, Rebecca Fennell – Big Peat brand manager – admitted: “We’ve never tried merging our whisky with potatoes, so we’re excited to give it a go.”

Stevie McLaughlin, head chef at Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and Albert Bartlett ambassador chef, added: “The wonderful thing about potatoes is that you really can do anything and combining with whisky is just another example of that.”

To mark tomorrow’s World Whisky Day festivities, Diageo – Scotland’s largest distiller – has published its “Top Whisky Trends for 2022” report.

The tome shines a light on Edinburgh’s urban distilleries, tipping its hat to the forthcoming Port of Leith and to Crabbies, to which I’ll add an honourable mention for Holyrood and, erm, the giant beast that is the North British.

It turns out that Pickering’s gin creators Marcus Pickering and Matt Gammell are also dabbling in whisky, with the launch later this month of their Broody Hen blended Scotch – stayed tuned for more on that as we get it.

Apparently, other big trends include adding yuzu – aye, I had to remind myself what that was too – and other citrus flavours to cocktails, the rise of English micro-distilleries, and pouring your whisky into edible glasses – the mind boggles.

Not satisfied with just a day of celebrations, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society has continued to mark May’s Whisky Month by unveiling “memory boxes” to match the six bottles it’s releasing this month.

Tatties weren’t exciting enough for the society, so it enlisted the help of chef Bruce Clyne-Watson, psychologist Ansgar Endress, and rollercoaster designer Brendan Walker to create “sensory experiences” that would stimulate memories associated with the flavours in each bottle.

Clyne-Watson made canapes to be served in the society’s members’ rooms alongside each box.

“Camping Out” embraced autumn nights huddling around a fire, with “rabbit liver rillette dressed in a marmalade chutney, candied walnut, and nasturtium leaves”.

Paired with a peated whisky, “Watching the Harbour Boats” was matched with “smoky langoustine sprayed with sea water and a smoke gun, served on pebbles alongside a deep-fried Mars Bar with Irn bru and tobacco essence” to conjure up memories of the seashore.

Whisky artwork from Bonhams

Bonhams sells its first whisky NFT in Hong Kong

Before we get to World Whisky Day, all eyes will be on Hong Kong today for the results of Bonhams’ whisky auction.

It includes the sale of a single bottle of Gordon & MacPhail’s Glen Grant 72 year old, which is being auctioned alongside a painting that depicts Hong Kong in 1948, the year in which the cask was laid down, and an accompanying non-fungible token (NFT) for the artwork.

For more on NFTs, read Scottish Field whisky columnist Blair Bowman’s article in the latest issue of our Cask & Still magazine, which is available for free from independent bottle shops or online.

Daniel Lam, director of fine and rare wines and whisky at Bonhams, said: “Headlining the sale will be two very special Japanese whiskies, the Yamakazi 50 and 55, which are must-haves for any serious collector, and this holy grail of Scottish single malts, the Glen Grant 1948.”

Plus, don’t miss Mark Littler’s in-depth column on the latest whisky auctions.

Billy Walker GlenAllachie

Toasts to two of the greats

Talking of old things, two titans of the whisky world are celebrating milestones.

Billy Walker, master distiller at GlenAllachie on Speyside, is marking 50 years in the whisky industry by releasing a series of limited edition single malts covering “the past, the present, and the future”.

First up is The GlenAllachie Billy Walker 50th Anniversary Past Edition, a fully sherry-matured 16-year-old single malt – retailing for £225 – which marks Walker’s pioneering work with sherry casks.

Meanwhile, this week marked the retirement of Alan Winchester, former  master distiller at The Glenlivet, after a 48-year career in whisky.

Winchester stood down as master distiller in 2018 – and post he’d held since 2009 – and moved into an ambassadorial role.

Owner Chivas Brothers has unveiled a “Glenlivet Makers” team to take over his work, led by distillery manager Lisa Glen.

Duncan Taylor decanters

Back to the ’60s… and the ’70s

Staying with more mature stock, and we find bottler Duncan Taylor releasing whiskies from two silent distilleries.

Both the 51-year-old Kinclaith – carrying a price tag of £12,300 – and the 50-year-old Caperdonich, tipping the scales at £10,750, were distilled in 1969.

Kinclaith sat within the giant Strathclyde grain distillery complex on the south bank of the Clyde and produced malt between 1957 and 1975, when it was knocked down.

Caperdonich in Rothes was founded in 1898, mothballed for six decades, and then revived in 1965, expanded in 1967, and eventually closed in 2002.

Fast-forward to 1976 and that’s when Tomatin laid down the Scotch for the final bottle in its “Warehouse 6 Collection”.

Cask numbers 32 and 33 together yielded 350 bottles and follow in the footsteps of the 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977, and 1978 releases.

The bottles are expected to sell for £3,800 each.

Lots of Ts this week, with Talisker also releasing its oldest expression.

The 44-Year-Old “Forests of the Deep” is a nod to an expedition led by Parley for the Oceans, the distillery’s ocean conservation partner, to one of the world’s largest kelp forests near the Cape of Good Hope.

The 1,997 bottles are also selling for £3,800 a go.

Something a little younger to finish, with the Boutique-y Whisky Company unveiling its latest releases, which are all paired with music.

Billy Walker’s Glenallachie stars with 10 year olds finished in bourbon (£59.95) and pedro ximenez sherry (also £59.95) casks, while a six-year-old Dailuaine (£44.95), a 19-year-old Ledaig (£119.95), and a 26-year-old Bunnahabhain (£229.95) also put in an appearance.

The collection is rounded off by a 13-year-old Islay (£174.95), a 24-year-old blended malt (£134.95), and a global blend entitled “It’s A Small World” (£50.95).

Bunnahabhain distillery

May the Fèis be with you…

The new release fun doesn’t stop there though, with more brands unveiling bottles ahead of Fèis Ìle.

Following last week’s news about Diageo duo Caol Ila and Lagavulin, this week we’ve got Bunnahabhain, plus Big Peat – minus his tatties – is back again.

Bunnahabhain is releasing not one, not two, but three bottles – a non age statement Abhainn Araig (£95), a 1998 calvados cask finish (£400) and a 2004 Moine Tokaji cask finish (£199).

Big Peat has opted for a “Beach BBQ Edition”, bottled at cask strength and accompanied by tasting notes that include “smoky, maple-cured bacon”, “charred oak”, and “chewy salted toffee”.

The brand has teamed up with the Peatzeria in Bowmore to offer tastings during the festival.

Meanwhile, Glen Scotia is keeping it closer to home by hosting its first “global” whisky tasting at the Campbeltown Malts Festival.

Master distiller Iain McAlister will host online tastings live from the distillery’s dunnage warehouse on 26 and 27 May.

Black Bottle double cask

And the winner is…

As Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett reminded us in their 2003 classic – It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.

Equally, it’s always awards season somewhere in the drinks industry and this week it’s Distill and Whyte & Mackay that are celebrating victories.

Distell scooped 32 awards – including a double gold for Black Bottle’s Double Cask Alchemy Series – at the International Spirits Challenge.

Whyte & Mackay carried home 24 gold meals in the same contest.

Nc'nean Distillery

Nc’nean lands HIE funding

Turning to distillery news and Nc’nean on the Movern peninsula has secured a £250,000 investment from Highlands & Islands Enterprise to install its own bottling line and expanding production and warehousing.

The moves are expected to create three jobs at the site.

Founder Annabel Thomas said: “The new bottling plant is an important step on our journey, allowing us to increase our sales whilst keeping control of the process and increasing employment in the area.”

Meanwhile, Arbikie has offically opened its visitors’ centre in Angus, with three tours and tastings focusing on its whisky, gin, and vodka – plus cocktail making.

Lake of Menteith Hotel

Going inside Lake of Menteith’s ‘Malt Vault’

Chris Diplock has been sharing details about what tempted him to come out of retirement to be the general manager at the Lake of Menteith hotel.

The site was taken over by Karma Group last year and now Diplock has plans to expand its famous “Malt Vault”.

A further 17 bottles have recently been added to the collection, and Diplock wants to work with local suppliers.

“We work with vineyards and distilleries all over Europe,” he explained.

“We’re always on the lookout for local suppliers, not necessarily just for alcoholic drinks, but for any product that is delicious, sustainable if possible, and reflects local heritage and location.”

Diplock added: “We have a particular requirement for our own label honey, which we thought would be a fantastic addition to breakfast, and could be retailed to guests here, and across our global resorts.

“We’ve already had a very positive conversation with local renowned chef Nick Nairn who has his own hives.”

Glenrinnes muscat-aged vodka

What happens when you put vodka in a wine barrel…?

And finally, it might be sticking to its guns and concentrating on white spirits instead of whisky, but that hasn’t stopped Glenrinnes distillery on Speyside from having some fun with casks.

Its latest venture is a muscat barrel-aged vodka, created by head distiller Meeghan Murdoch.

The vodka spent two months in the casks, which originally held brandy and then muscat wine for 31 years.

“I have long been interested in the impact that different barrels can have on spirits, all the way back to my time as a winemaker, and it’s fascinating to see what whisky makers are using now to finish their products,” says Murdoch.

“Our vodka is such a fantastic spirit; I knew it would make the perfect starting point for something new and exciting.

“I hadn’t ever seen a vodka aged in a muscat barrel and quickly knew we were onto a winner once the vodka had spent a short time in the barrel.”

Read more news and reviews on Scottish Field’s whisky pages.