Surprising results? Maybe, when you consider them from the consumer’s (ie, our) point of view. However, when you look at it from the point of view of a self-proclaimed whisky guru trying to shift copies of the 13th Release of his ‘Bible’, it is perhaps a little less surprising. After all, controversy generates publicity (as we have seen today!). And as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity! Had his Top 5 contained for example; Highland Park 18, Talisker 18, Glenfarclas 21, Springbank 12 Cask Strength and Lagavulin 16 (just plucking some random, good, solid whiskies (in my opinion anyway) out of thin air here!) then would the mainstream media still be writing articles about this book? I would guess not. After all, ‘Scotch Whisky Best in the World’ is not quite as attention grabbing (read, book selling) as ‘Scotch on the Rocks, as Canadian Whisky Crowned Best in the World’.
And anyway, regardless what the results are, the fact remains; this is the opinion of one man. Key word here: opinion. Just because he describes something as the ‘Best Whisk(e)y in the World’ does not mean that it is, or that other people think it is (even though the press seems to think his word is gospel - I think the title of the book goes to everyone’s heads.)
Finally, as far as I am aware, Jim Murray only samples whiskies which have been sent to him for his Bible, so only companies that send him whisky are in with a chance of winning the ‘Best Whisky’ accolade. (When I worked at Springbank and Glenfarclas, his researcher would get in touch asking for samples of anything we’d like tasted. I imagine this is the case for everyone.) Bigger companies probably have a much bigger sample budget than wee ones so therefore are in with a bigger chance of getting the coveted title.
I should point out at this point that I have not tasted Crown Royal Northern Harvest so have no idea whether the accolade is justified or not. I’m almost temped to get myself a bottle to find out, but that would mean they have won darnit!
The Whisky Shop Dufftown celebrates its 10th Anniversary next year and when Mike (Lord, the owner) approached me about designing a commemorative t-shirt for it, I jumped at the chance. For several reasons, but mainly because I know Mike, his shop and Dufftown very well indeed!
You see, the first whisky tasting I ever attended was in that very shop (in its previous incarnation). This was back in 2002 - I had just started working at Springbank and as part of my ‘training’ was at the Dufftown Autumn whisky festival to learn about other distilleries. Coincidentally that first whisky tasting was hosted by my now husband, Mark Watt, although obviously neither of us made a very lasting first impression on each other on that occasion since we both remember the whiskies from that night, but not each other!
Who would’ve thought then that a handful of years later, I’d be living in Dufftown, with the man holding the tasting, sharing a house with the guy that was to buy that very shop?
Did you follow all that? Suffice to say that that tasting was the first of many, many Whisky Shop Dufftown tastings that I have attended over the years and the first of many, many evenings that I have spent drinking with Mike!
Anyway, enough of the back story, let’s get back to the 10th Anniversary celebrations. So, the deal was Mike wanted me to design a commemorative t-shirt building on his ongoing ‘Dufftown whisky region’ gag. He even helpfully sent me a list of all the Dufftown distilleries (maybe he thought I’d forgotten them all since moving back to Campbeltown) and a rough outline of the Dufftown urban area (if you can call any part of Dufftown ‘urban’) courtesy of google maps.
Then, inspiration struck again (I was on a roll that day) as it occurred to me that I could do something like the London tube map (cause Dufftown is just like London) with distilleries instead of stops. After all, Mike used to live in London, so it tied everything together quite well I thought. This then, is the final design;
So, Dufftown as a whisky region, what's all that about?
Dufftown is a small town but it is the beating heart of the whisky industry. It has 11% of the whisky production capacity. It is home to some of the biggest single malt brands like Glenfiddich and Balvenie. Also, it is difficult to see how the blended industry would survive without it. Even the mighty Johnnie Walker would struggle to survive without the whiskies from Dufftown, Glendullan and particularly Mortlach distilleries. Why should it not be a recognised whisky region? But it is often just a mangled blob on most whisky maps with all its distilleries overlaid over each other. This is about giving Dufftown the space on the whisky map it deserves.
What made you decide to leave the high flying city life in London and buy a whisky shop in Dufftown?
My love of whisky is the simple answer but it was more complicated than that. I had not really planned the change. I had been coming up to Dufftown for many years and knew the shop well. I was told it was up for sale and was likely not to continue as a whisky shop. The next thing was that I was in the local pub and being congratulated on buying the shop and saving it so I thought why not.
In the (nearly!) 10 years you've had the shop, what do you think are the biggest changes you've seen in the whisky industry? Any predictions for how the next 10 years will go?
It would have to be price but that’s more of an indication of how long I have been drinking whisky than anything else. The rise of the no age statement or more precisely the dropping of age statements is a biggie. We have gone from being told every year counts to being told that putting an age statement on a whisky is an unnecessary restriction.
What I have been talking about for the last year or so is that the boil must come of the whisky market and that has started to happen with the sale of blends which has caused a few nerves in some areas of the industry. All hail the continuing success of the single malt but the very big brother is blended whisky and even a small down in that market has a big impact. So we are going to see more and “better” whiskies becoming available to the Independents again as the distilleries won’t need to keep such a tight hold on their stocks. But maybe that is already starting to happen with single malts becoming available from distilleries you would not have expected even 12 months ago. May be then my prediction for 10 years time is a massive up-turn in the sales of whisky and a race to expand distilleries and build new ones. It’s all very cyclic anyway.
Favourite thing about running the shop?
The best thing is finding a new favourite whisky for a customer and the look on their face when they try it. There is nothing else that comes close.
Least favourite thing?
There’s a list and maybe people asking for discounts should be at the top but a real frustration is people coming in to the shop and asking for directions to a distillery because they must go to the distillery shop to buy their whisky. The couldn’t possibly buy it from me. “Which way do I go again?”
What are some of the best questions you have been asked by customers? (I know you have a list!)
Another list you mean. One that really stands out is the couple that came in to buy a train whistle and could not understand why I did not sell them. I was recently asked the way to Jameson distillery – I did start my reply by saying the first they had to do was go to Aberdeen Airport and fly to Ireland. I have been asked to fix some ones glasses. I was once asked by a group to organise for them a day trip to The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. They were staying in Brighton. This is a very long list.
Anything you can tell us about what your anniversary year has in store for us?
There’s a fantastic commemorative T-Shirt! (Thanks Mike! - ed) A special single malt which was distilled in the first place I ever stayed in Scotland. A special Glencairn. These are all in the bag or virtually so and a few more things that are not quite finalised yet. Hopefully there will even be a spirit made to my own recipe that has no need to go in a cask– the trial sample went down very well at our bonfire party! We also have a few upgrades in train for the shop.
Playing his cards quite close to his chest there about what else he’s got in store for the Anniversary year but I’m certainly looking forward to finding out more in due course and hopefully joining in the birthday celebrations with Mike, Val and the rest of the Whisky Shop Dufftown team. Congratulations on the first (nearly) 10 years guys - here’s to the next 10!
A Christmas Gift for Whisky fakers?
It would appear that McTears are selling three separate lots of old whisky labels, all in pristine condition, at their upcoming auction. At a time when old and rare bottles of whisky are selling for vast sums, surely this is just a gift for whisky fakers?
I'm sure there are still some genuine label collectors out there and I would imagine the labels are being put up for sale by someone who came by them legitimately through some kind of connection to the company or the bottling hall. That said though, it still doesn't sit well with me. You would think that McTears should have a moral obligation at least to withdraw these from sale. After all, fake bottles are not good for their business or reputation.
To me, the SWA would be much better employed focussing their attention on this type of legal grey area rather than producers who are too transparent about what is in their whiskies! Maybe that's just me though.
Hopefully this has served as a warning to anyone who sees any 'old' G&M bottles coming up at auction over the next few months and not an advert to whisky fakers as to where they can get a good stash of old labels!
I love Christmas. I love seeing all the Christmas decorations going up in shop windows and Christmassy gifts appearing on the shelves (as long as it’s before Halloween - earlier than that is just taking it all too far, even for me!). I love the family get togethers, the santa stockings, Christmas dinner, the whole bit. What I have not felt the love for, until now anyway, is the Christmas jumper!
It seems that Christmas jumpers are now practically obligatory though, for work Christmas dos, family get togethers and anyone working in a retail or service environment in the run up to Christmas. So going on the theory, “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, I have decided to create my own Christmas jumper for this festive period. But, it’s a Christmas Jumper with a difference, cause all of the elements of the design are related to whisky! A hommage to the other ‘spirit’ of Christmas, if you will!
And yes, I know the Peated Cask is part of their NAS Vintage Reserve Range, (which Glenrothes describes as, ‘Exceptional Vintages from different years, married together in perfect harmony”), but even so, it is still comparatively cheap with the Elder’s Reserve (which is at least 18yo) and the Minister’s Reserve (at least 21yo) both coming in at £108 a bottle.
And that’s without comparing it to any other distillery bottlings in the same vein (Macallan Rare Cask Black anyone? I think I saw that with an RRP of about $450 USD)
Assuming that price is not a typo, since I have seen it from multiple sources, then firstly I would like to congratulate Berry Bros on their sensible NAS pricing, even though we know it is actually from 1992 (says something about today’s whisky market when £45 is a sensible price for a bottle of NAS) And secondly, I suggest getting to your nearest M&S sharpish and picking up a bottle, before someone decides they could probably get away with charging an extra £100 a bottle for it!
I’ve not tried it yet, but at that price it’s got to be worth a punt! If only my nearest Marks & Spenser wasn’t 140 miles away…
Whisky Impressions is run by Kate Watt. Previously at Springbank and then Glenfarclas, I now design some whisky related stuff and write about it, and anything else that takes my fancy, on this blog.