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!
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…
Facebook today has been awash with the news that Compass Box has been instructed by the SWA not to detail the individual components of two of their new bottlings, ‘This is Not a Luxury Whisky’ and ‘Flaming Heart’ as it contravenes the EU Spirit Drinks Regulation No 110/2008 (and the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009) which say that you are only allowed to state the age of the youngest whisky component in the ‘description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink, including advertising, promotion and images’.
Now funnily enough, my husband (who works at independent bottler, William Cadenhead) had been having a rant about these very regulations not that long ago (when I was writing my post about This is Not a Luxury Whisky in fact) and was wondering how Compass Box had got round them (although it now turns out they just ignored them). As Mark says, ‘I would love to put more information on the labels of our Cadenhead’s Creations, or any of our other blends, but I can’t unless all the whisky comes from the same year, which doesn’t happen very often. So as things stand I’m limited to just telling people the names of the distilleries in the blend. I think the regulations are ridonkulous (sometimes he makes up words! - ed.) and I can’t imagine any other food or drinks rulings that would encourage such a lack of transparency. I’m not saying you should have to give detailed information, but if you want to, and it is truthful, then it should be encouraged rather than be illegal. This rule stinks of Fifa! (I don’t do football so this reference is completely over my head - ed.)’
I totally agree with Mark here (which doesn’t happen that often!) - the rules are ridiculous. But, rules are rules (as I said before in my NAS post). For me, the interesting thing about this whole hoo-ha is the questions it raises;
Why the lack of transparency?
Firstly, the SWA are an industry body to protect the interests of the Scotch Whisky industry. Why is a lack of transparency in the industry’s best interests? Like Mark, I don’t think giving detailed information should be compulsory. For big, commercial blends it would be completely impractical and totally go against what they are all about - producing large volumes of a consistent product where the ingredients available to them may change but the flavour profile stays the same. But, and this is a big but, if producers do want to tell us exactly what is in their blend (or blended malt or single malt) then they should be allowed to do so.
Which brings me to the second question, who benefits from this lack of transparency? I don’t know. The only thing I can think of is that maybe the big boys think that if listing all the components is allowed then that would be a step towards it being encouraged and that may lead to it being compulsory. And I can understand why blenders wouldn’t want to have to publish their recipes every time they do a new batch. Not just from the point of view of not wanting their competitors to have that information, but also because it would be a logistical nightmare!
Who grassed them up?
Next question, ‘Who dobbed Compass Box in, and why?’ Was it just a clever marketing stunt by John Glaser? If so, it hats off to him as it has certainly generated plenty of publicity! The SWA though, said they were acting following a complaint by a member. As far as I can see Compass Box are not members of the SWA, although I could be wrong on that one. Why would another whisky company complain about someone truthfully stating exactly what is in their blend, especially when that company is quite a small, niche producer, and unlikely to impact on any of the big boys global sales? Again, I can only think of the reason above.
Why do the rules not apply to everyone?
Finally, do the rules apply to everyone equally or are they only enforced if someone tells tales? To me, it certainly doesn’t look like a level playing field. I know that Compass Box have been told to stop advertising the truth (sorry, components in their blend) and that Arran stopped listing the different cask ages that went into the Devils Punchbowl (not sure whether the SWA forced that or not though). However, a quick google search reveals other companies that are also in breach of the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations;
I’m not singling these two companies out for any malicious reasons, these were just the first examples that I found. I’m sure there are others. Why has the SWA not told them to change their ways? Is it just because nobody has dobbed them in? If you are going to enforce a ridiculous rule, then it should be enforced across the board, not just when someone complains.
I have been moaning for quite some time now about the vast numbers of ‘luxury’ whiskies being released on the market which seemed to be more about the packaging and brand image than the product inside. To my mind, the word ‘luxury’ implied an element of quality or craftsmanship to justify the ridiculously high price tag. Compass Box’s new release inspired me to do a bit of research into what ‘luxury’ actually means, in the literal sense, and I must say I was surprised.
I checked 3 different English dictionaries; Chambers, Collins and the OED (I studied languages, I have a lot of dictionaries in the house) and not one of them mentions the word ‘quality’ in the definition. Expensive, rich, indulgent, yes. But not a word about being quality. I even checked the French Petit Robert and Spanish Santillana dictionaries (told you I had a lot of dictionaries) but no mention of quality there either. So I was wrong. Turns out a whisky doesn’t need to be quality at all to describe itself as luxury - a high price tag alone is justification enough it seems if we follow the dictionary definition.
In that sense then, Compass Box’s new release may not be considered ‘luxury’ - it’s £150 price tag, while not cheap, is fairly tame compared to many whiskies on the market these days.
The good thing about dictionaries though, is that they generally offer more than one definition. Another definition of ‘luxury’ is ‘something that is pleasant and enjoyable but not essential’. This definition pleases me a lot more. By that token, any whisky that brings enjoyment can be called ‘luxury’ regardless of how much, or how little, it costs. Of course, the question of whether it brings enjoyment or pleasure or not depends entirely on the individual, so everyone will have a different idea of what a ‘luxury’ whisky is to them.
So, by my reckoning, if you like Compass Box’s new release then it is a luxury whisky. If you don’t like it, it’s not. Simple! The same logic could apply for any whisky from the cheapest blend, to the most expensive single malt. Luxury, like beauty, would appear to be in the eyes of the beholder.
I love these photo blocks by Campbeltown photographer Will Anderson - I spotted them when I was in the Campbeltown Cadenhead's Whisky Shop the other day and was very jealous I hadn't thought of it first! (Mind you, my photography skills are not quite up to Will's standard so probably just as well it was him that thought of it and not me.)
They're made using bits of an old Springbank washback and (unused) bungcloths which gives them a really nice chunky, rustic style. It's great to see bits of old distillery kit being given a new lease of life - some of the washback has also been used for shelving and displays in the recently expanded whisky shop. Lot of wood in a washback though so I wonder where else we're going to see it pop up - will keep you posted if I spot it in any other incarnations!
For some reason our copy of the 4th Edition of Scotch Missed by Brian Townsend arrived some 10 days before the official release date so thought I’d do a wee preview review for anyone out there considering buying it. When I say ‘our’ copy, I really mean my husband’s copy (but what’s his is mine, right?) - he is a total whisky geek and has had this on order for months now. We already have the first edition in the house so I admit I was initially skeptical about why he needed two copies of the same book. Having perused the new 4th Edition over the last couple of days though, I can see why as it is not the same book at all!
I’ll rephrase that. Parts of the book are the same. It is after all a book about Lost Distilleries so once they are closed, there’s not really anything else to add. There are however a number of striking differences between the two editions (I should point out here that I haven’t read the 2nd and 3rd editions, published in 1997 and 2000 respectively, so cannot include them in my comparisons. Don't know why they are missing from our whisky library, Mark must have slipped up somewhere!)
Firstly the design and layout is so much better! (I’m interested in design ok, I like things to be aesthetically pleasing). Divided into geographical sections, the lost distilleries are accompanied by a very eclectic mix of images; old and new photos, bottle shots, old marketing postcards and posters. Most of the distillery entries also have a picture of the old OS map showing the location, which I love. I would love it even more if the maps were zoomed out a bit more so you could situate the distilleries better in comparison to existing roads etc but that’s just me being very picky.
Secondly the content has also been updated. Yes, as I already mentioned, a lot of the content is the same but there is quite a lot of new stuff too - some 30 extra distilleries have been added since the first 1993 edition; from Brora and Port Ellen, two iconic closed distilleries mothballed in the 80s which I would have expected to be included in the first edition but weren't (maybe they were still classed as mothballed rather than lost) to the half dozen mothballed in 1992/1993 and the more recent closures such as Caperdonich and Port Dundas. However there are also a handful of very old (ie closed in the second half of the 1800s) distilleries which have been added and three ‘lost and found’ distilleries which have risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes since the first edition; Annandale, Glengyle and Imperial/Dalmunach. Interestingly over half of the new additions have some connection to Diageo, or UD/SMD/DCL as was, so I would imagine the author has had access to the Diageo archives since the first edition!
My only criticism, and this is me being very picky, is that I would have liked to see more photos from the present day to compare with what was there before. Admittedly this is not very interesting when the buildings have been completely razed to make way for a supermarket or housing scheme but when there are some vestiges, or indeed complete buildings, left of the original distillery it would be interesting to see. A wee photo of the new Annandale, Glengyle and Dalmunach distilleries would have made a nice addition I feel. As would one of Parkmore, which is described as, ‘externally the most perfect survivor of the late 1890s boom in distilleries’, but there is no photo showing how it looks now. (Incidentally, local chat in Dufftown, where I used to live, attributed the closure of Parkmore to problems with the water supply, possibly due to the limestone quarry nearby, but this may just be local gossip). As I say though, this is me being picky, and there are limits to how many photos one can reasonably fit in a book.
All in all, a very enjoyable read, written in an accessible, engaging style. One for the history buffs rather than the casual drinker though. And definitely worth buying even if you already have the first edition!
Inspired by the book, I had a wander round Campbeltown this afternoon and took some photos of our lost distilleries. Some are more recognisably still distilleries than others!
Okay, so admittedly a housing scheme and a supermarket don't make for the most interesting 'lost distillery' photos. Let's try again...
Walking along High Street in Campbeltown the other day I was stuck by how nice and well cared for Glen Scotia was looking these days. I’ve lived in Campbeltown, on and off, all my life and believe me, Glen Scotia has never looked so good! In fact it always used to look a bit forlorn and neglected, to the point where even the locals weren’t exactly sure whether it was in production or not.
However, since the newly formed Loch Lomond Group took over in early 2014, all that seems to have changed. Along with the shiny new paint job and signage there is now a brand new shop/visitor centre and distillery tours available. Neither is very clearly signed (although plan in place to correct this) from the outside but pass through the unassuming door, marked Distillery Manager, and you find a very tastefully decorated shop with some nice quirky touches (I love the old Victorian cash register!).
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to go on tour during their recent open day (part of the Campbeltown Malts Festival at the end of May), however the visit of a family friend last week gave me the excuse I was looking for to have a nosy round the inside as well as the outside!
One thing that did surprise me going round was how small it was. Don’t get me wrong, the building itself is massive but despite the imposing facade, the actual production equipment is all quite dinky and much more traditional than I remembered. The mash tun is one of the old cast iron ones, with a modest 2.85 tonne mash, and everything is manually operated - not a computer in a sight (nor discreetly tucked away anywhere that I could see). Shannon, our guide, told us that production currently stands at about 300,000 lpa, with plans to increase this to 500,000 lpa by the end of the year. In the past a lot of Glen Scotia’s production was destined for blend, however the plan is to very much to cut back on that side of the business going forward and concentrate on developing Glen Scotia as a Single Malt.
Intrigued by what I had seen in the distillery and shop, I got in touch with Scott Dickson, the Marketing Manager at Loch Lomond Group, who very kindly took some time to discuss their plans. He is very enthusiastic about Glen Scotia, and about the Loch Lomond stable in general, which he describes as ‘hidden gems’; “With Glen Scotia, the previous owners had a really good cask management system in place, under John Petersen, the master blender. We’re building on that and really want to build on the classic Campbeltown style of malt. We've been working with the team at Springbank and see a great opportunity to work together to really promote Campbeltown as the fifth whisky production region.”
Further building on the importance of Campbeltown as a region, LLG are currently renovating the dunnage warehouse on site so more of the spirit can actually be matured in Campbeltown itself. I did ask whether the goal eventually is for it to be 100% Campbeltown matured but, whisky people being a cautious/superstitious bunch, was informed that while they will be maturing more on site, they will also continue to send stock to their other bonded warehouses in Alexandria and Glen Catrine, “just in case something bad happens, it’s better to have it a bit spread out”.
To achieve that typical Campbeltown style, Scott explained, “We produce three types of single malt at Glen Scotia; unpeated, lightly peated and heavily peated. These are married together by our Master Blender, John Petersen, to give the style we are looking for. We are particularly pleased with Victoriana as we feel it is the closest we can get to the original Campbeltown style with that lovely sea spray, salty tang”
Now, I must confess I haven’t actually tried the Victoriana yet, but I intend to rectify this very shortly. Happily it sounds like it will be much easier for me, and everyone else, to get their hands on Glen Scotia, to buy or to try, going forward. They are in the process of finalising their UK and Global distribution with the intention that Glen Scotia should be much more widely available through specialist independent retailers and whisky bars and they have already confirmed their attendance at The Whisky Show in London in October and expect to be participating in many more festivals and shows in the near future. Excellent news - it’ll be great to see another Campbeltown malt represented on the Festival circuit.
Good news for those coming to Campbeltown as a whisky tourist too - in an eminently sensible move Glen Scotia have decided to offer daily tours at times that do not clash with the existing Springbank ones so should you feel so inclined, you’d be able to tour all 3 Campbeltown distilleries in one day! (Glen Scotia tours are at 11.30am and 3pm. Springbank’s, with option of touring Glengyle as well, at 10am and 2pm).
Glen Scotia Tours can be booked by calling +44 (0) 1586 552288 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org Individual tours and tastings on request.
Thanks to Scott Dickson for the information and photos of the shop (mine didn't really do it justice!) and the new product range.
The ‘before’ shots of the distillery and the product range I got from Google images so apologies if have not credited someone that should be!
The no-age statement (NAS) debate has been rumbling on for quite some time now so I thought I might as well chuck in my tuppence worth. I’m not going to argue the merits of aged vs NAS whiskies, that’s been done to death, but I do want to touch on a couple of points that are my own personal bugbear in this whole debate.
Firstly, to one of the most frequent comments I have seen on blogs and forums which essentially goes along the lines of; ‘I don't have anything against NAS whiskies as such, but why can’t they be a bit more honest and tell us what’s in it, or put an age breakdown on the back label, or something?’. Well, the fact of the matter is that they can’t. And I don’t mean can’t as in, ‘my marketing department don't want me to’ or ‘I can’t be bothered to find out’ (though that may play a part as well!), I mean can’t as in not allowed to. And, unless the regulations change, it doesn't matter how much we whinge and moan and plead, we will still not be able to find out exactly what goes in to the various NAS whiskies.
The regulations I am referring to are of course the Scotch Whisky regulations 2009. Now most of us know that the age on a bottle of whisky must be age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. Less well known though is that the very regulations which are supposed to make things clearer for consumers, specifically prohibit the use of more than one age or vintage in the description, presentation or labelling of the product.* So not only are distillers not allowed to detail the different ages/vintages that make up their NAS on the label or packaging, but if you follow the regulations to the letter, then they are not even allowed to tell us about the different components in their marketing blurb or at a tasting.
As to whether the producers would tell us if they were able to, well that is a whole different question, isn't it!
On the subject of producers, this brings me nicely to my second point which is that I really wish they wouldn't try to pretend that the surge of NAS whiskies is to do with anything other than an increased demand for single malt and a lack of aged stock to fulfil that demand. Some distillers are very candid and admit that this is the case, but others…not so much. One of the terms which really bugs my happiness is ‘flavour led whiskies’ as in, ‘yes, freed from the shackles of the restrictive age statement, we can now create a brand new range of flavour led whiskies to further enhance your whisky tasting experience’. (And no, that’s not a direct quote from anyone, just me paraphrasing what I have heard and read recently) So does that mean that flavour didn't matter at all for your 12 yo or your 18 yo? That as long as the casks were the right age that was all that mattered? Give me a break! And if it’s all about flavour, then why do they continue using age statements on their older, more expensive, products? Would you look at that, I just answered my own question!
At the end of the day though, it doesn't really matter what we think about NAS whiskies, like them or not, it looks like they are here to stay (at least until the next whisky bust). After all, we, the whisky geeks, are but a very, very, small part of the worldwide whisky market - new whisky consumers, that haven't had 20 years of whisky companies telling them that older is better, are going to approach whisky from a totally new perspective where maybe age doesn't matter. For all us traditionalists though, I would propose the following solution - next time you see a NAS whisky, try it. If you like it and think it is good value for money then buy it and enjoy. If you don’t like it or don't think it is good value for money, don't buy it. Simple as that.
*Should you feel so inclined you can find a full copy of the regulations on the SWA website but the relevant bits state;
12 (1) … that any maturation period or age may only be specified in the description, presentation or labelling of a spirit drink where it refers to the youngest alcoholic component in the drink…
(3) A person must not label, package, sell, advertise or promote any Scotch Whisky in a way that includes a reference relating to when it was distilled unless-
(a) the reference relates to a single calendar year
(b) all of the whisky in the drink was distilled in that year
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.