Scotch: Combining Tradition with Innovation

Single malt Scotches are continuing to maintain their solid growth. According to the Beverage Information Group, the segment’€™s sales gained 8.4% in 2011, and followed that up with a 10.7% increase among the leading single malt brands in 2012. Overall, the Scotch category, including all blends and single malts, actually gained 0.2% in 2012, to almost 8.6 million 9-liter cases, a welcome reversal from 2011’€™s decline of 1.4%.

‘€œMuch of the reason for the uptick in Scotch malt sales can be attributed to the steady stream of new and exciting expressions,’€ contends Brian Dvoret, Scotch expert at International Beverage Company of Atlanta. ‘€œMaster distillers are continually looking to entice malt enthusiasts by introducing older bottlings, more single cask releases and whiskies with compelling wood finishes. Although Scotch is a mature category there is still a great deal of innovation happening. It’€™s a great time for malt aficionados’€”values are high and creativity is the watchword.’€

Two excellent examples are the new single malts in the Glengoyne range’€”Glengoyne 15 Years Old and the Glengoyne 18-Years Old releases.

‘€œWe continuously look at ways of improving our single malt offerings and believe the enhanced portfolio and premium packaging better represents the brand’€™s values and shows that we are an innovative force in the industry,’€ says Iain Weir, marketing director for Ian Macleod Distillers. ‘€œIt is almost 10 years since we acquired the Glengoyne distillery and in that time we have increased sales volumes by 250%. This is against a backdrop of increasing global sales of Scotch whisky and a shift towards premium brands in the sector. By distilling slower than anyone else in Scotland, we can genuinely claim that Glengoyne is ‘€˜Worth the Wait.’€™’€

Weir refers to the fact that the Glengoyne Distillery in Dumgoyne near Loch Lomond runs its stills slower than any other distillery. Unlike most other single malt whiskies, Glengoyne dries the malted barley using only warm air, resulting in a subtle, yet complex malt where all the delicate flavors are freely expressed.

U.S. sales of Highland heavyweight Glenmorangie increased 25% in 2012. Leading the charge was newly release Glenmorangie Ealanta 1993. The limited edition malt is matured for 19 years exclusively in virgin American white oak casks sourced from the Mark Twain National Forest situated in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Glenmorangie Ealanta is bottled at 46% alcohol by volume and is non-chill filtered for added texture and mouthfeel. It will be available in limited quantities in the U.S. market.

Founded in 1797, Glen Garioch (pronounced ‘€œGlen Geery’€) is one of the oldest operating distilleries in Scotland and is the most easterly distillery in the Highlands region. It has gained renown for its range of non chill-filtered single malt whiskies, which are matured in American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks.

New to their portfolio is the limited edition Glen Garioch 1986 Vintage, a peated single malt aged 25 years entirely in North American oak barrels and bottled at cask strength (54.6% alcohol by volume). This limited edition bottling is one of the most exclusive of the Glen Garioch vintages’€”others currently available in the U.S. are the 1991 and 1994 vintages. The 1986 vintage has a suggested retail price of $250. Easily the most intriguing release of 2012 was The Dalmore’€™s Constellation Collection, a rare grouping of 21 individual expressions. Each of the featured malts was bottled at natural cask strength and at natural color to ensure that none of their character has been diluted. The assembled malts were deemed the finest crafted by the Highland distillery between the years of 1964 and 1992. Each expression is housed in a hand-blown crystal decanter that has been engraved by hand and adorned with a solid silver stag. The entire collection carries a price of $250,000.

Says David Robertson, rare whisky director at The Dalmore, ‘€œThese unique bottles of whisky, often referred to as Investment Grade Scotch, are rapidly becoming a hot commodity in the alternative investment market and outperforming luxury goods such as gold and diamonds. These single cask whiskies from The Dalmore distillery are a truly remarkable piece of craftsmanship. They will certainly stand the test of time and continue to rise in value year after year.’€

GlenDronach is expanding its line of heavily sherried malts in a new direction for the first time in its 180-year history with the introduction of the Wood Finish collection. The new range now includes the GlenDronach Virgin Oak Wood Finish, which was initially matured in European oak and thereafter finished its maturation in a very small batch of Virgin Oak, and the GlenDronach Sauternes Wood Finish expression, which was finished in Sauternes wine barrels. Both are matured for 14 years and bottled at 46% alcohol.

The Deanston Distillery has expanded their award-winning range with the release of Deanston Virgin Oak Highland Single Malt. Master distiller Ian MacMillan blended together several malts between 6 and 10 years old and finished them in freshly charred new oak barrels from a small, family-owned cooperage in Bardstown, Kentucky. The new Deanston malt is bottled without the use of chill-filtration at 46.3% alcohol by volume.

New Speyside Releases

The Glenrothes Speyside Single Malts feature rare vintage-dated whiskies embodying the nobility of the Speyside. Almost 90% of the malts’€™ constituent elements were matured no less than 15-years in American oak bourbon barrels, the rest having been aged in sherry wood.

The recent vintage release ‘€” The Glenrothes 1995 Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky ‘€” was their first malt specifically laid in casks with the intention of becoming one of these vintage-dated releases. About 30% of its malts were aged in American sherry oak and first fill Spanish sherry wood.

Glenrothes’€™ parent company, Berry Bros. & Rudd, has also unveiled the extremely limited release Glenrothes Extraordinary Cask. Barreled in July 6, 1970, the malt is bottled in a hand-blown, lead crystal decanter created at Atlantis Crystal in Portugal and mounted on a Scottish Oak plinth with a custom leather carrying case. One reason for its limited supply is that the ex-bourbon oak barrel lost half of its original contents through evaporation. The whisky is priced at $5,000.

‘€œThe head of the stopper is actually fashioned from the very barrel that the whisky came from’€”cask #10573,’€ comments David King, president of San Francisco’€™s Anchor Distilling Company and Glenrothes importer. ‘€œEach hand-numbered bottle comes with a polished brass plaque engraved with year 1970. This extraordinary single malt whisky from Speyside will carve a coveted notch in the belt of a discerning high-end whisky collector.’€

Sales in the U.S. of The Glenfiddich rose 11.7% between 2011 and 2012. To commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Glenfiddich in 2012, the distillery’€™s sixth Malt Master Brian Kinsman introduced The Malt Master’€™s Edition, a whisky matured twice in two separate casks consecutively. First the whisky is aged in traditional oak’€”ex-bourbon barrels’€”between 6 and 8 years, Afterwards it is transferred to the highest quality sherry casks for an additional 4 to 6 years for its final maturation. This type of double wood finishing creates a rich, complex whisky with flavors imparted from both woods.

The labor-intensive process differs from more conventional finishing in that there is a balance of maturation for several years in two distinct woods, as opposed to long-term aging in one type of wood followed by a short period spent in another. The Glenfiddich Malt Master’€™s Edition is bottled at 43% alcohol and carries a suggested retail price of $90.

The Speyside district of the Scottish Highlands is also the home of the Balvenie Distillery, whose sales in the U.S. jumped 164% in 2012. Their flagship is the Balvenie PortWood 21-year-old Single Malt, a whisky double barreled, first in traditional oak and then 30-year-old, oak port pipes.

The distillery recently released a series of cask strength whiskies. The range now includes The Balvenie Caribbean Cask, a 14 years old malt finished in Caribbean rums barrels, The Balvenie Madeira Cask, a 17 years old malt finished in Madeira barrels, The Balvenie Sherry Cask, a 17 years old malt finished exclusively in Oloroso Sherry oak barrels and The Balvenie Vintage 1975 Cask.

For those malt enthusiasts with a few extra dollars in their account may want to purchase Balvenie 50 Years Old. Distilled in 1962, the limited edition was matured in a European oak sherry hogshead, which is rarely used today in whisky making. The malt’€”priced at $35,000 per 750ml’€”is presented in hand-blown glass decanter and housed in a handcrafted cylindrical box comprised of 49 rings of seven Scottish-grown woods. The box is finished with a layer of brass, echoing the fittings of the distillery’€™s stills and spirit safes. U.S. sales of The Glenlivet increased in 2012 by 7.6% The Speyside giant recently expanded its range with the introduction of The Glenlivet XXV, an ultra-premium release aged 25 years and priced around $375. The whisky was distilled in 1980, initially aged in American white oak and then transferred to rare Oloroso sherry butts for finishing. The double barreling yields a malt of singular character and elegance.

The U.S. market also saw the introduction of the new Aberlour 12 Year Old Non Chill Filtered Single Malt. The non chill filtering gives The 48% abv Scotch more body on the palate. The product is still double matured in sherry butts and bourbon casks. It retails for about $60.

Regional Newcomers

Of the Scottish islands, the malts distilled on Islay are most renowned. In January, the oldest distillery on the island ‘€” Bowmore ‘€” launched Dorus Mor 10 Years Old Small Batch Release No. 1. The

single Islay malt whisky is aged for 10 years and bottled non-chill filtered at cask strength (55.1% alcohol by volume). The limited edition whisky is made with floor-dried malted barley and peat-enriched water from the River Laggan. This limited edition retails for $119.99. The Bunnahabhain Distillery (pronounced Bu-na-ha-venn) lies on the isolated northeastern tip of Islay. Its range now includes two new expressions. The Bunnahabhain 18 Years Old Single Islay Malt is made entirely from unpeated barley and spring fed artesian water. Its constituent malts were matured in Oloroso sherry casks (65%) and charred American oak barrels (35%). The whisky is bottled non-chill filtered at 46.3% alcohol.

The 130-year old distillery has also launched Bunnahabhain 40 Years Old Single Islay Malt. The master distiller recently came across a small lot of these sherry casks containing the 40-year old whisky, which combined yielded 750 bottles, 212 of which are allocated to the U.S. These limited edition malts carry a price tag of $3,200 per bottle.

The Isle of Mull is the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The island’€™s only distillery is famed for handcrafting soft, unpeated malts. New to the range is limited edition Tobermory 15 Years Old Single Malt. The whisky is distilled and then transferred to the mainland in Gonzalez Byass Oloroso sherry casks. After it has reached maturity, the whisky is ferried back to the island for its final year in wood. The malt is bottled without chill filtration at 46.3% alcohol. Its suggested retail price is $129.99.

Highland Park on the island of Orkney is the northernmost distillery in the world. The microclimate of the isolated and wind-swept island is dominated by the North Sea and North Atlantic. Its acclaimed portfolio now includes a highly anticipated addition to Highland Park Orcadian Vintage Series.

The Highland Park 1964 Vintage is the oldest within the Series, and due to the rarity of the whisky, only 290 bottles of this limited edition single malt will be made available. The vintage malt was obtained from two hogshead oak casks that were hand-selected by Highland Park’€™s whisky maker Max McFarlane. The release is bottled at 42.2% alcohol. Last spring the brand debuted Highland Park Thor, a limited-edition, ultra-premium single malt meant to be the first in a series of limited-edition releases called the Valhalla Collection. Finished in Oloroso sherry casks, the 16-year-old is produced at cask strength (104.2 proof) and retails for $199 for a 750 ml bottle. This January, Lowland giant Auchentoshan released triple-distilled Auchentoshan Valinch 2012, a limited-edition malt matured in predominantly first-fill North American bourbon casks and bottled non-chill filtered and at cask strength of 57.2% alcohol by volume. The 2012 Vintage represents the 2nd limited release of Valinch, which will be produced and released every year in small quantities. Approximately 1,300 bottles of Valinch 2012 are available in the U.S. for a suggested retail price of $59.99 for a 750ml bottle.

A Look at Blended Scotch

Melding dozens of various whiskies into a unified, cohesive spirit is such a rarified skill that only a handful of individuals can lay claim to the title of master blender. When done with skill and intuition, the various elements meld together into something genuinely sensational’€”a spirit made better for every strand in its blend.

Sterling examples can be found throughout the often-overlooked sector of blended Scotch. By their nature, these whiskies are artistic endeavors, the combination of dozens of spirits varying in ages and compositions, all produced by a number of distilleries. These are certainly the best of times for devotees of exceptional whisky. The biggest names in blended Scotch have line extensions that will be hard to improve upon. ‘€¢ Ballantine’€™s ‘€” Ballantine’€™s ranks as one of the world’€™s most famous and successful brands of blended Scotch. In fact, two bottles of Ballantine’€™s are sold somewhere on the planet every second. Prestigious Ballantine’€™s 30-Year Whisky is highly aromatic with a light silky body and a complex palate featuring sherry, honey and a hint of peat. ‘€¢ Buchanan’€™s ‘€” Established in 1884, award-winning Buchanan’€™s De Luxe, 80 proof, is a 12-year-old blended Scotch whisky made with a core of Dalwhinnie single malt. The venerable brand also includes Buchanan’€™s Special Reserve, which is aged a minimum of 18 years and top of the line Buchanan’€™s 21-year old Red Seal.

‘€¢ Chivas Century of Malts ‘€” Likely the most inspired blended whisky ever conceived, the Chivas Century of Malts is an unprecedented attempt to literally capture the spirit and essence of Scotland. It combines 100 distinctive single malt whiskies produced from distilleries in every appellation throughout Scotland. The result is a masterpiece, a complex, medium-bodied blend with an incomparable array of flavors. ‘€¢ Chivas Regal 18-year-old ‘€” The 18-year-old Chivas Regal is a most perfect compromise between the sublime character and intricate flavors of the 12-year-old Chivas Regal blend, and the finesse and elegance of the 21-year-old Royal Salute. The 18-year-old Chivas Regal blend presents a veritable feast for the senses. The blend is graced with a lush, full body and a complex ensemble of lavish flavors. It is decidedly smokier and possesses more dimension and character than the 12-year-old Chivas Regal. The artistry created on the palate softly settles into a long, sublime finish.

‘€¢ Chivas Regal Gold Signature ‘€” The special reserve blend is comprised of more than 40 whiskies, all of which were barrel-aged at least 18 years. The super-premium marque is aromatic and accessible. ‘€¢ Chivas Regal Royal Salute ‘€” Introduced in 1891 by James Chivas, the Chivas Regal blend was an immediate international bestseller. Royal Salute was released in 1953 to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. The youngest whisky used in its blend is 21-years-old.

‘€¢ Compass Box Whisky ‘€” Founded in 2000, Compass Box produces a full range of blended Scotches from richest grains to the peatiest of malts. Compass Box Hedonism is a 100% grain whisky aged between 12 and 23 years in American oak, while limited edition Hedonism Maximus is a blend of 42 years old Invergordon whisky and 29 years old Cameron Bridge whisky. The firm also produces Compass Box Peat Monster, a blend of super-peaty Islay single malts, a peated Speyside single malt and a malt matured in French oak from the northern Highlands. ‘€¢ Dewar’€™s 12-Years Old Special Reserve ‘€” Dewar’€™s has long the bestselling Scotch whisky in America. Special Reserve is a blend of individually aged 12-year old single malt whiskies from the different regions of Scotland. At the core of its blend are the renowned malts of Dewar’€™s Highland distilleries, most notably Aberfeldy (Speyside), Lochnagar (Highlands), Benrinnes (Speyside), Pulteney (Highlands), Aultmore (Speyside), Royal Brackla (Highlands), Craigellachie (Speyside) and Glen Ord (Highlands). After blending, the whisky is further mature in oak barrels to allow the blend to ‘€œmarry.’€ ‘€¢ Johnnie Walker Blue Label ‘€” Considered the flagship of the Johnnie Walker line, Blue Label is blended around a core of Cardhu single malt whiskies, some having been aged in sherry oak for up to 60-years. It has a reserved, yet elegant nose, warming and decidedly complex. Its palate has layers of delectable flavors, including oak, vanilla, peat, and luscious fruit that taper off seamlessly into a wholly satisfying finish.

‘€¢ Johnnie Walker Double Black Label ‘€” Launched in October 2011, Double Black is a heftier, bolder variation on classic Black Label. It features more peatier malts and whiskies aged in deeply charred oak. The result is something akin to an Islay malt, only the peat smoke is slightly more subdued than most malts from the island. The nose is peaty with oak and spice notes and the palate features loads of fruit, vanilla and toasted oak. ‘€¢ Johnnie Walker Gold Label ‘€” This extraordinary blend is made according to a 1920 recipe created for the company’€™s 100th anniversary. It contains fifteen different 18-year-old single malt whiskies. Johnnie Walker Gold Label has a malty, slightly fruity nose, a medium body and is flawlessly textured and balanced. It has a waves a savory flavors, most notably fruit, oak, pepper, grain, and peaty smoke. The whisky finishes long and slightly sweet. While its price tag pales in comparison to several of the other big blends, don’€™t be fooled, Gold Label is incomparable and worthy of celebrity status.

‘€¢ Johnnie Walker Green Label ‘€” A dramatic break from convention, Johnnie Walker Green is an assemblage of exemplary single malts to create the signature house style. Its lush palate presents seemingly endless waves of satisfying Highland flavors and tantalizing hints of sea-imbued Island malts. The minimum age of the malts used in the blend is 15 years.

‘€¢ Whyte & Mackay Supreme ‘€” Created in Glasgow by master blender Richard Patterson, Whyte & Mackay Supreme is a luxurious, 22-year-old blend twice barreled in sherry butts. The range also includes a regal 30-year blend.

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