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An interesting article about an upcoming new release of Haig Club was published on the media and marketing website The Drum yesterday. It is said that the new whisky would be cheaper than the current bottling which has an RRP of £45.

The Drum suspects that Haig Club is not selling overly well, so Diageo is trying to get the brand back on track with a downward brand extension. I am not really surprised here; I already expressed my doubts about the potential for Haig Club on the whisky market in my review of Haig Club back in 2014.

Haig club is quite expensive for a cocktail spirit that is sitting halfway between vodka and traditional blended whisky. And now there is also Absolut Oak from Diageo’s rival Pernod Ricard, a major brand oak aged vodka that is much cheaper and explores this category from the other side of the spectrum. We can watch how the line between whisky and vodka is becoming more and more blurred. I am convinced that the new Haig Club release is also a reaction to Absolut Oak.

Apart from the lower price, Absolut Oak also has a psychological advantage over Haig Club. It is “vodka plus” whereas Haig Club with its lack of traditional whisky character can only be described as “whisky minus”. And since this will be a new release and not just a rebranding of the old Haig Club – that of course would be like openly admitting a failure – the new, cheaper, liquid might be even more characterless than the original release.

A large portion of the Drum article focuses on David Beckham endorsing Haig Club. What the article does not mention is the fact that David Beckham was specifically chosen because he is very popular in China. In fact Haig Club was explicitly created for the Asian market where Diageo apparently saw an abundance of well-earning young people eagerly waiting to spend the equivalent of £45 on a bottle of young grain whisky. To quote Diageo CEO Ivan Menezes:

“The blend [sic] was created to match with food and seafood in China and our choice of David Beckham as the face of Haig Club was down to the extraordinary name recognition he has in China and across the world.”

Haig Club is symptomatic for the focus on Asia in general and on China in particular that has been guiding the actions of the whisky industry in the last years to an extent that entire distilleries were built from scratch because of booming demand there.

Whisky producers have been competing for the silliest marketing stunts with anything from from special bottlings for Chinese New Year to an obscenely priced “lucky number 8” cask at the newly opened Annandale distillery. Some of these make you wonder how stupid some whisky producers believe the rich Asians actually are. Motivations range from optimism in the growth potential of the Asian market to pure greed.

But Asia is a very volatile market and the boom has already reverted. So far only distillery expansions have been put on hold. But who knows what might happen if the whisky buisness gets even worse in Asia. It is obvious that this Asian rollercaoster ride is not without consequences for the rest of the market, and one wonders if it is really the right thing to put so much focus on exports to a region that still only earns the industry a fraction of the combined Western markets.

It takes a lot more than celebrity endorsements and bling bottles to implant such a quintessetially Western tradition as whisky into Asia beyond short-lived fads. The better way to do this is to make whisky on location, but this is a slow process.

In Japan it has taken decades to convince people that there is a world beyond sake and shochu, but now the Japanese whisky industry is thriving. In Taiwan and India this process has just started, but the success of particularly Kavalan and Amrut has shown that they are on a good path. Diageo’s acquisition of India’s United Spirits so far was entirely focused on the molasses-based rotgut that makes India the world’s biggest “whisky” producer. But establishing a serious whisky culture needs a different approach.

The great advantage of creating a whisky tradition from inside is that people can also see such a development with a dose of national pride. This has the potential to create a much stronger bond between producer and customer than selling the illusion of luxury by exporting overpriced liquid in fancy packaging.

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Kininvie 17 And 23 Compared

This weekend I had the opportunity to taste the Kininvie single malt for the first time. Together with my two whisky friends Klaus and Keith we tasted the 17 yo and the 23 yo bottlings that were released not too long ago.

kininvie17Kininvie 17 yo Batch 1

46.2%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Medium amber
Nose: Toasted hazelnuts, green apples, gooseberry, wood polish, toffee, ground coriander, mace, hints of nutmeg .
Palate: Stewed apples, nuts, hints of green tea, coriander, hints of white pepper.
Finish: Long, slightly fruity and slighty spicy .
Overall: The nose of this is quite pleasant, but this does not really show on the palate.

Rating: 81/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

kininvie23Kininvie 23 yo Batch 2

46.2%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Medium amber
Nose: Less fruity than the 17 yo, somewhat musty, hints of camphor, apple in the background, a bit like opening an old cupboard drawer, difficult to pin down.
Palate: Again it is difficult to separate flavours, quite subdued  but with flashes of aromatic spices, the musty theme continues.
Finish: Medium long, mildy spicy .
Overall: Quite a complex whisky actually but hard to pin down at the same time. It felt a bit like trying to grasp fog.

Rating: 82/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Summary

All three of us were equally unimpressed by these bottles, and our scores did not vary very much. The general verdict was “daily dram” or “nice sipper”. And for this they are much too expensive.

It is not surprising at all to me that Kininvie has hardly ever been bottled in the 25 year old history of this distillery. This whisky was designed to be put into blends, and you can taste this. It has no distinct features that stand out but still has complexity, so it can tie the more distinctive malts in a blend together with the grain whisky base.

Whisky geeks have been begging Grant’s for years to bottle Kininvie, but up until recently they refused. But given the recent malt whisky boom it is no wonder that they finally gave in. The geek inside me can now tick off yet another distillery from the want list. But in all honesty, I can live perfectly fine without Kininvie.

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The Trojan 25 yo 1990/2016 Exile Casks

Undisclosed Speyside distillery – Refill hogshead 3110 – 57.1%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Bright copper
Nose: Polished wood, dried apricots, vanilla, treacle, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Palate: Dried apricots, raisins, toffee, cardamom, nutmeg and rather strong pepper notes.
Finish: Medium long, quite spicy and slightly fruity.
Overall: Wood spices dominate but the fruit is always present. This whisky benefits from some water and needs a little time to open up.

Rating: 85/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Review sample provided by Exile Casks

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Tomatin 14 yo Port Wood Finish

46%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Cassis, strawberries, lemon zest, hints of white pepper.
Palate: Strawberries, vanilla, toffee, hints of nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Medium long, slightly fruity and slighty spicy.
Overall: Overall this feels quite watery. There are not many noteworthy flavours which makes you wonder about the quality of the base whisky used for this finish.

Rating: 77/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Tomatin 14 yo Port Wood Finish at Master of Malt

Scored blind for the 2015 Malt Manaics Awards, re-tasted for notes

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Ardbeg's Annual Struggle For More Of The Same

Spring is around the corner, and Ardbeg has announced the traditional “Flavour of the Year” for Committee members. Needless to say the Dark Cove sold out in just a few hours.

Once more, Ardbeg has delivered a very good whisky. And once more again all those were disappointed who had hoped for something really special. Like any other year it’s simply Ardbeg with a little extra, a special finish, a special vatting or some other wood trick devised by Dr. Bill Lumsden; always very good but never anything too far off the beaten track of “young Ardbeg with a twist”.

Ardbeg’s dilemma is actually a luxury problem They make such an excellent whisky in the first place that it is very difficult to come up with something even better. The core range of Ten, Uigeadail and Corryvreckan offers some of the best value for money among any Scotch single malts. Good batches of the Uigeadail can be sublime and even surpass the 90 points mark in my book, and even the “lowly” Ten can be divine in a good batch. These whiskies have set the bar incredibly high, and so it is no real wonder that the yearly special bottlings can not consistently manage to jump over it.

In the light of this the enormous profiteering of bottle flippers becomes nothing short of ridiculous. It has become almost a tradition that new Ardbeg special releases double in price on the secondary market immediately after release because there are more than enough people out there who can not wait to spend silly money for these bottles. Wiser people stock up on the core expressions, but of course then they will not be able to show off their treasures in the “shelfies” posted on social media. But this just as a side note.

In June it will be 19 years since Ardbeg has restarted production after years of being mothballed. Many had hoped for a resurrection of the 17 year old, and we will likely also wait in vain for a classic 18 year old. Of course this is speculative but it does appear as if the excellent availabilty of the Ardbeg core range is putting a severe strain on the stock. Ardbeg is only a rather small distillery, and I am always surprised where you can find it. Even my local supermarket stocks Ardbeg Ten, and they only have a rather modest single malt selection.

I am tempted to compare Ardbeg to Arran which as we know started from scratch in 1995, only two years before Ardbeg’s resurrection. Despite being even smaller than Ardbeg, Arran has continually expanded its range with older expressions as they became available. Currently the 18 year old marks the top of the product range.

As excellent as young Ardbeg can be, we all know that this whisky ages well. It was the old whisky in particular that was sold after the re-opening of the distillery which, alongside the Trusty Ten, helped to create the massive hype around Ardbeg that we are experiencing today: the single casks from the 1970s, the “Beast”, the 17, the Lord of The Isles.

But the old stocks are gone now, and in hindsight it was a big mistake of LVMH not to install another pair of stills right away after they had bought the distillery along with Glenmorangie in 2004.

So for the time being it looks as if we will continue to see more of the same year after year: younger Ardbeg with or without disclosed age that has undergone some special treatement. Dr. Bill surely is creative enough to have a few more wood shenanigans in the queue. But if “more of the same” will be ultimately enough remains to be seen.

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Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Edition

55%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Peat smoke, vanilla, cherries, hints of chewing gum, cloves and black pepper.
Palate: Strong peat, liquorice, vanilla, lemon zest, hints of dried fruit, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Long, spicy and smoky.
Overall: This has been dubbed “darkest Ardbeg ever”, but it’s not even as dark as my Uigeadail. Wood spices dominate, and there is a mild fruitiness. A solid release, but it can not beat good batches of Uigeadail.

Rating: 85/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Review sample provided by Moet Hennesy

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Mortlach 18 yo

43.4%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber
Nose: Orange zest, cherries, fudge, hints of cardamom and nutmeg, a bit shy overall.
Palate: Stewed apples, orange zest, vanilla, hints of cocoa, nutmeg, hints of white pepper.
Finish: Medium long, fruity and slightly spicy.
Overall: Even though the nose is rather timid to open up, it is still the best aspect of this whisky. The palate lacks flavour and the finish lacks length.

Rating: 81/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Mortlach 18 yo at The Whisky Exchange

Scored blind for the Malt Maniacs Awards 2015, re-tasted for notes.

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Old-Fashioned Cocktail Tartlets

A bit of baking for a change.

The Old-Fashioned is one of my favourite cocktails. Its simplicity makes is very easy to transfer the concept to baking. It only containes bourbon, sugar and cocktail bitters.

old_fashioned_tartlets3

Ingredients (for four 12 cm tartlet moulds):

old_fashioned_tartlets4Dough:

  • 250 g flour
  • 125 g butter at room temperature
  • 100 g sugar
  • 1 egg

Filling:

  • 100 g butter
  • 150 g powdered sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • Freshly grated zest of 2 untreated oranges
  • 80 ml bourbon
  • A few dashes of cocktail bitters (for example Angostura)

Time needed:

  • Preparation: 20 minutes
  • Baking: 30 to 35 minutes

Preparation:

Whisk the butter, sugar and the egg for the dough until creamy. Sift the flour on top and mix. Knead just until the dough becomes homogenous, then cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Divide the dough into four ball-shaped parts. Pat down each ball until the size is large enough for a tartlet mould. Line the moulds with the dough. Pre-bake the lined moulds for 15 to 20 minutes, then turn down the temperature to 150 degrees.

In a small saucepan heat butter and powdered sugar for the filling on low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until it forms a creamy paste. It should not become very hot. Remove from the stove and mix in eggs, orange zest, bourbon and bitters. Make sure the butter an sugar paste is completely dissolved.

Pour the filling into the pre-baked moulds and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes until lightly browned. Let cool down before serving. The filling will be fairly soft but noticeably boozy.

old_fashioned_tartlets2

Note: This recipe was originally published on my food blog Today’s Fine Food.

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Elements of Islay "Peat"

59.3%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Very pale straw
Nose: Strong medicinal smoke, tinned pineapple, liquorice, vanilla, nutmeg, black pepper.
Palate: Strong sweet peat, banana, pineapple, vanilla, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and pepper.
Finish: Long, spicy and smoky.
Overall: Young peat monsters have been very popular for a while, and this is a very solid contender.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Buy Elements of Islay “Peat” at The Whisky Exchange

Review sample provided by Speciality Drinks

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Amrut Spectrum

Finished in Custom casks made from 5 types of oak – 50%


My Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark copper
Nose: Orange zest, dates, strawberry, chocolate, polished wood, cinnamon, allspice, hints of pepper.
Palate: Orange zest, cassis, tobacco, espresso, toffee, cinnamon, hints of cardamom, black pepper.
Finish: Long, fruity and spicy.
Overall: This maturation experiment was successful. The whisky is densely flavoured and very robust while still being elegant.

Rating: 87/100 – Price Tag $$$$$ – Value for your Money $$$$$

Scored blind for the 2015 Malt Manaics Awards, re-tasted for notes

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