Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Lightly Peated

Whisky, Blabber 'n' Smoke

History Tasting

History Tasting Pt. 6 – After The Goldrush

Whisky: Kilchoman Cognac Cask, 6 yrs

  1. The boom and bust was about  blended scotch, but during the same period something else was happening. A movement, small at first, was gathering pace until it changed the nature of the appreciation of Scottish whisky.
  1. In 1963 Glenfiddich marketed a bottle of single malt as if it was a blend. This was revolutionary as it went against the accepted wisdom of the industry. Two of the other distilleries who watched this very closely and were keen to follow the lead were Macallan and Glenmorangie.
  2. Macallan is an interesting example of how a reputation can be built by having a finger on the pulse of public demand. As early as 1972 their annual report noted their sales of bottled malts had doubled and they saw a large growth in this type of business because of a fantastic growth in public interest. They were not wrong. However when they appointed their first marketing director, in 1978, their promotional budget for the year was £50. How times have changed!
  3. But note how long it takes for a movement to build. It wasn’t until1988 that United Distillers introduced their Classic Malt series. 25 years after Glenfiddich. Nevertheless the success of this range, from the biggest manufacturer of blended scotch,  showed the grand old men of whisky had recognised that something was happening.
  4. As more single malts became available there was a corresponding rise in whisky writers concentrating on the taste and character of different releases. This was new. Early whisky writing had been about the general story, with a few lines of appreciation. Now it was all about tasting individual malts. It was the coming of the consumer guide
  5. Whisky followed the lead of beer, where CAMRA had had a profound effect on the whole industry by showing that you could appreciate beer as well as just drink it. One of the most important whisky writers of the era was Michael Jackson and it is no coincidence he also wrote about beer. (He even had a tv series called the Beer Hunter). He was highly influential in the growth of the appreciation of whisky. His book ‘Michael Jackson’s Whisky Companion’, first published in 1989, was a best seller and in it he gave individual whiskies a score on a scale up to a hundred. This is now a common template but it is a world away from Aeneas Macdonald.
  6. Although Scotch might have become uncool, single malts were different – they were a trend and a subculture. This could be embraced by the distilleries as they had a lot of mature and maturing stock that needed moving.
  7. After all the distillery closures the green shoots of regrowth came from the emergent single malts market. Arran was the first new build in 1995 but the real change came around the turn of the century and for this I want to use  Kilchoman  as my example.
  8. You cannot have a tasting of Scotch whisky without Islay and somehow I have not yet managed to fit it into the narrative.
  9. In 2000 there were 6 distilleries operating in Islay. Bruichladdich was silent but there was great excitement because a consortium headed by, ex wine merchant, Mark Reynier took over in 2001 with a prospectus aimed squarely at the single malt enthusiast.
  10. Along the road in some farm outbuildings, in 2005, Anthony Wills, another person with a wine background but who had also been an independent bottler built his new family run distillery and provided a template for a lot of the new distilleries that are coming on stream today.
  11. The bottle I want to share today is not chosen because it is typical of Kilchoman but rather because it is not. It is an example of the experimentation with casks, something that has become prevalent in modern whisky making. I have never before tasted a whisky fully matured in cognac casks. But this is what we have.
  12. With the growth of enthusiasts –  connoisseurs if you will  – there has been an eagerness to explore new tastes and sensations and a willingness for distillers, who are also enthusiast, to experiment.
  13. The idea of fully maturing a whisky in a cognac cask is not the same as finishing but it comes from the same spirit of adventure. The start date finishing, i.e. putting mature whisky into a different type of cask  to enhance its flavour, is probably 1983 when David Stewart created the Balvenie double wood. He was closely followed by Bill Lumsden of Glenmorangie and both of them are credited with being the pioneers of finishing. Now everybody is doing it and now getting a whisky that has just been left to sleep in the warehouse for a number of years might almost be more rare.
  14. There is a big range of casks being used – wine, port, other fortified wines, different spirits. But there are limits. Glen Moray at one time experimented with cider but this was then judged to be outside the rules. I still don’t understand why beer is ok but cider is not but there you go – rules are rules and the rules for Scottish whisky are stricter than for other countries

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