Glenlivet Alpha

Glenlivet have been making a bit of noise in the last couple of days with the release of their new expression named “Alpha”. Presented in a matte black bottle it’s totally devoid of any other information, including age statements, production techniques and any tasting notes. The only other information that can be found is that it is a single malt and the abv is at 50% (both of these are legal requirements).


It is being hailed as the first “blind” release, marketed as a “blank canvas” where the consumers are encouraged to develop their own perceptions of this whisky without being influenced by critical factors such as age, colour (presumably why it’s released in a matte black bottle – although as soon as you open it you’ll notice the colour) or any other production details, such as cask maturation type or finishing.

In order to engage with the public, Glenlivet will be mounting a global campaign across social media formats and predominately facebook. They will be setting weekly tasks and “sensory challenges” that break down the whisky into four senses: sight, smell, taste and feel (1) so the public will be able to develop their own tasting notes. They even made a nice film to go along with it too.

However, after all the fun and games master distiller Alan Winchester will reveal all about Glenlivet Alpha via a global broadcast on the Glenlivet website and facebook page. That happens on 3rd June so people have got just over a month to debate and talk about this whisky. Presumably people would have already worked out what the colour and what it tastes like but hey it’s always nice to get it confirmed from an official source as you may have mistaken that tangerine note for a clementine. You won’t be told how old it is though because as it’s not stated on the bottle, to do so after it has been released would apparently make the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) very cross (2).

Glenlivet Alpha will be either 3500 or 3350 bottles (1 and 3) [depending on which source you read] released worldwide. But only 600 bottles will be made available to the U.K. and a retail price tag of varying somewhere between £77 (4)  and £99 (5).

This is all well and good but I’ve got some concerns and issues over this release. My first is with such a limited release and such a hefty price tag my question is, is any normal whisky drinker actually going to get a chance to sample this? And my second is this just an example of hype and marketing in whisky which is now perhaps going a little too far?

Nikki Burgess, international brand director for The Glenlivet, states that the new release is more an attempt to communicate the brand’s signature style with consumers, than simply a marketing initiative. (2)

“We want to engage people and strike up a discussion about the product,” she said. “We know that single malt fans are really into The Glenlivet and are dying to know more, so this is a way of us being able to have more of a conversation rather than downloading messages. There are only 3,500 bottles worldwide so the objective isn’t a massive revenue gain either; it’s about building more of a relationship with people around the brand.” (2)

The idea of setting lots of little challenges, interacting with the public and trying to get them guessing about the contents of the bottle is great.

But apart from a load of whisky industry types and a bunch of whisky bloggers who been sent pre-release samples just who else is actually being engaged by this release?

Is the exclusiveness of the release just providing a lot of free copy for Glenlivet whilst at the same time alienating the normal whisky buying public?

And due to the nature of this release will not a good chunk of the bottles be purchased for a speculative re-sale if it turns out to be a rare single cask or whatnot?

With only 600 bottles and a price tag near the ton mark there’s no way that this will find its way onto a back-bar of any whisky bars or pubs, which for the average punter, is the best way of trying new whiskies without committing to shelling out for a full bottle.

I like the idea of engaging the public in this way but it seems to me that the execution of this particular release is solely aimed at marketing (yeah undoubtedly the contents will have to be good as its being assessed by the whisky microcosm) but it detracts from what I believe whisky should all be about – honesty, accessibility and enjoyment shared. What’s so wrong about simply making good whisky and selling good whisky?







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Ardbeg Ardbog


New stuff from Ardbeg. Just in time for 2014 Feis Ile festival. Pretty convenient huh? This years special bottling is called Ardbog. It’s a 10 year old whisky. Part of it matured in ex-Bourbon barrels (first fill I presume) and another part matured in ex-Manzanilla Sherry Butts. Non-chill filtered and bottled at a cracking 51.2% abv.

Eschewing the standard format of whacking some normal whisky into another cask for finishing, the Manzanilla component has spent it’s full maturation life in those Sherry barrels. Presumably these have come from Dr Bill Lumsden’s (Head of Whisky Creation for Ardbeg and Glenmorangie) secret stash of weird and wonderful whisky experiments. It continues in the vein of last years Ardbeg Galileo, a component of which was fully matured in ex-Marsala casks.

Dr Bill states:

“The overall combination of effects in Ardbog truly conjures up the impression of ancient, primeval, salty peat bogs, but reassuringly this is combined with some classic, intense Ardbeg notes of leather, toffee and smoke. The Manzanilla maturation weaves salty flavours through the whisky which is then balanced with the maple syrup creaminess of the first fill ex-bourbon casks. As with all Ardbeg it is about getting the balance of many flavours right so others such as mocha coffee, cloves and even anchovies play their part.” (1)


If that sounds up your street then it’s released on the 1st June through the distillery itself and selected retail outlets. I have no idea how many bottles it is limited to but I do know that it is priced at a naughty £79.99, which for a 10 year old whisky is a fair whack of cash. Presumably people will pay owt for anything with the Ardbeg label.

Or maybe the thinking is that seeing as the last lot of Ardbeg releases ended up sold out and then re-sold on the internet for twice the amount (see Ardbeg Day and Galileo) the distillery might as well get a little more back to begin with. Or maybe it’s about the gradual repositioning of Ardbeg as a premium-niche brand (look at the price of some of the Glenmorangie releases these days). Or maybe the liquid inside is truly worth every penny (twice as good as the standard Arbeg 10 then). Who knows? But come June 1st we’ll have a clearer idea.



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A couple of great blog posts from the web.

If we find some interesting articles on the web we usually post a link to them on our facebook page – but then if you’re not on facebook then you’ll not get a chance to read them. So here are a couple of really good reads from other bloggers we’ve enjoyed recently.

The first is from SomersetWhisky reporting on a debate/talk in London with various whisky makers about whether where whisky is made will affect the taste – or does whisky have terroir?

The second article is from WhiskyScience about the history of whisky making in Finland

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Shackleton’s Whisky


The early 1900s was an age of pioneering discovery and adventure. No where is this more evident than the exploration of Antarctica and attempts to reach the South Pole. Scott tried first in 1902 and then Shackleton five years later with the 1907 British Antarctic Expedition. Neither succeeded in reaching the pole but their attempts were both brave and heroic, capturing the imagination of people the world over.


Almost 100 hundred years later, in January 2006, whilst restoration and preservation work was been carried out on the wooden cabin that was home to Shackleton and his crew for 18 months in 1907, a discovery is made. In a tiny crawl-space, underneath the cabin, which had been packed solid with ice, three boxes are uncovered that contain the words “rare” “old” “Mackinlay” and “whisky”.


Plans are made to release the crates from their entombment in ice and to discover if they still actually contain any whisky. In February 2010 it is announced that they have been successfully recovered. After transportation and a slow controlled defrost on 13th August 2010 ten bottles are found to be intact and contain liquid.

Mackinlay’s current owners are Whyte and Mackay and it was the job of their master blender, Richard Patterson to analyse the century old whisky to ascertain it’s quality, and furthermore to see if it could be replicated. With over 40 years of experience, from a family that has been involved in whisky making for three generations and responsible for creating rare and complex expressions for Dalmore, the splendidly suited and showman Richard Patterson, (known as “the nose”) is possibly the most qualified person on the planet for this challenge.


The original is a blend of single malts from the demolished Glen Mhor distillery. With the original 1890 recipe now lost it takes four months of solid testing, tasting and blending lead to a successful replica containing 25 different malts with a range of ages from eight to thirty years.


Whisky and drinks writer Dave Broom is the only independent person to sample both the original and the recreation and declares it “bang on”.

It’s presumed that whiskies from this time would have tended to be smokier, robust and heavy, but somewhat surprisingly it’s a very delicate whisky, with lots of fruit, spice, wood and a subtle trace of smoke. I was fortunate enough to try a sample at WhiskyLive 2013 with Richard Patterson and I must admit it is a remarkable and complex dram – one that certainly needs a little time to unravel all it’s features.

I’m sure that given the many long and cold hours spent in the most inhospitable place on the Earth the crew would have become very familiar with it’s intricacies. Even Shackleton, who was by all accounts an abstainer from alcohol, I’m sure would have recognised the quality and provenance of this amazing whisky.


The whole story can be found in Neville Peat’s book “Shackleton’s Whisky”. It takes the reader to the heart of Antarctica, illustrating the struggle of surviving in those extremes at the turn of the century, the mind-set of Shackelton and his preparations for the assault on the pole, the current preservation work and also the whole story of the find and recreation of this century old dram. It’s a poignant story that really ramps home the pioneering adventurism of the time. As Dave Broom points out in the book:

“It can never be the same. We cannot go back. Whisky is made in a different way these days, just as Antarctic exploration has changed. We could recreate Shackleton’s expedition but we’d do it with GPS and backup crews. We could create the flavours of his whisky, but it would always be a homage and not identical. And that is how it should be.” (p277)

“Shackleton’s Whisky” – Neville Peat – Preface -2012

For more information check out some of the YouTube clips:

Shackleton Whisky Replica Video:

Neville Peat Author Talk (58min clip)

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Easter Whisky Quiz

Happy Easter. If you’re lucky enough to have a few days off over this time and the prospect of going outside is low then here’s a little whisky quiz for Easter! Some fairly easy questions, some a bit tougher. I’ll try and get round to doing one each month if people enjoy it. It’s only for fun as it’s obvious anyone could look up the answers on that internet! I’ll post the answers here (as a comment) later this month but feel free to add your own answers on the comments below.


Here we go!

1) What is the name of Suntory’s grain distillery?

2) Not all American whiskeys spell whiskey with an “e”. Name one brand that spells it “whisky”.

3) In which Scottish region would you find Glenburgie distillery?

4) How many Scottish distilleries currently triple distil. Can you name them?

5) Ardmore is the principle whisky in which blend?

6) What is Scotland’s smallest distillery?

7) Which is Ireland’s oldest distillery?

8) Name the peatiest whisky in the world. And how peaty is it?

9) Which distillery is powered by a water wheel?

10) Which distillery was destroyed by lightning (and subsequent fire) in November 1996?

11) Charles Doig is responsible for what distillery feature?

12) What is the capacity of a hogshead cask?

13) Which whisky famously shot a sample into space in 2012?

14) In which country would you find the Mackmyra distillery?

15) Which distillery started distilling on Christmas Day?

16) There are two operational distilleries on Orkney. Name them.

17) What are the ingredients of a Whisky Mac?

18) It is known as “new make” in Scotland but what do the American’s call it?

19) Which island is Talisker on?

20) In Scotland, what A.B.V. strength is whisky usually filled in the barrel?

21) Which city boasts the world’s oldest football team?



0 : Come on, you could have guessed at least one of them correct!

1-5 : You probably enjoy a drink but you’re not up to speed on whisky facts yet. This is no bad thing at all. Best have an “educational” dram then.

6-10 : Good knowledge. You’re obviously a keen whisky fan, you like a dram but you’re not yet obsessive about whisky. You’re at the crossroads, one might say. It’s a dangerous place to be though. Best have a dram to steady your nerves.

11-15 : We know which road you took at the crossroads then. You’ve travelled down that whisky path and you’re well on your way for it becoming a little hobby (or obsession – depends on who’s talking!). You keep informed of new releases and genuinely love whisky. Well done! Best have a dram to celebrate!

16-20: Hmm it’s safe to say that you have become a whisky nerd. You’ve probably got a sizeable collection at home and could tell everyone about the peat specifications of Ardbeg. Or you sell whisky for a living. Same thing really! Best pour another one.

21+ You’re probably considering getting an Alfred Barnard tattoo. Best crack open that 1975 Ardbeg then…

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America on Single Malt

We’ve had some really interesting feedback from one of our articles about what constitutes a single malt. One of our last articles here was basically raising a point about residue left over from previous casks. Essentially if distillery A buys a refill cask from distillery B then there will be a little of distillery B whisky left soaked in the wood. That spirit will then mingle with distillery A spirit during maturation and so can you really call this a “single malt”. Surely a wee bit of distillery B and a whack of distillery A is technically a “blended malt”.  That’s kind of the point I was trying to get people thinking about. Anyway….


This all lead on to some amazing responses from people on Twitter and a little investigation about the laws and regulations of what constitutes a single malt in North America….


Thanks to Bob Caron on Twitter we’ve now learnt that in America if you want your whisky to labelled as a “single malt” you MUST use virgin oak to mature your whisky. You are NOT allowed to use a cask that has been used to store or mature whisky previously (a refill cask). UNLESS you are making single malt in Scotland, Ireland or Canada. If you are from one of those countries and making single malt according to the laws of those countries THEN you can use a refill cask to mature your whisky AND label it as “single malt” in America.

Got that? Yeah it confused me the first time too.

So if you’re from Canada, Scotland or Ireland – keep calm and carry on. It’s business as usual as long as you are playing by your own countries rules – you’re in the club! There’s a bit of confusion, however, regarding Japan. They don’t seem to be in the club? Wales, er maybe… but England certainly not… and here’s the article that Bob lead us to originally published by Whisky Advocate which details some of that confusion.


If you happen to be from Indian like Amrut or Sweden, like Mackmyra, you’ve got problems. Because only these three countries (Canada, Scotland and Ireland) are allowed to use refill casks. Mackmyra have pointed out to us that Sweden is not exempt from this strange law. So even though they can sell their single malt everywhere else across the globe they can not legally sell their whisky as a single malt in the United States as they do not use virgin oak casks to mature their whisky. If they wanted to sell it in America it would have to be labelled as, now get this, “Whisky Distilled from Malt Mash”. Hmmmm tasty.  So despite the whisky being made EXACTLY the same way and from the same ingredients, what it can be called is determined by what it is stored in. Now that is slightly nuts. (Let’s not even get into the fact that French whisky Brenne and Armorik are sold as single malts in the States).

And the same ruling applies to American Single Malt producers too. If you are making malt whisky in America then it HAS to be matured in a NEW virgin oak cask to be called “Malt Whisky”.

Ok now this where it gets both interesting and even more confusing so hang on….

Oak barrels_WEB

Although the Scottish Whisky Association are fairly strict about cask maturation there is nothing in the rules to stop you maturing in virgin oak, first fill or refill casks. The rules are very clear that it must be oak, on maximum size of the cask and the minimum amount of time it must remain in the cask.


However, in America there are NO time limits on how long malt whisky must remain in that cask. Nothing. See if you can find it. Chip Tate at Balcones certainly can’t find it.

So if you want to be labelled “malt whisky” rather than “whisky distilled from malt mash” stick your new make in a virgin oak cask for a tiny amount of time (let’s say the time it takes to smoke a nice cigar!) before transferring it to a used oak cask. Boom. I’m a Single malt now thanks.

In fact the only time limit constraint is if you want to label your whisky “straight” then it must sit in the cask for two years. (This may be an aside but we couldn’t find any mention of where that cask should be located for it’s maturation period – For Scotch it HAS to be matured IN Scotland for it’s full maturation period – you CAN NOT move it out of Scotland and mature it elsewhere – the minute you do, it NO LONGER becomes a Scottish single malt – but in the American regulations there didn’t seem to be anything regarding it’s maturation location).  


What is also slightly strange to those raised on the Scottish model of whisky production, is that an American Malt Whisky can be made from a minimum of 51% Malted Barley. (Understandably this follows the same rules laid down for all the various types of American whisky i.e. Bourbon = 51% Corn, Rye = 51% rye, Wheat = 51% wheat). But in Single Malt production that we are familiar with in Scotland it would seem at odds to have any other ingredient OTHER than malted barley in the mashbill.

So my American Single Malt mashbill can be 51% malted barley and then the rest made up with corn or wheat – or what in Scotland would be classified as grain. Now in Ireland a combination of unmalted and malted barley in the mashbill is known as Pot Still Whisky – but this is separate category in itself and one that is (now) unique to Ireland. And although you mix grain whisky and malt whisky to create a blended whisky at the end of the process – I’ve never heard of, and doubt it has ever happened, of distilling from a mixed grain/malt mashbill in Scotland. I’m not even sure it would actually be legal to do so? Does anyone know???

Wow, my American Single Malt is just a little bit crazy yeah? Oh but hang on. There’s one last thing. And it concerns this notion of “single”. You know “single” as in from ONE distillery. There’s NO reference to “Single Malt” in the regulations. Only “Malt Whisky”. There is no legal definition for “single malt”. Why? And now this is where it’s going to blow your head..

After looking through the paperwork that Mackmyra sent us about the classification of different spirits in the US one other thing did really stand out.


And that is, if your Bourbon (or corn, rye or malt) is labelled Straight, then not only does it have to be matured for two years or more BUT (and here it comes) it is allowed to be a mixture of two or more straight whiskies provided they are made in THE SAME STATE. Not from the same distillery. But from the same state!!!!

Just imagine if you could apply this to Speyside in Scotland!

We would like to thank Bob Caron for his comments on our original article that lead us down this path. And large thanks to both Mackmyra Distillery in Sweden for forwarding the relevant web-links regarding the US law and also to Chip Tate at Balcones for sharing his thoughts and insights about the situation. We would welcome any comments, reactions and any corrections to where we may have misinterpreted the regulations. But we’ve had a real long look at them!


The original article from Whisky Advocate that got us thinking:

Then the TTB site which Mackmyra directed us to:

In particular Chapter 4 is the real interesting part of the document as it really shows the explanations behind the definitions. Pages 4-2 to 4-5 are the most interesting!


Beverage Alcohol Manual:

American Flag;

Mackmyra logo:

Oak casks:

Balcones barrels:

Malted Barley:

States of America:

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Recently Maker’s Mark decided to drop their ABV by 3% to allow for continuity of supply. Everyone on the internet got in a reyt huff and so a week later they reversed their decision. Publicity stunt or not? Anyway the best place to read about the whole saga is in this comprehensive blog post from the peeps at boozedancing. Thanks and enjoy!

It's just the booze dancing...


The Maker’s Mark ABV Conundrum

On February 9th, I received the following email from the good people at Maker’s Mark:

Dear Maker’s Mark® Ambassador,

Lately we’ve been hearing from many of you that you’ve been having difficulty finding Maker’s Mark in your local stores.  Fact is, demand for our bourbon is exceeding our ability to make it, which means we’re running very low on supply. We never imagined that the entire bourbon category would explode as it has over the past few years, nor that demand for Maker’s Mark would grow even faster.

We wanted you to be the first to know that, after looking at all possible solutions, we’ve worked carefully to reduce the alcohol by volume (ABV) by just 3%. This will enable us to maintain the same taste profile and increase our limited supply so there is enough Maker’s Mark to go around, while we continue…

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