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Jim McEwan Retires

Author - Dave BroomThe term ‘legend’ is one which is bandied around rather too freely these days. There are, however, a few figures who richly deserve that accolade. Jim McEwan is one. After 52 years in whisky, he has announced that he will be retiring. It seems a strange term to see, as “retiring” is hardly the term anyone would ever use to describe Jim. Countless whisky lovers the world over have been educated and entertained with his stories, peppered with the surreal absurdity of Scottish west coast humor, stories which grew longer and more hilarious with each retelling.

His whisky life started on August 1st, 1963 when he was taken on as an apprentice cooper at Bowmore. After working in every other area of the distillery, he ended up as cellar-master, and then trainee blender. In 1986, he was made the distillery’s manager.

It was in this role that I first met him…on the back of an inflatable banana. You see, surreal. It was the start of a cherished friendship. Spending any time with Jim gets you immediately swept up in his enthusiasm and passion for whisky, ideas and schemes pouring from him. Within the space of a few hours he had arranged for me to work night shift for a week at Bowmore, with the days spent driving around the island with him, meeting distillers and the people who made the island the place it is. It as the start of my whisky education, because he drilled into me the lesson that people make whisky.

In time, he became ambassador for Bowmore, but more importantly (and perhaps not always to the delights of his bosses), an ambassador for Islay. He knew that whisky is about community, something which is even more important on an island. It has always been more than just ‘whisky’ or ‘product’ to him.

Jim-McEwan-_X2A2797It was a philosophy which he then applied when he became master distiller at Bruichladdich on its reopening in 2001. Bruichladdich was a chance to put his dreams into place: experimenting with different peating levels, getting barley grown again on Islay, looking at casks, designing a still and making gin, bringing employment to the island.

He may have been the public face of the Laddie, but in conversation he would always deflect the attention to the team. He was having fun, asking questions, creating a new community. He was hard-headed, but he was right. Behind the fun at the tastings was genuine passion for whisky, its history, its flavors, its inextricable links to Islay.

Once, when filming at Bruichladdich, I asked him to tell us about the mill. Now, the thing about filming is the need to be succinct. Jim started to talk. 20 minutes later, in an uninterrupted stream, he had taken us from the history of Bruichladdich, to biodynamics, organic farming, terroir, through the family history of the island’s farmers, then into Celtic mythology and the Vikings. He paused for a second. “Now,” he said. “The mill…” We all fell about laughing. It was the most difficult editing job the team ever had. Eventually they just let it run. It was Jim, after all.

The next generation is ready to take over. Time to nip across the burn to the house next door and his always supportive wife Barbara, his daughters and the grandchildren.

 Sharon Sturgis)

Dave Broom and Jim McEwan give the Highland Toast at WhiskyFest NY 2013
(photo credit: Sharon Sturgis)

“The distillery is in great shape,” he told me. “I’ve done as much as I can here. We’re making great whisky and the whole team are fantastic: Allan Logan, Adam Hannett, Duncan MacGillivray, the Budgie, John Rennie…there’s 80 folk working here now. It’s a good feeling.

“It’s been a fantastic journey but now it’s time for the family. It’s time to see my grandchildren grow up. I want to see them become wee Ileachs. I realized when they left the last time that I didn’t want there to be another summer when I wouldn’t see them because I was working.”

There is a sense of an era now over, but I hope, like Frank Sinatra, he’ll never fully disappear. We wish him well.

Thanks Jim, it’s been a blast.

The post Jim McEwan Retires appeared first on Whisky Advocate.

The Caol Ila 30 Year 2014 Limited Edition

Caol-Ila-30-Year-2014-Limited-EditionTasting notes:
There has been much attention over the discovery of a mummified monk inside a Buddha statue in a Dutch museum.  But is that any more wondrous than what happens when you “mummify” a peat-infused distillate in a “shroud” of oak staves before placing it inside a glass “statue” with a cork topper?  I think not.  And in this case, the transformation is so magnificent it’s alchemical.  How else to explain what has happened to the peat here?  It’s as improbable as trying to domesticate fire-breathing dragons.  Or badgers.

Oh, wait, there it is: delicious peat on the mouth.  Not like the 12 year old Caol Ila’s Band-Aids®.  Clearly, the 30 year old is far less likely to skin its knee and has no need for the stinging orange blotches of iodine.  I take its hand as it leads me deep in the bogs on a moonless night.  When next I can see, I’m standing before the seat of the Lord of the Isles.  A lean man is brushing denatured tar to coat balloons for a Goth birthday partyLook at them dancing under the bridge in preparation!  It’s got the complexity of a fudge so dense it could elbow its way onto Moh’s hardness scale.  It is time to rock.

   

Rating:

On the scale of lovely concinnities in the mummified monk story–
The Caol Ila 30 Year 2014 Limited Edition is the fact that the Buddha statue has been loaned to a museum in, wait for it, Budapest— Yup, the Caol Ila 30 comes together nicely like that, too.
  

                                                                      –John

      
   
–Our thanks to Diageo for the sample!

WhiskyCast Episode 530: April 18, 2015

If distilleries have ghosts, the ones haunting the former Old Taylor Distillery in Kentucky finally have some people to scare. After nearly 43 years, the historic distillery is being restored with plans to begin distilling by the end of this year and open to visitors in the spring of 2016. Marianne Barnes left Brown-Forman recently to oversee the project for the distillery's partners and will be the master distiller when production begins. She joins us for this week's WhiskyCast In-Depth with an update on the progress of bringing the old site back to life and trying to recreate the Bourbon that was originally made there for decades. In the news, investigators may announce indictments in the Pappy van Winkle and Wild Turkey Bourbon thefts this week, Scotland's newest distillery has been dedicated, and Scotch Whisky is helping global drinks companies weather the decline in Chinese spirits sales.

Inbox - The Week's Whisky News (April 17, 2015)

Welcome to this week's Inbox.  For those that have recently discovered us, Inbox is our weekly round up of whisky news and PR material that has found its way in to our email inbox. It was created as we cannot write full articles or do justice to every piece received. It features items from around the world of whisky and is published by us each Friday.

Within Inbox we aim to write a few lines detailing each press release/piece of news/PR event that we have received and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information. Here is what has caught our attention this week ...

________

Ballindalloch - Royals in attendance


The new single estate distillery of Ballindalloch in southern Speyside has been officially opened by Royalty.  Charles and Camilla, the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, were in attendance and were taken on a guided tour of the facilities.  They also unveiled a commemorative plaque and fitted bungs to two special casks of Ballindalloch spirit - this will be matured for 10 years and proceeds from the sales will go to charities supported by the Duke and Duchess.  Ballindalloch began production at the end of 2014 and uses only barley grown on the estate and water sourced from within the boundaries.


Belfast Distillery Company


Details have emerged about the development of the Belfast Distillery Company.  Work is progressing on the £7million conversion of the A-Wing of Belfast's historic Crumlin Road Jail, which has been closed since 1996, and will feature a three pot stills and a visitor centre.  These will produce an estimated 480,000 litres of single malt whiskey per year and create a tourist attraction in the city centre of Belfast.  Full production is due to begin in January 2016 and it will be the first distillery in Belfast for 85 years.

The Belfast Distillery Company have also announced that they have acquired a large number of casks of single malt and grain whiskey.  These have been used to develop a premium Irish blend, which will be called McConnell's.  This takes its name from a historic brand of Irish whiskey that was produced close to the current site in the early 19th century.  This will be distributed in the UK by The Great Whisky Company and will be available from this June.


English Whisky Co - Latest Chapter
The Norfolk-based English Whisky Company have announced their latest single malt bottling - the Chapter 13 St. George's Day 2015 Edition.  The release coincides with the English national day, which is on April 23.  There are limited numbers (although this number is not revealed) and it is on sale now via www.englishwhisky.co.uk.  A bottle will cost £49.99 and they are offering from delivery to mainland UK addresses until April 29.

That's Shallot...


Thank you. It's been Emotional.  
As posts go, this one will certainly go down as one of the most memorable ones that we have ever written on this humble website.  
As many readers know, we began Caskstrength.net back in January 2008. We were fresh faced, wide eyed, particularly thirsty and in possession of a drinks cabinet stocked mainly with ubiquitous Scotch brands. We took it upon ourselves to seek out the most interesting whiskies we could lay our hands on.


Once-upon-a-time we looked like this...Hard to believe really. Here we are in 2015 and we're just perusing the sidebar and a few of our old posts, over 650 of them, reviewing over 1,000 different whiskies and occasionally other spirits. To click back and look at how our tastes have changed in that time is as fascinating for us as it is to witness just how much the whisky business has changed in a little under a decade. 
When we started Caskstrength.net, there was barely a handful of online blogs or webpages dedicated to the spirit. Our influences came from inspirational spaces like Whiskyfun.com and DrWhisky, who began to deliver a voice loudly proclaiming that whisky wasn't just the domain of the over serious, wizened, ageing bore, but an accessible, engaging and, as we have seen in the passing years, spirit that offers something that almost everyone can enjoy in one way or another.  
As Caskstrength.net evolved, it became something much greater than either of us had ever imagined. It has taken us to different continents and allowed us to try some truly mind blowing, once-in-a-lifetime liquids. In short, it has helped to give us a career in spirits.  
But more importantly, it has been the conduit enabling us to forge some incredible friendships with people all over the world, many of them stemming from kind words and support from our readership.
in 2014, Caskstrength.net hit just under 900,000 views, around 70,000 a month, which is a figure that makes this post all the more important.
We now find ourselves in a totally different arena. Today, there are literally 100's of 'whisky blogs' and the landscape of writing about the spirit has changed in our opinion.  To use a crude car analogy for a second, this once gleaming, perky sports car has now hit a very high mileage indeed and is starting to cough a little on cold mornings.  
We could take it for a tune up at the garage, but in our minds, that's not the answer. In essence, we need to trade in Caskstrength.net for something brand new, fresh and with a much better, bigger, more efficient engine, capable of delivering not only the malt mileages we intend to travel, but also encompassing our huge passion for every spirit, which we realised when writing our recent book, Distilled.



So here is it then. Caskstrength.net as you are seeing it now will, after this post, be no more. Gone to the great retirement home in the sky for hard working drinks blogs.



Its replacement is going to be very exciting indeed. Over the coming weeks, we'll be introducing a brand new website: WorldsBestSpirits.com 
It will be an informative curated drinks website, with news and views about everything from Absinthe to Whisky. As always, it will be packed with plenty of the original Caskstrength character, commentary and up to date news on gin, brandy, Tequila, rum, Armagnac, mezcal, vodka and as much else as we can possibly cram in. The notion of simply 'blogging'- and indeed the phrase 'blog' is, in our opinion, something that now feels tired and quite saturated- and we like energy, not tiredness. 
What's more, WorldsBestSpirits.com will grow from simply the two of us penning articles into a dedicated team of international contributors from all over the world -  more on them later.

Writing this blog has been a pleasure. Moving up a gear to curate, choose and deliver to you the World's Best Spirits with the same verve and vigour we have approached Caskstrength.net will be an absolute pleasure. Hopefully we'll end up looking as young again as we did the photo on page one of this journey, minus the obvious wide-eyed naivety.

To celebrate the full stop on this story, we have each chosen to link to a couple of our favourite posts from the last seven-and-a-half years, and to review one final dram with which to toast our goodbye...

Joel's Top Post:  Springbank Rundlets & Kilderkins
Neil's Top Post: The Glenlivet Alpha
And so, in rather timely fashion, we reach the end of our very last post.  
Our last review on Caskstrength...   
We thought long and hard about what would be the whisky to sign of with and there it was, sitting on our desk staring us in the face. It's arrival was remarkably timely in fact...

So for the Last Post, we bring you.... The Last Drop.

This bottling project has now become the stuff of legend:  Thee industry stalwarts, led by James Espey OBE decided that rather than retiring, they would locate and bottle some of the oldest and best whisky - and other spirits- that they could lay their hands on. The concept of The Last Drop was born in 2008 and the previous releases including a blend from 1960,  a 50 year old blend and now, a 48 year old blended whisky have all been released to critical acclaim. The company is now in the hands of a younger generation of the founders, but the ethos remains the same.

This 48 year old blend is limited to 592 bottles and is priced at an RRP of £2600. It even comes with a miniature of the whisky too and a leather bound box. But that doesn't really concern us.

Question is... will it be a truly fitting send off for Caskstrength?  No pressure.

The Last Drop -  48 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky -  48.6% - 592 Bottles
Nose: A hugely complex nose, the likes of which we've only recently found in a few old Armagnacs   and very old grain whiskies: Meaty, waxy foundations, lead into rich vanilla sponge cake, clean linen, raspberry jam, with polished wood surfaces and Manuka honey rounding out the top notes. It would be sad to lose such a complexity with water, but a small drop releases some more tannic notes, sweeter vanilla and creamy toffee.
Palate: Broad shouldered and oaky, with a backbone stave of tannic Orange Pekoe tea, leading into chopped Brazil nuts, hints of the sponge cake again and very old grain: that unusual bittersweet toasted note that tends to emerge with this type of aged blend. It certainly isn't a polite, unconfident blend: it's powerful and uncompromising on the palate, with some dark oaky notes, just tempered with enough sweetness to bring the whole thing together perfectly.  
Finish: Extremely warming, but with no overtones of spirit: just pure, rich dryness, the kind of tongue coating unctuousness that 'serious' whiskies bring. Put simply, this is as serious as Jeremy Paxman grilling a hopelessly out-of-their-depth, incompetent Cabinet Minister on Newsnight.
Overall: A remarkable whisky, that not only highlights the intricacies of blending at this age, but also the concept of longevity. Sometimes, new (old) whiskies pop up with a huge fanfare but are quickly revealed as being jaded, one-dimensional and just that little bit over-egged. One wonders the reasons why they weren't bottled sooner, but we'll put this down to simple economics. Here, we have a superb integration of old grain and malt. But alongside its experience, it brings a refreshing vibrancy to the party too.  
It's a whisky that we could probably all learn a lot from.  
And with that, there's nothing more for us to say than simply, adios, slante and see you all when the next phase in our plans is fully online. Thanks for making Caskstrength such a successful and fun place to work from and we very much hope you'll stick with us at WorldsBestSpirits.com


  So, charge your glasses and raise a toast: The Blog Is Dead! Long Live WorldsBestSpirits!
Neil & Joel - April 1st, 2015 x

Keep Following Us OnTwitter @WorldOfSpirits

Jim Murray, 2015 Whisky Bible and Why Scotch Whisky Sucks



There is always a good deal of chatter when Jim Murray releases his awards list ahead of the release of a new edition of his bible, surely the sometimes controversial choices he makes are no promotional accident...
Some of the best whiskies I was fortunate enough to taste in 2014 were from Japan, and I would agree that the Yamazaki Sherry Cask is a stunning whisky from one of the world’s greatest malt whisky-producing countries, but the Daily Mail’s (expected) sensational headline and Mr. Murray’s statements strike me as remarkably unfounded. That Scotch whisky has something to be “humiliated” about, that a perceived lack of innovation has hindered Scotch producers is near nonsense.
Scotch whisky is celebrated and esteemed as much for its diversity of flavour as for its adherence to traditional craftsmanship over its lengthy history but recent years have seen these traditions used in new ways, with innovation from barley to barrel to bottle across the industry, albeit within parameters. Interestingly, many of these innovations have been in turn praised and criticised by Mr. Murray over the past two decades, from 1994s praise of finishing to his 2008 critique of the practice.
Japanese whisky was founded on the traditions of Scotch whisky making over 90 years ago, and it could possibly be argued that Japan adheres even more to the traditional methods (wooden washbacks, direct firing stills, etc) than the average malt distillery in Scotland so I do question Murray’s implied praise of generalised Japanese “innovation” over just making really good whisky that he liked.
Since the mid-1980s, when the world saw its first Single Malt from Japan, Japanese whiskies have attracted acclaim. Since 2008, Japanese blends and malts have won major titles, most notably from the World Whisky Awards. This is not to say that Scotch has stoppedwinning these awards or top acclaim from writers, including Murray. Although Scotch has, until now, won his highest accolade in all but one edition of his bible, Murray has awarded more American whiskies in recent years than Japanese. It is no news that America and Japan make excellent whiskies. Not a great headline, though, and tough to sell newspapers or magazines with a headline like that, "Whiskies Being Made to High Standard Outside Scotland"
The assumption from Murray’s statements is that Japanese whisky has an edge on Scotch because of a stronger vision or wilder innovation; innovations like the highball campaign? No Age Statements? Local barley or local oak? There are precedents in Scotch in every case. So in what way is Japanese whisky’s success due to innovations that Scotch lacks? Zero. It is due to releasing top quality malt whiskies. To infer that this precludes the ongoing (and much longer-running) success of Scotch whisky is balderdash, but a great reminder that Jim Murray’s latest book is about to be released!
Finally, in case it has not been mentioned, Jim has a new book coming out next week. 


The Glenlivet Alpha Review

Introduction

GlenlivetAlphaBig thanks to the folks at Deep Focus, a social media agency working with The Glenlivet, for sending me a free sample of the new Glenlivet Alpha expression that has only 3350 bottles shipping worldwide (not sure how many are coming to the U.S.). Especially since I’ve been flying under the whisky radar this past year (I’ll post more on that later). I haven’t checked out all of the marketing details, but apparently there is going to be a big “reveal” for Alpha in a few days, so I thought I’d go ahead and post some thoughts on the whisky while it is still something of a mystery (the box only states that it is a Single Malt bottled at 50% abv). The U.S. retail price is $120.

Tasting Notes

On the nose, my first impression is of cinnamon apples. Then vanilla custard, and finally some fresh wood shavings. Then back to the fruit, of the apples and pears variety. Looking online now at other reviews, I see people talking about lots of tropical fruits. Personally, that’s not the way I respond to this. It doesn’t strike me as tropical in the same way as something like Glenmorangie 18 year. But of course, this is all subjective.

On the palette, it starts out mouth-watering and juicy, sweet, then very slightly prickly on the tongue. There is a point where it becomes slightly nutty, and just as I start to expect a slight walnut bitterness, it pulls back. Very nice. It’s smooth as silk…almost buttery going down. It then becomes drying on the finish, before my mouth waters up again. A very enjoyable, if not particularly long, experience.

Impression

The Glenlivet Alpha is an extremely drinkable expression that would be great for sharing with all levels of whisky drinkers. It strikes me as a Special Edition release of their Nadurra expression. The overall flavor profile (especially on the nose) is quite similar. However, the Alpha has an extra silky smoothness to it relative to Nadurra, in the same way the 17 year finished Balvenie expressions relate to the 15 year single barrel. Though, I don’t detect anything resembling the typical “finishing” casks of sherry or wine in Alpha.

So what is it?

If this is a game, and we’re supposed to guess what the heck is in this black Alpha bottle, I’d have to guess a combination of first-fill and second-fill American White Oak bourbon barrels were used to mature the spirit. There is no sign of coloring or chill filtration (like Nadurra). Age? That’s a hard one. Is the extra buttery smoothness in the mouth over the Nadurra due to age, or is it related to the type of casks used? Not sure. I could believe a number of scenarios: 1) It’s a year or two older than the 16 year Nadurra. 2) They use a combination of refill casks and smaller quarter casks to give the impression of extra maturity, while keeping the oak in check, or 3) this is just the result of very carefully selected casks by the master distiller.

Value

Did I really enjoy this whisky? Yes. Am I going to seek out a bottle? No. Do I think you’re an idiot if you do? No.

I really like this whisky, but for me, the 16 year Nadurra (at $50/bottle locally) is close enough in profile to keep me satisfied. On the other hand, I have no immediate issues with the price of Alpha. They are saying that it was “carefully crafted” by the master distiller, and it is a limited release of 3,350 bottles. It’s not going to be for everybody, but then, the limited run kind of takes care of that. :-)

I’ve seen much higher prices asked for “carefully selected” expressions…how about the Diageo Manager’s Choice a few years ago? Talk about crazy pricing. These things work themselves out, though. A bunch of those Manager’s Choice bottles can still be had at 40% discounts online. So far, The Glenlivet Alpha is selling out quickly. The UK allocation disappeared immediately. If, upon commencing with their “reveal” on Facebook later this week, people are outraged by what they hear, then I’d expect that feedback to influence future releases.

If they keep their main line whiskies priced reasonably, and of high quality, what’s the harm in experimenting with various boutique releases aimed at smaller segments of the market? I look forward to learning more about the story behind The Glenlivet Alpha.

Cheers,
Jeff

Ch-Ch-Changes – Update Your RSS Feed!

Things are changing here at Whisky Party! We’re about to roll out a new design and switch to a new blog platform.

This is all happening on Monday February 20th!

If you’d like to continue reading Whisky Party in your RSS reader, you’ll have to update to the feed URL in your feed reader:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/whiskyparty/ETPs

For a sneak peak at the new sight, you can check out our staging version here.

Studio A

The Ca Scotch Couple firmly believe in living below their means. They shop at consignment stores, sock away the max for retirement, and adhere to a strict 25% debt to equity ratio. Consequently, the CA Scotch Couple's move to paradise in 2004 couldn't have come at a worse time. It was at the height of the real estate boom; the only houses even remotely within the CA Scotch Couple's price range were shacks, and even those shacks had multiple bidders.
So, it is no surprise that the beloved Little Beach House was one such shack: a circa 1913, 700 square foot single wall construction edifice with outdated wiring, inadequate plumbing, precipitously sloping floors, and a hole in its roof. The CA Scotch Couple spent many (many many many) years making the Little Beach House habitable. Unfortunately, no matter what they did, there was no escaping the reality that even with its new wiring, plumbing, and roof, the Little Beach House was a shack.
So, when the real estate bust hit San Diego hard, the CA Scotch Couple decided to see if they could trade their shack for something a little more spacious. They took a financial bath on the Little Beach House, and set out on their house hunting adventures with three goals for the new home: it needed to have lost at least as much value as the Little Beach House had, it needed to be more spacious than the Little Beach House; and it couldn't be a project.
One of the first properties the CA Scotch Couple viewed was a lovely old mixed use loft conversion in a slightly dodgy area. This 1933 grand dame had started its life as an old fashioned car dealership/garage and had then become an artist's studio and residence. It had magnificent arching barrel ceilings, open architecture, exposed terra cotta masonry, and concrete floors. It also wasn't up to earthquake code, had a leaking roof, had been stripped of plumbing, appliances and countertops, and, worst of all, had birds nesting in it. It was a whopping 2700 square feet, but man, oh man, it was project. CA Scotch Chick dubbed it "the Bird Sanctuary," and the CA Scotch Couple swiftly walked the other way.
But the CA Scotch Couple kept their miserly eyes on the Bird Sanctuary, and within a few months, market forces had driven it down to the price that the CA Scotch Couple had paid for the Little Beach House in 2004. Project or not, the CA Scotch Couple simply couldn't resist. It was a remarkable space, and it was worth the pain to make it beautiful again. They made an offer.
For seven months, long before the accident and throughout the CA Scotch Couple's recovery, they fought their way through the tortuous short sale and then foreclosure process. They managed to buy the Bird Sanctuary from the bank on the final day of 2009, immediately moved in, and endured endless months of living under plastic sheets with construction chaos ringing around them.
On the day they finally closed on the Bird Sanctuary, CA Scotch Gent sat CA Scotch Chick down and asked for two favors. First, could they please, please, please, set a goal of having the renovations done by the end of summer? No more projects stretching for years. Secondly, could they please, please, please, stop calling it the Bird Sanctuary?
They set a goal of August 31st as the drop dead date for finishing the renovation, and they scheduled a party to make sure they met that goal. Then they cast around for a more suitable name — finally deciding on "Studio A" in honor of the sign over its door.
It was a long hard nine months, complicated by the CA Scotch Couple's recovery from their injuries and those all encompassing work schedules. However, on August 31st, a mere three hours before their party, the CA Scotch Couple finally removed the last of the plastic, pushed the furniture into place, and claimed Studio A as their own.
It was well worth the effort. Studio A is now up to code; the birds have been evicted; it has been scrubbed from top to bottom; and it is now equipped with new bathrooms, appliances, countertops, skylights, and roof. Gentle light filters into its spacious and gracious interior giving the CA Scotch Couple the impression that they are stepping into a magnificent cavern whenever they return at the end of the day — the perfect refuge for a pair of recluses. It has been an extremely long tough year, but the CA Scotch Couple are finally home.