Brexit. Who hasn’t heard of it by now? Britain’s attempt to rid itself of restrictive and overbearing EU regulations that have allegedly put a big dent in its budget. But while topics such as freedom of movement, a divorce bill and the Single Market regularly make headlines, Brexit also has many smaller implications that have escaped national attention. But that doesn’t mean there are no local concerns. One issue that Scottish people are certainly aware of, is the impact that Brexit might have on their whisky industry.
And this is hardly surprising, given the importance that whisky plays in the Scottish economy. Exports total around £4.25 billion per year, making up a quarter of the entire UK’s food and drink revenues. The industry supports around 35.000 jobs, with many more added indirectly through tourism. The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) proudly states that “Scotch whisky is the single biggest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade in goods, with the EU taking around a third of Scotch whisky exports.” While the first statement isn’t surprising (Scotland can’t actually import any Scotch whisky), the latter part is important. Because it is exactly this relationship with the EU that has fuelled concerns about the fate of Scotch whisky in a post-Brexit scenario.
Age: No age statement
These days it seems almost customary to release a new bottling for the travel retail market first, see if it catches on, and if so, make it more widely available. If this is what’s needed for distilleries to be able to experiment a bit more, that’s all for the best, because it gives us drams such as Talisker Dark Storm.
Part of the range of Talisker NAS whiskies, Dark Storm is the more raucous sibling to Talisker Storm. After all, if you have a Storm that’s relatively successful, why not make it a bit Darker and more mysterious? The darkness in this case is provided by the heavily charred oak that Dark Storm has been matured in. These casks add some extra spice and smokiness to the already pungent distillery character. Think of this as a Talisker on steroids, an extra fierce offering from the Isle of Skye. If you like other Taliskers, Dark Storm will not disappoint.
What’s better than being out in nature, drinking whisky under a clear night sky? Being out in nature, drinking whisky and hiking towards a distillery to drink more whisky! So that’s exactly what I did this summer, along with two friends. Having already done a similar (solo) trip on the Isle of Jura, this time it was Arran’s turn to awe us with its natural beauty. We set out with a tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear and of course a bottle of Arran whisky.
The easiest way to get to Arran is by taking the CalMac ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick, the main entry point to the island. The boat ride provided great views of Arran, often called ‘Scotland in miniature’: gently rolling hills in the south, and more barren and mountainous towards the north. And the north was where we would be going, so our gaze was inevitably turned towards the jagged peaks rising from the sea, rainclouds ominously swirling around their summits.
Age: No age statement
Laphroaig Triple Wood’s name is a bit of a giveaway. As you might expect, this whisky has aged in three different types of cask, making it essentially an Oloroso sherry finished Quarter Cask. What the name does not tell you though, is that this is a fantastic drop of whisky, a Laphroaig with a twist. Compared to some of the distillery’s more youthful offerings, Triple Wood is a mellower, more sophisticated dram. The nose is expressive, the body velvety and rich, while the finish still provides plenty of peat smoke.
Although Triple Wood was formerly a travel retail exclusive, its popularity has earned it a place among Laphroaig’s core range. It is a distinction well earned, as this is one of the distillery’s very finest whiskies.
Age: 10 years old
Ledaig is produced by Tobermory, the only distillery on the Isle of Mull. Tobermory distillery has had quite a turbulent past, and managed to survive despite multiple closures throughout the years. Since its latest reboot in 1993, the distillery has produced two styles of whisky: the fruity, unpeated Tobermory, and the smoky, maritime Ledaig. Ledaig means ‘safe haven’ in Gaelic, and indeed this peaceful bay is where Tobermory distillery is situated. It is somewhat ironic that the name Ledaig was given to the peated range, since these whiskies are anything but tranquil. Tobermory markets Ledaig with the tagline “wonderfully peated”, and this is no word of a lie. With its crisp smoke and medicinal character, Ledaig gives many Islay distilleries a run for their money. Despite this, Ledaig has received relatively little attention, and it seems that demand has remained relatively modest. Perhaps this is all for the best, since Ledaig sells at a very attractive price point. So at the risk of undermining what I just said, be sure to pick up a bottle when you have the chance, this whisky is well worth a try!
Distillery: Isle of Arran
Age: No age statement
Despite its young age, the Isle of Arran distillery uses very traditional production techniques. Even so, they have not shied away from experimenting with different types of casks. And this is all to the good: drams such as the Port Cask Finish and the Amarone Cask Finish are delightful whiskies, and the Madeira Cask Finish forms no exception. As the name indicates, this Arran has received an additional maturation in casks that previously held Madeira wine. And while this whisky bears the influences of not one, but two different islands, it ironically does not have an obvious Island character. Like most Arrans, the Madeira Cask is an unpeated, fresh and floral whisky, but now overlaid with extra fruity, nutty flavours from the Madeira cask. The result is a delicious dram, which thanks to its bottling strength of 50% does not lack for vigour.
Age: No age statement
Named after the loch that forms the distillery’s water source, Ardbeg Uigeadail is a vatting that marries younger, traditional Ardbeg spirit with older whiskies from casks that previously held sherry. Launched in 2003 at a time when no age statement bottlings were still a relative rarity, Uigeadail has certainly set a shining example for all NAS whiskies that have followed since. Although so far nothing comes close to the otherworldly Ardbeg Galileo, Uigeadail is definitely my favourite of the core range. And the 120.000+ members of the Ardbeg Committee agree: they have chosen Uigeadail as their most beloved Ardbeg. For me, Uigeadail has long been the go-to dram for finishing off a flight of smoky whiskies (be they Ardbegs or not). Having said that, it’s of course also great on its own, and I consider it to be the ultimate nightcap. However you drink it, Ardbeg Uigeadail is a phenomenal whisky and it’s well worth keeping a bottle in your collection.
If you’ve ever visited Dufftown in Speyside, chances are a local will have proudly told you that “Rome was built on seven hills, but Dufftown stands on seven stills”. And while a cluster of seven distilleries in a village of 1600 people is indeed impressive, there was once a time when Dufftown’s claim to be the whisky capital of the world would have been brushed aside without a second thought.
Nowadays, few whisky fans make the long drive down the Kintyre peninsula. In fact, many are even unaware that Campbeltown is a whisky region in its own right. And this is perhaps not surprising, given that there are now only three distilleries operational. How different this once was. In its heyday, Campbeltown was the undisputed Whisky Metropolis (to use Alfred Barnard’s words), boasting no less than 26 distilleries. Coming in by sea through the Campbeltown Loch, the sight of all those chimneys belching out smoke must have been quite something to behold. The town, never housing more than a few thousand inhabitants, was a bustle of whisky making activity, buildings blackened with soot and the smell of peat reek permeating everything. So successful were Campbeltown’s whisky barons in attracting the business of large Lowland blenders such as Johnnie Walker and Dewar’s, that by the 1890s, Campbeltown boasted the highest per capita income anywhere in Britain. And not only the local economy was thriving. Converted into today’s money, every inhabitant was contributing the equivalent of £30.000 a year to the Treasury in excise duty. Clearly, Campbeltown distillers were getting things very right. The sky was the limit and one could not imagine a Scotch whisky industry without Campbeltown at its forefront. But fast-forward 30 years and Campbeltown paints a much bleaker, more desolate picture, one of financial struggle, distillery closures and rampant unemployment. At its very lowest point, only Springbank distillery remained open, and even they ceased production for a few seasons. How did Campbeltown’s fortunes reverse so dramatically? What were the factors that brought down this mighty force in whisky making? And what might the future hold for this proud town that once lived and breathed whisky? This is a story of impossible highs, heart-wrenching lows and glimmers of hope on the horizon. This is the story of the Campbeltown boom and bust.
With its frosty temperatures and dark winter months, Iceland seems as good a place as any to pour yourself a warming dram of whisky. And while you’re at it, why not opt for a locally distilled whisky, as the perfect companion for exploring Iceland’s stunning natural beauty. Until recently this would not have been possible, but fortunately Eimverk distillery has since entered the scene.
Apparently in Icelandic, there is no word for ‘distillery’, so a bit of linguistic creativity was required. Eim is short for distilling in Icelandic, while verk means ‘a job being done’, and this is exactly what this small distillery has enthusiastically kept busy with since 2009. The result is not only the Flóki whisky range, but also a selection of award winning gins and the traditional Icelandic spirit called Brennivín.
Age: 13-14 months
When you think of Iceland, you may picture glaciers and waterfalls, or volcanoes that annoyingly bring whole continents to a standstill. Perhaps you may even think of Vikings, Björk or fermented shark meat. But rarely will you hear the words Iceland and whisky uttered in the same sentence. Not until recently at least, because now Eimverk distillery is producing Iceland’s very own malt whisky. True, it will not be ready until November 2017, but there’s already a taster available for those who cannot wait. Fittingly subtitled First Impression, Flóki Young Malt is exactly that: a first introduction to an Icelandic whisky that’s far from a final product.
Bottled after having been matured for just over a year, this Flóki may not even call itself whisky yet. Despite this, it’s a very captivating drink, thanks in large part to the unconventional way in which Flóki is produced. For more background on Eimverk and Flóki, you can read about my visit to the distillery here. What is good to mention though is that because of Iceland’s harsh climate, barley produced on the island is much less rich in sugar content. To make up for this, Eimverk uses up to 50% more barley in each batch, and this has a very positive impact on the flavour of the spirit. You can expect lots of sweet cereal and an almost oily spiciness in this Flóki.
It has been great to make acquaintance with this Icelandic experiment in whisky making, even just for a first impression. It’s left me eager for more, and I will definitely be keeping an eye out to see how the Flóki range develops in the future. For now though, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this Young Malt. Skál!