Friday, 9 November 2012

BenRiach Maltings reopen

Word came through this week that BenRiach's maltings have reopened.
Billy Walker, the company's MD, said: “From a commercial point of view, it makes no sense because the costs of producing malted barley are significantly more.  The reason we’re doing it is because we had everything in place and in fantastic condition.  Bolting the maltings onto BenRiach is a beautiful join-up.”
It brings to eight the number of distillers who malt at least a portion of their own barley.
Today, I have a meeting of Delph Pond Forum and can advise them that the group, of which I am the treasurer, has been successful in its bid for funding from The Co-operative's Community Fund.  The Forum is attempting to raise funds for interpretation boards around the pond giving visitors to the area and schoolchildren (as the park has been used by local schools as an outdoor classroom in the past couple of years) information about the area's flora and fauna.  We are gradually having the locals accept some responsibility for the area and to understand the importance of protecting the area's biodiversity.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Cutty Sark again at Lochgreen House

Tuesday night was again down in deepest Ayrshire, at Lochgreen House in Troon educating a group of Greek bartenders about blended whisky for Cutty Sark.  Our normal line up has been North British 5 yo, J&B, Cutty Sark, Dewar's White Label, Ballantine's & Johnnie Walker Red Label.  The guys and gals at Cutty see these as being what they call their "competitive set".
We've been doing these events for their overseas distributors and customers for about 18 months now.  Initially, I thought that they were being very brave, putting their juice up clinically against the opposition, but Cutty ALWAYS shows well.  The liquid is of fantastic quality.
The Greeks, from W.S. Karoulias, Cutty's distributors in Athens, wanted the competitive set changed, because they see the competition differently in Greece.  Thus, the line up this week was N.B. 5yo, Cutty, Dewar's, Grant's, Haig and J.W. Red.
Again, Cutty showed up wonderfully.  It is a long time since I last tasted either Grant's or Haig.  The Grant's showed well, but the Haig's flavour was flat, old-fashioned and exceedingly disappointing.
The group was quite knowledgeable, had a good command of English - sometimes one of the group has had to translate my words into Russian, Turkish or Portuguese and that adds to the length of the night.
We have dinner and then jump into a bus which takes us to Alloway, where we wander around the old churchyard and down to the Brig o' Doon where we drink Tam O' Shanter, Cutty Sark 25 yo.
It's a tough life...
Last night was a meeting of the Co-operative Area Committee in Stirling.  A relatively easy meeting, we dispensed £5,697.84 from the Community Fund to deserving organisations, but there were applications totalling over £11,000, so we had to disappoint some groups.
Today I found some tasting notes which had become buried in the paperwork on my desk.  I really must tidy it more regularly.  I will get them up onto the website within the next couple of days - I hope!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

I know, I promised to be more proactive with posts, keeping them up to date - and I haven't posted since May.
It has been a very hectic few months, especially the past 10 weeks.
I have been continuing with the Cutty Sark Whisky Academy, educating their overseas customers (and a few of Edrington's staff as well) on a) the quality of the liquid that goes into the Cutty bottle and b) the importance of the blended category to the industry and the on-trade.
have tasted a considerable number of malt whiskies as a pre-cursor to the writing and publication of the next edition of The Malt Whisky File scheduled for March, 2013.  A large proportion of these have been revisiting whiskies I have previously tasted and updating my tasting notes.  Some have improved the quality of the liquid, some have slipped.
I took the whisky courses, The Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course and the Advanced Whisky course out of the City of Glasgow College and held them in the premises of The Good Spirits Company in Glasgow.  I had to handle all the administration, copying of handouts, etc.  It involved me in a LOT more work, a bit more stress, but I think that I enjoyed it more.  At least Ithe students and I did not have to wade through the administrative morass which the City of Glasgow College created the past couple of times I held it there.  But I used two and a half reams of paper and 18/20 ink cartridges just for printing handouts.  These were things I had not taken into account when costing the exercise.
The entry level course was a big success with 25 enrolled.  (Really too many, I should stick to an absolute maximum of 22, but had held 2 places open for a couple of Tomatin's staff and, an hour after they advised they wouldn't be able to make it, Whyte & Mackay asked if they could enrol 3 of their staff.)  19 sat the exam with very good results - all 19 passed.  Despite the fact that I created this course in 1998 and have delivered it in an 8 week evening class format at least 20 times now, the colleges have never created a Feedback Form.  I did this time and, although almost all were effusive in their praise of the course, one suggested that I did not cover the basics sufficiently.  I will now make a wee change or two to weeks one and two.
My break-even point is 12 students.  The Advanced course was supposed to have 12, but one advised a week before it was due to start that he wouldn't make it.  We ran with 11, but I think that I lost money in doing that.  (Note to self:  be more firm with this.)
Deanston finally opened the visitor centre at the distillery in May and it seems as if it is doing the business.  I was there yesterday and the place was stowed out: cars parked everywhere, queues of people waiting to take a tour and the coffee shop had no free seats when I arrived at 2.00p.m. for a meeting.  The level of business they were doing meant that my meeting took place in several bits of free space at the till.
I have been attempting to get some golf in and had done well over the winter, getting out almost every week at least once.  Managed a round in the last week in June, no golf July or August and, over the past 10 weeks managed to fit golf in three times.
Maybe I'll manage to fit more rounds in over the winter, although, as I said above, I am supposed to be compiling the next edition of the MWF and the next entry level course starts on 14th January.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

At long last

So much for good intentions.  Late last year, I determined that I would post more frequently and look, 6 weeks pass.
Much has happened.
The inaugural Spirit of Stirling Whisky Festival passed off very efficiently and successfully.  It seems that the small, "hand-knitted" festivals are working best in Scotland.  Whisky Magazine seems to have given up the idea of Whisky Live! in Scotland and has gone for a different Format, Whisky Luxe! with highly priced tickets (£150.00 a day) and in Edinburgh in September.  Obviously hoping to catch the tail end of Edinburgh Festival tourism.
Have moved the Scotch Whisky Trail Certificate course out of the college.  The chaos students experienced over the past 3 years when attempting to enrol has caused this.  On top of the fact that the students on the Advanced course wanted it on a Thursday or Friday and the college is not open on these evenings.  So I am taking them to The Good Spirits Company at 23, Bath Street, Glasgow.
We only announced it last Friday lunchtime and already, the Advanced has 16 confirmed students and the entry level course 12, so both will go ahead.  Minimum 12, maximum 22, over this number, the students' benefit reduces.  I know why educational campaigners argue for smaller class sizes, because 25 and over, the lecturer/teacher's focus gets dissipated.
Delivered the course for a group of 5 interested enthusiasts from South Africa: 3 days in the classroom and 2 days at distilleries.  Worked well, although some of the content had to be compressed and they went away happy.
The Cutty Sark Whisky Academy programme continues with students recently from Kazakhstan, Ukraine, the US and the Caribbean.  More next week from Europe and Turkey.   A a result of this course, it seems that I am now famous in Brazil.  I must get over there and see for myself!
Have allowed Robin Tucek to persuade me that it is sensible and financially attractive to publish the next edition of The Malt Whisky File ourselves.  Have started work on this, but am nowhere near as far through it as I had hoped to be at this point.  Voluntary activities are getting in the way,
The Clackmannanshire bid for Fairtrade status which I am leading has been successful so far, but I am still waiting for advice about certain aspects of the application form which I had targetted to submit by last Wednesday.  We have been very successful in achieving a very high level of media interest, so I am hopeful that I will achieve the goal by end June.
Have tutored a couple of Fairtrade wine tastings for the Co-operative, one in Falkirk and one in Perth.  Both went very well and am receiving requests to deliver the same evenings at other venues for the Co-op. 
Also delivered a Greek tasting for The Scottish Wine Society.  Opened a lot of their eyes to the quality coming out of Greece at the moment and confused them with Greece's indigenous varietals.  I also did something very unusual, the tasting was three whites, three reds and finished with another white.  When I ordered the Gerovassiliou wines, I ordered the wrong one.  The final wine should have been Ovilos Red, what I got was Ovilos white, a blend of Semillon and Assyrtiko.  Fortunately, this is a stunning wine and still stood out above everything before it, including Gervassiliou's Avaton which In thought was magnificent.
I have been appointed a Director/Trustee of Forth Environment Link, a local environmental charity for which I have been a volunteer for 4 years.  They are doing great work to have a network of orchards across the Forht valley and about to campaign for improved cycleways around Stirling.  The Love Food, Hate Waste campaign has been going for some years now, but experience, such as that at our recent Delph Pond Biodiversity Day, shows that the public is still pretty ignorant about it.  Thus I am represnting FEL at the Tillicoultry Gala in June.
Saw a great day of rugby at Scotstoun Stadium in Glasgow. Kirsty's first experience of rugby as a spectator.  The HSBC Glasgow 7s.  Naturally, Scotland were beaten, sadly, but we saw some exciting and adventurous play from some world class players.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Ardbeg in space

If I had received this 10 days ago, I would have though, "What an adventurous April Fool's item." However, this is the 10th of April, so it isn't a jape.
Ardbeg has despatched "research vials of precious Ardbeg-crafted molecules", pieces of oak from their casks into space to rest for 2 years in an experiment to compare how terpenes behave in near-zero gravity as compared with their performance here on Earth.
"Ardbeg is taking part in an experiment led by US-based space research company NanoRacks LLC to test these micro-organic compounds. The maturation experiment will test the interaction of these Ardbeg-crafted molecules with charred oak. This will take place in normal gravity on Earth and also microgravity, far up in space on the International Space Station.
The vials contain a class of compounds known as “terpenes” – a set of chemicals which are very widespread in nature and often very aromatic and flavour-active – as well as other molecules. It is the interaction of these molecules with oak wood that forms the basis of this maturation experiment.
This experiment could explain the workings of these large, complex molecules as they will remain on the International Space Station for at least two years and help uncover new truths about the change that these molecules undergo in this near zero-gravity environment.
It could also have applications for a variety of commercial and research products, including future generations of Ardbeg.
Working in close collaboration with the Ardbeg Distillery team in Scotland, the US team will closely monitor the experiment against control samples here on Earth; both in Houston, Texas at the NanoRacks' facility, and also in Warehouse 3 at Ardbeg Distillery on the Scottish island of Islay.
Michael Johnson, Chief Technical Officer of NanoRacks LLC, said: “By doing this microgravity experiment on the interaction of terpenes and other molecules with the wood samples provided by Ardbeg we will learn much about flavours, even extending to applications like food and perfume. At the same time it should help Ardbeg find new chemical building blocks in their own flavour spectrum.”
And to further emphasise the serious nature of this research, Ardbeg's Dr. Bill Lumsden, is today addressing to the Edinburgh Science Festival with a talk entitled "Whisky Wisdom - Scotch Whisky: Science, Art or Myth?"
Bill is quoted as saying,
This experiment will throw new light on the effect of gravity on the maturation process. We are all tremendously excited by this experiment: who knows where it will lead?”

Thursday, 23 February 2012

A Warning about Whisky Auctions

Luc Timmermans (one of the Malt Maniacs) bought some lots at the McTear's auction held on 7th December. Luc was unable to attend the auction himself, but bid online. His comments are detailed below.

At their 7 December 2011 Whiskysales a few interesting lots pulled my attention and I decided to buy them. I was able to buy many interesting lots amongst which were LOTS number 695, 751 and 864. Here the details of the LOTS as described on the McTear's website including their respective pictures.

The description is clear, the photo's crystal clear. Nothing wrong right ? As you can clearly see, nothing wrong besides a little low filling level of one bottle. But the picture clearly showed the bottles are in a very good condition and very well sealed and the description is clear.

But here the real pictures of 3 bottles taken by my good friend who went to McTears to collect the lots.......

Yes, they are OPEN !! Yes they are OPEN !!

A few bottles were simply opened ?? Either by the auction house and or the previous owner. But this without any mention on the website and in the corresponding LOT description. At first I was very positive for the outcome....McTear's is a well reputated auction house, is it not ? They would of course settle this, no ?

So very big was my surprise to get this mail from Mr. Stephen McGinty - the auction house Whisky expert :


"Dear Mr Timmermans,

I refer to the above and to your recent e-mail and I can confirm that I have reviewed the information provided.

Following my enquiries I can confirm that all bottles are entered into the auction on the basis of “sold as seen”. As such all bottles where the seal has been broken we will be unable to offer any refund for. We would be happy to enter the bottles into a future auction on your behalf. Let me know your thoughts on this.

Yours sincerely

Lisa Mitchell (on behalf of Stephen)


How sad is this ??

So, be warned. The auction business gets by this by the legal term caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. This is not the first time I have encountered such an issue and McTear's are not the only auction house to operate in this manner, many fake/faulty bottles of whisky/wine/cognac/etc. pass through the major auction houses on an almost daily basis.

I agree that the auction house staff should NOT allow such bottles to be entered into an auction. Watch out and examine carefully anything you are considering bidding on.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Another Quite a Week

Was supposed to be forming part of a panel at the MacRobert Centre on Friday evening as a part of Take One Action's film festival ( which the Co-operative is sponsoring. The film was to have been Even The Rain (, but the film didn't arrive at the MacRobert, so the evening was cancelled.
On the Saturday at Ashfield Village Hall, just to the north of Dunblane, the film was There Once Was An Island ( and this film had arrived. Ashfield Village Hall serves a community of about 30 homes and has amazing facilities for such a small community. The film shows how global warming has impacted into the life of these remote islanders and how the sea level rising has caused half of the islanders on this low lying atoll to leave. We are left in no doubt that the remaining islanders will either have to leave or die.
There was a panel discussion afterwards, with myself, a woman from Christian Aid and a chap from SCIAF. They were showing another film in the evening, viewing of There Once Was An Island had started at 4.00 p.m., but I was unable to stay for that - domestic commitments.
I played a dozen holes of golf on Monday morning! First time on the course for about 8 months because of the poisoned foot and the bad weather. First thre holes were abysmal, ball going everywhere, but as I got into it, I improved. Finished with a par 3 on the winter 18th, which is the summer 18th at Braehead Golf Course.
My wife siffered pleurisy a few weks ago and went down with tonsilitis last week. She went in on Monday morning, but only managed a half day, exhausted. he had Tuesday off. I, meanwhile, had Week 6 of the whisky course - Marketing & Brand Devbelopment. Once again, i talked too much - my students seem to enjoy my course, as you can see from the photo - and it was 9.15 before I finally got out of the college.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Quite a week

As a part of my voluntary work, I was promoting Zero Waste Scotland at Forth Valley College's Alloa campus last Wednesday (8th), explaining to people how they could cut down on the amount of food they send to landfill. We had quite a throughput over the course of the 3 hours I was there. I am always amazed, when talking to people about food preparation, how they do not think of saving themselves fairly large amounts of money over the course of a year by cooking from scratch, freezing in 2 or 3 serving batches and not buying over-priced ready meals.
On Thursday 9th I attended the United Nations International Year of Co-operatives launch at the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood. I was quite surprise at the VERY good attendance. The evening was spoiled by the address to the attendees by John Swinney MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth. He was poor, gave the impression that he was out of his depth and there was a definitely hostile, or at least support deficit feeling from those he was addressing.
On Saturday (11th) the meeting of the Co-op's Scotland & Northern Ireland Values & Principles committee. I'm really getting in to this which, with my political past is very surprising, but there is too much inequality nowadays not to get involved. there probably was when I was young as well, it was just that I was unaware of it.
Scotland were beaten by Wales on Sunday. Yet another Scottish try dissallowed! that's two this 6 Nations already.
Monday (13th), in my role as a Community Councillor, was handing out monies to local organisations which are doing good works in the area. Much of thsi should come from central or local government, but as Holrood has frozen council tax for the past 4 years, these organisations need funding from wherever they can get it.
Whisky course, week 5 - History from 1850 to the present. This group of students is 100% whisky drinkers for a change. In previous years, the class has consisted of up to 90% trade - either whisky shop, bar, restaurant or hotel owners and their staffs. This spring, of the 19 enrolled on the course, one is half of and the remaining 18 are just whisky lovers. Now tat we are into the 5th week, they have much more confidence in their own abilities and understanding relative to whisky.
It's fun.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Scotch Whisky Trail Week 4

Week 4 is History to 1850 and in previous years, I haven't had a Powerpoint preentation for this, relying only on the handout I create which has the most important relevant dates between 1494 & 1850. This year, I created a wee presentation with details of the Rev. Mr. Robert Moodie in the Statistical Account of Clackmannan, 1799. What? You don't know what he said? Well, you will just have to enrol on my course and find out, won't you?
The sharp eyed amongst you might notice my "deliberate" error in the presentation - the subject of the evening was History to 1850 and the slide on the screen says "History to 1825". I chnaged it before the class started.
Whiskies this week: Highland Park 12, Old Pulteney 12, Aberlour 10, GlenDronach 12, Bowmore 12, Bowmore 15 and Ardbeg 10. Great line up, all demonstrating varied, different and quite impressive aspects of whisky flavour.
The students are starting to get objective about the whiskies; this is the part of the course where they start to suggest flavours/aromas I have missed in my comments as their confidence builds. In future weeks, I have less work to do and they become be more than happy to put in their opinions.
Rather stupidly, I took my camera into the college to photograph the students at work - and forgot. Took the pic of the bottles, forgot to photograph the students. Will remember next week. I hope!

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Highland Park Thor

HP are putting out regular limited edition bottlings and the most recent of these, the Valhalla Collection, was presaged by a week of small parcels containing runes and cryptic clues along the lines of:
"Few are chosen to drink with the gods. Open this pouch with bravery in your heart.
The secrets of the runes will be revealed as four days pass and you will be rewarded for your valour."
"Lightning strikes. He is amongst us. The earth trembles as it yields to his hammer. Only the brave remain."
Finally at the end of it all, a larger parcel with a sample of THOR.
To quote from their press release, "Thor represents the first coming for Highland Park's stunning Valhalla Collection; a range of unique whiskies, released annually, taking inspiration from the legendary Nordic gods of old. Not for the faint hearted, only those brave enough to accept the challenge of Thor shall be rewarded with the ultimate experience; a whisky of divine power."
The packaging is pretty impressive, echoing the "fearsome contours of a traditional Viking long ship".
It is also a pretty impressive whisky, with more obvious peat than HP's usual.
see my tasting note at
With Scotland's recent focus on a referendum towards independence from England, is this a case of Highland Park leading the Orkney bid for independence from Scotland?

Friday, 3 February 2012

Scotch Whisky Trail

I must remember to take my camera next week. Tuesday was week 3 - Maturation - and most enjoyable from my angle as well. The class is supposed to start at 6.30 pm. and finish at 8.30 p.m. I regularly over-run and we get chucked out of the building by the janitor at 9.00 p.m. because he wants to go home.
Tuesday was am good example of this, I spoke for too long and, after pushing everyone out of the door, finally left the college at ten past nine. Must become more time focussed - and keep in the janitor's good books!
This week, the students tasted 8 whiskies demonstrating the effects of wood on the spirits: Auchentoshan Three Wood (tasted Auchie 10 in week 1), Glenmorangie Lasanta (tasted Glenmorangie Original in week 1), Glenlivet 12 and Glenlivet 15, Macallan 12 Fine Oak (Tasted Macallan 10 Sherry in week 1), Glenfarclas 10, Glenfaclas 15 and Laphroaig Quarter Cask (tasted Laphroaig 10 in week 1.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Famous Grouse 100 Best Pubs

In 2010, my publican buddy, Jim Robertson of The Kempock Bar in Gourock, was included in The Famous Grouse's 100 Best Pubs in Britain. The brand had created a Grouse statue with logos for each of the top 30 pubs - and The Kempock was amongst these 30. Jim had never seen the statue so, as he was at Gleneagles today, I suggested that we go to view said statue.
I headed north to The Glen through snow; there were three smashes northbound at Blackford this morning and there was a 45 minute hold up and queues back to Greenloaning, so I turned off on the Crieff road at Greenloaning and cut over a snow-covered, very slippery and windy back road down to The Glen. Picked him up and drove his Land Rover Discovery in 4 wheel drive through the snow to Crieff; slithered a wee bit on a couple of corners, but no problem. Saw no fewer than 3 snow ploughs out on the road.
The statue sits at Glenturret distillery, or as they like to call it nowadays, The Famous Grouse Experience, in the foyer outside the shop. See the pics. The Kempock's log is the jukebox and the musical notes on its upper right chest

Scotch Whisky Trail course

The latest running of the course started on Tuesday. Pleased to see some women back. After the past couple when it has been all male. Not quite sure of their backgrounds, the college yet again got the applications wrong. The student listed was of 16 students, the register was of 18 and the class was of 19 with one no show. Student Services?
Quite an animated bunch with more feedback than from 2010's entry level students, I'm looking forward quite excitedly to the rest of this spring's course. Trying to get a visit to Deanston, visitor centre doesn't open until after the course, but trying nonetheless as, in 14 years, the course hasn't visited Deanston. We'll see.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Happy New Year & Glenmorangie Artein

I hope that you all have had a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Christmas for me was good, Santa was very generous, but at New Year, I was hit by the winetr vomiting bug. I only had one dram at Hogmanay - it was at midnight and I only had the one, a normally very pleasant Aberlour a'Bunadh, which I didn't enjoy very much at all. Fortunately, the nausea only lasted around 24 hours, so the rest of the season was enjoyed thoroughly!
Scotland has been batterd, bruised and beaten by the wind in the past few weeks. I can never remember a succession of winds as strong or sustained as we have experienced over the past 6 weeks or so. Many trees down, 30,000 electricity customers cut off at one point, people without power for 3 days. In 2012, we are supposed to have the technology to prevent all this happening.
Glenmorangie released Artein on 4th January. Artein is the third release in its award-winning Private Edition range. Artein is the Gaelic for "stone" and the name links together the distillery's hard water supply from Tarlogie Spring with the stony soil of Sassicaia's vineyards in Tuscany's Bolgheri.
‘Artein’ is an assemblage of 15 and 21 Years Old Glenmorangie, finished by extra maturation in these Supertuscan wine casks.
I think that it is a great addition to their range (see my tasting note on my website) and, in my experience/opinion, supertuscan casks have done a fabulous job of finishing the whiskies they were involved with.
I am very humbled to have been voted "Whisky Man of the Year 2011" by whisky bloggers