Anand is a trained Malter, and has conducted and attended international forums on whisky appreciation and tasting. A keen golfer and malt whisky collector, he has visited, trained and been a part of the master distiller training sessions at over 10 distilleries across Scotland, Ireland and US, such as; Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie, Strathisla, Oban, Macallan, Cardhu, Bowmore, Lagavulin, Glen elgin, John Dewar & Sons.
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[vc_column width=”1/1″]With the launch of Monkey Shoulder in India by William Grant & Sons, the topic of Blended malts is back on the table. Vatted Malts, or Blended Malts as they are officially now known, are made only from Single Malts. So, no grain whisky, only malt whisky, and they needn’t be from a single distillery makes it a Vatted malt.
The Monkey Shoulder derives its name from the curious way the arms and shoulders of the malters from yonder years use to droop – akin to shoulder of a monkey and thus the name.
Name and bottling apart, and the bottle is a collectors item with its metal embellished minimalistic finish, Monkey Shoulder is a fine blend of 3 Speyside malts. William Grant & Sons that owns both the legendary Glenfiddich & the superior Balvenie brands doesn’t shed much light on the source of these whiskies but lets the spirit do the talking.
The Monkey Shoulder with it’s distinctive yet characteristic Speyside nose and taste is a must in one’s bar.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]But since the purists want more, may I suggest you seat the Monkey Shoulder with the Nikka Pure Malt. From the house of Nikka come the Red, White & Black Pure Malts with spirits from the 2 distilleries they own in Japan the Yoichi & the Miyagikyo. Nikka whiskies are made Scotch style – the founder Masataka Taketsuru came to Scotland to pursue education and found his calling in whisky world instead and thus imported his knowledge & experience to found Nikka .
Nikka Black is a highly rated whisky and a must have for its fine nose of asparagus and rich fruit in a decanter again worth saving for long.
Also look out for a limited edition released by Compass Box from Scotland, called the Last Vatted Malt. A mix of fine malts from Islay and Speyside only 1323 were released. The name is a bow to the phasing out of the term Vatted Malt by the Scotch Whisky Association and it’s replacement by Blended Malt.
[vc_column width=”1/1″]Watershed*: an event or period marking a turning point in a situation.
And while this is a column in Swizzle, on whisky, let’s begin with some wine…
We’re round the corner from the 30th anniversary of one such event* – An innocuous wine tasting that took place in Paris on May 24, 1976 but will be remembered in Napa, home to the Californian wines or what was then called New World wines forever.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]The 1976 Paris tasting as it can be classified was a hastily organized set by Steven Spurrier, a part time wine merchant & an Englishman at it who also ran a wine school in Paris, and was aimed mainly at the upcoming U.S. Bicentennial celebration then. The event was to assemble some of France’s greatest experts one afternoon and do a blind tasting of French and California red and white wines.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]To cut a long story short – it was a French revolution part II. The first tasting was of white wines, with four California Chardonnays pitted against six white Burgundies from France. The jury of nine tasters included top France’s oenophiles, among them the secretary general of the Association des Grands Crus Classes.
No one in France had ever seriously tasted California wines before, yet the California white wines took three of the top four spots in the blind tasting, with a 1973 Chateau Montelena beating out a 1973 Meursault-Charmes Burgundy for the top rating. A 1973 Batard-Montrachet, which had been classed by the famous wine experts as one of the “greatest of all white Burgundy,” came in a distant seventh.
To add mockery to the calamity, the results of the crucial tasting of the reds, which in wine circles are far more important than whites was beholding. Four Grand Cru Bordeaux squared off against six California Cabernets. The judges were also informed the judges that a California white had won the first tasting. The alarmed judges did everything they could to segment what they thought were the California reds and make sure they didn’t win.
Even so, a 1973 Cabernet from California’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars took the top spot while the French wines took the next three. The French monopoly was crushed permanently. Many experts view the Paris tasting as the key event in the transformation of the California wine industry.
It was a seminal event and I cite it every time I speak about the growth of the California wine industry or now the whisky world.
The tasting, nonetheless, did nothing to dent the French belief that their wines are superior to all others.
Still, even many American wine experts and the world over agree that the best French wines are the best in existence. However, once you remove the top 0.5% of wines, California, Australia and S. Africa come roaring up – quite like in the W World[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Cut to the dram and yes we are witnessing a changing Whisky world out there. Right here at home, Amrut’s flying off the shelves. Friends back in India are hounding every foreign returnee, to get him or her Japanese Malts. Last month on a holiday to S.E Asia I experienced the limitless charm and passion in Kavalan Single Malt Whisky, from the only distillery in Taiwan. Mind you, Kavalan won a Gold Medal at the IWSC 2011 and the list is growing.
[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″]Are we about to witness a watershed* soon? I’d say yes, so, sit back and pour yourself a dram, I’d recommend the Peated Penderyn Single Malt Welsh Whisky – Ms. Catherine Zeta Jones, you around?
There is also Honda, Toyota , Yamaha to name a few more, not to forget Sony!
But yes, this is a call to definitely add Yamazaki or Suntory to our regularly used Japanese sounding names!
For the uninitiated, Yamazaki is a single malt distillery owned by the Suntory Company of Japan, which produces eponymous whiskies aged 8YO and 12YO. Whisky guru Jim Murray who produces the Whisky Bible has named Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as the Best Whisky in the World in his 2015 edition. He also gave it 97.5 marks out of a possible 100 – surely the highest in the world, but for readers from Delhi, nah! I don’t think Yamazaki could make it to the 1st cutoff list of any Delhi University college!
Back to Yamazaki, or Suntory..
..actually, as the legend goes, Japan’s whisky traditions begin with the college going of a student on an international exchange program, Masataka Taketsuru, who traveled to Scotland post World War I to study in Glasgow before falling under the spell of Scotch. Taketsuru worked in a number of distilleries during college days and took notes before returning to Japan in 1920. A few years, he found a willing partner in Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory, to establish the first commercial whiskey distillery, Yamazaki, the flag-bearer of Suntory’s whiskey portfolio. A few years late, Taketsuru founded his own distillery, which survives to this day as Nikka and is seen in bars the world over
The Japanese have been making whiskey in an array of styles for more than a century, though frankly, they pay brazen homage to Scotch whisky in one form or another. There are peaty styles, fruity styles and some styles that defy easy categorization because of the use of oak called Mizunara from Japanese forests, which imparts a uniquely spicy finish.
Has Japanese whisky found it’s place in the sun, yes, I would say as I sip on Hibiki, 12YO, for example, one of the better known whiskies which comes in a keep-worthy flower like bottle. A blend of about twenty odd whiskies, it is among the most elusive and complex whiskies I’ve had, with scents of grain and delicate floral whiffs, cream, and a oily texture that is by turns salted yet sweet.
So go ahead, pour yourself a dram of Japanese Liquid Gold, on me, today as you watch this space for more invasions in the whisky world!
And it’s got nothing to do with Stonehenge, that many historians think is a Greco- Roman temple for the Sun god!
Or first, a few questions – how do you get your malt pour ? Like What do you say? Ek Chotta dena? Naw! Not likely. Or is it I’ll have a large? More likely
Nice, nearly there but no, not so Scottish and you’ve got to work on it ole’ boy!
How about as they’d say back home – I’ll have a dram’! Got it! You’ve heard that haven’t you?!
And a splush’ of water please! Right! There you go! Pull out the tartan, blow the bagpipe you’ve arrived!
Dram is the way you go around asking for a drink of malt!
Ever wondered what dram’ is ?
It’s derived from the Greek word Drachm’ which was a weight of 4.37gms! and that’s where a dram gets its name from is – when things were measured in weight, whisky too was sold by it! This was when the avoirdupois system was in vogue – Avoirdupois is a system of measuring weight based on the fact that sixteen ounces are in a pound. A dram is defined as 1/16 of an ounce which is exactly 1.7718451953125 grams – stunning!
Nice, geeky eh! Sorry greeky!
The drachm’ also lent it’s name to the Drachma – the present day Greek currency – which quite like the sterling pound’ is the only other currency which is based on weight!
Now, come –on! Say you didn’t know that either? That the pound’ is called so because it weighed a pound of sterling silver!
or a bottle of whisky – how many times and in how many languages have we said this, unimaginable right?
But ever wondered about the bottle? Or Considered?
I am sure you know that Glass as a material was discovered centuries back and bottles have been around since the Roman times, 100 B.C. or around then! There was almost no change in the way bottles were made from back then until almost the early 19th century when they switched from hand-blown, mouth-blown bottles craft-type bottle production to machines after a glass-blowing machine was invented by Arnall and Howard Ashley in 1887 in Europe & became widely available after Michael Owens made his machine in 1903.
Through the Byzantine era, medieval times, the Renaissance, it was mostly free blowing, although they had some molds too.
Mouth-blown is probably a more correct term than hand blown, though they’re synonymous. The air from the glass-blower was used to inflate and make the bottle versus a machine, which produced pressurized air. They would just drop the glass on the blowpipe down the hole, and when inflated it would form the squarish or roundish shape of the body. Must be lung-power champs !
Needless to say, one of the first uses of bottles was for liquor, mostly as wine. Early bottles, such as those from the 16th and 17th centuries, were made exclusively for storage, not to drink out of.
The origin of the glass bottle is as a serving vessel, used by the upper classes and by merchants from the mid-18th century. Whisky (and wine) was supplied in a cask or stoneware jar, and was decanted into a clear glass vessel (the decanter), the job being performed by a “bottler”, (hence the title “butler“).
Liquor of all types – bourbon, rye, gin, cognac, scotch, etc. – was bottled in a wide variety of bottle shapes and sizes ranging from small flasks to stuff that held gallons. And like with all bottle type categories to follow, liquor bottle diversity is staggeringly complex in depth and variety.
The first bottled scotch was put out by John Dewar as a blend called “White Label.” His first bottles, however, were fashioned from stoneware because the drink was not bottled until 1846. The first whisky bottles were re-used wine bottles, e.g. Macallan. They took off in the whisky boom of the 1890s when whisky began being sold by the case for export.
Whisky Bottle Shapes
Whisky bottles are principally categorized under 3-4 broad sections, listed below, wherein you’ll notice that categories are shape based primarily with the exception of the first category – figured flasks – which are largely recognized by collectors/archaeologists as a separate category.
The figured flask: Figured flasks is a generic name for the large class of liquor flasks primarily produced between 1815 and 1870. They are also variably referred to as “historical”, “pictorial”, or “decorative” flasks. Not much are being produced anymore- except in some very rare cases of special mention whisky- so keep a look out in antique stores or Ebay if you run into any!
The cylinder style – Not much to disseminate here but these are arguably the most common shapes of whisky bottles- right from Bells to The Glenlivet, most of the whiskies in the market have a cylinder style bottle
The Square or rectangle – another common shape – though there’s a lot of mixing within the shapes. Thought to have originated from the medicinal bottles – or even Gin – which was a Dutch invented medicine, however both the Ballantines & Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey are exponents of these bottle shapes
The Flask Style – most often seen on bottles with a larger holding capacity – like the ones at duty free & quite a collectors item still – I am sure you would have all seen the large 5 litre variants of these bottles
Misc. Styles – the ones who stand out like the conical and iconic Glenfiddich & the Grants Whisky Bottle rarely seen in the whisky styles – however they are out there waiting for you to spot and collect them!
So turn out you collectors and spot them till then, the most famous line about the bottle would still be’ Nasha Sharaab mein hota – to naachti Bottal’
Life after whisky! I bet a lot of you reading this must be thinking I’m drunk coz’ I have the words jumbled up, but wait and read on!
This is about my favorite topic within Whisky, the Barrel! The barrel as you know is a little laboratory because hundreds of small chemical experiments are happening in there thus making our whisky what it is!
So what happens to the barrel after its used? I know most of you here know that Bourbon barrels head across the Atlantic to help mature Scotch, but what else? What’s the after life of a barrel?
Surprisingly, scotch isn’t the only thing we consume fondly that finds its character via whisky barrels! Really! You’ll be surprised! A lot of beer is finished in whisky barrels! Yes! Ask the guys at Brooklyn Breweries the next time when you’re in the Big Apple! Vinegar too, some of which we find at upmarket stores in your city look out for the label Sherry Vinegar! Maple syrup, apple cider and a lot of wines go to the Whisky Barrel finishing school’ to polish their ends’ if I may say as do specialized table salts, soya sauce or soy’ and spices.
Barrels as I said earlier are truly laboratories and the aged wood, with millions of little pores or holes lets the air in through the rafters, oxidizing and cross pollinating the ingredients inside to turn them mature and a little woody!
And that’s not the end of the list , look keenly when the missus is at the grocers and you’ll find a lot more of the stuff on the shelves, coming off a whisky barrel!
And just before we go, just to let you know, Tabasco Sauce from Avery Island is finished in bourbon barrels! But beware, the next time you run out of your favorite tipple, don’t try sip a few drops of the sauce straight up! Nah, that will be lock stock and definitely 1 smoking barrel!
Yes sure there is. Especially if your favorite Malt tipple is a light Speyside dram or one of the well known, highly peaty Islay Whiskies!
The Bourbon and the Scotch whisky industry are highly symbiotic or shall I say the Scots actually lean heavily on the Americans! And no I am not talking about the referendum*.
Because bourbon legally has to be aged in brand-new barrels, distilleries can’t reuse them. Instead, many of them are shipped off to Scotch companies who give them a second life aging their own spirits. An estimated 90 % of Distilleries in Scotland use American Oak to age their whiskies, especially the ones in Spey & Islay!
When they’re shipped overseas, several gallons of bourbon—most estimates I’ve heard range from about three to five gallons—remain trapped in the wood. While the barrels are ripped open, to make newer ones for the Scotch industry, there’s still residual bourbon in them! This trapped bourbon mixes in with the Scotch during the aging process, and gives the spirit much of its flavor.
That Bourbon has to be aged in brand –new barrels is a due to an old law** that was passed in 1933 just when America was coming out of Prohibition.
The requirement the timber industry in America was in decline and this was a way to ensure the distilleries would have to order more wood. The use of new barrels is what gives Bourbon its signature flavor profile and makes it sweeter than other styles of whisk(e)y.
So the next time you’re sipping your favorite Malt, look deep in! There is some bourbon lurking in there & not Nessie’ the Lochness Monster!