Whisky Appreciation

What You Should Know About Port Wines

What does port wines and whisky have in common? I am glad you ask. If you notice, port cask finished whiskies gained some reputation in recent years, as distillers experiment with port casks to insert variety into the whisky scene. What do we know about port wines? Most whisky drinkers who do not drink wine possibly know very little, so I think we must set it right because port cask finished whiskies are getting popular.

What is Port Wine?

Port is a fortified wine that is produced exclusively in the Douro Valley in Portugal. The Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto regulated port production massively through stringent rules. Producers of port wine must make, label and market their products in a specific way as stated by the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e do Porto. In this sense, port wine production is similar to Scotch whisky as the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) also controls and regulate the production.

Due to the rules in place for port wine, its authenticity is easy to spot. One simple rule of thumb to identify an authentic bottle of port wine is to look for a white seal that reads “Vinho do Porto Garantia” (see below).

Port Wine Production

Port wine is what red wine wants to be when it grows up. Producers add aguardiente (which most referred to as “brandy”) into red wine to create port wine. The brandy increases the alcohol content to 20% abv on average and stops the fermentation process to preserves natural sugars from the grapes. The common term for this process is fortification. Interestingly, fortification also warmed the body and made port wine a good substitute for whisky in long, winter months.

Grapes are the essential ingredients of port wines. These grapes are Portuguese indigenous grapes, which make port wine so unique. Some variety of Portuguese port grapes include Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo),  Tinta Cāo and Tinta Barroca. I understood from Wine Folly that there are at least 52 varieties in port wine! Each type of grapes gives different flavours to create a complex and flavourful end-product.

Types of Port Wines

Typically, there are two kinds of port wines – the barrel-matured port and bottle-matured port. Barrel-matured port made up 98% of all port wines while the remaining 2% comes from the bottle-matured process. All port spend some time in barrels, but bottle-matured port wines spend significantly lesser time in oak cask than barrel-matured port wines.

Bottle-matured port wines are rare with only exceptional vintages that age for decades in the bottles. These port wines are expensive and only sought-after by wine connoisseurs.

From the two kinds of port wines, producers split them into four main styles.

  1. Ruby Port
  2. Tawny Port
  3. White Port
  4. Rose Port

Here is an infographic to help you understand the flavours of port wines.

In general, a ruby port is deep-red in colour and includes the Vintage, Late-bottled Vintage (LBV), Crusted and Ruby Port. A Tawny port is barrel-aged with sweet nuts and caramel flavours. A white port is unique as it used white grapes such as Viosinho, Gouveio, Rabigato and Malvasia. Finally, a rose port is a new style in which the producer make port wine like rose wine with strawberry, violets and caramels flavours.

A Very Short History of Port Wines

The discussion on port wines make me curious about the history, and I discovered some interesting nuggets from Google. Port wines existed since 1678 in Portugal. Thanks to the fall-out between England and France, England restricted the import of French wines during the 1600s. Portugal and England, however, were buddies. The obvious supply of wine to England was Portugal, but the tricky part was keeping them fresh during transit. The solution was to add brandy to the wine. The export of the fortified wine shipped from the town of Oporto, and hence, the fortified wine was named “port”.

Port Wines and Whisky

There are many port-finished whiskies to choose from in today’s whisky scene. Some of the well-known Scotch is Balvenie 21 Portwood, Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban and Tomatin 14 Port Wood Finish. Most of these port-finished whiskies are flavourful and sweet, gaining fame amongst those with a sweet tooth. They are also popular with sherry lovers since they share some similar qualities.

While port casks are not yet as prominent in the whisky industry as sherry casks are, there may come a day when port casks become a necessary component in maturing whisky! Therefore, drink some port wines and do your part to create more casks for the whisky industry!

 

 

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Does Terroir Influences Scottish Peat?

Peatheads around the world would tell you that peated malts are one of the best things that happened to them. Geek Choc, for one, claims that peated whisky smells heavenly. I am somewhat more reserved on peat, but some of those peated whiskies are fantastic! What is peat? Encyclopedia Britannica defined peat as a spongy material that formed by the partial decomposition of organic matters in wetlands. Depending on the location or terroir, peat can take on different chemical compounds and produce differentiating quality.

Where is Scotland’s Peat?

As you can see from the above map, Scotland has various locations of peat bogs. Three of them are in Islay, one in Campbeltown, one in Orkney and the remaining two in the Northern Highlands. As we have tasted different characteristics of peaty whiskies, we wonder if the peat from the various locations contributes to the subtle difference in peaty whiskies.

History of Peat

Let’s start with the historical usage of peat in Scotland. Peat was a conventional fuel used in kilning to dry malts in the past. The islands, Campbeltown and the Northern Highlands, used peat regularly as coal was not readily available. Back in the 1940s, it was typical for the Islay and Campbeltown malts to use 100% peat fire, while the Highlands utilised 50-75% peat. The Lowlands used 25-50% peat. By the 20th century, the advances in technology made coal, gas and oil more affordable, and the reliance on peat reduced significantly. Nonetheless, Islay, Campbeltown and Northern Highlands still produce peated whisky today.

How is Peat Formed?

Peat formed in waterlogged lands through the partial decomposition of organic matter. It appears that there are differences between peat composition based on the different climate, vegetation, bog type and also the cutting depth during the harvest. We can divide peatlands into bogs, fens, marshes and swamps.

Bogs form through heavy rainfalls and contain more sphagnum moss than the other types of peatlands. Bogs also have lesser woody vegetation as compared to the rest. Fens (better known as basin bogs) have more sedges and grass. Marshes, in general, are treeless waterlogged areas and peat formed very slowly. Swamps, on the other hand, are very minerotrophic and the peat has high wood and nutrients contents.

The Contents of Peat

To delve deeper into the contents of peat from the different peatlands, we need to venture deep into a chemical discussion. To ensure that we do not delve too deep into the scientific names (and lost myself along the way), we will stick to layman terms. In general, peat is 90% water and 10% dry matter. The 10% is sub-divided into 92% organic matter and 8% inorganic. Peat formed from bogs are usually more aromatic due to the higher percentage of phenols and aromatic materials found in them. Peat from fens is less aromatic.

Cutting Depth

The cutting depth during a peat harvest is as vital as the type of peatland. The surface layers are usually not aromatic enough to create the smokey effects in the whisky that we love, but cutting too deep into the layers can capture too much harmful nitrogen and sulphur compounds in the peat. Therefore, every distillery that makes peated whisky has their own calculated cutting depth to ensure that the peat they use will produce the effects that they want.

Peat Terroir

Does terroir influence peat? Our research appears to point to the peatland location and cutting depth of the peat as the “influencer”. While the type of peatland and vegetation influence the peat subtly, they are not crucial for the flavours in the whisky. For example, the peat used in Laphroaig and Bowmore are similar to each other as both are fens found on Islay. Yet, the peat found in Laphroaig and Bowmore whiskies are very different. It points to the different cutting depths that both distilleries use, and of course, the interaction between the malts and the casks used. The only difference in the peatlands found in Islay is interestingly from Port Ellen. The contents of the peat using in Port Ellen maltings are woodier in natural and has different microbiology from the rest of Islay.

Interestingly, the peat from Orkney Island is relatively similar to the peat found in the fens of Islay even though it is a bog and not a fen peatland. The peat from the Northern Highlands in Tomintoul is also different from those in Islay, even though it is a fen. The difference in contents across the peatlands in Scotland suggests that peat forms differently due to the climate, microbiology and also the variety of sphagnum moss.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the research points to peat terroir. The contents of the peatland differ across Scotland with local variation found. The cutting depth during the peat harvest also plays a significant role in the flavours of the whiskies as is evident from the different peaty flavours found in whiskies harvesting similar peat.

 

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Interview: Chris Martin, Wine and Spirits Education Trust

Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) is a global educational institution providing quality education for the wine and spirits industry. Founded in 1969 as a charitable trust, WSET gains recognition and confidence from the global community through its commitment to quality education over the years.

History of WSET

Before 1969, the Wine and Spirit Association of Great Britain spearheaded the education initiatives in U.K. When WSET came into being in 1969 after getting the necessary funding from The Vintner’s Company, it took over the education initiatives. The founders came from the various cornerstones of the U.K wine and spirits trade. Representatives from each of the founding organisations still serve on their Board of Trustees today. The founding companies are:

  • The Vintner’s Company
  • The Wine and Spirits Association of Great Britain (WSA) – now the WSTA
  • Institute of Masters of Wine (IMW)
  • Worshipful Company of Distillers

WSET offered three qualifications for trade professionals when it first started in 1969. Educators delivered all the courses at their London-based office.

By 1977, WSET set its foot out into the global market. With demands coming in strong, the company launched its courses in the Republic of Ireland and Ontario, Canada. From then onwards, the founding fathers of WSET did not look back, opening more doors with each passing year. In 1991, France got the first WSET course in Europe, and a German-language course followed suit in Austria in 1993. The next step saw the Trust going into the USA in 1994 and Japan in 1997.

Accreditation by the U.K Government

In 2001, WSET gained official accreditation from the UK Government. The Trust renamed their qualifications in-line with the UK National Qualification Framework guidelines as well. From 2001 onwards, more qualifications become available as the Trust expands its professional certifications. They also launched a Global Campus in 2004. By 2007, the international students taking WSET qualification exceeded UK student for the first time. Moving with speed, the trust grows bigger, and by the time it celebrates its 45th anniversary, it has an annual student population of 50,000. Today, WSET offers nine qualifications in 73 countries, with a network of 600+ course providers and an international student population of over 75% of the total student body each year.

Chris Martin, International Development Advisor

We met Chris for the first time during ProWine Asia 2018 at the WSET booth on Tuesday. Both Geek Choc and I were happy to share our passion with Chris and “talk shop” with him for a while. After knowing that we are bloggers, Chris kindly agreed to a short interview with us to speak about his role in WSET and what the Trust offers.

Chris involves himself in the international business development within the company. His primary role is to identify new, potential schools in South-east Asia, Japan and Korea. He also supports and promotes WSET within these regions. Chris reveals that Singapore has in the top 20 ranking for the most number of schools available! Good to know, isn’t it?

Different levels of Qualifications

We understand from Chris that there are different levels of qualifications within the WSET framework. The levels range from Level 1 to Level 4. Level 1 and 2 are entry levels where individuals with little or no knowledge should attend to gain precious information about the topic of interest. It is also a good starting point for new entrants into the wine and spirits industry. Moving upwards, Level 3 and 4 are for decision-makers, owners and merchandisers. The qualifications in Level 3 and 4 are in-depth knowledge for these group of professionals and the length of the course increase dramatically as well. In fact, Level 4 is a graduate diploma course and lasts for two years!

After the graduate diploma, students can progress to a Master degree if there is an available one in their topic of interest. Currently, there is only a Master of Wine qualification, but who knows what will evolve in the future.

Chris also shared that there is an alumni where all students get to join and network with the global professionals in the wine and spirits industry.

Moving Forward with Quality Education

Chris revealed that there are more courses in the pipeline moving forward. Spirits lovers will be delighted to know that there are plans to launch Level 3 and 4 courses in the coming two years. I know I am excited! As for those of you who are only interested in whisky, check out the Whisky Ambassador course offered by their partner schools in Singapore!

Interview: Dr Giancarlo Bianchi, Technical Director, Penderyn Distillery

Picture from Penderyn Distillery

Penderyn Distillery is a boutique whisky distillery located in Wales, in a small but historic village known as Penderyn. A group of friends conceived the idea of setting up the first whisky distillery in Wales in the late 1990s. The idea became a reality on 1 March 2004, in the presence of HRH Prince Charles.

Penderyn Distillery will be exhibiting its whiskies for the first time in Asia during the ProWine Asia 2018. The exhibition can be found at Expo Hall 10. ProWine Asia is held together with the Food & Hotel Asia 2018 which will span two locations at Singapore Expo and Suntec City Convention Hall. Both events will be held from 24 April to 27 April 2018. WhiskyGeeks gets to speak with Dr Giancarlo Bianchi, the Technical Director of Penderyn Distillery before the exhibition.

Penderyn Distillery and its unique single copper-pot still

Picture Credit: Penderyn Distillery

The distillery boasts of a few things which other distilleries do not have. One of their prized possessions is their single copper-pot stills. Penderyn produces whisky from the copper-pot still and yields a flavourful spirit of high strength and purity. Dr David Faraday, a descendant of the famous Victorian scientist, Michael Faraday, designed the copper-pot stills. The picture above shows the launch of the new copper-pot still in 2013.

The Special Distillation Method at Penderyn Distillery

Picture Credit: Penderyn Distillery

We spoke to Dr Giancarlo Bianchi on Penderyn’s distillation method and learned the intriguing technical process. We understood that the distillery uses steam to heat the copper-pot stills. Once the wash heats up, the vapours rise into the copper column above the still and move into a second column. The unique second column has perforated plates. Some of the vapours condense as it runs through the first plate while others continue the journey up to the next plate.

The process continues, with some vapours condensing and others moving higher up to the next plate along the copper column. Eventually, all the vapours condense and fall back through the still. As the spirit goes through the process, it becomes smoother, softer and more refined with each step. Finally, the spirit is drawn from the seventh plate in the still column and piped into their spirit safe at a staggering  92% abv! (Refer to above for a graphic depiction of the process)

The Difference between Welsh Distillation Methods versus Scotch and Japanese Method

We wondered aloud how different the distillate would be between Penderyn and the traditional Scotch and Japanese whiskies. Dr Bianchi happily picked up the question and explained the difference. “Most Scottish and Japanese distilleries use a conventional two or three-pot still system, but at Penderyn, our single copper-pot still allows us to produce an extremely clean, flavourful spirit that sets it apart from the Scotch and Japanese spirits,” Dr Bianchi said. “This magical process not only imbues our raw spirit with great complexity, depth and finesse but also removes many of the undesirable chemical compounds – something that conventional pot-still systems cannot achieve,” he continued. The clean spirit, we understood, help Penderyn distillery during cask ageing as the absence of undesirable compounds makes it easier to achieve the flavours that Penderyn’s whiskies are famous for.

The Range of Penderyn Whisky Available

Picture Credit: Penderyn Distillery

As the range of Penderyn whisky is relatively new to Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, we ask Dr Bianchi for recommendations. There are two core ranges of products from Penderyn Distillery. The Dragon Range comprises three expressions bottled at 41%. Their names are Legend, Myth and Celt. These are the brand’s light and fruity whiskies, which are perfect for beginners as well as whisky drinkers who like gentle and easy to drink whiskies.

The other range is the Gold Range (shown above) which includes four expressions bottled at 46%. The Gold Range comprises of the Madeira Finish (which is the house style of Penderyn), Sherrywood, Peated and Portwood. With the higher abv, the range is more suitable for whisky drinkers as well as the adventurous beginners who want to move ahead in their whisky journey.

Whisky Trends in 2018

Geek Flora is excited to pick Dr Bianchi’s brains regarding whisky trends in 2018, especially that of boutique whisky in non-whisky producing countries. Dr Bianchi explained that there is a long-standing trend in Europe for consumers to explore single malts outside of Scotland and Japan. Considering the numerous distilleries popping up in Germany, France and England, it is indeed heartening to know that consumers are now more open to whisky produced in other non-traditional whisky-producing countries. “For the younger generations, age statement and country of origin are not going to be the key criteria,” said Dr Bianchi, “Taste, and a true, honest brand identity generate interest instead.”

As for the market outside of Europe, Dr Bianchi admits that it is still somewhat an age-statement market that sticks to the traditional core producing regions of Scotland and Japan. However, he believes that with more chances to meet and encourage drinkers to try the whiskies from the “new world”, more people will eventually come to understand and appreciate the whiskies made outside of the core producing regions.

Non-age Statements (NAS) versus Age-Statements Whiskies

We cannot resist the age-old question (pun intended) of the NAS versus age-statement whiskies. We asked Dr Bianchi what he thought about the on-going debate within the whisky community. Dr Bianchi said, “We recognised early on, that while age is important, its absolute value is not linearly related to whisky quality.” He went on to explain that the distillate is the most important. With a clean distillate such as the one from Penderyn, the whisky does not need to mature for an extended time. Given such, Penderyn chooses to launch NAS whiskies and will continue to do so.

“NAS whiskies are perhaps fashionable, but they do not mean lesser quality. They allow small, craft distilleries to carefully select their limited stocks flexibly to maximise quality without getting tied to a specific age,” Dr Bianchi continued. Dr Bianchi believes that NAS and age statements both work well in the global community as they appeal to different groups of drinkers. As long as NAS whisky producers continue to communicate and put forth good quality whiskies, everyone, even those who are against NAS whiskies now, will come to appreciate the care that goes into each bottle.

Challenging Scotland and Japan

As more whisky distilleries popped up around the world, we are interested to find out if these boutique distilleries are a threat to Scotland and Japan, the traditional whisky-making regions. When we put the question to Dr Bianchi, he laughed and said, “The whisky market worldwide is growing, and there is still room for everyone.”

We have to acknowledge that Dr Bianchi was right.  The small distilleries are far from challenging the established giants in both Scotland and Japan as their capabilities are nowhere near the big ones in either region. Nonetheless, they are threatening age-old production techniques and forcing the traditional producers to rethink both their production techniques and their marketing methods.

The Future of Whisky

Finally, we asked Dr Bianchi what his views are for the future of whisky. He made an important point – whisky is around for a long time, but it is essential that whisky producers continue to innovate. Variety is vital in a market where consumers are always looking for something new. Such trends are beneficial to smaller producers like Penderyn because consumers are more willing to try new varieties from boutique whisky distilleries.

While it is still a question mark on whisky’s future, one thing is sure. Producers will strive to make good whisky to intrigue the world and convert more drinkers in time to come.

Moving Forward

WhiskyGeeks will be attending ProWine Asia 2018 to provide more updates to all our readers! Stay tuned for more!

 

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Interview: The Guys Behind The Malt Affair

 

We shared the upcoming TMA Vol. 2 with everyone previously and now let us tell you more about The Malt Affair (TMA) and the guys behind the screen. TMA is an online marketplace which allows you to both buy and sell whiskies. It is also hoped to foster a community where whisky lovers can get to know one another and share a dram privately should they wish to do so. The guys behind TMA has one vision – to provide a platform where anyone can share fine whiskies with strangers, acquaintances, and friends alike. Such a community and marketplace is essential for Singapore’s growing whisky drinkers, and WhiskyGeeks decided to talk to the “headmaster” of TMA – Lucas.

The Story behind The Malt Affair

TMA is the first online whisky marketplace in Singapore, and it is natural that we are curious about how it all started. Geek Flora visited Lucas’ boutique at Downtown Gallery, and lo and behold, it is NOT a whisky shop, but a men’s shoe boutique! Geek Flora was puzzled and thought that perhaps, she had gone to the wrong place! Haha…it was only when she saw Lucas inside the shop that she convinced herself that she did not knock on the wrong door!

Flora soon found out that the shoe business is the primary business for Lucas and Jacky. “Jacky and I have been childhood friends since the age of five. Being neighbours we attended the same school and practically grew up together,”  said Lucas. Both of them started the shoe business five years ago, and the company grew with each passing year. Jacky is an avid whisky drinker and suggested that they serve whisky to their clients in the boutique. It has been five years since Lucas started his whisky journey alongside Jacky, and they have never looked back.

Their journey took them to many places and as their interest grew and palates matured, so did their whisky collection. In mid-2017, they identified various gaps in the local whisky scene – there was a genuine lack of an outlet for private collectors to resell their whiskies in Asia and Singapore in particular. Simultaneously, the lack of a strong community in today’s fragmented whisky market all further affirmed their belief that they must do something.

The Birth of The Malt Affair

Jacky’s current neighbour, Kris, is also a whisky fanatic. Through their regular whisky sessions together at the shoe boutique, they met like-minded individuals who shared their passion and love for whisky. It was then the idea of The Malt Affair materialised. As the trio explored the plan, the possibility of doing the business began to take shape. A fourth partner, Colin, was co-opted as a technology officer, joined in the party and one thing led to another. In August 2017, The Malt Affair was born.

TMA Vol. 1

Right after launching TMA, the self-professed maltheads decided to introduce themselves to the whisky community through an event that they firmly believed in. That was the birth of TMA Vol. 1 – a wholly-independent whisky event featuring a carefully curated selection of whiskies. They held the event in November 2017. As new players in the market, TMA received much support from the local community, including online sellers and private collectors, who graciously offered their bottles of rare and modern whiskies to be exhibited and sold at TMA Vol. 1. The event was a success! Both seasoned whisky drinkers and beginners enjoyed their time spent at the event, and the positive vibes from everyone encourage the team at TMA.

TMA Vol. 2

With the success of TMA Vol. 1, the team behind it began to craft the next event. The guys wanted TMA events to be a companion to whisky drinkers so that the journey is less daunting. Therefore, they decided that a half-yearly event is excellent as a yearly event may be too far apart for people to remember and use as a reference point in their journey.  With that thought, the trio began planning for TMA Vol. 2. This event will happen in May 2018 – if you need more information, read our article on this upcoming event! We promise that you will not be disappointed.

Building a Whisky Community

Lucas, Jacky, Kris and Colin have a similar mission as WhiskyGeeks, and that is to create a community of whisky lovers, particularly in Singapore. Singapore may be a small country, but many of us are whisky drinkers. Lucas shared that they found many whisky lovers through running their boutique in the shoe industry, and realised that these whisky drinkers and collectors do not know one another. It is a pity that so many of us drink and love whisky, but there isn’t a community among us. Taking a reference point from Europe, Lucas shared that he hopes that slowly but surely, Singapore and the rest of Asia can build a whisky community that is as closed-knitted as the one we find in Europe today.

While we may not have many whisky experts in Singapore, we have many in the industry who know much about whisky. In Lucas’ viewpoint,  this group of knowledgeable people is the key to building a closely knitted whisky community. As long as these people are approachable and willing to share, a community can be formed. The fragmentation of whisky lovers is not due to just one factor, but a combination of many Khoon Hui, the bar owner of Quaich Bar Singapore, as well as Brendan, the co-founder of The Single Cask, both expressed thoughts akin to Lucas’ belief of a fragmented whisky community too.

TMA is, therefore, looking to build a community that can share ideas, thoughts and drams with one another, both on a big scale and a smaller, private scale among friends. It will, hopefully, decrease the fragmentation and bring whisky lovers together as one.

The Future of TMA

We spoke extensively about the future and what TMA can achieve as a community. As TMA Vol. 2 is coming up, our conversation steered into the future events of TMA. Lucas shared that they started TMA Vol. 1 with the intention of hosting 100 attendees, and 120 people turned up. Lucas had to reject some others as the venue was unable to take them all. With their experience with Vol. 1, the team sourced for a bigger place to accommodate a larger crowd. They hope that it will give more people a chance to attend the event and find a wide range of lovely drams to drink at the event and also to bring home for later enjoyment.

Flora asked if Lucas hopes to one day, run a more significant event like the whisky fair she attended in Kaohsiung last year, and Lucas replied that yes, of course. If TMA grows steadily, they will eventually do that. “However, I want to ensure that we never lose sight of the spirit and purpose of the event – which is to be THE forum in Singapore for learning and sharing great whisky, not for profit. To this extent, we have taken firm measures to ensure that the pricing of the whisky exhibited by collectors at Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 is fair and not opportunistic. Should TMA grow bigger, I will endeavour to ensure this remains the case.”

We are sure that it will happen! Lucas, Jacky and Kris have their hearts in the right place.

Excited about TMA Vol. 2?

Now that you know more about The Malt Affair and the team behind it, feel free to check out their website and the facebook page of their upcoming TMA Vol. 2! We hope that our article about the event and this interview have gotten you excited and raring to attend. Geek Flora and Geek Choc are heading to TMA Vol. 2, so if you spot us at the event, do come on over to say hi!

 

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What You Should Know About Sherry

Many whisky lovers give thanks to the sherry producers when they sip a sherry-matured whisky. However, how many of us know what sherry is and how many types of sherry there are in the market? Learning about sherry is fascinating, and that’s why we are here to give a brief introduction to sherry and the types of sherry in the market.

What is Sherry?

Sherry is a fortified wine produced in three areas of Spain’s ‘sherry region’. Located in the province of Andalucia, the three regions are Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa María. These three regions form a sort of a triangle on the map, with Sanlúcar de Barrameda on the top western part, Jerez de la Frontera in the central and El Puerto de Santa María at the southern part. The soil around these areas are chalk or limestone based, and provide the perfect climate for growing grapes are suitable for making sherry.

Did you know that the word “sherry” came from the British trying to pronounce Jerez and failed to do so?

Sherry producers use three types of grapes to make the delicious fortified wine, namely Palomino grape, Pedro Ximénez and Moscatel. Palomino is the primary source, and interestingly, this grape variety is highly unknown in other parts of the world. However, it is a crucial grape variety to the making of sherry. Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel are typically sweeter in nature and are different from Palomino. The sherry types they produce are vastly different from the ones made from the Palomino.

Sherry Types

There are many sherry types but here are the main ones:

  1. Fino
  2. Manzanilla
  3. Amontillado
  4. Oloroso
  5. Pedro Ximenez
  6. Moscatel

Producers use different methods to make the different kinds of sherry, and it is no surprise that each of them has a different taste!

Sherry Styles

There are two basic styles of sherry – dry and sweet.

Dry Sherry

Within the dry category, there are two ways of ageing the fortified white wine, which is what sherry is!

The first way is through the use of flor (pronounce as ‘floor’). Flor is a type of yeast that forms a thin layer (about 2 cm thick) on top of the sherry wine as it begins to age. It prevents the wine from oxidation so that the sherry is aged without the aid of oxygen. Flor yeast is quickly killed by high alcohol content, however, so flor-aged sherry does not have an abv above 15%. Flor-aged sherry produces the “Fino” and “Manzanilla” sherries.

The second method is non-flor-ageing, which means that oxidation happens during the ageing process. The wines produced by this method are higher in abv, as they are not limited to the 15% alcohol content. Hence, sherry types made using the oxidation method are stronger in both flavours and alcohol content. Non-flor-ageing sherry produces the “Amontillado” and “Oloroso” sherries.

Sweet Sherry

Sweet sherry typically means the addition of sugar. However, producers differentiated them between “naturally sweet” or “artificially sweet”.

Naturally-sweet sherry typically means using the sweeter variety of grapes such as Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel instead of Palomino grapes to make the sherry. The production for this type of sherry is slightly different as the grapes are harvested much later and dried in the sun to extract more sugar before being pressed. They are called Vino dulce natural in Spanish.

Artificially sweetened sherry is usually a blend of dry sherry with sweet wines or grape syrup. For example, dry sherry made from Palomino grapes are mixed with Pedro Ximenez or Moscatel to create a blend of sweet sherry. Alternatively, producers add arrope, a highly concentrated syrup made of grape juice to the dry sherry to make it sweet. This type of sherry is called Vino generoso de Licar.

The importance of Sherry casks in the Whisky Industry

We know the importance of sherry casks in the whisky industry. We need them to mature our favourite whiskies, which is why learning about sherry is essential. If we appreciate sherry and learn to drink the wine, we may help to boost demand and encourage the sherry producers to increase production. That will, in turn, produce more sherry casks for our beloved whisky to mature in! See, it is a win-win situation for all!

So, my dear readers, buy some sherries and share it with your whisky-loving friends! After all, we need to do our part to help whisky producers lower the cost of sherry casks so that they can pass the savings to us!

What do you think?

 

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SMWS Bottlings and the Codes They Use

We spoke of the brief history of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) in our previous article, and today, we are exploring the way they choose their casks as well as the interesting codes of their bottles. If you noticed the unique codes for each SMWS bottling and wonder what it all means, let us explore that together.

The SMWS’ Way of Choosing a Cask

Before we delve into codes, let us first look at how SMWS chooses its casks. SMWS appoints a “Tasting Panel” to select what casks to buy and bottle. The society acquires casks only after the tasting panel approved of the cask. In other words, the bottles that we bought off the website are tried and tested by the experts from the tasting panel.

The tasting panel consists of Society representatives who are either directly involved in the whisky industry or those who proved their knowledge of whisky. Besides tasting and approving casks to buy, the tasting panel also gives each expression an unusual and descriptive name. After their 25th anniversary in 2008, SMWS added mouth-watering tasting notes to depict the flavours of the whisky. An example of the unique name will be “Drunken Cherry Coconut Ice Cream”. Someone who is drinking this expression is likely to find cherry and coconut notes in the whisky, and the liquid will be creamy to taste.

The Unique Codes of SMWS’ Bottling

After choosing the cask, the society bottles it and give the outturn of each expression an unique two-part numerical “identity code”. The first part of the code represents the distillery and the second part indicates the number of cask bottled from the said distillery. For example, 54.45 means the 45th cask acquired from distillery number 54. Every society bottling uses this numerical system. The reason behind this system is simple. Every single cask is different, and SMWS did not want whisky lovers to link the whisky to the distillery’s general profile before drinking it. By using a code, drinkers are more willing to try it without judging and in a way, makes every sip a blind tasting.

It is worthy to note that SMWS bottles grain whiskies as well as single malt whiskies. The grain whiskies are denoted by the prefix “G” in their cask number. There is also rum with the prefix “R” as well as American whiskey with the prefix “B”.

The List of SMWS’ Distillery Codes

The list of distillery codes grows ever longer with every new distillery that SMWS adds to its embrace. Here is a list of the codes that we know of.

Single Malts

Single Malt WhiskySMWS Code
Glenfarclas Distillery1
Glenlivet Distillery2
Bowmore Distillery3
Highland Park Distillery4
Auchentoshan Distillery5
Macduff Distillery (Glen Deveron)6
Longmorn Distillery7
Tamdhu Distillery8
Glen Grant Distillery9
Bunnahabhain Distillery10
Tomatin Distillery11
Benriach Distillery12
Dalmore Distillery13
Talisker Distillery14
Glenfiddich Distillery15
Glenturret Distillery16
Scapa Distillery17
Inchgower Distillery18
Glen Garioch Distillery19
Inverleven Distillery20
Glenglassaugh Distillery21
Glenkinchie Distillery22
Bruichladdich Distillery23
Macallan Distillery24
Rosebank Distillery25
Clynelish Distillery26
Springbank Distillery27
Tullibardine Distillery28
Laphroaig Distillery29
Glenrothes Distillery30
Isle of Jura Distillery31
Edradour Distillery32
Ardbeg Distillery33
Tamnavulin Distillery34
Glen Moray Distillery35
Benrinnes Distillery36
Cragganmore Distillery37
Caperdonich Distillery38
Linkwood Distillery39
Balvenie Distillery40
Dailuaine Distillery41
Tobermory Distillery (Ledaig)42
Port Ellen Distillery43
Craigellachie Distillery44
Dallas Dhu Distillery45
Glenlossie Distillery46
Benromach Distillery47
Balmenach Distillery48
St. Magdalene Distillery49
Bladnoch Distillery50
Bushmills Distillery51
Old Pulteney Distillery52
Caol Ila Distillery53
Aberlour Distillery54
Royal Brackla Distillery55
Coleburn Distillery56
Glen Mhor Distillery57
Strathisla Distillery58
Teaninich Distillery59
Aberfeldy Distillery60
Brora Distillery61
Glenlochy Distillery62
Glentauchers Distillery63
Mannochmore Distillery64
Imperial Distillery65
Ardmore Distillery66
Banff Distillery67
Blair Athol Distillery68
Glen Albyn Distillery69
Balblair Distillery70
Glenburgie Distillery71
Miltonduff Distillery72
Aultmore Distillery73
North Port Distillery74
Glenury Royal Distillery75
Mortlach Distillery76
Glen Ord Distillery77
Ben Nevis Distillery78
Deanston Distillery79
Glen Spey Distillery80
Glen Keith Distillery81
Glencadam Distillery82
Convalmore Distillery83
Glendullan Distillery84
Glen Elgin Distillery85
Glenesk Distillery86
Millburn Distillery87
Speyburn Distillery88
Tomintoul Distillery89
Pittyvaich Distillery90
Dufftown Distillery91
Lochside Distillery92
Glen Scotia Distillery93
Old Fettercairn Distillery94
Auchroisk (Singleton) Distillery95
Glendronach Distillery96
Littlemill Distillery97
Inverleven Distillery (Lomond)98
Glenugie Distillery99
Strathmill Distillery100
Knockando Distillery101
Dalwhinnie Distillery102
Royal Lochnagar Distillery103
Glenburgie Distillery (Glencraig)104
Tormore Distillery105
Cardhu Distillery106
Glenallachie Distillery107
Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery108
Miltonduff (Mosstowie)109
Oban Distillery110
Lagavulin Distillery111
Loch Lomond Distillery (Inchmurrin)112
Braeval Distillery (Braes of Glenlivet)113
Springbank Distillery (Longrow)114
Knockdhu Distillery (An Cnoc)115
Yoichi Distillery116
Cooley Distillery (unpeated)117
Cooley Distillery (peated)118
Yamazaki Distillery119
Hakushu Distillery120
Isle of Arran Distillery121
Loch Lomond Distillery (Croftengea)122
Glengoyne Distillery123
Miyagikyo Distillery124
Glenmorangie Distillery125
Springbank Distillery (Hazelburn)126
Bruichladdich (Port Charlotte)127
Penderyn Distillery128
Kilchoman Distillery129
Chichibu (Japan)130
Hanyu (Japan)131
Karuizawa (Japan)132
Westland Distillery (USA)133
Paul John (India)134

Grain Whisky

Grain Whisky SMWS Code
North British DistilleryG1
Carsebridge DistilleryG2
Caledonian DistilleryG3
Cameronbridge DistilleryG4
Invergordon DistilleryG5
Port Dundas DistilleryG6
Girvan DistilleryG7
Cambus DistilleryG8
Loch Lomond DistilleryG9
Strathclyde DistilleryG10
Nikka Coffey Grain (Japan)G11
Nikka Coffey Malt (Japan)G12
Chita (Japan)G13
Dumbarton DistilleryG14

American Bourbon Whiskey

American Bourbon Whiskey SMWS Code
Heaven HillB1
BernheimB2
Rock TownB3
F.E.W DistilleryB4

Rum

Rum SMWS Code
Port Morant (Jamaica)R1
Demerara El Dorado (Guyana)R2
Mount Gay (Barbados)R3
Angostura (Trinidad)R4
Appleton (Jamaica)R5

We hope the list will help you to know more but do remember, do not judge the whiskies by the general characteristics of their distilleries, as it can be very different from what you expect. Instead, read the tasting notes and taste the whisky to find out if you love it!

 

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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS)

 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) landed on Singapore’s shores some time ago. It was a joyous moment for many of us as we finally get a chance to be a member of this esteemed whisky society. As we journey along with SMWS for these months, we discovered that not everyone knows how or when SMWS started. So, today, we are sharing a brief history of SMWS for all to enjoy.

The Birth of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

When we speak of SMWS, we think of Phillip “Pips” Hills and his travels around the Scottish Highlands in the 1970s. Due to his experience of tasting whisky directly from the casks during his visits, he fell deeply in love with whisky. His experiences changed his life forever, especially after he convinced his whisky-loving friends to jointly buy a cask of whisky from Glenfarclas distillery in 1978.

As the years passed, the group expanded into a syndicate where more people joined the group and purchased casks together. As the members continued to grow, they bought and bottled more casks from different distilleries and distribute these bottles to all the subscribing members. After five years, the Society is large enough to purchase their first property – The Vault – in Leith. The Vault comes with a set of vaulted wine cellars said to be from the 12th century.

The year 1983 marked the closure of many whisky distilleries in Scotland. It was a low point in the history of whisky. Many great distilleries like Port Ellen, Glenugie and St Magdelene closed down in 1983. It was this year that the founding members of SMWS decided to open their membership to the wider public as they can finally welcome more members with their ownership of The Vault. Therefore, SMWS was founded in 1983, as it was the first year that the society opened its doors to the general public.

The Ups and Downs of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

After the founding of SMWS in 1983, the society grew by leaps and bounds as more people joined the community. The Vault serves as the member’s second home, where several members’ rooms are available for use by only the members of SMWS. In 1996, the society launched a share scheme to purchase a second property in Greville Street, London. After that, SMWS bought a third property – a Georgian townhouse on Queen Street, Edinburgh in 2004. With three venues, the society grew strongly in numbers, and they purchase more casks than ever before. SMWS then caught the eyes of Glenmorangie PLC, which bought the society in 2004.

2008 marks the 25th anniversary of SMWS. The guiding members of SMWS decided to celebrate the occasion by redesigning the label to include more information and tasting notes on the front of the bottle. Things continue to run smoothly, and by 2015, SMWS was once again, acquired by private investors. SMWS remains as the property of these private investors today.

The Membership of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

Only members of the society can purchase SMWS’ bottlings. Becoming a member is easy. Choose from the basic membership at SGD$140 or the membership pioneer at SGD$320. Both memberships come with the following benefits:

  • Exclusive access to purchase whisky and spirits from SMWS.sg
  • Members rates for all SMWS events
  • Members rates at all partner bars across Singapore, UK & Europe
  • Advanced access to all new whiskies (Outturn)
  • Exclusive access to member venues
  • Free subscription to our award-winning magazine
  • Membership Card

The membership pioneer has the additional exclusive welcome pack:

  • Three limited release SMWS 10cl bottles
  • SMWS Journal
  • Club lapel badge

If you are happy to get the membership without the welcome pack, the basic membership is good enough for you to gain access to the SMWS bottlings. However, the exclusive welcome pack is choked full with goodies, so if you are keen to explore SMWS and have a deeper pocket, why not try the membership pioneer?

Locations of SMWS Bars in Singapore

There are currently two SMWS member bars in Singapore – The Single Cask and The Wall SG. If you want to check out new bottlings from SMWS, visiting either bar will be a good choice for you to taste some excellent whiskies from SMWS. New members can also head over to The Single Cask to collect your membership card and pick up any bottles that you purchase online.

Members can access SMWS bars in other countries. Besides the three member-bars in the U.K, there are bars in Australia, Austria, Benelux, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the U.S.A.

SMWS Moving Forward

We hope to see more bottlings from SMWS coming into Singapore in the future as we move forward together as a nation to appreciate whisky. We believe that with SMWS coming onboard in Singapore, more people will get to try whiskies straight from the cask and at cask strength too!

In our next article, we will speak more of SMWS bottlings and the codes on their bottles.

 

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How to remove a broken cork from your whisky bottle

All of us are victims of this age-old problem – the cork breaks when we are opening a bottle of our favourite whisky. This issue is especially prevalent in older bottles simply due to age. Needless to say, we are all frustrated with this recurring challenge! What are some of the best ways to remove a broken cork from our whisky bottles?

Using a corkscrew

If the broken cork is just slightly below the open neck of the bottle, it is easiest to use a corkscrew to remove the broken piece. Use the corkscrew the same way that you would when opening a wine bottle, and you should have the broken cork out of the bottle soon enough!

Using a long nail and a piler

Sometimes, the corkscrew is not delicate enough to do the job, and you will need a better idea. Find a long nail (as long as possible) and make sure it is clean. Screw it slowly into the broken cork, just like how you operate a manual corkscrew. The trick is to pull the long nail a little after screwing it into the cork so that you get a tight grip. Then use piler to slowly but steadily remove the broken cork out of the bottle.

Using a flat blade

When a corkscrew or a nail is not available, grab a flat blade knife from the kitchen. This is an operation only for the nimble fingers, so be safe when you are doing it. Insert the flat knife into the cork near the cork’s edge and the neck of the bottle. Be careful not to stick the knife into the centre of the cork as you need the neck of the bottle as some form of leverage. Once you insert the blade reasonably deep into the cork, start turning the knife in circular motions. The trick here is to pull upwards as you turn so that you pull up the cork even as you turn the knife in circles. Once you can grip the cork with your fingers, stop using the knife and pull the cork free with your hands.

Push the broken cork into the whisky bottle

If there is no way for you to remove the broken cork from the bottle, the next best thing is to push the cork into the bottle. This method requires you to have a spare glass bottle to house your whisky. To use this method, clean the debris of the broken cork so that small particles will not fall into the whisky. You may want to check the integrity of the cork as well because you do not want it to disintegrate when it falls into the bottle. Once you are sure the cork will stay in one piece, go ahead to push the cork into the bottle. After that, follow the next step.

Decanter your whisky

If parts of the broken cork fall into the whisky or you push the broken cork into the whisky, you have to decanter it. Grab a clean, empty glass bottle and decanter your whisky using a sieve or strainer (for bigger debris) or a coffee filter (for tiny particles). After that, the big challenge comes – removing the bigger piece of broken cork from the newly empty bottle. One of the best ways is to use a clean plastic bag. Insert a clean plastic bag into the bottle, with the open end facing the neck of the bottle. Overturn the bottle so that the broken cork falls to the neck of the bottle. Next, blow air into the plastic bag so that the cork remains at the neck of the bottle. Then, delicately pull the plastic bag and cork out of the bottle.

Using a wire

For those with a steady hand and a steely gaze, you can consider using a stainless wire fashioned into a hook to remove the larger pieces of the broken cork. Ensure that the wire is hard, and use it like a fishing hook to puncture and lift the debris gently out of the bottle. It requires a ton of patience and a whole lot more skills!

 

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How to Store Whisky for the Long-Term

 

Whisky drinkers do not usually have a hard time storing whisky as compared to wine drinkers. As our precious liquid stops ageing once bottled, whisky drinkers can keep their whiskies indefinitely. Well, as a broad-based theory, of course. Temperature and storage methods do affect whiskies, unfortunately, so we are here to look into how we can avoid doing the wrong things.

Storing sealed and full bottles

We need to look out for two things when storing sealed bottles. The first is temperature and the second, sunlight. Both of these affect whisky by causing chemical reactions in the whisky compounds and degrade the flavours over time. While this does not happen within a few years, but it will alter the taste after ten years or more.

The best way to store sealed bottles is in a cupboard when the light is minimal, and temperatures do not fluctuate like the stock market. Having a constant room temperature between 15 to 18 degrees Celcius is ideal. Nonetheless, we know that it is impossible for us in this part of the world to get that temperature, so keeping your whiskies in the dark cupboard is the next best thing. Otherwise, make sure that your open shelf is not facing the window to avoid heat and sunlight.

Storing opened bottles

An opened bottle of whisky requires a lot more attention and careful storage as compared to a sealed one. If your bottle is more than 2/3 full, it is entirely possible that the flavours will not change for the next one year or so. What you can do is to use some parafilm to create a seal on the bottle cap or cork to preserve the flavours as much as possible.

The challenge hits when your bottle is about 1/3 full. With that much air in the bottle, the whisky will begin to oxidise. Once oxidisation starts, the whisky will change and no longer taste the way it was. For some expression, oxidisation improves the flavours, but for most others, it degrades the whisky instead.

The best way to prevent oxidisation is to invite a few friends over to your house and finish the bottle on a glorious night. If you want to keep it for yourself, you may want to drink it as quickly as you can. Alternatively, pour the remaining whisky into a smaller glass bottle with a good seal. You can then parafilm the smaller bottle after that.

Using inert gas

You can use inert gas to remove the oxygen from the bottle before storing it for a long time. However, there is no study to verify if the inert gas will change the whisky. By theory, the inert gas will not cause any changes since they are not reactive, but nobody has verified it (at least I did not find any scientistic study on it). Some whisky drinkers in our community use inert gas, and they have not complained about taste alteration so far!

 

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