Whisky Distilleries

Switzerland Whisky – Säntis Malt

View of the Distillery from the Mountains

When it comes to whisky production, most people immediately link their thoughts to Scotland and Japan. These two countries are possibly the most popular whisky-producing regions in the world. However, do you know that there is whisky produced in Switzerland?

If you have not heard, let WhiskyGeeks show you Säntis Malt – the Swiss Alpine Whisky!

Säntis Malt

History of Locher Family and Brauerei Locher AG

The legend of the Locher family and their beer-crafting skills began in 1886. The family took over a brewery in Appenzell, Oberegg in that year, and started a family-operated brewery named Brauerei Locher AG (BLAG), producing good-quality beer for the region. Years passed, and BLAG grew in production. As their fame soared, people from far and wide began sourcing for the Appenzeller beer produced by BLAG in their local bars and taverns.

The brewery began transporting their beer in casks that sealed with pitch. As popularity grew further, these casks became a vital transportation tool for the precious ale. As a result, some of these casks did not have the chance to get repaired regularly, and the pitch used in the casks cracked over time. Beer soaked the barrel staves. Due to the high demand, the brewery did not replace these casks immediately, but instead, reapplied the pitch to the staves.  The casks continued to transport Appenzeller beer all over the country. Thus, the beer extract and flavour was locked efficiently into the staves for years.

History of Säntis Malt

Old Beer Casks

Säntis Malt was the brainchild of Master Brewer, Mr Karl Locher, the fifth generation of the Locher family to manage the brewery. In 1999, the authorities lifted the ban on the distillation of spirits from grains in Europe, and Mr Locher began to think how he could make use of this newly amended law to create new products for his brewery.

The old beer casks used for beer transportation before the 1970s were still around, and Mr Locher began to think if he could make use of these matured aromas and beer extracts to make whisky. With creativity and innovation in mind, Mr Locher started to repair the casks. The BLAG team expertly removed the pitch, and experts examined the casks for their suitability as whisky casks. Upon investigation, it became apparent that the beer-soaked casks were perfect for whisky maturation!

Mr Locher began to distil barley in his brewery using spring water from the Alpstein and poured the new-make spirit into the old beer casks for maturation. That is the birth of Säntis Malt – the unique beer-aged whisky from the Swiss Alpine.

The coming-0f-age for Säntis Malt

In Scottish laws, spirits need to mature in a cask for at least three years before it is “whisky”. The BLAG Distillery followed this rule and released the first Säntis Malt in 2002. Säntis Malt, therefore, entered the history books as the first Swiss whisky ever produced.

Locally-Grown Barley

Barley field and Plough

BLAG further strengthens its whisky production procedures by growing barley locally at high altitude. The barley is subjected to harsh weather conditions in the Alps and emerged with vitality and strength. These qualities help to make excellent new-make for Säntis Malt whisky production.

Säntis Malt Range of Whisky

Over the years, BLAG produced a range of Säntis Malt that is available in selected parts of the world. Each whisky is unique on its own. Currently, there are a few whiskies which are in the core range and many others which are limited releases by the distillery. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Dreifaltigkeit

 

Alpstein

 

Sigel

 

Himmelberg

The four whiskies that we have above are all award-winning whiskies from Säntis Malt. Each of these beautiful expressions is given recognition at IWSC, and some are praised and awarded by Jim Murray as well.

Dreifaltigkeit

The Dreifaltigkeit is a slightly peated whisky. BLAG distillery used peat taken from the Appenzell high moor to dry the barley during the whisky production. The gentle peat translates into a smoky, earthly mixture that is slightly oily on the palate. Fruitness is coupled with mild spices to tingle the tongue and leaves you wanting more.

Alpstein

Alpstein is a series of single cask, limited whisky by Säntis Malt. While it is not a discontinued product, each batch of Alpstein is different as each series matured in a different cask finish. The finish can be in a port cask, wine cask (red/white), bourbon or sherry cask. Other special casks are also possible. The Alpstein is an ever-changing series and one which promises to surprise whisky lovers around the world with each limited release.

Sigel

Edition Sigel is a light and sweet whisky which promotes the purity of the barley used in Säntis Malt. The distillery simply matured the whisky in old beer casks before bottling. The pure malty taste, sweet vanilla, and juicy fruitiness make the Sigel as a popular choice for the ladies.

Himmelberg

The Himmelberg is matured in beer casks before being finished in various unknown wine barrels. The result is a light and fruity whisky that opens into woody spice on the tongue. The aromas from the Himmelberg is unique and different from the Sigel as the spiciness of the liquid lends a high complexity to the whisky.

Säntis Malt Special Winter Release

Santis Malt – Snow White No. 5

We mentioned Säntis Malt Winter Edition – Snow White briefly in our article on WhiskyFair TAKAO. Snow White is Säntis Malt’s best expression in our option, as each edition matures in old beer casks before finishing in different fruit brandy casks. Launched for the first time in 2013, Snow White has received such overwhelming fame that the distillery is releasing an edition every year.

The Snow White No. 5 Marille is the latest edition and one which we fell in love with immediately. That sweet apricot taste is heavenly indeed!

Säntis Malt Non-Whisky Products

Sántis Cream

 

Apricot Malt Liqueur

 

Plum Malt Liqueur

The distillery also produced some non-whisky products using the Säntis Malt brand. Three of these prominent products are the Säntis Cream (or Edition Marwees), Apricot Malt Liqueur and Plum Malt Liqueur. All three products are well received by the market as well and form part of the Säntis Malt range of products today.

Distillery Visit and WhiskyTrek

Lastly, let us talk a little about visiting the distillery in Appenzell if you are keen to do so. The actual brewery and distillery are closed to the public but there is a huge visitor centre at Appenzell that you have to visit if you are keen to learn more about Säntis Malt. You will have an experienced guide to share in-depth knowledge with you and after that, a chance to taste both the beer and Säntis Malt whisky. Find out more about the distillery here.

The WhiskyTrek is another interesting activity that you can do. Trek to 27 mountain inns deep in the mountains of the Alpstein and collect 27 different Säntis Malt expression in a beautiful collector’s box. The whisky must be purchased with vouchers so make sure you buy at least one booklet at the distillery or the Appenzellerland Tourist Office. If you forget, you can still purchase these booklets at the mountain inns.

WhiskyTrek Collector’s Box

Such an experience is only available at Appenzell, so if you are visiting, be sure to contact the distillery to find out more about the trek!

 

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Taiwanese Whisky: Nantou Winery

The entrance of Omar Single Malt Distillery

Nantou Winery makes Omar Single Malt Whisky in Nantou, Taiwan. It is a combined facility in which they make whisky, Gao Liang Jiu (which is a type of “bai jiu”) and Taiwan oak-aged umeshu. For the sake of easy references, we will call Nantou Winery as Omar distillery whenever we are speaking of whisky-making in this article.

History of Nantou Winery

The history of Nantou Winery started in 1978 where the winery focuses on making wine, blended whisky (Scotch + Taiwanese), brandy, umeshu and other fruits liqueurs. They did not have single malt whisky at all. The winery was owned by the government of Taiwan and operated as a public company.

History of Omar Single Malt

Omar Single Malt was born in 2007. The reason for Omar Single Malt was a humanitarian one – in 2007, the farmers in Taiwan experienced a massive harvest in barley which they have nowhere to sell to. In those days, Taiwan was facing exportation issues, and the farmers found it difficult to sell their harvest overseas. In an attempt to help the farmers, the government started Omar Single Malt as a brand and bought up all the barley from the farmers. At the same time, the government also started buying equipment for single malt whisky distillation. One of the newly-hired distillers was also sent to Scotland to learn the art of distillation necessary for Taiwanese single malt whisky.

By 2008, the distillery started distilling whisky new-make for the Omar brand. The graduated distiller who went to Scotland came back to Taiwan and taught his fellow distillers the art of making whisky. The distillers placed the new-make into both sherry and bourbon casks of varying shapes and sizes.

From left to right: Bourbon Barrel, Hogshead and Sherry Butt

Omar Whisky

Due to the climate of Taiwan, Omar has a high angel share of 6-7% during the maturation period. The typical maturation period is 4 to 5 years. Omar strictly compelled to the Scottish rules of a minimum three years before the liquid becomes whisky. While the whisky did not mature in the barrels for very long, the higher temperature encourages the liquid to interact with the oak in higher intensity, making the liquid aged faster. As a rule of thumb, the distillery counts a year in Taiwan as equivalent to 3 years in Scotland where the temperature is consistently lower.

Omar whisky did not have an aged statement as yet. Their core range includes the regular bourbon and sherry NAS whiskies. The newest single malt whisky in the Omar core range is a peated whisky. The peat is taken from Taiwan and is pleasantly aromatic. Besides that, Omar also has single cask, cask strength whiskies

The birth of the first Omar Cask Strength Whisky

In 2013, two cask strength whiskies matured in a bourbon barrel and a sherry butt respectively were born. Both whiskies received high acclaim from the local market. Omar distillery sent these whiskies for competition in the following year, and both of them did well in those contests. They received gold and silver in ISC and two silvers in IWSC in 2014 amongst others.

In 2015 and 2016, Omar received more awards. Most of them are from the Malt Manics Association (MMA) where Omar won the Best Sherried Whisky and Best Bourbon Natural Casks Whisky for both years. MMA  also named Omar distillery as the Supreme Winner in 2015 and 2016.

Omar Bourbon Cask Strength Whisky

Omar was indeed encouraged by these awards and the distillery strives to create consistent whiskies that everyone will love.

The Distillery Tour

This decorative signage was a gift from the Government in 2008

The tour was fascinating in the sense that they brought us to see the warehouse before the rest of the processes. A large part of the reason was that our tour was a private tour, so the head distiller opens the warehouse just for our visit. To make things easier for him, we were brought to the warehouse first.

Entrance to Warehouse No 1, the only warehouse opened to visitors

Upon entering the warehouse, we felt the immediate drop in temperature. We understood from our guide that the warehouse is opened only on specific days when they conduct distillery tours to large groups of pre-booked visitors.

The warehouse is cleaner and brighter than the ones that we visited in Yamazaki and Hakushu. Perhaps it was due to our impromptu visit, or maybe it was because they are repairing the air-conditioning in the warehouse. It is a small warehouse, and we suspect that much of the stocks here are likely for their blended whiskies instead of their single malt whiskies.

Casks Repairing Work

Interestingly, Omar does cask repairs on its own. Our guide shared that the distillery tries to be as self-sufficient as possible due to the lack of facilities outside the distillery to support the whisky industry in Taiwan. He brought us to the back of the warehouse where we saw a few rows of broken casks.

We found the broken casks rather fascinating. Our guide told us that the casks left out in the sun are those classified as “beyond repair” and these would be re-fashioned into decorative tables for the home and whisky bars in Taiwan. We had the chance to look at an open cask, and to our surprise, we can still smell the vanilla fragrance from the charred insides! Geek Flora was so excited that she took so many pictures of that blackened inside.  ><

Grinding, Mashing and Fermentation

Next, our guide brought us to the barley storage and grinder. We understood from him that Omar only uses Scottish or English malted barley for their fermentation. The malted barley is imported and left in a large storage area. When the distillery wants to make a new batch of new make whisky, an automated transporter belt transports the malted barley to the grinder which grinds them and then fed them to tubes that lead to the only mash tun in the distillery. Fermentation takes 72 hours, and they use whisky yeast from France. 250,000kg of barley yields about 100,000 litres of new make in one cycle. The water source is the underground water from the nearby mountains.

It was an eye-opener to look at how Omar mimic its fermentation process after Scotland even when they have structural challenges in their existing building. In the name of innovation and creativity, Omar fashioned a new method of delivering the wort to the fermentation washbacks that they own. While the delivery is different, it is technically mimicking the Scottish way. That is impressive!

Distillation

Omar has four pot stills that were shipped from Scotland back in 2007. ≈ Their double distillation process makes use of these pot stills. Pot stills 1 and 2 are in-charge of the first distillation process while still 3 and 4 are in-charge of the second distillation. The first distillation yields a new make with 30% abv and the second distillation increase the alcohol content to a range of 60 to 75%. After distillation, the new make goes into the spirit safe where the heart of the distillate is separated. The rest of the rejected liquid goes back to pot stills 1 and 2. The process of using only the spirit-centre of the distillate ensures the quality of the new make. This quality control is vital to keep Omar whiskies consistent.

Omar Whisky Tasting Session

The distillery tour ended with the new make, and our guide ushered us back into the main hall where whiskies were already waiting for us at the bar. We had a total of seven whiskies. Yes, it was scary considering that we were drinking at 10.30 am in the morning, but it was worth the risk of getting drunk with a full day ahead of us!

First up, we had 4 whiskies that were part of our distillery tour package. They are the two regular Omar Single Malt Bourbon and Sherry Cask as well as two Cask Strength Omar Bourbon and Sherry Cask. The distillery also allows visitors to purchase other bottles for tasting at just 100 NTD per 20ml! That converts to less than SGD$4. Our guide treated us to their most popular Omar Single Malt Lychee Liqueur-Finished Whisky, and we purchased two other drams – the Taiwan Red Wine Finished and the Plum Wine-Finished whiskies.

The Omar Whiskies

We had an incredible journey with Omar single malt whiskies. While we had tasted their regular single malt before, the rest of the range was new to us. The bourbon and sherry single cask Cask Strength whiskies are fast becoming a regular feature in their distillery bar. It is a pity that they are only selling the single cask whiskies in their distillery and nowhere else. Nonetheless, it was great to have a taste.

The bottle that is worth a special mention is the Omar Cask Strength Lychee Liqueur-Finished Whisky. This whisky spent most of its time maturing in a bourbon cask and then finished in a lychee liqueur cask. The finish created a sweet lychee nose and palate and lengthed the finish beautifully. It was a limited release of 700 bottles and a one-off experiment from the distillery.

The nose boasts of strong honey notes with some vanilla and lychee notes. The nose continues into the palate, with lychee, vanilla and warm spice in the mouth and throat. Sweet honey lingers at the back of the throat after swallowing. The long finish holds honey sweetness with hints of lychee in the background.

The End of the Visit

Omar is indeed a hidden gem in Taiwan and one which we should pay more attention to. If you are heading to Taiwan and wants to visit the distillery, be sure to call ahead and ask them for their schedule of distillery tours. As they are unlikely to host impromptu tours as they did for us (we were lucky!), it is safer to call ahead if you want to see their facilities. We hope this has been an exciting read for you and thank you for staying with us in this long post!

Until next time folks! We will be back with more!

 

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Isle of Arran Distillery – The One and Only

The Isle of Arran Distillery sits in the foothills of the village of Lochranza on the north-west tip of the Isle of Arran. The owner of the distillery chose this location because of its vicinity to Loch na Davie. Loch na Davie holds the purest water in all of Scotland because granite and peat cleansed and softened the water in its slow meandering down from the mountaintops.

Short History of the Isle of Arran

The Isle of Arran used to house about fifty distilleries on the island. However, most of them were illegal, and smuggling activities went on for a period. Similar to Campbeltown, the proximity to water made producing and selling moonshine easy. However, as time passed, these illegal distilleries either obtained licenses to operate officially or close down. The last legal distillery on the Isle of Arran, called Lagg, was closed in 1837.

History of Arran Distillery

Harold Currie, a former director of Chivas, founded Arran Distillers in 1994 with the intention of building a distillery on Arran. Construction started in 1994 but halted after a pair of endangered golden eagles built their nests on a cliff near the distillery. As a result of the interruption, the distillery opened only in 1995. Arran distillery also took on the silhouette of two golden eagles as part of their logo.

The first spirit ran from the stills at the Arran distillery on 29th June 1995 at precisely 14.29 hours. It is the moment of glory for the Isle of Arran as it is the first legal distillation after more than 150 years of non-activity. The distillery was forced to store some casks in the warehouse of Springbank distillery due to their small capacity. However, in a recent revolutionary upgrade, the Arran distillery is now capable of storing and maintaining its production efficiency.

An interesting note about the founder, Harold Currie, is the fact that he was 70 years old when he decided to build Arran. He lived to a ripe, old age of 91 years old and left the distillery in capable hands when he passed on.

Production Methods at Arran Distillery

Arran distillery continues to use the traditional methods of producing whisky. The only drawback for the distillery is its lack of space for a traditional malting floor. Nonetheless, they buy their barley from the best source in Scotland to ensure high quality.

Arran distillery used barley and water from Loch na Davie to make their whisky. First, the barley and water are mixed in a mash tun to make wort, which then goes into wooden washbacks. The workers then add yeast to the wort for fermentation. To ensure a fruity new make, fermentation at Arran runs between 52 hours to 72 hours. The result is a liquid called “wash”, which is what we know as beer.

The workers double distilled the wash in copper pot stills and the final new make is a liquid that is about 68% alcohol strength. The distillation team placed this colourless liquid into oak casks that previously held sherry or bourbon. The wood gives the colour and character of the whisky, so the choice of the cask is one of the crucial influence for the final product.

Most of the Arran whiskies are bottled at either 46% abv or cask strength, so the flavours and aromas are retained for enjoyment. There are some of them which are bottled at 40% and 43% abv.

The Range of Arran Whiskies

Some bottles from the range of Arran’s exceptional whiskies

Arran has an impressive range of whiskies despite its young age as a distillery. All of the single malt whiskies at Arran are non-peated except for one. While most of their single malts are non-age statements, they do have age statement whiskies in their core range. We highlight some of them below:

Arran Lochranza Reserve

This is a non-age statement whisky bottled at 43% abv. It was released to celebrate the location of the distillery and named after the village. It is made up of 7 to 8-year-old whiskies mostly matured in bourbon oak casks.

Arran 10-year-old single malt

The Arran 10-year-old single malt is their flagship single malt. It is the backbone of Arran distillery, and one of the most enjoyed Arran whiskies in the world.

Arran 14-year-old single malt

The Arran 14-year-old single malt is one which is exceedingly popular among whisky drinkers. Slightly more complex than the 10-year-old, it is the go-to Arran whisky if you are looking for more complexity and richer flavours.

Arran 18-year-old single malt

The Arran 18-year-old single malt is the premium league of the Arran range of whiskies. The complexity is heightened at 18 years old, and the whisky displays rich and matured notes of Arran’s signature – orchard fruits and vanilla.

Arran Machrie Moor and Machrie Moor Cask Strength

Arran Machrie Moor and its cask strength version are released yearly since 2010 in small batches. Every batch is slightly different, but the core flavours are mostly the same. The difference is more prominent in the cask strength version as the abv usually differs from the previous year batch.

In addition to the above, Arran also experimented with wine cask finishes. Currently, they have three different wine cask finished whiskies labelled as cask finishes.

Arran Port Cask Finish

The Arran Port Cask Finish is the first experiment of wine cask finish. Using barrels from Portugal, the port wine cask give a sweeter finish to the typical Arran Malt.

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

The Arran Sauternes Cask Finish is a sweeter version of the Port Cask Finish due to the influence of the delicious white wine that is Sauternes. The whisky is highly complex with notes of the white Sauternes shining through.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish

The Arran Amarone Cask Finish is a marriage of the Arran malt with the cask of Amarone wine from the north-east of Italy. The Amarone cask imparts a bright reddish tinge to the whisky and gives higher complexity to the drink.

There are other Arran whiskies such as the Smugglers Series, The Bothy Quarter Cask, the Robert Burns Single Malt and the latest release of the Arran Malt Distiller’s Edition. The newest release celebrates the 10th anniversary of Arran’s master distiller, James MacTaggart working with Arran Distillery.

Arran In the Future

Arran distillery has much to offer to the world of whisky, and we look forward to more exceptional whiskies from them. There is new of a 21-year-old Scotch coming in 2018 so do stay tuned for more! Arran is also building a second distillery in the southern tip of the Isle of Arran, in the village of Lagg. The new distillery will take over the making of the peated Machrie Moor series. Estimated to complete only in 2019, the future of Arran is looking brighter with each passing moment.

 

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Welcome to the Exotic James Sedgwick Distillery

Whisky drinkers who are willing to explore outside of Scotland often find themselves on the shores of Australia and Japan to sample renowned world whiskies. We seldom see these whisky hunters landing in South Africa to look for the same things. Not many people know about James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, S.A – the home to Three Ships and Bain’s Cape Mountain Grain Whisky.

It is interesting to note that James Sedgwick Distillery is the only commercial distillery in South Africa and their products have won awards after awards in the international scene. The only unfortunate thing for many whisky drinkers in Southeast Asia is the fact that James Sedgwick distillery is selective in their distribution channels due to their limited stocks.

We are lucky in Singapore; our first whisky bar – Quaich Bar – has forged a close relationship with Distell, the company managing James Sedgwick distillery. Therefore, we are one of the first South-East Asian countries to get our hands on their exceptional whiskies.

Before we dive too far off the topic, let us go back to the distillery and explore the origins of this 131-year-old distillery.

History of James Sedgwick Distillery (JSD)

James Sedgwick, a former sea captain, founded a company called the J. Sedgwick & Co. which dealt with liquor, cigar and tobacco in 1850. After his death in 1870, two of his sons, Charles and Alfred, took over and expanded the business. They founded JSD in 1886 at Wellington, S.A. and named the distillery after their father. The distillery sat on the banks of the River Berg but did not begin its life as a whisky distillery until much later.

JSD started its life as a commercial whisky distillery in 1990 when they relocated the production of Three Ships to JSD. The move also coincided with the appointment of the 6th distillery manager – Andy Watts. Andy learned the art of whisky-making in Scotland and had perfected his skills for many years before coming to work with JSD. His skills, experience and knowledge have contributed to the success of JSD.

Innovation and Improvement in James Sedgwick Distillery

The last 26 years see significant innovation and improvement of the distillery. In an attempt to ensure that the distillery is environmentally friendly, the leaders have set upon a journey since 1991 to reduce the carbon footprint of the distillery. In an extensive overhaul, the distillery replaces their old stills with new copper stills made by Forsyth’s of Scotland and also installs a new high-tech control room to support their skills and craftsmanship.

The leaders also converted the marshland next to the distillery into a dam to ensure a consistent water supply for whisky-making. Such innovative and imaginative solutions to their problem is one of JSD’s most significant achievements. It is no wonder that Whisky Magazine recognised their efforts to use innovative technology to preserve the wildlife and environment around them by awarding them with the “Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year” in 2011. The distillery also won the title of “World Best Distillery (world)” in the World Whisky Awards 2015.

JSD is the pioneer in whisky-making in South Africa and has brought about many firsts to the shores of Wellington, S.A. For example, Three Ships finished their 15-year-old whisky in pinotage casks, the first in the world.

Whisky Produced in JSD

JSD produces two brands of whiskies – Three Ships Single Malt/Blended Whisky and Bain Single Grain Whisky. Both names receive various awards over the years and are some of the best whiskies in the world.

Three Ships

Three Ships has a range of five different whiskies. One of them is a single malt, while the others are blended. Almost all of them have won awards in various international whiskies competition.

Three Ships Select Whisky

The Three Ship Select Whisky is launched in 1977 and has served the whisky community in the past 40 years. It is a blend of malt and grain whiskies. The high quality blended whisky has won the hearts of many whisky drinkers with its taste profile. It is an excellent dram for both whisky lovers and casual drinkers.

Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish

JSD launched Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish in 2005. It holds the title as the first 100% South African blended whisky as the distillery made both the malt and grain whiskies on the home ground. JSD also matured the whisky within its warehouses. The Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish is a great catch for the ladies, with its vanilla sweetness and honeyed notes.

Three Ships 5-Year-Old

The Three Ships 5-Year-Old is another blended whisky made by JSD and launched in 1991. This malt used in this blend contains heavily peated malted barley. When the malt and grain are mixed to form the 5-year-old whisky, the peatiness of the malt reduced into a pleasant smoke. It is also well-received among ladies.

Three Ships 10-Year-Old Single Malt

The Three Ships 10-Year-Old is launched in 2015 after maturing the liquid for ten years. Distilled in 2005, this is the first single malt whisky to carry a vintage statement. Made from peated barley, this whisky is slightly smokier when compared to the 5-year-old blend.

Three Ship 15-year-old Pinotage Cask Finish

The Three Ship 15-year-old Pinotage Cask Finish is the first whisky in the world (and of course South Africa) to finish in a Pinotage cask. The Pinotage is a distinctive South African wine created in 1925 by Abraham Izak Perold. This whisky is also the oldest whisky released by Three Ships to date, crafted by their #6 Master Distiller, Andy Watts. This rich and complex whisky reflects the unique heritage of South Africa.

Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky

The Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky shares its home with Three Ships in the JSD. The single grain whisky pays homage to the man, Andrew Geddes Bain, who built the Bainkloof Pass to connect Wellington to the interior of the country in 1853. The whisky is distilled from corn (yellow maize) and double matured in two batches of first-filled bourbon casks.

James Sedgwick Distillery Today

JSD continues to be a pioneer in South African whisky and contributes significantly to the world of whisky. Andy Watts is now the head of the entire Distell whisky portfolio, which includes single malts – Bunnahabhain, Deanston & Tobermory – as well as blends – Black Bottle and Scottish Leader. Jeff Green is replacing Andy Watts as the master distiller at JSD after shadowing Andy for the past six years. His efforts to learn has paid off, and we look forward to more great whiskies from JSD!

 

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Speyburn – A distillery built for the Queen

Previously, we have spoken about a distillery that was once a favourite of the King of Scotland. Now, we will talk about a distillery that was built for a Queen – Queen Victoria of United Kingdom, to be exact. The Speyburn distillery is located in the heart of Speyside, right in the glen near to Granty Burn – one of the major tributaries of the River Spey.

History of Speyburn

John Hopkins & Company founded Speyburn distillery in 1897 after Hopkins discovered the site of Granty Burn. He knew that the untouched nature and the refreshing waters of Granty Burn were perfect for a distillery. Going with his instincts, Hopkins built the distillery in the glen, using stones from the river.

Hopkins appointed the famous architect, Charles Doig to design the distillery and, to this day, Speyburn sports the classic pagoda ventilator, a trademark of Doig’s design.

John Hopkins had built the distillery as a commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Hopkins was determined to run the first spirit before the end of 1897. When the stills became operational, the distillery had no doors or windows. Therefore, the distillery men worked in overcoats and mufflers to battle against the bitter cold to run the first distillate on 15 December when the distillery’s construction delayed. For the next two weeks, the men worked in terrible conditions as snowstorms raged around them. Their hard work finally paid off, and they produced and bonded one butt that bore the year 1897 on December 31, 1897.

120 Years of Speyside Experience

Speyburn has been in operation since Hopkins first built it in 1897. After 120 years, the distillery is well-known for its bold and bright whiskies. Speyburn whiskies are pure but full of character, symbolising the speciality of Speyside. Their core range of whiskies is a symbol of what Speyside can offer. Often, you can hear people saying, “Speyburn is Speyside”.

Currently, Speyburn is owned by Inver House Distillers Limited. With only one wash still and one spirit still, the distillery produces 1 million litres of alcohol annually.

Speyburn Whisky

Speyburn has three different bottles for their core range. They are the Bradan Orach Single Malt, the Speyburn 10-year-old and the Speyburn 15-year-old.

Bradan Orach Single Malt

The Bradan Orach Single Malt is a NAS expression that is a classic, welcoming Speyside Whisky. It is matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks and named after the world-class salmon fishing found on the River Spey. In fact, “Braden Orach” means “Golden Salmon” in Gaelic.

Speyburn 10-year-old Single Malt

The Speyburn 10-year-old single malt is another classic expression of the Speyburn range. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry American oak casks, it is sweet and refreshing as a typical Speyside single malt.

Speyburn 15-year-old Single Malt

The Speyburn 15-year-old single malt is a bold expression that embraces the precious elements of Speyside. It is matured in both American and Spanish oak casks for 15 years before bottling. The vibrant nature of this liquid has endeared itself to many whisky drinkers around the world.

Besides the three whiskies above, Speyburn has another expression – the Arranta Casks Single Malt.

The Gaelic word meaning “intrepid and daring” inspired the Arranta Cask Single Malt. The spicy whisky is matured in specially selected first-fill bourbon American oak casks. The bold and flavourful character of the whisky earns an “A-star” from the distillery Manager as a seal of approval.

Kilchoman – Islay’s First Farm Distillery

 

Picture Credits: Kilchomandistillery.com

Kilchoman is one of the newest distilleries to be built on Islay in 124 years. Anthony Wills, the founder and managing director of Kilchoman chose Islay because of its reputation for producing exceptional malt whiskies. Kilchoman is one of the smallest distilleries in Islay, producing 120,000 litres of alcohol annually.

History of Kilchoman Distillery

Picture Credits: www.kilchomandistillery.com

Anthony Wills founded Kilchoman in 2005, after running an independent single cask bottling company for eight years. The first distillate of Kilchoman ran in December 2005, and the first cask sealed on 14 December 2005. Anthony noted the interest in limited release single malt whiskies growing from the 1990s through his independent bottling company. He wanted to begin a distillery to cater to the growing demand, but he wanted his distillery to be different. Choosing Islay wasn’t difficult because of his family roots, the fertile land and the plentiful water and peat for drying the malt. Kilchoman is the ultimate farm distillery where Anthony “takes whisky back to its roots”. Whisky distillation mainly began as illegal operations on farms back in the 1700s and 1800s, so “taking whisky back to its roots” means that Kilchoman mirrors the beginning of whisky distillation.

Building the Kilchoman Distillery

Rockside Farm is selected because it grows the best malting barley on the island. The buildings on the farmland are also perfect for a distillery. Nonetheless, the real challenge was raising funds for the distillery. Anthony raised £1 million from private individuals, the local board and bank. These individuals and enterprises rose to the challenge when the distillery needed a further £3.5 million in the early years of the distillery. Kilchoman’s success is a direct reflection of the passion and dedication of these people in the community.

The Whisky-making Process

The exciting video above explains the whisky-making process at Kilchoman distillery. From barley to bottle, Kilchoman did it all.

The Whisky from Kilchoman Distillery

Kilchoman distillery has an impressive range of whiskies despite its relatively young age. Many of their whiskies have won awards, including their flagship Machir Bay, which we have reviewed. Two other note-worthy bottles are the Kilchoman 8-year-old, which we found to be excellent and sophisticated, as well as the Kilchoman Single Cask.

Kilchoman Distillery Moving Forward

We believe that Kilchoman will grow bigger and better in the years to come. The young whiskies from this distillery have been a pleasant surprise to the whisky community; so we believe that the older ones that are to come will be satisfying too!

 

The Historic Balmenach Distillery

Picture Credits: www.pinterest.com

The Balmenach distillery is one of the earliest distilleries in Speyside. Located at the bottom of the Haughs of Cromdale in the Spey valley, it sits on the historic site of the defeat of the Jacobite uprising in April 1690. It was in these hills that dragoon guards ambushed an army of Jacobite soldiers on 30th April 1690 during their sleep. They killed many Jacobite soldiers and chased the rest into defeat.

History of the Balmenach Distillery

In the early 1800s, the McGregor brothers set up a farm in these areas. One of them, James McGregor, also set up a secret still on the site. James obtained a license for his distilling operation in 1824 and formally set up the Balmenach distillery. The McGregor family owned and operated the distillery until 1922 when DCL bought it. Balmenach distillery continued to run smoothly until 1993. UDV decided to mothball the distillery in 1993, and for the next five years, the distillery lay silent.

In 1998, Inver House Distillers bought the Balmenach distillery and reopened the distillery. The first distillate of Balmenach flowed in March 1998 under the watchful eyes of Inver House’s master blender.

Operations at the Balmenach Distillery

Balmenach distillery uses traditional machinery and methods used in the olden days. The distillery uses a cast iron mash tun which mashes around eight tonnes of barley every seven and a half hours. The wash is then fermented in six Douglas fir washbacks for at least fifty hours before it is ready for distillation.

The stillhouse of Balmenach has three wash stills and three spirit stills. The total capacity of these stills is around two million litres of whisky a year. The spirit travels through a worm tub before entering one of the two spirit safes in the stillhouse. After that, it transfers into a spirit vat. Finally, the spirit goes in oak casks before getting transported to the warehouses where they mature.

Single Malts at Balmenach Distillery

Balmenach is still maturing their single malts in the warehouse. Despite rumours that said Balmenach would soon launch their official single malts bottling, our chat with Master Blender, Stuart Harvey, proved otherwise. Stuart shared that it will be some time yet before the world gets a treat from Balmenach’s official single malts bottling. Nonetheless, you can find fantastic Balmenach single malts by independent bottlers such as the one from The Single Cask that we had some time ago.

The Distillery Today

The distillery is producing both whisky and gin today. Balmenach distillery produced Caoruun Gin, Inver House Distillers’ premium gin. Five Celtic botanicals found in the surrounding hills of the Balmenach distillery go into Caoruun Gin. Handcrafted and distilled in small batches, Caoruun Gin’s quality is tightly controlled by Gin Master, Simon Buley.

The whisky produced at Balmenach continues to define this historic distillery that honours the traditional methods of production. We look forward to the day when we get to taste the first official bottling of Balmenach Single Malts.

 

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Explore the Viking Souls of Highland Park

Picture Credits: www.highlandparkwhisky.com

Highland Park Distillery is located in Kirkwall, Orkney. Known as the most northern whisky distillery in Scotland, its history is shrouded in mystery as to who the actual founder was.

Orkney, the Land of the Vikings

Picture Credits: www.highlandparkwhisky.com

Historically, a succession of Viking Earls ruled Orkney from 800AD to 1468. The group of 70 islands swept into the embrace of the Vikings in the early 9th century and remained so until 1468. King Christian I of Norway and Denmark gifted the islands to Scotland as part of Princess Margaret’s dowry for her marriage to James III, King of Scotland in 1468. While it ended the Viking’s rule over Orkney, the roots of the Vikings continue to influence the people till today. The Vikings who had settled on the islands become part of the Orcadians. The descendants of the Vikings are proud of their heritage, and live to bring glory and honour to their Viking roots.

History of Highland Park Distillery

Picture Credits: www.highlandparkwhisky.com

In official records, a priest by the name of Magnus Eunson first distilled whisky on the site of Highland Park Distillery in the 1790s. He was a respectable member of the Orcadian society as well as a priest. He ran an illicit whisky trader at night and legends had it that he hid the whisky under the pulpit in his church. When excise men eventually caught up with him in 1798, charges against him were dropped mysteriously after a short time. Eunson escaped justice.

David Robertson officially founded Highland Park Distillery in 1798. He bought the High Park estate and built Highland Park Distillery. After running the distillery for a few years, he sold it to a syndicate in 1816. Interestingly, the syndicate included Eunson’s arresting officer, John Robertson and another former exciseman, Robert Pringle. The syndicate built up the distillery in 1818 and the current premises dated back to those eras.

William Stuart (who owns Miltonduff) bought Highland Park Distillery in the 1870s. It finally stabilised under his care and in 1885, James Grant (previously the manager of Glenlivet) joined Stuart as his business partner. Grant took full control of the distillery in 1895 who proceeded to expand the distillery and built up a great relationship with Robertson & Baxter (R&B).

In 1937, Highland Distillers (who had shares in R&B) took over Highland Park Distillery. Highland Distillers was the owners until the turn of the century, where they became the object of take-over. Edrington Group acquired Highland Distillers and Highland Park was taken into the folds of the Edrington Group. Since then, Edrington Group makes efforts to uphold Highland Park Distillery as a distinctive whisky maker. Today, Highland Park is the only Island distillery in the Edrington Group profile.

Highland Park Whisky-Making Process

Picture Credits: www.highlandparkwhisky.com

Highland Park builds its whisky-making process on 5 keystones of production. They are proud of their traditions because no other distilleries use all five keystones.

Keystone 1: Aromatic Peat

Highland Park recognises the importance of peat in their whisky-making process. They obtained their peat from Hobbister Moor, located 7 miles from the distillery. Hobbister Moor has no trees, as Orkney does not have a conducive environment. As a result, the 9,000 years old peat used by Highland Park is rich in heather.

Keystone 2: Hand Turned Floor Malting

Hand-turning the malt by hand is a labour intensive method that many distilleries no longer employ. At Highland Park, they take pride to hand turn their malt because they believe in the traditional process when producing the distinctive aromatic smokiness of their whiskies. Highland Park turns their barley by hand every 8 hours, 7 days a week. The turning maintains a constant airflow and the right amount of moisture to fully absorb the intense smoke from the peat.

Keystone 3: Sherry Oak Casks

Highland Park is obsessed with their casks. The staves are cut from American and European oaks before shipping to Jerez in Southern Spain. These staves are made into casks and filled with Oloroso sherry. After a minimum of 2 years maturation, these casks are emptied and shipped back to Orkney. Highland Park uses these casks to fill their whiskies for maturation.

Keystone 4: Cool Maturation

Highland Park is in a perfect location for whisky maturation. Orkney has a temperate temperature, reaching highs of 16°C in summer and lows of around 2°C in winter. Therefore, the maturation of their whiskies takes place in a long, cool and evenly paced environment.

Keystone 5: Cask Harmonisation

Cask harmonisation is crucial in creating a balanced whisky. Highland Park’s Master Whisky Maker, Gordon Motion, makes sure that every release of Highland Park has the chance to rest in their vatting tun for at least a month before bottling. The time allows the newly married spirit to harmonise into a balanced whisky.

Highland Park Whisky Collection

Picture Credit: www.highlandparkwhisky.com

Highland Park has a wide range of whiskies to suit every palate. Below is a list of their current expressions that are still available from the distillery.

Aged Whisky Expressions:

10 Years Old – Viking Scars (New Packaging)
12 Years Old – Viking Honour (New Packaging)
18 Years Old – Viking Pride (New Packaging)
25 Years Old
30 Years Old
40 Years Old

Special Releases and Limited Editions

Magnus
Dragon Legend
Valkyrie
Rebus30 10 Year Old
Svein
Einar
Harald
Sigurd
Ragnvald
Thorfinn
King Christian 1
Ice Edition 17 Year Old
Fire Edition 15 Year Old

Highland Park Today

Highland Park continues to be the driving force in Orkney as they commit to keep the Viking’s proud heritage. In the regular business sense, Highland Park is also a forerunner as Edrington Group focuses on making it more famous.

The Good Old Fettercairn Distillery

The Fettercairn Distillery (Picture Credits: www.panoramio.com)

Fettercairn distillery is situated in the Grampian foothills in the Howe of Mearns. Fettercairn means “the foot of the mountain” in Gaelic and reflects the ideal location for a whisky distillery. Natural ingredients are aplenty for the distillery – ice-clear Grampian mountain spring water and barley growing from the fertile soil surrounding the distillery allows this distillery to create stunning whiskies from its stills and barrels.

History of Fettercairn Distillery

The history of Fettercairn is as complex as most of the distilleries found in the region. Alexander Ramsay, the owner of the Fasque estate, founded Fettercairn in 1825 by converting a corn mill into the distillery. He lost his wealth in a few short years and sold everything to Sir John Gladstone. His son was the four-time British Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. The distillery remained with the Gladstone family until 1923 and was mainly run by tenants. Thereafter, the distillery was almost mothballed by new owners Ross & Coulter (1923-1927) and James Mann (1927-1939) before it was sold to Associated Scottish Distillers (ASD), the Scotch arm of National Distillers of America in 1939.

ASD closed in 1954 and the distillery was sold to a private owner – Mr Tom Scott Sutherland. Finally, in 1971, it was bought by Tomintoul-Glenlivet and both distilleries joined the Whyte & Mackay umbrella in 1973. It remains with the company since.

The Emblems of Fettercairn Distillery

The emblems of Fettercairn (Picture Credits: www.tripadvisor.com)

Some emblems of Scotch whisky distilleries have a history behind them, and Fettercarin’s is no exception. The unicorn in the Fettercairn logo is part of Alexander Ramsay’s clan crest. The unicorn represents purity and strength and is also a symbol of Scotland since the reign of King Robert III.

The huge, red sandstone archway that stands at the entrance to Fettercairn is another symbol. It was built to commemorate the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1861.

Whiskies from Fettercairn

Fettercairn has an interesting whisky range. It mainly contributes to Whyte & Mackey’s blends but is also bottled as a single malt. The Fettercairn label gains some popularity since 2009 when more efforts are put into single malt bottling. Currently, the Fettercairn Fasque and the Fettercairn Fior are available as official bottlings.

The distillery also has older bottles such as the Fettercairn 875 which was produced in the 1970s for the Italian market. Such bottles are rare and hard to come by in present day.

Fettercairn Distillery Today

Fettercairn continues to be one of the many distilleries that contribute most of its whisky into blends. While we believe that the fate of the distillery may continue as such, there is a chance that more of its whiskies may make its way into single malt bottling in the future.

A Relatively Short History on Allt-A-Bhainne

The Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery (Picture Credits: www.whisky.com)

The Allt-a-Bhainne distillery produces the whisky for the Chivas Brothers blend and currently belonged to the Chivas Brothers. It has a relatively short and undisturbed history but having been mothballed once, it is an interesting distillery to explore.

History of Allt-a-Bhainne distillery

Seagram built this lesser-known distillery in 1975. The Canadian drinks company also owned Chivas Brothers back then. The company built Allt-a-Bhainne to cater to the rising demand for blended whiskies such as the Chivas Brothers and other popular blends owned by Seagram.

During the economic downturn, Seagrams ran into problems and sold off its assets to other drinks company, primarily Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Pernod Ricard took over Allt-a-Bhainne and Chivas Brothers in 2001. They promptly inaugurate the distillery into the Chivas Brothers brand. The distillery mothballed in 2003 for some unknown reasons but reopened in 2005 by the Chivas Brothers to produce whisky for its blends.

Uniqueness of the Distillery

Working on Distillation in Allt-a-Bhainne Distillery (Picture Credit: www.scotchwhisky.com)

Allt-a-Bhainne distillery stands out as an oddball in Speyside mainly because of its modernistic design among the rest of the fanciful distilleries. It is located in the Fiddich Glen, near to Dufftown. The name meant “milk on the burn (steam)” in Gaelic.

The distillery’s design is extremely functional in order for it to be run with minimal staff. All its equipment is located in a single large room with the mash tun at one end and four stills at the other end. The distillery currently produces 4 million litres of pure alcohol per year for the blend production of Chivas Brothers.

It has no official single malt bottling as it is mainly a workhorse for the Chivas Brothers blend. Nonetheless, you can find single malt independent bottlings that carried the Allt-a-Bhainne name such as the one we tried from Gordon and Macphail.

The Distillery Today

Allt-a-Bhainne distillery remains as a workhorse for Chivas Brothers and its liquid goes into Chivas Regal, Passport and 100 Pipers. Due to its nature as a small, productive distillery, it is not open to the public and has no visitor centre since it is not looking at expanding its name and produce to the world.

 

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