Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mortlach 70 Year Old Scotch

Previously I had mentioned that I knew of no scotch as old the mythical MacCutcheon 60 year, but now Mortlach has released a 70 year old scotch. A single cask was made into 54 decanters merely priced at £9,900. Being marketed as the single oldest bottled scotch. It is always nice to know that no matter what your budget is there is always a scotch that is beyond it.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why scotch is better than wine

I am sick and tired of wine snobs saying how great wine is without giving scotch much respect. Although I do like wine, there are a number of things about scotch which are highly appealing. Below is a list of why I believe that scotch is better than wine in many circumstances.

Scotch can be more complex
One sip from Lagavulin has a more complex melange of flavors than any wine I have ever tasted hands down. Michael Jackson eloquently described it as "The dryness is at first offset by the sweetness of the sherry character. As the palate develops, oily, grassy, and, in particular, salty notes emerge in a long, sustained, aggressive, attack" with a finish "a huge, powerful, bear-hug of peat." Yes, wine can be complex with some fruit notes, but scotch has those plus a dozen other flavors like smoke and peat which are never involved in wine.

After a bottle of scotch you know that scotch
Wine only has about 6 glasses in a bottle. If you are sharing that bottle with people you might only get a glass or two, which is simply not enough to truly get to know it. A 750 ml bottle of scotch is 30 pours of 25 ml. So you have 5 times more times to learn intimately what it tastes like. You will also spread out the time over months instead of days, allowing even stronger memory of it. It truly is a different experience.

Scotch is easier to develop knowledge about
There is seemingly no end to the number of wines in the world and more are popping up every day. There are less than a hundred well established scotch distilleries. Worse yet, wine is very variable based upon the weather of that particular year because of how fickle grapes are. Wheat and barley there is little variation, so there is none of that in scotch. There is a great uniformity from year to year for a scotch, partially because of how tradition based most distilleries are. You can develop knowledge of scotch that does not depreciate over time, thus it is a subject that you can quickly get involved with and converse with others about.

I am not saying that a bottle of scotch is ever going to go better with Italian than a wine, but a good smokey scotch after a grilled steak that is slightly burnt is better than any wine.

So next time a friend is droning on and on about how great a wine is try to impart upon them that scotch can be just as enriching pursuit!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Malt Maniacs and scotch ratings

Scotch is expensive, so doing some research before buying is often times well worth it. Your taste might not agree with their's totally, but having someone who has tried hundreds of scotches might point you in the right direction. Their descriptions can also be helpful for you to find out what types you like as well. If you like peaty scotches you can look for scotches that have those for the tasting notes. If you like Laphroaig 10 year try the 15 year for something new.

I have enjoyed books from Michael Jackson and Jim Murray, but everything is going to the web so I have look for a ratings site for a while. Recently I ran across Malt Maniac's website. Every year they do awards for the year based upon their ratings, which include separate ratings for everyday malts and more premium malts. Check out the ratings for 2009 here.

A few Islay selection here I would like highlight that are more affordable, as in under $100 and are in the silver rating, since the gold ones are simply too expensive. Lagavulin 16 year took home a silver with a rating of 86 and is simply as good as scotch comes in my book. The Lagavulin Distiller's Edition comes in slightly higher at 88 and is a good change of pace. Caol Ila 16 gets an 86 as well. Bruichladdich's mega-peated whisky Octomore comes in at 85 although will cost slight more than $100. Laphroaig 10 comes in at 85, making it probably the best value in the silver. Ardbeg Corryvreckan also gets an 88, but will also cost more than $100.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kilchoman is nearing maturity

Kilchoman opened in 2005 and we are finally starting to see the results of the process with some 2 and 3 year bottlings. The distillery has stated that they would like to have 5, 8, 10, and 12 year bottlings, so we are getting close to having the 5 year bottles start coming out and we can offer a real evaluation of the scotch.

A scotch distillery is almost like an R&D firm where there will be no returns for years, which is very difficult to finance and plan for.

What is interesting to me is how Kilchoman is dealing with the initial very slow time until the scotch is ready to sell in a variety of creative ways. They offer a course where you can over 5 days go through the entire process of making scotch hands on from malting to bottling for 500 pounds. What a great way to make enthusiasts; once they have been so involved in making it they will want to get some. Plus, you get people to help you do the work and they pay you. It is brilliant.

They have also offered selling casks of unfinished scotch which you can buy and age yourself for 995 pounds. As explained in the link this probably is not a great way to make money since there are a lot of expenses associated with bottling and distribution, however it offers a special opportunity to be a part of the process. They are not unique in making this offer, but it is an interesting way to capitalize on an appreciating asset prior to maturity.

They also have a nice online shop and cafe which are becoming rather conventional. This is a small operation with only 8 employees. Initial production will only be set to 90,000 liters, whereas other Islay distilleries may do 70,000 liters a week (see entry at With home grown barley this is going to be a small boutique distillery.

The initial reviews have been very favorable with a 94 rating by Jim Murray in his 2008 Wisky Bible. I for one will be interested to see how Kilchoman does and eagerly await the results in 2012 when the first 5 year bottling arrives. However, if you are interested in a preview the third bottling will be released in March of 2010.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Port Charlotte Distillery

The Port Charlotte distillery had been open from 1829-1929 and was closed until recently. Bruichladdich acquired the location and is planning to reopen. For a while now they have been making scotch under the Port Charlotte name. It shows how the scotch market has changed when Bruichladdich which only has been reopened since 2001 already has started another. You can debate the value of how you could possibly recreate such an old distillery's scotch, or even the authenticity of having Bruichladdich making Port Charlotte before it reopened, but you cannot deny that having another peaty scotch from beloved Islay is a good thing, or the brilliance of taking mid-priced Bruichladdich and charging twice as much for it as Port Charlotte.

What a contrast from a few decades ago where most of the scotch was sold for blends. Now there are 9 distilleries on Islay, where in 2004 there were only 7. It would be surprising if we do not continue to see more distilleries open. I think we will all be prepared for it though when it takes 8 years or more before the first cask will be ready for bottling.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies and scotch

I was looking at some scotch pairings with food suggestions and came across several suggestions about chocolate chip cookies and scotch. So my wife made some cookies. Not wanting to waste anything good I tried it with some Aberlour that I have. Simply one of the most amazing pairings I have ever had! It was like an explosion in your mouth. Complete sensory over load.

I did not love it, but it was spectacularly amazing. Give it a try!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Scotch and Health

There is a great deal of conflicting information about consumption of alcohol and the effects on health. The wine industry in particular promotes the health effects of red wine, but if we learnt anything from tobacco companies and the health benefits of cigarettes we should be very skeptical. So what do the experts say?

Part of the difficulty here is that there are clear health risks with over consumption of alcohol. One study links alcohol to 1 in every 25 deaths worldwide and that 5% of years lived with disability are attributable to alcohol consumption. I have had close friends and family who have had horrible damage done to their lives from alcoholism, which these statistics and others highlight.

However used in moderation the general research consensus is there is a small amount of health benefit. According to the Mayo clinic moderate drinking is defined as two drinks a day if you're a male 65 and younger, or one drink a day if you're a female or a male 66 and older.

Moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits. It may:

- Reduce your risk of developing heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and - intermittent claudication
- Reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack
- Possibly reduce your risk of strokes, particularly ischemic strokes
- Lower your risk of gallstones
- Possibly reduce your risk of diabetes

I personally have some concerns that smokier scotches which Islay specializes in might contain more carcinogens. I have not found any studies about this, but the people of Islay are not known to particularly short lives, so this probably is not a major effect.

The benefits to drinking are at best small. Few are suggesting starting to drink for these benefits. I am going to go out on a limb here and say that most people who are reading this blog do drink, so stopping is not going to happen. For some the 1-2 drink limit suggested by the Mayo clinic might seem restrictive, but I would suggest that this is probably a good guideline to live by.

For more information please check out the Wikipedia page at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Ardbeg Experiment

The Ardbeg distillery was originally established in 1815, but was mothballed in 1981. Although it reopened in 1989 in limited production, it again closed in 1996. In a very interesting move LVMH which is the holding company for Louis Vuitton, Moët et Chandon, and Hennessy, re-opened the distillery. LVMH is the world's largest luxury goods conglomerates, so they clearly had a plan with the purchase. With all of the rappers like Biggie and 2Pac rapping about drinking Dom Pérignon and Hennessy, Fergie singing about LVMH product Fendi, I am sure that LVMH is doing quite well. So what was the vision for the newly acquired Ardbeg?

First they invested in high quality management. Next they invested heavily in their internet marketing. Even today you can see how Ardbeg's web site is vastly superior to any of the rest of the Islay distilleries, selling the scotch directly to the customer, which is still a rarity. They also sell Ardbeg branded clothing from the web site, which also is unique. The Ardbeg Committee email group which allows purchase of special scotches again directly from the distillery, again by passing the resellers.

The real area of differentiation for Ardbeg has been the special bottlings. The only bottling that has a year associated with it is Ardbeg 10. The rest are blends. For far too long scotch brands have made the connection between quality and age, which is just not the best way to measure quality. Although many scotches increase in quality as they age, many actually do not such as Glenfiddich. Focusing on age increases costs since they have to be held for longer and also prevents focusing on the flavor. By focusing on flavor and blending within Ardbeg's distillery has been revolutionary in the static world of single malt scotch.

The names of these bottlings include Airigh Nam Beist, Blasda, Corryvreckan, Uigeadail, and the newly released Supernova. With the Ardbeg Committee swelling to 300,000 members these enthusiasts have made Ardbeg quite successful. When the new Supernova was released the Ardbeg website crashed.

Like other LVMH they have formed close relationships with celebrities. For scotch the biggest celebrity is currently Jim Murray with the very popular Whisky Bible. The results for making him a consultant for the distillery have paid off nicely as he in 2008 named Ardbeg 10 the best whisky in the world and the year after Ardbeg Uigeadail. This obvious conflict of interest has brought him a bit of notoriety among scotch snobs, but has clearly increased the brand's visibility.

The marketing of Ardbeg is clearly well beyond the more traditional distilleries. Recently Ardbeg 10 has increased its price and each special edition has been more pricey than the last one. Although word about Ardbeg's ascendancy has not reach the US yet, clearly this is a major brand to watch.

The rest of the distilleries are starting to play catch up. The Lagavulin Distiller's Edition is an attempt to address the Ardbeg special editions. Laphroig has increased their web presence to build a stronger relationship with their customers. They have also created the blended Laphroaig Quarter Cask as a special edition.

It will been interesting to see how the industry continues to respond to the disruptive entrance and ascendancy of Ardbeg. There are now three premium distilleries on Islay. These are glorious times for the this little island of Scotland

Friday, March 12, 2010

We're S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G, we're shopping

Currently I am in the mode of acquiring more bottles for my liquor cabinet, so I have spent some time contemplating the process of doing so in the most efficient process. In this process if we do a little MBA style analysis I think we can make it a bit more efficient.

First we need to define a commodity. Wikipedia defines a commodity as “some good for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market.” So an individual scotch is not a commodity since each distillery has differentiation based on flavor and other characteristics. A bottle of 30 year Laphroig is very different from Johnny Walker Red and would be defined as substitutes. However, one bottle of 30 year Laphroig is a commodity since each bottle has no quantitative differentiation. This is quite important because it means that price is the critical factor in terms of asset acquisition.

Some people may find that a salesman at a liquor store has some knowledge which adds value, but from my experience I have never met a scotch salesman that has as much experience as can be found in Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch. Rarely are samples given at a store, so that make no difference. For me scotch is not an impulse buy, it is well research ahead of time, so selection makes little difference either.

If you accept a bottle of scotch as a pure commodity the best place to get it by far is the internet since you can buy it from anyone and the cost savings from avoiding taxes more than make up for the price of shipping. Since this is a commodity using a product search web site to check as many sources as possible is incredibly useful.

There are a number of these sites like Shopzilla. Bing has an interesting shopping site that offers 5% cash back, but the selection is poor and the deals are not that great. To me the only place to go is It has great selection, the best prices, and it is quick to find what you need. For example within one minute I was able to find 9 bottles of Laphroig 30 year ranging in price between $450 and $840, a bottle that is very rare to find for a wonderful price.

Expect a new review of a scotch in a few weeks...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

MacCutcheon Scotch

I am a huge follower of Lost. If you are also a fan of the show you might remember a reference to MacCutcheon in a few episodes. It was first introduced when Desmond met Charles Widmore to ask for his daughter's hand in marrage. Widmore pours himself a dram and says that one pour is worth more than Desmond will make in a month. He continues on to say that Desmond will never turn into anything. Sayid drank some at a bar and it was only $120 a glass, suggesting that Widmore does not value Desmond much. While on the island Desmond is offered some by Charlie when he raids Sawyers stash and cannot refuse to finally have some after his potential father in law would not offer him a pour.

MacCutcheon is too closely named to Macallen to think this was unintentional. This makes sense since it is the single malt with the greatest name recognition. It is a nice detail for a great show. Lost avoids product placement at all cost so it is not surprising that they created an original brand instead of using Macallen.

The one in the picture is 60 years old. I know of no scotch that sells a 60 year bottling, since there is a point that after a certain point the scotch becomes too woody, usually after 35 years or so, which ruins the flavor. I assume this was done for dramatic affect.

I would expect another MacCutcheon reference before the season ends.

For more information on MacCutcheon please see the excellent Lostpedia entry:

Hello world!

Islay is an island in Scotland where the best scotches in the world are made. What makes these scotches are the strong and distinctive flavors that make them so unique. There are only currently 8 active distilleries and one in development, so at first this may seem like a very narrow focus, but my goal is to provide important information for a very small group of enthusiasts. Along the way I will also talk about other items that are of general interest for scotch lovers. There will also be reviews of specific bottles, news, and other fun.

I have a great deal of content in my head which I am excited to share, but I wanted a quick first post to articulate my goals for this blog. Expect more in the next few weeks. Now it is time to focus on configuring my blog.