Profits and Losses

FOMO should not rule your whisky journey.

It has been a nailbiting and momentous week here at Scotty’s Drams HQ. I lost my job as the premier hypocrite of the Strathspey and Badenoch area, when my Macallan Folio 5 did sell at auction and I made the grand total of £37.20 after taking auction fees into account. I don’t even have the title of the worst flipper in the world, as at the same auction, some people were taking losses over £230 on their Macallan Easter Elchies Black 2019 release – one of the many Macallan releases that did not have numbers confirmed and turned out to be a lot more than people anticipated.

In other auction action, I submitted a bundle of whisky miniatures to a couple of auctioneers, and the items at Whisky Auctioneer in Perth did a lot better than anticipated. I had the opportunity to buy around 50 nips from a guy locally who was selling them on behalf of his mother, as they belonged to his late father’s estate. I paid £50 for them, as I didn’t really have time to inspect them properly and I had no idea of what they were worth. Imagine my surprise when the total hammer price was £211! With me being me, (and the local area as well as the whisky world being very small), I had told him that if it made much more than £50, I’d give him the profits, so nobody could think I was taking the mickey or taking advantage of people. Believe it or not, I do want Scotty’s Drams to be known to have a smidge of integrity! It has been a great result for myself, but especially to the recipient of the extra cash and I am glad it is going to a good cause.

The final thing that I want to point out for this week was the news that retailers were slashing the prices of the Game of Thrones editions as released by Diageo in collaboration with the HBO series. The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt were offering around 30% discount on the 9 bottles, and I had seen on line that another retailer were said to be offering 40%. You can imagine the response on the social media channels about people who feel conned that they paid significantly more to collect the series. I will remind you that I warned about this in my article I wrote about the Game of Thrones whisky set back in November 2019. Click on the link if you want to be reminded of what I said.

I’ll not go over old ground, as this will make the article unnecessarily long. However, I can understand the angst of people who feel conned, but why did they pay so much in the first place? They believed the hype of a limited release that was never really going to become rare – not in the next 40 years or so anyway……. I bet the person who paid £1400+ for his set at auction feels especially aggrieved, especially for one of two things – a lowering of the retail price will crash the auction price. This is definite for the short term and most likely for the medium to long term. Why do I think this? It is only the truly gullible or those who cannot get it any other way will pay more on an auction site than it costs at retail. Secondly, now the retail price has dropped, potentially many are going be offloading it ASAP if they don’t want to drink it, thus probably ensuring a very easy supply to secondary market at auctions. Additionally, because of such a large price drop, the perception of quality has been damaged and any last vestiges of thought about the range being a collectable commodity that will make healthy profits have been blown away.

We have to also remember that people thinking it was a limited edition were conned into thinking this, or what is much more likely that they chose not to look at the facts. This whisky was released in massive numbers, probably tens of thousands of bottles per each edition. Coronavirus is still rarer than GoT whisky. The only way it was limited was that Diageo has probably set a limit in the time for these products to be marketed. I doubt they consciously limited the production over that period, given the amounts in circulation.

Let us put that into some sort of perspective – in December last year Bruichladdich released 3000 bottles of their Octomore X4 series. This is the quadruple distilled single malt, that is part of a series that has been released as spirit and at 3 years old. When it was placed in their online shop, the website crashed as people tried to get hold of a bottle. I was lucky, and after 4 hours trying I managed to get 2 bottles. Still, when you look around, you can still get hold of it at auction, albeit at substantially more than the £150 release price. I bought 2 as I intend to drink one and put the other alongside my other X4’s as a collection. Even at 3000 bottles, which is only around 10 casks worth of whisky, this is not especially rare. How much less rare is the GoT whisky? I do hope that you have got my point here, as we now have to expand on what probably drove the demand.

I came to this thought based on another article I had read online. Another blog / review site I like reading during my online wondering is The Dramble. Indeed I recommend it. It has a collection of writers, although most of the content is written by its co-founder Matt Mckay. He recently wrote an article about the Talisker Distillery Exclusives, and he raised an interesting point about these distillery exclusives, and how some people feel this is unfair as they are missing out if they can’t get to the distillery. I had to laugh as they certainly missed the point of exclusives. Matt touched briefly on the FOMO fanbase. For those of you who aren’t as hip and down with the kids and street language, I can tell you that FOMO stands for ‘Fear Of Missing Out’.

Let us face it, some of us do have moments of fear that we are going to miss out on something. I am no different. Back in those dark, dark days when I was on the Macallan mailing list, I entered the ballots and crossed my fingers. I never wanted to flip any bottles – I wanted to own something that would be worth a bit of money in the long term. Of course I was trying to avoid paying the money the secondary market would eventually command. So it comes to pass that I guess in the case of the Folio 5, I have to be honest with you and I took my eye off the ball. The unforced error of not really noticing there was no commitment to limit the numbers to the same level as usual was a mistake many had made. After all, no numbers were officially confirmed for Folio 4, and it was accepted around 2000 bottles were released. Surely Macallan wouldn’t do the dirty and release 20,000 bottles, ensuring 18,000 could not collect the full set? That’s exactly what they did.

The problem I feel with limited releases (and I speak only as an enthusiast with no part in the whisky industry) is that too many people have seen the profits that some people have made and are now only too keen to buy a whisky and hopefully make the same profit. Those with little experience also misunderstand the meaning of limited release. A limited release can still have hundreds of thousands of bottle released as long as it’s only sold for a fixed time. Releases such as Ardbeg’s annual release, coupled with pretty much anything Macallan releases on a limited basis normally initially makes money and drives the flippers and those determined to obtain a bottle to buy and sell in a frenzy similar to that when a lamb is dropped in a pool of piranhas. This has perhaps provoked people who do not normally buy whisky as an investment to perhaps want a piece of the action. It is a very dangerous game to play with no knowledge and people have, and do get financially burnt by it. I’ve been buying and selling whisky for 6 years now at auction, and I know – even I get caught out sometimes, but I accept the swings and roundabouts of what I collect.

The only way such a release of whisky could ever hope to become rare and expensive is if people drink it. And while with GoT this is still theoretically possible, the whisky released was never the best products the distilleries were capable as of and there was just so many bottles released. I’ve tasted a couple of the GoT editions, and they are pretty so-so. Not bad but not good either.

So why have the prices dropped so far? I would guess that now Game of Thrones is completed and no new episodes are to come, the series has dropped out of immediate public consciousness and now they are not buying it in the same amounts. My limited experience with retail in other areas would suggest this creates excess inventory to get rid of and to do this then the easiest way is to drop the price.

Fear Of Missing Out – not having the whisky from your favourite TV show, or not being able to collect it in order to make a profit at a later date is probably what has driven this release. Possibly a bit of intrigue to see how each edition ties into each family in the story. But to be fair, it isn’t just limited to the gimmicky release that GoT obviously was. It is the same with every release from Macallan, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich amongst others. Our admiration for the brand, our desperate desire to have something no other collector has, or at least have it first, or to even just get a couple to flip so those desperate enough can get their hands on it blinds us to some harsh economic realities if we don’t take into consideration the realistic supply an demand in the future.

And here is the crux – FOMO often takes our attention from the most important thing – the whisky itself. Consider that in the whisky world that fully missing out is a rare thing – what’s on the market will eventually come around again, at least in the secondary market, and when it reappears, it may come back cheaper. FOMO is driving a monster in the whisky market which has the risk of eating itself, something those who have felt cheated over Game of Thrones are now realising, but it can be applied to those who overpay for anything. I’ve seen Macallan Folio 5 auction for a hammer price of £900. If that person failed to win the original Macallan ballot, how silly do they feel now when they could have bought mine at auction for £320 rather than overpaying the first flipper that came along? The signs of the greatly increased out-turn were all there when they were appearing on auction sites before the Macallan Ballot was complete, so why would you pay nearly 4 times the RRP?

Marketing is something that we as whisky geeks that we all have to be aware of, as it so often promises something and very often does not meet our full expectations. Fair play to Diageo – they shifted shed loads of non-premium whisky at non-premium prices and those who know very little about whisky or have duller palates are suddenly exposed to nine distilleries in the Diageo stable. Where they will not get people continuing to buy GoT bottles as it is limited, they will then most likely start buying the more profitible (for Diageo) releases from these distilleries after they made GoT fans more aware of their offerings. Diageo really couldn’t lose from this venture.

The important thing to bear in mind is that if we are true whisky geeks, FOMO should never really guide us – our palate should in the first instance, but I have to admit that I can miss this myself, and often become a bottle chaser, which is an unhealthy habit. FOMO and bottle chasing can and does lead to missing out on other things, though you often miss that point as well. How ironic.

For those amongst you reading this who have more experience than me, I hope that you are nodding your head in agreement, for you know the truth that things will eventually come back around. You may have to wait somewhat. I have that feeling with the Dailuaine I lost out on in the week previous to last. We have to move on….

In summary –

  • Don’t always believe the hype on new releases.
  • Never plan on making money, and only spend what you can afford to drink. That is what you might be doing if the price crashes
  • Make sure you know how many are being released
  • Don’t be afraid to miss out. There are thousands of fantastic whisky expressions out there, and because you don’t have one, this means you have money for another.

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Rockin’ All Over The World

Taste Review #50 – GlenAllachie 15

At the time of writing this, I’m in Poland visiting family, and God knows where I’ll be when this eventually gets published, which by my reckoning will be somewhere around March. And being in Poland at this time of year takes me back to this time last year when I was in Krakow and decided to start Scotty’s Drams. The only thing that bums me out is that I don’t have a sample of the dram I was drinking when I decided to go for an amateur career in whisky blogging. Suffice to say I haven’t reviewed it yet, but its time will come!

GlenAllachie has already been reviewed this past 12 months, but it was the 12 year old I tried, and that has a solid thumbs up! It was when on my journey of whisky geekery in early October last year that I obtained a sample of the recently released 15 year old after making a purchase from one of my preferred friendly whisky shops. Since it has been in my possession, it has travelled around a bit within Scotland but I’ve never had the chance to sit down and try it. Now my daughter is in bed, I am now free to imbibe this drample.

I’m not going to write much more about the distillery, as I did that in review #16 which you can see here – GlenAllachie 12. There is a bit more about the distillery there.

What I can say is, that even in the short time that Billy Walker has been at GlenAllachie, he has built up an impressive reputation in what was an anonymous blend fodder distillery for Chivas Brothers. The 15 year old slots into the GlenAllachie core range with the 10 (CS), 12, 18 and 25 year old releases.

Anyway, less reading, more sipping! Let’s get down to the tasting.

Travel Veteran Dram. Finally got time to taste it!

Region

Speyside

Age

15 years

Strength

46% abv

Colour

Golden Mahogany

Nose

Vanilla, raisins, banana, honey, a dairy note of plain yoghurt or sour cream. Nutmeg.

Palate

Ohh. A strong tobacco note on first taste. On second taste a noted sourness develops, grapefruit. Leather, spicy wood, caramel, almost gingery. The sourness disappeared with the addition of water, and much more sweetness came out, with more dried fruits and a creamy toffee.

Finish

Medium to long. Quite peppery, as though I’ve just chewed a pink peppercorn, with the resultant fruity flavours. The sourness continues and it fades into sweetness. I’m getting cinnamon and ginger, almost like Irn Bru. Very eventful finish indeed.

The Dram

Conclusion

Well, the purpose of free samples is to try and get you to buy more, and in this case I’ll say it has worked. I did really like this whisky, and I will be buying one once I have finished with the 12 year old GlenAllachie I currently have open. I have to say that compared to the 12, this one was not so instantly enjoyable and it took me 3 or four sips to start recognising flavours. The sourness was a surprise, as this has been finished in a combination of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks. PX is a sweet sherry and Oloroso is a fruity sherry, and I think that I just picked up the Oloroso first. The addition of water really smoothed things out.

Applying the ABCD, this scores 4/4, as it is non chill filtered, no colouring, 46% and has an age statement. A great sherry bomb whisky which I can fully recommend.

RRP on this bottle is £62.99, but you can pick it up cheaper online. Don’t forget though you will have P&P to add though, so do what I did and go to a friendly local specialist whisky shop. You may get a wee sample while there to light your way to a new discovery!

Thanks to Kat at The Whisky Shop Dufftown for my sample. You were right, it was lovely! Pop in see their selection, or browse and shop online at www.whiskyshopdufftown.com.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo credits

All Photos – Authors own

Prepare to Lose Your Bottle

Why sometimes you just have to let go….

At the present moment as I write this, I’m in the middle of auction fever. I currently have 5 lots at auction and by time I publish this it will be 6. Of these, 5 are miniatures and one is my Macallan Folio 5. Unfortunately when browsing the auctions something came up that is part of a collection that I have and is rare. So rare I’ve only seen one at auction in 6 years, and I doubted if it actually existed, but when it came up it was plainly obvious that I had to have it. The bottle in question was a Dailuaine Flora and Fauna bottle with the white cap.


The bottle in question. No box though (SWA)

For days it sat at just over £100. Then just before the end of the auction, it went up to £380. That was about the amount I thought it was worth despite the rarity, but even after the end timer for the auction started it continued to rise. And rise. And rise. And yours truly continued to chase it.

It was once it breached the £500 barrier that I questioned myself, how badly do I need this? I had convinced myself I did need this, but doubts crawled up into my mind. There is hardly any of these bottles around – anybody can replace a capsule on a bottle to make something look rarer. Whilst it looked like a genuine capsule, there were crinkles on it which made me doubt. Indeed, a look on the same auctioneers website from the previous auction revealed a Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna with a completely incorrect capsule which means that bottle was definitely suspect.


A first edition Flora and Fauna Balmenach. Not as rare but going up in value.

Don’t believe fakes make it to auction? Well just last week I was speaking to somebody who worked at a very reputable online auctioneer who assured me they used to see tons of fakes being brought in to attempt to enter the auction. And it’s a sad fact that some of them sneak through – and that isn’t limited to online auctions either.

We come to the bitter truth. I have paid more than a Flora and Fauna bottle but that is because I was chasing it, and I ended up slightly overpaying. The trouble with online auctions is that you never see who you are bidding against. I’d worked out there was probably at least 2 other people interested in that bottle, and the price could have skyrocketed had I continued. I pulled out at £600, with my tail between my legs. The bottle eventually sold at £750, which confirmed my suspicion that there was at least 2 other bidders.

I was disappointed. Gutted. But remember my advice that I have given to you in the past – auction prices do not include fees. So at £750 hammer price, if the person was a UK buyer, the true cost was £840 before shipping costs. Even writing this the morning after, I still don’t feel I dodged a bullet. It has to be looked at in the cold light of day – that would be £840 I would never drink. It would sit in my locker and probably not make any money. And would I get joy out of it? Certainly not 840 quids worth.

So, I placed a cheeky bid on a 24 year old Invergordon and retreated upstairs leaving my phone downstairs so I couldn’t do any consolation buying. I did some ironing instead and watched some programmes about Scotland I had saved on my Sky box. Unfortunately I couldn’t have a dram as drink-ironing could have disastrous consequences, and having some shortbread to complete the Scottish feeling? My clothes need to be crease and crumb free so that was ruled out too.


Here’s one I chased earlier. Didn’t overpay though.

No matter how much you want a bottle, you have to know its true worth. Even if it’s worth more to you than its actual value as a commodity, sometimes you just have to walk away and remember – if one has shown up then another one will. In both cases when I bought a rarer white cap Flora and Fauna, another one turned up at the next months auction as perhaps people see how much these are selling for and decide to cash in. So fingers crossed.

Being a bottle chaser is a blessing and a curse. You can achieve a fantastic collection, but at what cost? In the cold light of the day, if you are not drinking it but collecting as you hope it to be worth something, you have to keep the emotions in check. Out of the 17 white cap Flora and Fauna collection, I have 15. That’s better than probably 99.9% than others who have the same set.

By all means, if this is what you want to achieve, you have to hold your nerve, but be careful you don’t ridiculously overpay. There is no shame in losing your bottle at all if it prevents you being ripped off.

That leaves me with a closing thought. That do you think my wife would be more shocked at? The fact I was prepared to pay so much for a Dailuaine or that I actually did some ironing?

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Run Silent, Run Deep

Taste Review #49 – Bruichladdich 1991 WMD II

If, like me you appreciate a good classic black and white war movie and a decent whisky, then what we are reviewing this week should become instantly apparent with this week’s title. I think I have to raise the bar after I wrote another taste review last week with a highly risqué title. As I write and taste long before publishing you will just have to wait and see what it is but it is loaded with schoolboy humour. The title for this week’s article is taken from the 1958 film of the same name which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, and is set on a submarine that is operational in the Pacific during World War II. Therefore by now hopefully you have guessed that this week’s review is ‘The Yellow Submarine’.

This is quite a well known whisky amongst collectors, and comes from some of the first whisky that was made at Bruichladdich when it first re-opened in 1991 under the charge of Mark Reynier. I have written a little bit about it in the past and the story behind the Yellow Submarine HERE . To summarise, WMD II is the second in line of special event bottlings that got a fair bit of publicity for the distillery. The first bottling was in connection with the distillery being spied on by the US Threat Reduction Agency, and this bottling was to do with the finding of a mine disposal ROV (remotely operated vehicle) off the coast of Islay. I’ll not go into the story here, as if you click the above link, you’ll get the whole story there.


A great find at auction one of the mis-labelled bottles

This is a bottling that I have had for quite some time and this review has been made using the very last dram in the 3rd bottle of this that I have drunk. It’s a whisky that I have had from the neck pour, to mid bottle, and finally in the last drops, so I would say this will be a very thorough review compared to what I can get from a miniature. I’m going to reserve most of my writing to after the review, so lets crack on with the tasting


Bottle and dram

Region

Islay

Age

14 years old

Strength

46% ABV

Colour

Deep Honeyed Gold

The final dram

Nose

Sweet, apricots, spicy wood, honey, a whiff of smoke, buttery.

Palate

Sweet on the arrival – a burst of spirit gives a sparkly and spicy wood based arrival. Quite fruity but I also got a hint of malt, apricots, and a mild herbal note appears at the end

Finish

Medium finish, spiced wood continues with fruit, but becomes slightly astringent with a note of smoke now starting to show its head though this is a very light note. Peppery and oily. Right at the end of the finish I did get a brine note.


Being a good Aberdonian and getting the last drops

Conclusions

This has to be one of my favourite whiskies. That makes me sad. The truth is that Yellow Submarine while it was released in relatively high numbers for a special release, still had only about 12,000 made. And these numbers are getting fewer. The only number going up is the price, and this is borne out by looking at online auctions. The bottles that I am drinking now were bought around the £140 mark, which is not that bad for a bottle that is limited, has a relevant story to me, and is highly enjoyable. Now it is almost impossible to find a bottle under £200, and auction prices are usually around the £250-£350 mark, with £400 being the highest I’ve seen but add another 12% on for fees. Retail, the cheapest I’ve seen is £500 including VAT, but does go as high as £750 on other sites.


Yellow Submarine at Bruichladdich Distillery (H.Leslie)

Is this whisky worth the price? Yes and no. If you can get it at auction under £250, then it is probably worth it, but any higher then it’s a collectors piece, unless you have a very deep pocket and don’t mind paying a bit for tasting a decent whisky. My first bottle was opened as a special occasion, that being my first-born’s christening, and I was hooked then but that was the time bottles could be bought even at retail for less than £300. My only bottle I bought at retail was £210, but that was in Jan 2016.

Taking the price and rarity out of it, is this a decent whisky? Yes it definitely is. I am sure the friends that I have let taste this whisky will agree. Sorry for you guys, I am probably not going to be sharing the rest. I’ll be honest and say I have drunk better whisky, but not often and this is one unicorn I can recommend trying to capture if you see one running about at a decent price.


Yellow Submarine at Bruichladdich Distillery (H.Leslie)

Getting back to a tasting perspective, I feel that the nose offers a much more pleasant proposition than the taste does, but it seems that the Rioja cask has done a good job in developing a light, fruity flavour, quite different and more subtle than the sherried whiskies that I have been enjoying of late. I wonder what this would taste at 25 year old, and fortunately enough this was released in 2018 as a 25 year old as a result of some forgotten stock being discovered. I have two bottles of this, but it is not likely to be opened any time soon.

Finally, before I go, I’d like to give a really big thank you to Heather Leslie who works at the Bruichladdich Distillery. She has been really helpful in supplying information about the Yellow Submarine bottlings, and was kind enough to send me some photos of the Yellow Submarine at the Bruichladdich distillery, seeing as I will not be able to get there any time soon. Cheers Heather, I am hoping I can get over there in the next couple of years so I can express my thanks in person. To see what they get up to at Bruichladdich you can visit their website at www.bruichladdich.com

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Whisky Photos – Author’s own

Submarine Photos – Heather Leslie / Bruichladdich

The Cathedral of the Cask

It is said that a mistake is only a mistake when you at least learn from it. When you continue to make that mistake, that is at the very least bad planning. It’s a Friday forenoon as I am writing this, so I suppose I really should know better. I am still going to call this a success as I finished the article on Friday as well, however only with 80 minutes to spare.

This week has seen a small burst of whisky activity, in which I have visited a distillery and cooperage, and it is the cooperage that is going to form the basis of this weekends article. I was wanting to do a bit of research into cask construction to give me a bit of a background for an article I am writing for something else and my visit to the Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie did not disappoint.

When we think of whisky, the focus is always on the distillery and the casks are almost a foregone conclusion. Yet these should not be forgotten as they play a massive part in the formation of our dram in creating the colour and developing the taste from the distillate. Even then, all we think of is rows of casks sitting in a warehouse, but we don’t really think of what goes into making them. I can tell you now that it is more than you think and you would be surprised at actually how much. What’s even more surprising is how quickly it all happens.

The Speyside Cooperage sits just outside the village of Craigellachie, on the A941 between Dufftown and Craigellachie. It is a business that I pass regularly, but most often from the rear of the site, on the short cut between the A941 and the A95 to Aberlour and home. When passing the pyramids of casks (known as a Stow and is pronounced to rhyme with Now) I’ve always wondered how they process so many casks. On a snowy Monday afternoon I decided to pay a visit to the Cooperage.


Casks as far as the eye can see. I’m usually driving past at the other end of the yard on the way home. It was time to visit.

I chose the VIP tour, which allows access to the shop floor and the yard. This allows you to get as close as safely possible. The good thing about the VIP tours, especially out of season is the chances of getting a one on one tour is extremely high. While only mad dogs and Englishmen are said to go out in the midday sun, it is only perhaps the true whisky geek attired in appropriate amounts of Gore-Tex that will venture into Speyside to research barrels during a winter storm. Thus so it was the case that I got a solo tour with Rowan.

The tour starts with a very informative and well made video that is refreshingly full of easy to understand information and devoid of any corporate promotion, something that I note is more and more creeping into any whisky based tour. The video describes the type of wood used, how it is cut, and shows a basic overview into how a cask is made. After the video which lasts for approximately 15 minutes, you are then taken up the stairs to the viewing gallery where you can see most of the shop floor. Here you see the coopers in process repairing casks and what is instantly apparent is the speed that they work at. Because the coopers are paid at a piece-rate, it is in their best interests to have a high turnover of casks.


The shop floor (Tripadvisor / BartV495)

What is not appreciated is that the coopers are assisted by a a team known as the Labour Squad. These are the workers that assist the coopers by ensuring that there are casks ready to be worked on, by keeping the area around the benches clean, by making sure that they have supplies to repair casks. There are also apprentices at the far benches who serve their time over 4 years. There is quite a bit of interest when an apprenticeship comes up; apparently there were about 100 people applying for just one position.

The middle section in the photo above is where casks that are not repairable are put, and parts used from them to fix other casks. On the day that I visited, the workshop were repairing former wine casks, therefore they would all be similar in shape and height, but not every stave will fit every cask. You can see two casks in the middle section have their bands off and have some staves missing – these will be taken to repair other casks.

The cooperage can source or make a cask to order. The predominant wood in use is American Oak. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is quite a dense oak, and the wood does not interact quite so strongly with the distillate as much. It also grows tall and straight with few knots, which means it is a lot easier to get a consistent wood quality that is less likely to split or leak. European oak tends to be a bit more porous. A typical American Oak will yield enough oak to manufacture 3 barrels. At the time I visited, no new whisky casks were being made and it was old wine casks that were being used. I never did find out what oak these were made of, but if it was European, it is most likely to be French Oak.

To ensure that the liquid stays in the cask, the staves are cut in what is called quarters. This means the stave is cut across the grain, and will stop the liquid in the cask leaking out.


From ‘Coopers and Coopering’ – Ken Kilby

So what happens when a cask comes in for repair?

The cooper will take the cask to his station, and give it a thorough examination. They are looking for cracks and splits in the wood or signs of other damage, such as a damaged metal band or hoop. There are usually 6 hoops in a cask – the top one is the chime, the 2nd one down one is the quarter and the one closest to the middle is known as the Bulge. This is repeated for the other end. The cooper will use a wire brush to knock off any debris and weathering on the outside to get a good look at the wood. If it requires repair, then the three hoops at one end are removed and the barrel inverted. Then he will slacken the top hoop and remove the other two, so he can open up the cask to remove the damaged staves.


Cask being reassembled. Two staves have been replaced. See the reeds just behind the cask for sealing the ends.

Once the staves are repaired, the cask is closed up, the bulge hoops are put back into position to start closing up the cask. The remaining hoops are placed on, but not into the final position. The cask ends are then put into position, and sealed around the edge with dried water reeds.

Depending on client requirements, if the barrel requires re-charring, the old char is removed and the charring process takes place once more. There are differing levels of char, which effectively blisters the wood to charcoal. This has a few uses – firstly it increases the surface area of the wood, to allow the spirit to interact more with the cask. The charcoal will also be a crude filter, and will help neutralise some of the less pleasant parts of the the distillate. It will also have an effect on the colour, taste and aroma of the final whisky.


Charring inside a cask at a Speyside Distillery

At the time of my visit, the coopers were working on old wine barrels, and this could be clearly seen by the staining on the insides of the casks. The casks were being charred at around 400C for about 100 seconds. The cooperage customer will ask for a particular charr level, and Rowan my guide informed me it is getting more usual to see higher temperatures for shorter times. Once the charr is complete, the cask is then subjected to jets of steam – this is to put some moisture back in the wood. The cask ends are charred separately in a facility outside, and are then returned to the cooper to make up a cask once more.


Charring in progress

It is thinking about the cask ends that I actually discovered something that I did not already know. Of course, the casks have no nails or glue holding them together, but I often wondered about how the cask ends are jointed together and this is where today continued to be a school day. Whisky casks generally have dowels holding them together. Several pieces of wood are dowelled each other then pressed together. Once pressed, the cask is then put on a lathe style machine to turn the cask end into a circular shape with the profile to enable it to seal correctly.


Cooper away to fit the casks end. Note the two replaced staves.

Wine casks are generally different, and what I saw was that the pieces of wood that form the end are pressed together using a tongue and groove effect. This makes the insertion of the cask end a little bit more tricky, but the coopers I watched assemble casks did it with ease.


Tongue and Groove of cask end section. Note how far the red wine has penetrated.

The assembled cask is then passed onto one of the labour team who use a machine to press on the two hoops at either end. This ensures a tight seal and that the ring is in precisely the correct position. Once this is done, all that remains is for the cask to be seal checked, which is done by putting some water into the cask and pressurised with air. Should a leak be detected, the cooper responsible has to repair the cask.

Should the cask pass, it is either put into a stow for storage, or it is transported immediately to the client. And here is where I learnt something new. For years, I have heard in distilleries that the casks are shipped broken down, however Rowan tells me that this is not necessarily true. It was calculated that it was more expensive to pay for a cooper to break down the cask in the US or Spain (Most casks used in Scotch whisky comes from the bourbon or sherry industries) then have them rebuild the cask in Scotland. So in effect, the cooperage is actually shipping air, as usually nothing is in the cask when it is shipped.


Some of the many stows of casks

There is a large collection of different casks on site. Everything from firkins (this was what the apprentices were working on) Quarter Casks, Barrels, Hogsheads, Port Pipes, Sherry Butts and Puncheons were present. In total there is around 200,000 casks on site at any one time. Wondering around the yard, the stows of barrels towered above us like a cathedral of casks. I had to wonder how much effort would be needed to knock the securing chocks out from the bottom and then to run from the tumbling casks. Thankfully that is not my job but images of Wylie Coyote getting buried in a in barrels after chasing Road Runner came to mind.

One question I had was how do they tell what each cask has held before or how many times it was used? The reason I asked was that each client has their own stows, yet the cask types (not sizes) were mixed. I thought it was something to do with the colour of the paint on the cask end, but the secret was a lot more mundane than that – it was usual to have the information on the paperwork when the cask arrived, and most casks now have a bar code or an alternative identifying mark.


1988 Jura. Cask a minimum of 32 years old.

I’ve got quite a lot of experience with cask ends, as I have been collecting these to use as decorative pieces for a local hotel bar, but nowadays these decorative cask ends are coming to an end in the larger distilleries at least. Many of them simply have a bar code on them. The distilleries are reluctant to allow these to be sold now, and many insist on the ends being painted over. Personally I think that this is a shame, as these marks tell a lot about the history of the cask. Remember that the wood it is made of is around 100 years old, then the cask itself can be as old as 40 – 60 years. I think it is nice to see all the dates that tell of whisky now probably long drunk.

At the end of the tour, we returned to the gallery where I am told that one of the coopers present is actually a world record holder. Davey Mckenzie had put a 190 litre barrel together in 3 minutes three seconds. Indeed, watching the guys repairing the wine casks, these were often repaired in around 10-15 minutes a piece, depending on how much work is needing done. It was now my turn to assemble a small cask, but I’m not going to embarrass myself only to reveal I didn’t manage – it really is a skill!

Finally it was time to finish the tour. It really was a great experience, and I think I spent 2 hours there, but it seemed a lot more. This was because you can get a lot of information and plenty of opportunity to ask questions in a short space of time. At the end of the tour, you get a tea or coffee, some shortbread, plus a bar towel and engraved Glencairn glass with the Cooperage logo. Oh, and a small nip of their own mystery single malt whisky bottled from a local distillery. I did tell my guide that I thought I knew what it was judging by the smell, but it is a secret. However, when I compared it to a sample of the whisky I thought it was, it was a very good match.

Don’t worry – I won’t tell.

I’d like to thank Rowan for her great tour. Whisky Geek Scotty was definitely on his best behaviour and didn’t get carried away. I’d also like to thank Andrew Russell, the General Manager of the Cooperage who took his time to answer a couple of questions I had to e-mail him in the writing of this blog post.

I can thoroughly recommend a visit to this cooperage, as it is one of the very few cooperages where you can see the cask being assembled from beginning to end. You can find out more by phoning the visitor centre on 01340 871108 or visiting http://www.speysidecooperage.co.uk

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

View from Gallery – Tripadvisor / BartV495

All Other Photos – Author’s own

A visit to Inver-G by the sea

Taste Review #48 – TBWC Invergordon Single Grain 42

For those of you who know me personally, you’ll realise that due to my job I spend quite a lot of time visiting the Cromarty Firth, just to the north of Inverness. This stretch of water is most famous for being the place where oil rigs go to get refurbished or scrapped, and was once a base for the Royal Navy Home Fleet. But not many people realise that within site of this stretch of water there were 6 distilleries. There are 4 still producing – Dalmore and Teaninich at Alness, Glen Wyvis at Dingwall, Invergordon Distillery and two separate incarnations of the Ben Wyvis Distillery. Only the Ben Wyvis distillery is no longer producing.

The Cromarty Firth has to be one of the most awful places I have worked and I have worked in some dumps in my time. Truly the weather is like four seasons in one day. Apart from drinking, there is precious little else to do there. I’m probably being a bit unfair I suppose as the people I have met there have always been friendly. Indeed when a barmaid at the Caledonian Bar in Invergordon knows your drink, you’re in trouble.



Invergordon is one of the four sizeable towns on the Cromarty Firth, the others being Dingwall and Alness on the north side, plus Cromarty on the south side. It has an unofficial nickname of Inver-G By The Sea and was also the site of a large aluminium smelter that shut down in the 1980’s. Now apart from the oil industry related work, the only other industry in the town is the Invergordon Distillery. It’s unusual to see a grain distillery so far north – the other Scottish grain distilleries are all in the central belt. Invergordon was established in 1961 and has operated continually ever since.

A grain distillery uses a different distilling process to malt whisky, and Invergordon uses 3 Coffey stills, which are continuously running rather than the malt whisky pot still method. They also do not solely use malted barley, but a mixture of wheat and maize to make their spirit.

One advantage of the continuous still distillation method is that is is highly efficient at getting a purer, smoother alcohol, and the output of the Invergordon stills is around 94%, with the barrel fill strength being 71%. As it is owned by Whyte and Mackay, most of the output will be destined for their blended whiskies, but you do see the odd official bottling (I have an 10 year old Invergordon somewhere) but you are more likely to see it as an independent bottling, such as the sample I have to try today.

Before we move onto the tasting, let me tell you some more important information about the Invergordon Distillery. Malt whisky was actually produced here between 1965 and 1977, and was the second incarnation of the Ben Wyvis distillery name. After the cessation of malt whisky production, the pot stills were eventually sold to the Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown.


The Dram. TBWC Invergordon 42 y.o Batch 15

And onto our tasting. This is a bit different for me as I don’t generally go for grain whiskies, independent bottlers or old age statements. This is from ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company”, and I’m sure it is going to be lovely. Let’s see.

Region

Highland

Age

42 years

Strength

48% abv

Colour

Dirty Gold

Nose

Sweet cereal; quite heavy, Floor varnish to start with, but opens up to a biscuity smell and a hint of vanilla. Corrugated cardboard, Apple peel and toffee.

Palate

Quite an odd one – I felt as though I was sucking on some heavily polished wood to start. Quite solvent tasting, but in a curiously addictive and pleasant way. PVA glue and old leather was in there too. Fried banana – maybe plantain, as it’s not that sweet, cloves, cinnamon.

Finish

Medium in length finish. Still got that polished wood taste in my mouth, but it has developed into something very pleasant. I’m also getting a dark chocolate, and a hint of pepper.


The dram

Conclusion

Invergordon isn’t as bad as I have made out. There is still a thriving community there, a couple of decent restaurants and pubs (stay out of the Silver Dollar, and if you do go in, remember to wipe your feet on the way out!). If you are in the area there is some spectacular scenery over the Black Isle and looking down the Cromarty Firth towards Ben Wyvis, the local Munro (hill over 3000ft).

Similarly, the tasting notes that I have given you on my impression are probably not the most attractive, but you need to give this whisky a bit of time. I am not in the habit of drinking whisky over 25 years old, and this the oldest whisky that I have reviewed so far and it is likely to remain that way for some time. Nor am I in the habit of drinking single grain whisky so this is another aspect of the whisky landscape that I am not that familiar with. However this was a great one to delve into, and while the cost of the sample is a little bit dear, it was a fantastic experience. I started the tasting not enjoying it, but once I could place the solvent like taste, it hit me between the eyes and I was converted quicker than Paul on the road to Damascus. Now, if you offer me a dram if this, I’m going to have your arm off.

My 3cl sample cost 11.70 from Master Of Malt. Unfortunately the full size bottle is sold out, but was £106.95. A bit pricey perhaps but remember it is a 42 year old whisky, and some much younger and poorer quality malts can cost more. It sometimes comes up on auction sites which if you want to add one to your cabinet would be the method I recommend.

The latest Invergordon batch of a similar age from TBWC is batch 19 and is 45 years old. Bottled at 44.5%, a 50CL bottle will set you back about £177. Good luck on finding it, as they sell out quick.


Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

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Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo credits

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My dirty secret

Confession is good for the soul…. supposedly.

This week is going to be much better than last week. Because I am writing my Saturday article on Monday, this will mean that I have no confession on Friday that I have nothing prepared. In fact, the way I feel now, that confession would be much better. Indeed I’d rather just not give you all a Saturday article and admit failure than give up the source of my shame.

For this, it grinds my insides even more than telling you that since my wee accident with the garage door, to this point not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips. It’s kind of ironic that a chap who writes a whisky blog and collects bottles has become temporarily tee-total. I have to confide that my whisky sin is worse than that.

Much worse.

It is an old proverb that says that confession is good for the soul, but this time I have my doubts, for the evidence of my shame will be on the internet, not just here but on another site for all to see, only you won’t know which one as there are some details that you just don’t need to know.

I’ve become a hypocrite.

Now that the truth is out, I can continue along the same theme as my article from last week in which my Macallan Folio 5 arrived. With the news so much more had been released than the 2000 per edition previously, it wasn’t going to meet my expectations. As I said last week, my intention had been to swap for a Folio 4, and maybe sell in the long run, but with Macallan reportedly releasing 18,000 more Folio 5 than Folio 4, the price of the former will never achieve the price of the latter.

Of course, I could always sell it on without a profit, but just cover my costs, but I do have a small amount of morality left, and I couldn’t sell my bottle to somebody knowing that even though they were just paying essentially what I paid, the price of the bottle is likely to fall below even that. That’s just taking advantage of people.

Lastly, I could always drink it. But I’m sorry, no Macallan NAS at £250 is worth that. Plus, when we take in consideration the excessive packaging, that alone must take up at least £20 from the RRP, and once drunk, what do I do with it? I’m not a Macallan collector in that way at all.

Even if I sell it to another punter who will drink it, I’m not sure my conscience will let me sleep at night knowing that I’ve met somebody face to face, or even a follower of my blog to sell them a whisky which in a couple of months will be a lot cheaper. That’s not how I roll.

So, with morals securely stored in a dark place, I made contact with an auctioneer to arrange pick up of my box. We had a nice chat about Macallan (Whisky Geek Scotty was in check this time!) which in my opinion could summarise the conversation by saying Macallan have definitely made an impact to the secondary prices of a few of their recent releases.

Indeed, the auctioneer made a very good point about how Macallan really should look into their application of the ballot system and how it really should be for known amount of limited bottles, something buyers of Edition 5 and Easter Elchies 2019 are probably thinking too. I’ve an article about that written, but will give it a break with the Macallan writing after today. Just to give your senses a rest if nothing else.

In all fairness, I should have seen the warning signs and not just blindly entered the ballot. No evidence of the likely age and no numbers of Folio 5 released. Plus there was a commitment to buy if you won the ballot, unlike the Easter Elchies 2018, which gladly at £750 they did give you a little breathing space.

The conclusion? I’m glad it’s going but I do hope that I recover most of my money from it, if not make a small profit. As from the comments from last weeks article, take the money and spend it on something you’d really enjoy drinking. That’s a great point, and already something has already popped up. Not telling you what it is, as you may outbid me.

As an aside to this article, my dealings with the auctioneer revealed that I could not set a reserve higher than the RRP. This is a great move as it helps limit the rip off profiteering that some online auctioneers facilitate. Of course, the price may go higher, but that is because of what people are willing to pay rather than people being taken advantage of through limited availability and the crazy prices some of the greedy, impatient or ill-informed are prepared to pay.

And these people all do exist. A quick look at an online auction reveals just under 120 bottles of Folio 5 available. Some ill-informed person has already bid £560, yet still hasn’t met the reserve, which means the auctioneer is essentially helping the greedy.

On the other side, there is bottles there still for sale under RRP but there is just over a day to go as I publish this and these may well make a profit yet. But seeing this gives me squeaky bum time, though it reinforces my belief that the price will plummet. Indeed, out of 118 bottles, 42 will still fail to make a profit going by current bids and not including the cost of getting them to the auction house.

Perhaps Macallan planned this mass release deliberately to ensure more whisky gets drunk, and I have to grudgingly doff my cap to them, but given the demand for the brand world wide, I am still sure if they were open about the amount produced it would sell out. Either way, do they care about the secondary market? They sell their product anyway, and surely that is all that matters? This is part of the Macallan article I am attempting to write, but my keyboard just defaults to ‘rant lock’ and I don’t fancy libelling anybody.

With that, it’s now time to go and think about what dram for later on. After all it’s Saturday night!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Slainte Mhath!

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link