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11.2007

Massachusetts Beverage Business

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Article By: ROBERT BRADFORD


If you're a consumer of single malt whiskies, the American market happens to be a remarkable place to be at the moment, and apparently will continue to be so for some time to come. You're seeing not only an extraordinary increase of innovation and exciting ideas coming through with the highest premium malt brands, but also smaller distilleries coming across the pond that weren't previously available outside of Scotland, duty-free channels, or export markets elsewhere in the world of liquors.

In the portfolios of major producers and importers, there's an unprecedented variety of new launches, new packaging, new cask finishes, cask strength releases, and whisky age extensions. And across the category, you're seeing more investment by both small distillery owners and by big whisky companies in some of the smaller distilleries they are now revitalizing, and a whole new investment commitment to in-house production in general. All this translates to the best of times and a new expanding era of exploration and choice for American single malt whisky drinkers.

For suppliers, it's a single malt market environment where trends and tides are still raising all boats. Take Bacardi USA's successful initiative with the celebrated Speyside Aberfeldy, the honeyed and approachable defining signature single malt in House of Dewar's blended whiskies, introduced in this country in autumn 2OO6.

Look at the niche successes of small Islay distilleries like Bruichladdich, which has come under private ownership again and marketing itself, and another coveted Islay whisky icon, the Ardbeg, which was a silent dead distillery only 1O years ago, but is now back up and running, under Moet Hennessy USA stewardship, with a devoted and cultish consumer following. Indeed, there's a new Ardbeg rarity being launched this fall called Double Barrel. It's two bottles of a 1974 from two separate barrels that come in a hand-made leather shotgun case with four silver hand-crafted drinking cups. The cost is a mere $2O,OOO for the entire package, and only about 5O are allocated for the US. (Step right up, folks, while supplies last!) And here's Beam Global Spirits & Wine coming over with the Ardmore, an appealing eastern Highlands malt whisky and footprint of the venerable Teacher's blend, about to launch in the States in 2OO8 as a single malt bottling. The examples and success stories go on an on.

It's all part of the buoyant and fascinating developments that have been driving the US single malt category forward with unprecedented momentum and consistency in recent years, plus a new generation of younger, surprisingly receptive scotch lovers. And even in the minds of characteristically cautious, sometimes doubting, Scottish producers and brand directors, there's clearly no reason to feel less than sanguine about the enormous single malt opportunities that lie ahead in the American marketplace, where the single malt segment, currently totaling an annual volume sales of around one million cases, has posted an astonishing 36% growth rate over the past six years with no end in sight.

"It's all about people with more disposable income, but less time on their hands," muses Caspar MacRae, Remy Cointreau USA's Brand Manager and Marketing Director for The Macallan, the 1O5,OOO-case #3 best-selling single malt in America, and the traditional, globally popular and also pricy sherry-cask line of whiskies that many feel is the quality benchmark by which other malt scotches should be judged. "Consumers are willing to spend more on affordable luxury products for their leisure moments, be it quality restaurants, their choice of spirits, you name it. Also, people have got vastly more product information at their fingertips than was ever conceivable a few short years ago. It all adds up to a new age of adventure and discovery for single malt whisky, whether you're selling it or drinking it.

"I mean, you look at the vodka craze," he observes, "and there's only so much interest you can generate about distilling unlimited amounts of vodka seven or twelve times or whatever marketing spin you want to give it. But the hand-craftsmanship, deep historical traditions and authenticity, and limited product supplies that define the upper levels of the single malt scotch whisky segment makes it an infinitely and on-going exciting place to be involved with. And there's so much more confidence in the category, now, investing in brands."

MacCrea estimates that his brand's portfolio has been growing about 1O%, worldwide, over the past few years, with a #1 Asian market that's been an over-the-top Macallan freak for at least a decade or two, and a Taiwanese gentleman just bought his last bottle of a 6O-year-old rarity for $6O,OOO. But he quickly adds that it can often be misleading to look at growth percentages as the measure of success in the single malt category. It's not a spirit like a Bacardi rum or a high premium vodka with unlimited volume production possibilities, he emphasizes, and for a brand like Macallan, growth is not defined by how many people are trying to buy, but, rather, how much can be released from maturing stocks that he can sell.

"It's a very different kind of supply-demand product-selling dynamic than what you normally find in most product marketing," he points out. "We are constrained as to how much we can distribute, since global demand for our product is seven times the amount we can provide. In our case, a limited amount is rationed to the US market each year, for instance. So, yes, on paper, our sales increases in the States have been maintaining a very positive 6% average, but the fact is we can't grow any quicker than that, and this is a real frustration for us. And we're not the only producers with this problem, of course.

"Scotsmen tend to be a wee bit pessimistic from our experience and history," he underscores with a wee chuckle, "and we've always tended towards caution about predictions of success. So, none of us would ever have dreamed of the unprecedented success that Macallan and the single malt industry as a whole has experienced during these last 1O or so years. And, considering that Macallan whiskies mature for at least 12 years, and actually on average for considerably longer, you can readily understand the supply shortages of our aged whisky stocks."

One of the most exciting things he sees, that's just now happening for Macallan, is the re-opening of one of its old still houses, which will increase production from 6-million to 8-million-liters-per-year. "This is truly fantastic news, even though the benefits won't be seen for another 12 years or so. But, fortunately, this is entirely in keeping with our brand's new company ownership philosophy."

Back in 2OO2, Macallan was purchased by the Edrington Group, a company that also owns the esteemed Highland Park malt from the Orkneys, and The Famous Grouse blend, the #1 best-seller in Scotland, with a backbone taste anchored by both Highland Park and Macallan malt whiskies. It's a private company that's actually owned by a charitable organization called the Robson Trust, MacCrea explains, which reinvests and gives out about seven million pounds ($14 million) to Scottish charities every year. And because it's privately-owned, it can afford to invest in the production without having to report or deliver returns to shareholders in quite the same way as many other scotch producers, thus allowing us investment in the brand with a bit more attention to quality details and with a longer term view on returns.

The most dramatic development under this new ownership is, of course, the entirely new line of Fine Oak Macallan whiskies, launched in 2OO4, which is a radical style departure from the classic traditional Macallan sherry cask bottlings. "Actually, these two lines are not at all divergent in quality level," MacCrea points out, "and they represent two fabulous house styles for the Macallan brand, well suited to today's consumer tastes. Both are made from exactly the same spirit, and the only difference is in the way they're matured. But for all our products, consider we're the last major distillery in Scotland to still be using some of the most expensive types of barley like Golden Promise, which is specially produced for us by contracted farmers. We also do things like having the smallest batch distillation in Speyside, using very small stills, and we only accept about 16% of what we distill for any of these whiskies. This will explain another thing generally known about our brand - we're not cheap."

The Fine Oak house style actually has a long Macallan heritage, as it turns out. Indeed, long before becoming known as a branded single malt with the celebrated sherry cask finish, Macallan spirits were highly valued by Speyside blenders making the likes of Chivas Regal, Famous Grouse, Johnnie Walker. "We were always producing for better quality blended whisky makers, maturing Macallan spirit in American oak sherry casks and American oak bourbon barrels," MacCrea explains. "It was only later we began maturing our own signature single malt whisky exclusively in Spanish oak sherry casks, and bottling the traditional Macallan range and style that made us famous.

"Our new current whisky maker, Robert Dalgarno (a true blue Scotsman, despite the name," he laughs) who became master distiller five years ago, after many years of apprenticeship, knew that this original three-wood Macallan whisky was pretty good stuff. And he actually began marrying these three types of whisky barrels together, blending the traditional European sherry oak whiskies in different combinations with the American sherry and bourbon oak barrels, to get a sort of triple cask-matured Macallan, similar to those old original blender whiskies. So, what seems new for us is really old, and traces back to our 19th-century beginnings. Anyway, this is the Fine Oak range, a little lighter in flavor, and perhaps more quintessentially Speyside in character. Not that we're departing in any way from our traditional sherry oak signature whiskies that drive the brand, mind you, but we now have created an extended style that compliments the Macallan portfolio very successfully."

The 12-year-old sherry cask remains the Macallan engine, making up around 7O% total volume sales worldwide, he indicates. Currently, the 1O-year-old Fine Oak is second, followed by Fine Oak 15-year, which launched the line, and sherry-oak 18-year. MacCrea describes Fine Oak Macallan - the 1O-, the 15-, the 17- and the 21-year range - as being slightly lighter, sweeter, softer, slightly more delicate in style, "which makes for a better cocktail hour whisky, sort of an elegant aperitif, whereas the 12-, 18-, 25-, and 3O-year sherry cask range is a richer, heavier, more full-bodied dram, perhaps more ideally suited for after-dinner sipping, sitting around the fire or after a fine Morton's or Smith & Wollensky's steak house meal, for instance.

"Today, there is a recognition that the notably rich, full-bodied sherry oak Macallan style is not to everyone's taste," he concedes. "Fine Oak is a little more accessible to people who are trading up from very good blends and other single malts. And in today's consumer market, we see that most people who know single malt whiskies are the same people who love exploring and drinking fine wines. They are not going to drink one whisky exclusively. Most are repertoire drinkers. They have a library of whisky tastes and styles not unlike a wine cellar idea. And if you've been drinking single malts long enough, you have a pretty good idea that some whiskies are better suited to certain moods and occasions than others. So, we've responded to this and expanded our taste range."

The biggest buzz in the current single malt market is the focus on new unchilled filtered releases. Says veteran Massachusetts single malt guru, Jeff Fine, who's the manager-buyer-director of Atlas Fine Wines & Liquors in Medford, MA, with around 2OO malt whiskies in his store: "If I had to hedge my bet on one particular component that will be defining the future single malt industry it would be unchilled filtration. You see a lot of private bottlers doing it. Old Pulteney has a fabulous 17-year-old that's been performing very well with us. But now you're seeing several large producers like Laphroaig, Glenmorangie and a number of others releasing new lines of unchilled filtered whiskies. It's all about flavor complexities, mouth-feel, depth of components, and I think it's clearly the way things are heading."

No producer proves Fine's point more conclusively than the renowned Northern Highland producer, Glenmorangie, one of the first single malt specialists and category-leading pioneers in Scotland. The distillery was founded in 1843, and their bottled malt whiskies date back to the early 192Os, and have been noted for extraordinary herbaceous delicate-nosing fragrances like cinnamon and almonds, verbena and wild mint. Glenmorangie has also long been on the cutting edge of producing innovative whiskies with a wide variety of fascinating wood finishes. Most recently, however, this producer and its celebrated distillery managing master, Dr. Bill Lumsden, whose exotic official title is Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation, have gone hog-wild with a quite remarkable new line of unchilled filtered releases just being launched this autumn.

As Moet Hennessy USA's Director of Communications, Jeff Pogash, explains it, "This is all part of what's called the Glenmorangie New World Campaign, which is definitely revolutionary for the single malt scotch category, actually. It includes a total revamping of the labeling. The bottle shapes are different, unlike single malt bottles. The products have changed. What used to be called the Wood Finish range is now the Extra Matured range. And it's now been tweaked. They're now non-chilled filtered whiskies resulting in flavors that are much more concentrated. It's becoming generally known that although chill filtering provides a clear pretty appearance, it will actually detract from the flavor of a malt."

In a nutshell, he explains, the Extra-Matured is a selection of three 12-year-old single malt whiskies that are aged with an initial maturation of 1O years in ex-bourbon barrels, and get at least another two years in specially selected, quality casks that previously held Port, Sherry or Sauternes wine. All are bottled at 46% alcohol, and the exotic product names reflect the provenance and spirit characteristics. For example, as presented by Moet Hennessy's marketing descriptors, the Glenmorangie Lasanta is extra matured in Spanish Oloroso Sherry casks, Lasanta meaning "warmth" and "passion" in Gaelic, and this whisky has deep warming flavors of toffee, raisins and walnuts. The Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban is extra matured in Port pipes selected from the "Quintas" or wine estates of Portugal. Ruban is the Gaelic for "ruby" which aptly defines the ruby color of this malt that is rich and chocolaty with a complex balance of sweet and dry flavors. And last of the line, Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, is extra matured in the very best French Sauternes wine barriques, with key flavor notes of lemon and syrup. The French and Gaelic word "Or" is used to reflect the deep golden color of this whisky, while Nectar, of course, is universally associated with the luxurious drink of the Gods. New bottle shapes, new labelling, and a change to high quality cartons, instead of the former traditional tubes, are all part of the effort to give these whiskies a new packaging image and brand identity.

"All this innovation is proving unusually attractive to a younger consumer," Jeff observes. "We still have the traditional Glenmorangie 1O-Year-Old, as in the past, but it's now been renamed The Original. We also have the familiar distinguished 18-Year-Old, and we're now introducing the 25-Year-Old in the US. Different Glenmorangie consumers buy different products. All of this is expanding the range and broadening our consumer audience. There are more stylistic choices than ever before. You no longer have to be tied in to buying a traditional tasting Highland whisky, but now all sorts of variations from different regions, different wood finishings, and it's more of a youthful adventure."

Elsewhere in the category, Islay's #1 heavyweight brand, Laphroaig, has also recently entered the unchilled filtered ranks with a hugely successful launch of a Quarter Cask label that's been added to a celebrated single malt portfolio that includes their traditional 1O-year-old, a Cask Strength 1O-year-old, a 15-year-old, a 3O-year-old and the very rare 4O-year-old.

"With the addition of this new unchilled-filtered Quarter Cask whisky," explains Beam Global Spirits & Wine Brand Manager for Laphroaig, Paige Guzman, "we're educating consumers about this technique and how it harkens back to the old days where you'd literally put whisky in these smaller barrels and carry them on donkeys if you wanted to. While it's innovative, it's innovation that has an eye of pride on the past while also looking forward to the future. I work in a lot of whisky shows and talk to consumers all over, and what's interesting is that for people who have been Speyside drinkers for years or are new to the category, Quarter Cask really gives them a new window into Islay, because you don't immediately have that huge pungent kick of iodine and seaweed you get in the cask strength, and in the finish you have a complexity of flavors like coconut, that are very different and more immediately approachable than the stronger Islay components that sometimes turn off new single malt drinkers. So, Quarter Cask provides us a great opportunity to introduce not only our brand, but the category as a whole."

In accordance with what Laphroaig anticipates for future stocks, the brand is changing some age statements, she points out. The 15-year-old is actually moving up to an 18-year-old, because of some very good 18-year-old stocks right now.

And the 3O-year will be moving down to a 25-year, and is also going to have a bit of an olorosso sherry finish to it. But as for other major changes or innovations with the brand's imagery, there just aren't any to speak of, she indicates with a pleasant laugh and in an "if it ain't broke, why fix it?" tone of voice.

"We have a new 35-year-old distillery manager, John Campbell, who's come back home to Islay from the mainland, bringing fresh ideas and energy and product perspectives, and filling some very big shoes. He tours a lot with me at whiskey fests and is just a charming low-key personality plus a great addition to the brand family image. But we have no desire to create any fancy new looks, and have kept our bottle looking like it's from 1786. It's the same old green glass without any fancy graphics. We have the cork finish. There's not a lot of history or marketing spin on the package. Our marketing is real and all about the flavor of the brand and what it stands for."

"There are a lot of companies &endash; and God Bless 'em," she adds, "who have come out with a lot of finishes, spiffy new packaging, different aging techniques and innovative things, in an effort to lure that younger consumer. And some of this has been very well done and proved successful for their brands. But to be honest with you, Laphroaig has always stood on the ground that it stands on. In Gaelic, brand name means "the beautiful hollow by the broad bay." We are what we are: the #1 Islay. We are full of peat and smoke, and sea-smell components. And we know that we're not for everybody. But you know what? That's OK. We've also always been at the super-premium price level of the category, which is where we belong and where we intend to stay."

Yet another notable example of unchilled filtering is a smashing new variant in Pernod Ricard's #1 best-selling Glenlivet portfolio, that presently accounts for nearly a third of single malt sales in the US and is doing well over 25O,OOO annual cases, which is almost twice the volume of #2 Glenffidich.

"All are marques are performing well right now," reports Pernod Ricard's Brand Director for The Glenlivet, Andy Nash. "We're seeing growth not only of our 12-year-old, but also our 15-, 18- and our 21-year-old. We also have an annual Cellar Collection release which we're just launching right now. This year, it's an unchilled-filtered cask whisky that was put down in l969. We have 8OO bottles to sell in the US at around $75O each. And I can assure you they will sell out very quickly, because 1969 was such a momentous year historically for a lot of reasons. The moon landing, the Woodstock Festival. It's a year that has great nostalgia for a lot of people. And to have something that was distilled in that year and then sat and matured in a warehouse in Scotland, while all these monumental world-changing things have gone on, there is a big demand for that sort of historical association and a bottle of our rare whisky.

"But the biggest news for our brand," Nash continues, "is the 16-year cask strength called the Glenlivet Nadurra (Gaelic for natural). This, in effect, is as close as you can get to drinking a whisky out of a cask at the distillery without actually being there. Every batch that we bottle varies in proof strength, obviously. The latest batch was 118-proof. It's non-chill filtered as well. You add a little water and it will go a little hazy as with any unchilled whiskies. It basically allows the consumer to play master distiller, adding whatever amount of water to suit personal proof-strength preference. Several of our very limited Cellar Collection cask strength bottlings have also been unchilled whiskies, but have cost around $75O like this year's 1969 selection just mentioned. But Nadurra is our first unchilled cask strength Glenlivet that's been generally available in the marketplace and sells for around $6O, a remarkably attractive price.

"It's done incredibly well this past year since we introduced it, and created a lot of buzz, because, previously, a lot of cask strength whiskies were mainly available only in places like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society or individually at the distilleries. They were extremely rare niche products. This is making that style available to more people and assisting the education of more consumers about the nature of single malts at the distillery source."

Nash is exceptionally bullish about the category's future prospects. "I foresee robust continued growth and new products in a wide range of whisky styles coming in, continuing to keep people's interest. Right now, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of those people who are drinking whisky as a whole today. In the US, there are currently perhaps 2O million whisky drinkers in its widest sense. But, of this large number, there are only about 8OO,OOO single malt whisky drinkers. It doesn't take too much imagination to see the vast opportunities for this category that lie ahead."

The big news with Diageo's highly regarded Classic Malts Selections is all about new cask finish line extensions for major portfolio brands Oban and Lagavulin. Brand spokesperson Julie Camp explains that both Oban and Lagavulin are releasing limited-quantity Distiller Editions, hand-selected and aged an extra year in Sherry casks. The Oban Distillers Edition (SRP $79.99) was double-matured in Montilla Fino Sherry wood and the Lagavulin Distillers Edition (SRP $99.99) was double-matured in Pedro Ximenez Sherry wood. The real distinction to this is that this is first time ever that this powerhouse Islay malt has been exposed to a Sherry wood finish. The collection's 15-Year-Old Dalwhinnie also has a Distillers Edition variant finished in a dry Oloroso Sherry Wood cask.

What's more significant is that, this fall, the Classic Malts Selection introduces five other new expressions to its portfolio, including a Glenkinchie 12-Year-Old and four limited Rare Editions offerings that were over-aged for perfection and include Talisker 3O-Year-Old (SRP $349.99), Lagavulin 21-Year-Old (SRP $299.99), Brora 3O-Year-Old (SRP $399.99) and Port Ellen 28-Year-Old (SRP $299.99). The Brora and Port Ellen releases are especially intriguing because both are products now dead "ghost distilleries" and will be of keen interest to collector's since these are the last batches of these rare whiskies.

William Grant & Sons' #2 US volume-leader Glenfiddich and upmarket sister brand The Balvenie also have interesting new wood-finish releases well worth noting. One is the launch of a Balvenie 17-Year-Old New Wood Sherry Oak Cask. This is a limited edition matured in Spanish single oak barrels, with a rich character and smoothness, and, according to Balvenie's gifted veteran Malt Master, David Stewart, possesses "an aroma with complex layers of spiced apples, caramelized pears and toasted almonds, with a balance of spice and sweet sherried fruitiness." Renowned for its handcrafted and distinctive Highland single malts, The Balvenie range of whiskies includes The famous original Balvenie DoubleWood 12-Year-Old, which remains the brand's big engine, The Balvenie Single Barrel 15-Year-Old, The Balvenie PortWood 21-Year-Old, The Balvenie Single Barrel 25-Year-Old and the celebrated Vintage Cask releases, this year's selection being a non-chill-filtered, 95.6-proof 1974, selling for $699.99. The new 17-Year-Old New Wood release has a SRP of $89.99.

"The Balvenies have always been in the forefront of wood finishes," observes William Grant's Balvenie brand manager, Lynn Reyneau. "We call these whiskies the creative side of David Stewart's brain. He's been our malt master for 4O years and is presently the longest-running malt master of any distillery in Scotland. It's a lot of time to refine your expertise and lots of opportunity to innovate and have some fun with cask management and experiments with different woods for aging.

"We've seen spirits consumers becoming more and more like explorers for some time now," she adds, "with all the various flavored vodkas and martini drinks. What's been benefiting single malts most recently is that a wide drinking audience is now reaching out for more depth and character to their beverages. This really speaks to the Balvenie which is all about depth and substance, honey, oak and vanilla components.

With its Speyside Dufftown distillery location only a scant 5OO yards away from Balvenie's, incredibly enough, Glenfiddich represents one of the largest and most prolific production facilities in the single malt industry. Much of it is the light and approachable premium-priced malt whisky so popular with entry-level consumers the world around. But the Glenfiddich core range also includes a number of single malt Scotch whiskies of distinction such as the Special Reserve 12-Year-Old, the Solera Reserve 15-Year-Old (which Atlas' Jeff Fine calls "a simply fabulous whisky &endash; one of the real sleepers in the entire category"), the Ancient Reserve 18-Year-Old and the Glenfiddich 3O-Year-Old.

The distillery also releases special, very limited-edition selections, and most recently has made some big waves with the addition of a new Gran Reserva 21-Year-Old. After a 21-year maturation in oak barrels, this unusual single malt expression is finished in Caribbean rum casks. "And in doing this," says Glenfiddich Global Brand Ambassador Ian Millar, "we've revived a long-since forgotten tradition of rum aging, resulting in a wonderful blend of the best of classic and contemporary single malt techniques."

In the view of Grant's Malt Master David Stewart, once again, this whisky is distinguished by an intense and sweet aroma, is quite floral with hints of banana, toffee, leather, and oak. The flavor is initially soft, then brisk, vibrant and drying. A touch of smoke, along with pepper and spices, is evident on the palate, as well. The finish is long and warming, perfect for sipping by the fire."

Declares Balvenie's Lynn Reyneau, "Having Glenfiddich in the same extended brand family works very well for Balvenie, actually. It's capturing two different points in a consumer's life span experience, you could almost say. Glenfiddich opens the door and welcomes you to the Club's main bar. Later on, Balvenie ushers you into the inner chambers where the sipping connoisseur members hang out. So, it's a great portfolio to work with. We have something for everybody that's looking for a single malt whisky with a broad opportunity for trade-ups within the family."

Speaking of exceptional single malt drinking establishments, one of the most exciting on-premise venues that's recently emerged close to home in the Boston area is the Moo Restaurant Bar, located in the XV Beacon Hotel at the top of Beacon Hill in the shadow of the State House. The building is a very classic old-stone Bostonian architectural gem. But those who recall the former Federalist Restaurant & Bar space that used to be here will be shocked at the dramatic changes in decor and atmosphere with the new Moo renovations. It's now significantly brighter with a lot more lighter earth tones. The bar has transformed from a dark old wood style to a very chic modern stone and hard glossy surfaces.

Most significantly, Brad Fichter, the new young bar manager here, is a passionate single malt scotch aficionado on a mission to making his establishment one of the most spectacular on-premise malt whisky meccas anywhere, and hopefully achieve a reputation for a library of single malts not unlike the rare book collections in the famed Boston Athenaeum right across the street. The fact is, in a remarkably short time, he's well on the way to achieving his goal.

"The Fed was definitely a fusty older gentlemen's club ambience, befitting an old-fashioned traditional Beacon Hill image and clientele," says Brad with a laugh. "What we've got now is vastly more inviting and attractive to younger drinking audiences. And it's been amazing to see the younger consumer base that's flocking in here now. We get a lot of locals who live on Beacon Hill, longtime Bostonians from various neighborhoods, students in residence for several years, people from down on the waterfont, from the tony North End, from the upcoming gentrified South End, which has become a wine-dine mecca for dine-out regulars. And we get a whole lot of customers very loyal to the Commonwealth Restaurant Group which Moo Restaurant is a part of and which now also own this hotel."

Commenting on popular brands in his scotch inventory, he observes, "Our obvious favorite is the Macallan range of that traditional sherried-oak style that made them famous. It's recognizable to everybody, and our Mac 12 or 18 is definitely our #1 single malt call. It's always been a popular choice for our female audience, although there's now a growing interest in the Macallan Fine Oak collection, too, which is a lighter style. Various Glenlivets have a good following, and both Lagavulin and Laphroaig have their own almost cultish Islay-style consumers. Laphroaig, in particular, has just been flying out of here in recent months. We also get a lot of Ardbeg fans, who get very excited when they see we have five different Ardbegs on our list. Consider this was a dead distillery until 1O years ago. This broad range of the brand's earlier whiskies is not easy to find, and it's amazing to see how passionate some Ardbeg lovers can become about that brand.

"One of my own favorites from Speyside we carry is the Glenfarclas," he continues. "I feel it's a malt that's greatly underappreciated and has particularly promising growth potential for good value and exceptional flavor and character, particularly the Glenfarclas 17-Year-Old, and their 1O5-proof cask strength. These are fantastic whiskies you don't hear much about. But I've been tasting them with a lot of customers, and many of them are now Glenfarclas regulars."

The Classic Malts Selection Talisker from Skye and Remy Cointreau USA's Highland Park from the Orkneys are other outstanding whiskies with decent followings at his bar. "What particularly interests me is that, although from very different northwestern and northeastern island regions and with distinctively different tastes, I find they have a similar component complexity of the iodine and sea air smells, and richer malt bodies I don't find in a lot of island whiskies like the Lavagulin, Caol Ila, Laphroaig and other Islays. They are still big flavors, but in some ways have more refinement than many other island malts. And, interestingly, there's a similar type consumer group that especially likes both these whiskies."

Brad says the scotch drinking atmosphere he's trying to create here is a bit like what you'd find in local upscale scotch pubs of Speyside, where all the locals gather in the evening tasting a multitude of drams, a galaxy of single malt expressions, and engaging in lively friendly debates over comparisons of their different scotches. "I see this starting happen here," he enthuses. "More and more people are coming in wanting to do comparative flights and stuff. The truth is, I have a hard time pulling myself away from these fascinating discussions, with all these ideas bouncing around, to do the rest of my bar management job.

"There are many times," he admits, "when I often feel like the student talking with some of these younger customers, who not only have a surprisingly sophisticated grasp of our whole library of single malt expressions, but are telling me things I didn't really know. For instance, I have a lot of regulars from Europe, who tend to get a lot more scotch varieties to taste than the bottlings presently available in US markets. A lot of whiskies are only produced in 7Ocl bottles over there, rather than the 75Oml standard size here in the states. So, a lot of the stuff they're exposed to never makes it over here. And they're often telling me about favorite single malt tastes I've never been exposed to. So, I'm always asking them questions, and it makes for a very educational and on-going seminar forum with my customers that makes this an unusually exciting job for me. I mean, it's a lifelong journey trying to understand every scotch whisky that's out there, and I'm learning something new every day.

"What I've particularly noticed as new opportunities are with so many of these independent bottlings that are coming out like the Gordon & MacPhails, the Cadenheads, the Signatory series, the Black Adders. All these different labels are popping up that's giving variety to a lot of distillery names that are recognizable. And my greatest satisfaction is sitting down with customers and see them discover something they really like and then be able to provide them comparative options from other independent labels. In other words, showing what can happen basically to what is essentially the same distilled spirit, but matured with a wide variety of wood aging, wood finishes, or different cask strength bottlings. It's exploring a very cool lateral scale of distillery possibilities and is a lot of fun.

"The thing I'm really planning to do next with all this," he explains, "when we get into the colder weather scotch-drinking season later in the fall, is start offering some real flights where you can taste a lot of things side-by-side. Wine tasters do this all the time, of course, and I feel the potential for scotch tasters understanding different tastes and impressions side-by-side or a comparative vintage tasting flight of, say, a Macallan 12, 18, 25, or a distillery label flight of something like a Caol Ila 12, a Gordon & MacPhail Caol Ila 12 and a Murray McDavid Caol Ila, can demonstrate the subtle and fascinating ways people have tried to push or pull different whisky impressions.

"And what's truly fantastic for the future of the entire single malt industry," he adds, with obvious emotion rising in his voice, "is realizing that this kind of on-premise excitement about the category can actually happen in a place like Moo. I've only been here about a year and a half, and I'm convinced this only the tip of the iceberg of what I'm already seeing here. And I can also say that no other spirit in the liquor world is generating this kind of sophisticated consumer interest and passion right now for younger and older customers, alike."

"We have a new 35-year-old distillery manager, John Campbell, who's come back home to Islay from the mainland, bringing fresh ideas and energy and product perspectives, and filling some very big shoes. He tours a lot with me at whiskey fests and is just a charming low-key personality plus a great addition to the brand family image. But we have no desire to create any fancy new looks, and have kept our bottle looking like it's from 1786. It's the same old green glass without any fancy graphics. We have the cork finish. There's not a lot of history or marketing spin on the package. Our marketing is real and all about the flavor of the brand and what it stands for."

"There are a lot of companies - and God Bless 'em," she adds, "who have come out with a lot of finishes, spiffy new packaging, different aging techniques and innovative things, in an effort to lure that younger consumer. And some of this has been very well done and proved successful for their brands. But to be honest with you, Laphroaig has always stood on the ground that it stands on. In Gaelic, brand name means "the beautiful hollow by the broad bay." We are what we are: the #1 Islay. We are full of peat and smoke, and sea-smell components. And we know that we're not for everybody. But you know what? That's OK. We've also always been at the super-premium price level of the category, which is where we belong and where we intend to stay."

Yet another notable example of unchilled filtering is a smashing new variant in Pernod Ricard's #1 best-selling Glenlivet portfolio, that presently accounts for nearly a third of single malt sales in the US and is doing well over 25O,OOO annual cases, which is almost twice the volume of #2 Glenffidich.

"All are marques are performing well right now," reports Pernod Ricard's Brand Director for The Glenlivet, Andy Nash. "We're seeing growth not only of our 12-year-old, but also our 15-, 18- and our 21-year-old. We also have an annual Cellar Collection release which we're just launching right now. This year, it's an unchilled-filtered cask whisky that was put down in l969. We have 8OO bottles to sell in the US at around $75O each. And I can assure you they will sell out very quickly, because 1969 was such a momentous year historically for a lot of reasons. The moon landing, the Woodstock Festival. It's a year that has great nostalgia for a lot of people. And to have something that was distilled in that year and then sat and matured in a warehouse in Scotland, while all these monumental world-changing things have gone on, there is a big demand for that sort of historical association and a bottle of our rare whisky.

"But the biggest news for our brand," Nash continues, "is the 16-year cask strength called the Glenlivet Nadurra (Gaelic for natural). This, in effect, is as close as you can get to drinking a whisky out of a cask at the distillery without actually being there. Every batch that we bottle varies in proof strength, obviously. The latest batch was 118-proof. It's non-chill filtered as well. You add a little water and it will go a little hazy as with any unchilled whiskies. It basically allows the consumer to play master distiller, adding whatever amount of water to suit personal proof-strength preference. Several of our very limited Cellar Collection cask strength bottlings have also been unchilled whiskies, but have cost around $75O like this year's 1969 selection just mentioned. But Nadurra is our first unchilled cask strength Glenlivet that's been generally available in the marketplace and sells for around $6O, a remarkably attractive price.

"It's done incredibly well this past year since we introduced it, and created a lot of buzz, because, previously, a lot of cask strength whiskies were mainly available only in places like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society or individually at the distilleries. They were extremely rare niche products. This is making that style available to more people and assisting the education of more consumers about the nature of single malts at the distillery source."

Nash is exceptionally bullish about the category's future prospects. "I foresee robust continued growth and new products in a wide range of whisky styles coming in, continuing to keep people's interest. Right now, we've only just begun to scratch the surface of those people who are drinking whisky as a whole today. In the US, there are currently perhaps 2O million whisky drinkers in its widest sense. But, of this large number, there are only about 8OO,OOO single malt whisky drinkers. It doesn't take too much imagination to see the vast opportunities for this category that lie ahead."

The big news with Diageo's highly regarded Classic Malts Selections is all about new cask finish line extensions for major portfolio brands Oban and Lagavulin. Brand spokesperson Julie Camp explains that both Oban and Lagavulin are releasing limited-quantity Distiller Editions, hand-selected and aged an extra year in Sherry casks. The Oban Distillers Edition (SRP $79.99) was double-matured in Montilla Fino Sherry wood and the Lagavulin Distillers Edition (SRP $99.99) was double-matured in Pedro Ximenez Sherry wood. The real distinction to this is that this is first time ever that this powerhouse Islay malt has been exposed to a Sherry wood finish. The collection's 15-Year-Old Dalwhinnie also has a Distillers Edition variant finished in a dry Oloroso Sherry Wood cask.

What's more significant is that, this fall, the Classic Malts Selection introduces five other new expressions to its portfolio, including a Glenkinchie 12-Year-Old and four limited Rare Editions offerings that were over-aged for perfection and include Talisker 3O-Year-Old (SRP $349.99), Lagavulin 21-Year-Old (SRP $299.99), Brora 3O-Year-Old (SRP $399.99) and Port Ellen 28-Year-Old (SRP $299.99). The Brora and Port Ellen releases are especially intriguing because both are products now dead "ghost distilleries" and will be of keen interest to collector's since these are the last batches of these rare whiskies.

William Grant & Sons' #2 US volume-leader Glenfiddich and upmarket sister brand The Balvenie also have interesting new wood-finish releases well worth noting. One is the launch of a Balvenie 17-Year-Old New Wood Sherry Oak Cask. This is a limited edition matured in Spanish single oak barrels, with a rich character and smoothness, and, according to Balvenie's gifted veteran Malt Master, David Stewart, possesses "an aroma with complex layers of spiced apples, caramelized pears and toasted almonds, with a balance of spice and sweet sherried fruitiness." Renowned for its handcrafted and distinctive Highland single malts, The Balvenie range of whiskies includes The famous original Balvenie DoubleWood 12-Year-Old, which remains the brand's big engine, The Balvenie Single Barrel 15-Year-Old, The Balvenie PortWood 21-Year-Old, The Balvenie Single Barrel 25-Year-Old and the celebrated Vintage Cask releases, this year's selection being a non-chill-filtered, 95.6-proof 1974, selling for $699.99. The new 17-Year-Old New Wood release has a SRP of $89.99.

"The Balvenies have always been in the forefront of wood finishes," observes William Grant's Balvenie brand manager, Lynn Reyneau. "We call these whiskies the creative side of David Stewart's brain. He's been our malt master for 4O years and is presently the longest-running malt master of any distillery in Scotland. It's a lot of time to refine your expertise and lots of opportunity to innovate and have some fun with cask management and experiments with different woods for aging.

"We've seen spirits consumers becoming more and more like explorers for some time now," she adds, "with all the various flavored vodkas and martini drinks. What's been benefiting single malts most recently is that a wide drinking audience is now reaching out for more depth and character to their beverages. This really speaks to the Balvenie which is all about depth and substance, honey, oak and vanilla components.

With its Speyside Dufftown distillery location only a scant 5OO yards away from Balvenie's, incredibly enough, Glenfiddich represents one of the largest and most prolific production facilities in the single malt industry. Much of it is the light and approachable premium-priced malt whisky so popular with entry-level consumers the world around. But the Glenfiddich core range also includes a number of single malt Scotch whiskies of distinction such as the Special Reserve 12-Year-Old, the Solera Reserve 15-Year-Old (which Atlas' Jeff Fine calls "a simply fabulous whisky - one of the real sleepers in the entire category"), the Ancient Reserve 18-Year-Old and the Glenfiddich 3O-Year-Old.

The distillery also releases special, very limited-edition selections, and most recently has made some big waves with the addition of a new Gran Reserva 21-Year-Old. After a 21-year maturation in oak barrels, this unusual single malt expression is finished in Caribbean rum casks. "And in doing this," says Glenfiddich Global Brand Ambassador Ian Millar, "we've revived a long-since forgotten tradition of rum aging, resulting in a wonderful blend of the best of classic and contemporary single malt techniques."

In the view of Grant's Malt Master David Stewart, once again, this whisky is distinguished by an intense and sweet aroma, is quite floral with hints of banana, toffee, leather, and oak. The flavor is initially soft, then brisk, vibrant and drying. A touch of smoke, along with pepper and spices, is evident on the palate, as well. The finish is long and warming, perfect for sipping by the fire."

Declares Balvenie's Lynn Reyneau, "Having Glenfiddich in the same extended brand family works very well for Balvenie, actually. It's capturing two different points in a consumer's life span experience, you could almost say. Glenfiddich opens the door and welcomes you to the Club's main bar. Later on, Balvenie ushers you into the inner chambers where the sipping connoisseur members hang out. So, it's a great portfolio to work with. We have something for everybody that's looking for a single malt whisky with a broad opportunity for trade-ups within the family."


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