Whisky Heroes – Ian Wisniewski

Whisky Heroes – Ian Wisniewski

Whisky Heroes

Ian Wisniewski writes about spirits, particularly whisky. He finds the production process endlessly fascinating and visits distilleries as often as possible, as he sees this as the best place to learn more. He’s also very interested in the influence of glassware and dilution in the resulting flavour profile, and in the way that we perceive aromas and flavours, through the amazing cooperation between the palate, olfactory and the brain. Apart from that, he finds it really enjoyable to experience the flavours and character of a whisky without any analysis or thought, and just to feel it.

Can you remember your first dram?
Yes, vividly. My first dram as a spirits writer was The Balvenie Single Barrel 15 year old, in the company of the then Master Blender David Stewart which added enormous significance to the experience, as I asked him how the different flavours were created. His replies ignited my passion for whisky and the production process. Scotch whisky drunk before this was entirely pragmatic and consumed with a mixer for the effect, not the flavour. 

What attracted you to the industry? 
I was always very interested in food and drink, but assumed this would remain a personal interest and that my love of the Arts would provide a career opportunity. I applied for various jobs in journalism and was offered a job by a drinks magazine, which I accepted as I really liked the editor and the location of the office, just off Jermyn Street. Within a few months I found the drinks industry fascinating as there are so many aspects; production, innovation, packaging design, advertising, PR, on-trade and off-trade, and they all need each other.

Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky?
Some memorable moments are personal and emotional. For instance, walking from Bowmore distillery with a dram enjoyed on the edge of Loch Indaal, on a quiet, moonlit night. Becoming a Keeper of the Quaich and then a Master of the Quaich was amazing, being among so many whisky people in a beautiful setting, and enjoying an amazing banquet. Visiting Aberlour and being snowed in at the Craigellachie Hotel which extended the visit.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky?
It depends whether you want to go for full Geek and Nerd status, or remain a normal person who enjoys whisky without being addicted to detail. For the latter it’s easy; keep enjoying whisky, there’s no need to be an authority to enjoy the flavours, they are rewarding in themselves. To attain ‘Geekhood’, attend as many events and distilleries as possible and particularly tutored tastings. If you don’t like some whiskies it’s ok to say that, you will find plenty you do like! Also, read as much as you can. There are many sources of information, but keep an open and challenging mind so that you reach your own verdicts.

How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky?
As much as you can afford.

If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be?
Bruichladdich Valinch 1986. I tasted this at a launch event hosted by Jim McEwan, who is an amazing speaker as he conveys knowledge and emotion.

Who do you consider to be a whisky icon?
It is very difficult to name one person, because there are so many incredibly talented people in the industry and so many different aspects of the industry: production, innovation, blending, coopering, packaging design, distillery design and installation, ambassadorial work, cocktail creation and whisky communicators.

The late Dr Jim Swann was truly inspirational and very generous with his knowledge, I worked with him on a few projects and discussed articles with him, and it was a truly enriching and enlightening experience. Richard Forsyth is an icon of distillery design and construction, and also very generous with his knowledge which has elevated many of my articles and books. I have also been incredibly lucky to benefit from the immense experience and insights of Dr Jim Beveridge, Dr Bill Lumsden, Brian Kinsman, Alexandre Sakon, Dr Rachel Barrie, Emma Walker and Martine Nouet.

What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally?
Can I turn this into an opportunity to state my favourite bar in which I have enjoyed whisky? It is the bar at the Hotel Kamp in Helsinki. My favourite bar that specialises in whisky is in the Craigellachie Hotel, partly because of the selection available and partly because of the amazing times I’ve enjoyed there with other whisky lovers. Also, after a great dramming session, it really helps that it’s just a short journey up the stairs to get to my room…!

Desert Island dram?
Glenmorangie 21-year-old Sauternes Finish as it combines elegance with complexity and the range of flavours includes Tarte Tatin, one of my favourite desserts. I love whiskies that deliver but also retain an element of enigma and mystery, which compels me to have another sip.

What do you enjoy drinking when you arent having a whisky?
Cocktails! One reason I love cocktails is the theatricality of seeing them prepared; it’s like bar counter choreography, and the sense of occasion this creates. I also love the twilight atmosphere and the design of cocktail bars. My favourite cocktails include the Margarita, with as much salt and lemon as possible, Bloody Mary which I like with a lot of lemon juice, horseradish, and celery salt (but not with Sherry). My love of citrus also explains why I’ll happily sip a Sidecar.

Polish vodka, especially Zubrowka, has such a complex flavour, and because this is the country my family originates from, there is also an emotional element. The same applies to a delicious Polish speciality, sok z czarnej porzeczki (blackcurrant juice).

Whisky Heroes

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Whisky Heroes – Greg Dillon

Whisky Heroes – Greg Dillon

Whisky heroes

An award-winning drinks writer, Greg Dillon is also the founder of GreatDrams.com and has recently authored his first whisky book, The GreatDrams of Scotland; a conversational book of distillery stories, anecdotes, and historical accounts from distilleries all over Scotland. Greg co-founded GreatDrams Ventures with his wife Kirsty and in their first five years have won over 30 international awards for their limited-edition whisky releases.

Greg is also a brand strategist and social media consultant, working with brands big and small within the spirits industry to define, fix, build and grow their brands.

Greg is a judge on several whisky judging panels including:

•The Spirits Business Masters
•The IWSC
•The IWSC Packaging Awards
•World Whisky Awards 

Can you remember your first dram?
Laphroaig 10 was the first whisky I truly loved and started my whisky journey.

What attracted you to the industry?
The people, the stories, the history, and the majesty of crafting the perfect dram.

Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky?
1. Winning Double Gold at the San Fran World Spirits Competition with our GreatDrams brand which was founded by myself and my wife Kirsty.
2. Being invited onto my first press trip in 2014 to Edinburgh with Ardbeg for Ardbeg Day – that was special, I kept trying to pay for the flights, hotels and drinks as did not totally get that they were hosting it so paying for it all!
3. Launching our indie whisky brand GreatDrams in 2016 with Kirsty.
4. The publication of my first book, The GreatDrams of Scotland.
5. Working with all my superb clients on the consulting side of GreatDrams, be it new product development for Scotch, Irish, American, or world whisky brands, or marketing/brand strategy to even pack copy – every project is unique and fantastic!

What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky?
Try, try, try – go to whisky shows and sample lots of different whiskies so you start to develop your flavour preferences, understanding of the spirit and experience the breadth of options that are out there.

How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky?
Whatever they want and can comfortably afford… Some of my favourite whiskies are sub £50 a bottle, others are in the hundreds of pounds a bottle – it is whatever you enjoy, can afford and feel you want to own.

If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be?
Our very own Benrinnes 9-Year-Old PX Cask finished single cask – Double Gold winner, why not?!

Who do you consider to be a whisky icon?
So many people; Stephanie Macleod, Mark Thomson, Billy Leighton to name just three.

What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally?
Black Rock.

Desert Island dram?
Some ridiculous Redbreast or Craigellachie 23 -Year-Old.

What do you enjoy drinking when you aren’t having a whisky?
Gin and light tonic.

Where do you see Scotch whisky in 5 years?
Even stronger and more innovative.

What are the future challenges for the whisky industry?
Rising production costs nowadays.

Whisky Heroes

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Whisky Heroes – Millie Milliken

Whisky Heroes – Millie Milliken


Millie Milliken

Introduction

My name is Millie Milliken and I’ve been a journalist for 10 years, working for publications including The Good Food Guide, SquareMeal and most recently Imbibe UK magazine as deputy editor. I’ve spent the last year freelancing for the likes of Master of Malt, Club Oenologique and Whisky Magazine, as well as working for The Drinks Trust charity. I won the IWSC Spirits Communicator of the Year 2022 award and am embarking on some new whisky-related projects in 2022.

Q&A:

Can you remember your first dram?
I definitely would have started on the Jack Daniels and cokes as a teenager (probably at a festival straight out of a coke bottle) before I remember the first dram that actually made an impression on me – and that was a Laphroaig. I can’t recall the age but I’ve never tasted anything like it before and the peaty smoke flavours took me by surprise. I can’t say it was love at first taste but clearly, it stuck with me!

What attracted you to the industry?
I kind of fell into this industry. I started with a love of wine and got my level 2 WSET award just before I joined Imbibe. It was through my time there though that I got under the skin of the spirits and whisky industry and I’ve not really looked back. Now, I love discovering the history of distilleries, learning about the people who make them what they are and, of course, seeing those distilleries in the flesh. Nothing quite compares to standing among those stills with the people who run them. And I’d argue the smell of a whisky warehouse is hard to beat.

Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky?
I’ve had such a varied career that also involves a lot of things other than whisky. I’ve been on safari in Kenya (and thrown out of a plane); gone caving in Barbados; visited Chile and its beautiful pisco distilleries; taken a surprise helicopter ride on a trip to Gleneagles on my birthday… I suppose with whisky, visiting the iconic distilleries is always a memorable experience. Most recently I was at the Glenmorangie distillery for the first time and I won’ be forgetting that in a hurry.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky?
Ask questions. I think whisky can be quite intimidating for people who haven’t been exposed to it before but it is such an open industry full of people who want to help people learn about this category. Get your basics down in terms of definitions and get tasting! If you’re passionate, the rest will come. It’s also worth noting that learning about whisky is an endless exercise. I learn something new every time I visit a distillery.

How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky?
However much they want! There is so much good whisky out there at affordable prices. I think the ‘the older and more expensive the better’ approach to whisky is misguided. Be led by your flavour preference and take it from there. There are some amazing whiskies out there for £30 a bottle – but sure, if you’ve got more in the bank then go for it. Just ask the question: ‘why does it cost this much?’. And make sure you drink it!

If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be?
I can’t answer this question. My favourite whisky depends on my mood, my surroundings, what day I’ve had… Drinking whisky for me is about exploring and discovering new flavours, not drinking the same whisky over and over again.

Who do you consider to be a whisky hero?
Dr Rachel Barrie. She was one of the first people I became aware of in the whisky industry and I think her career has just been astonishing. I find the art of blending fascinating and I think most people would agree that she is one of the – if not the – best in the business. I remember trying Benriach when she was involved in the relaunch and it was a real education.

What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally?
I live in London so I’m very lucky to have Milroy’s at my disposal. Not only is their selection of whiskies incredible, but I think their approach is so refreshing and the staff are incredibly knowledgeable. I can grab a quick highball out of the tap or sit with a dram among people who aren’t all whisky nerds, which is so refreshing.

Desert Island dram?
I’m going to take this literally and if I was actually on a desert island it would have to be the Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve. I love this whisky with its beautiful banana and caramel notes and it is such an easy-drinking whisky. Perfect on a hot day or to keep me warm once the temperature drops.

What do you enjoy drinking when you aren’t having a whisky?
I’m a Martini obsessive. It’s always my first drink at dinner and I have a 5pm Martini every Friday (usually) without fail. Gin is most often the base with an olive garnish, or a Gibson if I know somewhere that serves a good one. To be honest, the most insane the garnish the better – Pickled Onion Monster Munch at The George is the one to beat right now.

What are the future challenges for the whisky industry?
I think a constant challenge for the industry is accessibility. There are still barriers for people who are new to the category and I’d like to think communicators like myself are helping to break those down. Whisky doesn’t have to be difficult to understand or intimidating or even a huge expense (for those lucky enough to have a disposable income). It can be fun, exciting and playful – isn’t that what it’s all about?

Whisky Heroes

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Whisky Heroes – Ronan Collins

Whisky Heroes – Ronan Collins


Ronan Collins

Introduction

Hi, I’m Ronan Collins. I spent time travelling the world doing wee odd jobs and then I fell into bartending at Trailer Happiness and then Dandelyan, before becoming the Pernod Ricard Irish Whiskey Ambassador. I now run my own spirits and consultancy business called ‘It’s Ronan’, collaborating with fantastic people around the world.

Q&A:

Can you remember your first dram?
I do actually remember it. I was 21 and travelling through New Zealand. Myself and some friends had finished skiing in Queenstown and went back to our place which had a hot tub. One of the American lads pulled out a litre bottle of Teacher’s Blended Scotch… I have yet to try that same dram again.

What attracted you to the industry?
I was living in South Africa as a surf coach and during one of the slower days, I was watching the movie Crazy, Stupid Love. There is a scene when Ryan Gosling’s character makes Emma Stone’s character a drink in his house, with sugar, bitters, ice and all sorts of things. I Googled what it was (an Old Fashioned) and the internet had so many debates about how it was made and its history – at that point, I thought booze was booze or Teacher’s. Two weeks later I left South Africa for Dublin to follow in the footsteps of Ryan; cocktails and whiskey.

Can you share some memorable moments of your career or with whisky?
One of the most memorable was working in Dandelyan in 2017 on the night the 50 Best Bars was announced. We got named as the 3rd Best Bar in the world jumping from 50 on the list. Long story short Ryan (Mr Lyan) sabered a jeroboam of Champagne with a knife and I gave a layback of this to Dave Wondrich across the green Dandelyan bar top. That was pretty memorable.

What advice would you give to someone who is new to whisky?
Don’t listen to anyone. Make your own mind up and be open to everything and never disregard a whole category – variety is the spice of life

How much should someone spend on a bottle of whisky?
Always within your own means. Never hurt your bank for the sake of booze – some of the best drops I have ever had were due to the people I was with.

If you could only drink one whisky for the rest of your life which one would it be?
I will stick with Irish – Method & Madness 28 Year Old Ruby Port Cask Single Malt. I still dream about it.

Who do you consider to be a whisky hero?
I am not sure there is enough space for all of the names, but anyone who has their own voice and is filled with passion and knowledge is usually gravy in my book.

What is your favourite whisky bar in the UK and globally?
I love the Duke of York in Belfast. The building is steeped in history and it has a back bar to match – it really is one of a kind and the best in the world. There was a great one in Speyside in Craigellachie with a pool table, I am ashamed that I can’t remember the name and I am sure I will get grief for it. It was honestly amazing.

Desert Island dram?
If Method & Madness 28 Year Old Ruby Port Cask Single Malt is there I will be happy; if not, I expect chilled Champagne.

What do you enjoy drinking when you aren’t having a whisky?
I am partial to a wee gin martini or two but I will never turn down a bottle of Champagne.

What are the future challenges for the whisky industry?
The need for more detail on the labels on where the liquid has been distilled and matured etc. This will give more transparency and provenance.

Whisky Heroes

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The Rise, Fall, & Rise Again of Irish Whiskey by Phil Huckle

The Rise, Fall, & Rise Again of Irish Whiskey by Phil Huckle

INTRODUCTION

Today the global marketplace is dominated by Scotch Whisky. Powerhouse blends like Johnnie Walker, Chivas Regal & Ballantine’s can be found widely distributed in every country in the world. Even where it is highly illegal to drink alcohol! Single Malt whisky sales are in a steep trajectory upwards which is sure to continue when the pandemic is over. However, it wasn’t always this way. In this article, I’m going to explore the past and present to help give you investors a clear vision of the future and what my advice would be moving forward.

Johnnie Walker glass

EARLY TURBULENT BEGINNINGS LEADING TO THE FIRST GOLDEN AGE

Where to start? Well both the Scots & Irish lay claim to be the first to distil whisk(e)y. There is actually evidence on both sides. Ergo, this Englishman is not going to get involved in that particular war of words. I’ll leave the Celtic cousins to it. However, it is very clear that by the 1500s both countries were involved in widespread illegal home distilling. The fiery liquid being produced was being drunk neat and unaged. Over in Ireland which was under British rule new laws were passed. This made it illegal to distil any spirit without a license.

Most Irish laughed at this because beyond the large ditch (known as The Pale) which surrounds the land around Dublin these laws were ignored. This is where the famous saying ‘beyond the pale’ comes from! The British though continued to pass their laws as they gained more firm control over the country.

In 1661 the first heavy taxation was imposed on Irish whiskey. However, despite this production continued to expand, most of which was illegal. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that things really started to move in a positive direction in terms of quality. The invention of the steam engine and the industrial revolution really transformed the industry. But just when the future was looking bright, heavy taxation stopped it in its tracks and drove production underground again.

Assortment of whiskies

However, in 1823 in both Scotland & Ireland, the tax laws were changed for the better. Fed up with the huge amounts of tax-free illegal distilling occurring, and the cost of having an army of excise men to track them down, one of our most enlightened Chancellors of the Exchequer (it’s a very short list!) transformed the distilling industry for the better. Step forward Sir Robert Peel who did something truly remarkable… He massively lowered the tax on distilling to encourage the industry to go legal and to ultimately raise a lot more revenue! (Try explaining that to any politician today and they won’t understand)! This is exactly what happened as in just 12 years legal distilleries in Ireland went from 32 to 93.

Although again just when it looked like it was coming up Irish, there were huge problems with the potato famine. Additionally, there was a lot of fraud, counterfeit whiskey, and a severe lack of regulation hurting progress. Another surprising twist in the fortunes of Irish Whiskey occurred in the late 1870/80s. The phylloxera epidemic wiped out the French vineyards. Consequently, the dominant spirit of French Brandy was almost impossible to find, but the people had to drink something. Irish whiskey stepped forward and in a short space of time production quadrupled.

This was a true golden era for Irish whiskey as it totally dominated the global market. It was also helped by the invention of the railways and the huge expansion of the British Empire. Plus, fuelled by the quickly expanding US market. Luck was well and truly smiling on the Irish and the number of distilleries ballooned to over 200! Although it couldn’t last…

Glass of Bushmills

THE FALL

By 1914 it was all starting to unravel. World War 1 had just started and grain was being diverted for food production. This happened just as the German submarines had surrounded the British Isles. Then in 1916, the Irish started their war of independence which whilst ultimately successful, meant that Irish whiskey was effectively cut off from the very profitable British Empire market. If that wasn’t enough our American cousins introduced prohibition in 1919 (what were they thinking?!). The canny Scots immediately started to facilitate a huge smuggling operation through the British colonies of Canada. This also included the Bahamas, in order for the whisky to reach American consumers.

The Irish were blocked from this route. To make matters even worse, the illegal bathtub distillers started to make fake rotgut whiskey. They called it Irish for the simple reason that Irish whiskey used to sell for a higher price than Scotch. This though absolutely ruined the reputation of Irish whiskey whilst Scotch whiskey was being enhanced. It got worse…

In the Irish home market, the abstinence movement was gaining great traction through the Church. Many Irish were encouraged to ‘take the pledge’ and give up alcohol. Therefore in a few short years, Irish whiskey lost the US market, the British Empire market, and their own domestic market. The number of distilleries quickly went from 200 down to three! Things remained bleak for many years. Even when prohibition was finally over in 1933 the world then fell into a huge global depression. This was then followed by World War II. It wasn’t until 1966 when the first seeds of recovery started to occur.

THE RISE

In 1966 the three surviving distilleries (Jameson, Powers, Cork) in the South decided to pool resources and form the company Irish Distillers Ltd. A few years later they were joined by the only distillery in the North (Bushmills). However, the new company wasn’t that successful. They were eventually taken over by the French group Pernod Ricard with Bushmills going to British company Diageo in 2005. The huge global reach and marketing resources of these two companies then started the recovery. The main driving force has been the Jameson brand. By the mid-1990s sales globally had reached a very impressive 500,000 cases.

Jamesons bottle & glass

Today this has risen to 7.5 million! The interest in Irish whiskey has just exploded and with that more and more premium, older expressions have been released. The Irish Pot Still whiskies are now seen in terms of quality as the equivalent of Scottish Single Malt. The success of Redbreast, Midleton, The Spot Whiskies, Powers John’s Lane, Bushmills, Tullamore Dew, Teeling, Writer’s Tears, Connemara, West Cork… the list goes on.

FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES

For investors, this is a very exciting time to look at getting into Irish Whiskey. These are the reasons why the future looks very bright….

  • History/Heritage – Irish Whiskey has an abundance of this (as you’ve just read) which today’s consumers hold great importance to. It’s also a marketeers’ dream to have something genuine to promote.

  • Quality – All the raw ingredients, distilling knowledge, and climatic conditions which make Scotch Whisky so special are also equally present in Ireland. The whiskey the Irish are making is very, very good.

  • Investment – Huge telephone numbers of investment are going into building new distilleries, upgrading facilities and the promotion of various brands. This doesn’t happen if all these very successful companies are not confident of future opportunities. Currently, there are four large established distilleries, nine new ones up and running with a further 22 being built.

  • Shortages – Demand is outstripping supply with aged whisky. Independent bottlings are still relatively thin on the ground so with 1500 Independent Bottling companies desperate for good quality Irish whiskey there will always be an exit strategy for any investor.

  • The US Advantage – The Americans love Scotch Whisky but they are almost obsessed with Irish Whiskey. Starved of supply and quality for close to 100 years our American friends cannot buy enough Irish Whiskey it seems. This is certainly fuelled by the huge Irish American population and the US is by far the most important spirits market in the world.

  • Global Trends – Irish Whiskey is very strong in the US and a few other markets but there is so much untapped potential around the world especially in Asia and South America. There is no reason why Irish whiskey can’t carve out its own chunk of every market where Scotch whisky does well.

    Bushmills casks

CONCLUSION

Of course, everything comes down to price and value. Therefore look for a distillery that is already proven to make great quality whiskey, has established successful brands, but still has good value for investors – this would be the safe investment play here. One distillery springs to mind… Cooley (of which we have on our current stock list in the forms of Single Malt and Single Grain!).

For more info on the Irish Whiskey we have in stock and other casks on our stock list, click here (you must be registered on our website and logged into your account to view it).