This is where you’ll find extended versions of WhiskyCast interviews, along with audio and video from special events that were too long to include in a regular episode of WhiskyCast. The original idea behind WhiskyCast was to gather oral histories of whisky, and this is a place where you can listen and learn more about the “water of life”.
February 14, 2016 – In a few weeks, a team of foresters will visit a stand of trees at an undisclosed site near Dublin and select several mature Irish Oak trees to be felled. Those trees will make their way to a Spanish cooperage to be turned into barrels for use in maturing a future edition of Midleton Dair Ghaelach. The single pot still Irish whiskey made its debut in Ireland and Europe in early 2o15, and has now been released in the US along with Green Spot Chateau Lèoville Barton, a version of the classic Green Spot finished in Bordeaux wine casks from the chateau in St. Julien, France.
Kevin O’Gorman is the Master of Maturation for Irish Distillers, based at Midleton Distillery in County Cork, and leads the Irish Oak project. Dair Ghaelach was the first whiskey to be matured in Irish Oak in at least a century, largely because of decades of deforestation during the Industrial Revolution in Ireland that left Ireland with little usable hardwood forests. Recent efforts to increase the amount of forest cover have now allowed for sustainable forestry practices such as the Dair Ghaelach project.
In Episode 576 of WhiskyCast, we briefly heard from Kevin O’Gorman about Dair Ghaelach and Irish Oak, but time constraints did not allow us to use the entire interview.
Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Kevin O’Gorman:
December 13, 2015 – Ireland’s newest distillery came to life this past week when the stills were fired up for the first time at Waterford Distillery, just a year and a week after Mark Reynier’s Renegade Spirits bought the former Guinness brewery in Waterford and started the process of turning it into a whiskey distillery. In this WhiskyCast In-Depth interview, Reynier talked with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie about his plans for making single malt whiskey in Ireland, the stills that his team at Bruichladdich “liberated” from the soon-to-be demolished Inverleven Distillery, the lessons he learned at Bruichladdich that he’ll apply at Waterford, and how he not only made peace with the man who engineered his departure from Bruichladdich…but brought him on board as a director at Waterford.
Editor’s note: WhiskyCast was invited to attend the distillation ceremony as a guest of Renegade Spirits. However, as with all of our content, full editorial control over this story remains with WhiskyCast.
Links: Waterford Distillery
November 1, 2015 – In the wake of the latest controversy involving Compass Box’s disclosure of the exact recipes for its two most recent releases, the reaction on social media has been largely one of support for Compass Box and criticism for the rest of the Scotch Whisky industry, with demands that laws be changed to allow more transparency.
Compass Box was pressured by the Scotch Whisky Association to revise its marketing materials for “This is not a luxury whisky” and the Flaming Heart 15th Anniversary Edition to remove the age statements for all of the whiskies used in both blended malts. According to SWA legal affairs director Magnus Cormack, a competing whisky producer raised the issue on the grounds that Compass Box’s disclosure violates both the Scotch Whisky Act of 2009 and corresponding European Union legislation banning all spirits producers from disclosing any age-related information other than the age of the youngest spirit that goes into a blend. While the SWA has no enforcement power of its own, Scotch Whisky producers are now required to register with HM Revenue and Customs and are subject to compliance audits under the Geographical Indicator scheme that protects “Scotch Whisky” in international trade, and the agency could have imposed sanctions against Compass Box had the changes not been made.
Even as whisky consumers on social media are demanding changes in those laws, others are raising questions about why the ban was imposed in the first place. The ban was actually put in place nearly three decades ago, largely to protect the industry from itself – according to the industry executive who led the push for the ban, former United Distillers and Chivas Brothers executive James Espey. While at United Distillers (one of Diageo’s predecessor companies), Espey and colleague Tom Jago were responsible for creating Johnnie Walker Oldest – now known as Johnnie Walker Blue Label.
In a March, 2014 interview with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie, Espey explained the genesis of the age statement restrictions in context with the creation of Johnnie Walker Oldest:
“We found a barrel of 60-year old, which we blended a little bit predominantly with 15-year-old…it was young, but it was a brilliant blend. Tom created a bottle as you would imagine it a hundred years ago, and we called it Johnnie Walker Oldest. And we launched it carefully, priced it appropriately as it is today, got it on the Concorde and all over the place and it took off.”
“The only thing that changed is when I left the company and became the president of Chivas Brothers, my main brand was Royal Salute, which I knew was 21 (years old). Now, it was an outstanding whisky, and I’m not sure what age it is today, but that’s not the point. We found there was a new man at United Distillers who had come from McKinsey (the consulting firm) – nothing to do with the heritage of the industry, and he was pushing in nightclubs in Taiwan ‘Johnnie Walker Oldest – 60 years of age…Royal Salute 21’. That’s ethically immoral and incorrect…so we got the law changed, and the law says today you can only mention the youngest age of any whisky in the blend.”
What would it take to change the laws? Given that there appears to be little interest in doing so within the whisky industry, any change is unlikely, especially given that it would require changing not only the UK’s law, but changing the overriding European Union law as well. The SWA’s Magnus Cormack put it bluntly in his statement:
“The law is an EU law. Neither the UK nor the SWA can derogate from it. A change would require agreement by the 28 Member States, and pre-supposes that all other spirits sectors would be in agreement.”
Now, if the push by Prime Minister David Cameron’s government to hold a referendum on continued UK membership in the European Union were to result in the so-called “Brexit”, that would still not solve the problem. While the UK and Scottish Parliaments would be free to amend the Scotch Whisky Act of 2009, the EU law would still apply to all Scotch Whisky exported to the remaining EU member nations. In addition, US law also mandates that any whisky that carries an age statement refer to the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle.
In short, Robert Merton’s Law of Unintended Consequences has been proven once again. What was originally intended to prevent unethical competition in the whisky industry now prevents the industry from being more transparent, and fixing it means the likelihood of more unintended consequences.
Be careful what you wish for…
October 10, 2015 – As a rule, Japanese whisky makers tend to blend into the crowd at whisky festivals. For instance, Nikka chief blender Tadashi Sakuma was able to walk around the recent Whisky Live Paris in relative anonymity. Ichiro Akuto is the exception. Known for his legendary “Playing Cards” series of whiskies from the now-closed Hanyu Distillery, which his family owned for many years, Akuto now makes whisky at his Chichibu Distillery in the foothills of Mt. Kobu northwest of Tokyo and close to the Hanyu Distillery site. While the first release of Chichibu single malt only came out in 2011, Auto’s young whiskies are already highly regarded by whisky fans around the world.
During Whisky Live Paris, Ichiro Akuto sat down with WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie for an interview:
WhiskyCast: Tell me about your start and your family’s history in the whisky business…
Ichiro Akuto: Our family business dates back to 1625 as sake brewers, and in 1941, my grandfather set up a new headquarters and factory producing pot rum and sake, shōchū, liquor, wine, and so on…including whisky.
WhiskyCast: This was the Hanyu Distillery, right?
Ichiro Akuto: That’s right, and my father had to sell our company. Business was not good with the recession in the economy, but the new owner was not really interested in whisky because at that time, the whisky market was shrinking. The new owner was only interested in sake and shōchū…a very quick business. Whisky needed space and time. I wanted to release the Hanyu whisky because some of the whisky was almost 20 years old…kind of children approaching 20 years old, so I decided to set up a new company. But in the future, the Hanyu whisky will be consumed, so I had to set up a new distillery to continue in the whisky business. So, in 2008, we started making whisky in Chichibu.
WhiskyCast: And you’ve gone what would best be described as “old school” at Chichibu. You have a cooperage on site, you’ve had one of Japan’s last remaining coopers teach your staff how to make barrels, and you’re doing everything at Chichibu the way it was done by your grandfather and your family at Hanyu for years…and the way it was really done traditionally in Scotland as well.
Ichiro Akuto: Actually, my father and grandfather didn’t have a cooperage. There were two independent cooperages in Japan and we purchased casks from the cooperages, but one of them decided to close the cooperage. Once a year, we went there and he trained us how to make cooperage. Three years ago, he was approaching 86 years old…very old guy, and he had no successor, so he decided to close the cooperage. There was good machinery, although very old, left…and I didn’t want them to be thrown away…so I asked him to let us purchase the old machinery, then I set up our cooperage on-site.
WhiskyCast: Tell me how you came up with the idea for the Playing Cards series, because that’s what you’re most well-known for…that series of 54 single malts from Hanyu released over several years that people around the world go nuts over. How did you come up with that idea?
Ichiro Akuto: Last year, we finished the Cards series with 54 labels (all four suits and two Jokers) and it took about nine years At first, I just wanted to release four single casks, and I talked about ideas for the labels with my friend, a designer…he also likes whisky at bars. We talked a lot about the idea for single casks, and we hit upon the idea that playing cards had four suits…we agreed, so then we made up the labels. The first four cards were very strong cards, because I didn’t think that the Cards whisky would be a series….at the time, I just thought four cards. But after that, once the very unique label on the bottles (appeared) at the bars, the customers would ask the bartender “what was that?” The label was unique, the quality was good, so the popularity was getting higher among bartenders. Then, I decided to release a whole Cards (series) after that.
WhiskyCast: A set of the complete series, all 54 bottles, sold earlier this summer at Bonham’s in Hong Kong for about $400,000 (USD)…
Ichiro Akuto: Crazy… (shaking his head)
WhiskyCast: Does this surprise you that it would go for that much, and why?
Ichiro Akuto: I’m not sure, because I just make and sell whisky. I made it for drinking…not to sit in a room or something. In a sense of speaking, I’m not sure why it gets such a high price.
WhiskyCast: Because of the rarity, because of the quality…all those things combined? Maybe you should have priced it higher originally…somebody else is making all that money off that whisky now…
Ichiro Akuto: At least we don’t get that money… (laughing)
WhiskyCast: What’s happening at Chichibu these days…how’s the whisky coming along?
Ichiro Akuto: I often taste every cask, and now it’s getting really, really nice. Hopefully, I will release 10 years old, 20 years old in the future…I hope they get much better.
WhiskyCast: You’re up to about seven years old now, right?
Ichiro Akuto: Yes.
WhiskyCast: And what’s your next release from Chichibu going to be?
Ichiro Akuto: Every year, we release a single malt from Chichibu Distillery, but supplies are limited, so most releases are three years old, but every year we release a peated…or “On the Way” – it contains multiple vintages, but in the future, I hope I will release a 10-years-old in 2020.
WhiskyCast: What do you want your legacy as a whisky maker to be? Is it the Playing Cards series…is it the other whiskies from Hanyu that you’ve helped out with and wound up bottling later on, or the whiskies that you’re creating now at Chichibu. When they tell the story of Ichiro Akuto 50 to 75 years from now after we’re both long gone, what do you want to be remembered for?
Ichiro Akuto: Ichiro’s Malt…it’s the brand name of our whisky. It’s a bridge brand between Hanyu and Chichibu. Hanyu now, it has a very high reputation, and Chichibu is getting older and its reputation for taste is increasing. Hopefully, Ichiro’s Malt is a bridge brand between the past and the future, so in the future, Chichibu will be focused on by whisky enthusiasts in the future.
WhiskyCast: And that’s what people will think of when they think of Ichiro Akuto in the future, is the Chichibu?
Ichiro Akuto: (nods and smiles) Yes.
WhiskyCast: Are you still having fun…are you still enjoying making whisky?
Ichiro Akuto: Yes, I am…
WhiskyCast: Tell me about that smell when you walk into a warehouse for the first time in the morning after it’s been closed up all night…and you open the door and the smell just hits you. What does that smell like?
Ichiro Akuto: It’s a very comfortable place for whisky enthusiasts. In winter, it smells like wood and soil, and in summertime, it smells very, very (pauses) whisky flavor…it’s a fruity and sweet flavor in the warehouse. It’s different in different seasons because of the temperature differences, so I always appreciate the differences that create good whisky.
WhiskyCast: Thank you very much…
Editor’s note: Thanks to Yumi Yoshikawa of Venture Whisky Ltd., the parent company of Chichibu Distillery, for serving as a translator. While Yumi translated some of our questions into Japanese, all of Ichiro Akuto’s responses were in English and quoted here with minor editing as necessary.
July 4, 2015 – Chef David Bouley is one of America’s leading chefs, and it’s almost impossible to get reservations at his namesake restaurant in New York City’s TriBeCa neighborhood. Before opening the original Bouley in 1987, the Sorbonne-trained Connecticut native worked at some of Manhattan’s legendary restaurants and has a wall full of awards for both his culinary and writing prowess.
For Suntory’s New York City launch of the Hibiki Japanese Harmony blended whisky at a dinner on June 30, 2015, Chef Bouley and his colleague, Chef Isao Yamada, prepared a dinner featuring smoked salmon, Colorado Lamb, and other courses using the Hibiki as both an ingredient and a complementing drink. However, what may have been the most memorable dish of the evening wasn’t found on the menu…Chef Bouley and his team prepared ice cream using the Hibiki and organic prunes – just because they had some whisky left to work with.
After dinner, New York Daily News reporter Jeannette Settembre and WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie had a chance to talk with Chef Bouley about whisky, food, and that ice cream. Here’s the interview:
Chef Bouley owns his namesake restaurant in Manhattan, along with Brushstroke, the Bouley Test Kitchen, and the Bouley Botanical event space.
July 3, 2015 – Shinji Fukuyo was named Suntory’s chief blender in 2009, and is only the fourth person to hold that title in the company’s history. His responsibilities include the Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts, along with the Hibiki range of blended Japanese whiskies and the entire Suntory Whisky portfolio.
His whiskies have won numerous awards over the years, and he is regarded as one of Japanese whisky’s leading innovators. His latest creation is the Hibiki Japanese Harmony blend, which is being released this month worldwide.
Earlier this year, we sat down for a conversation in New York City with the help of interpreter Hidemi Harada.
Links: Suntory Whisky