The statue of Booker Noe at the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky.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”.

Interview & Review: Michael Dietsch’s “Whiskey: A Spirited Story”

Whiskey: A Spirited Story with 75 Classic & Original Cocktails" by Michael Dietsch. Image courtesy The Countryman Press.May 20, 2016 – It’s hard to write a book about whisky. Make it too elementary so newcomers will understand, and longtime whisky connoisseurs will roll their eyes. Make it too detailed, and the longtime whisky lovers will love it, but you’ll intimidate the newcomers and continue the perception that whisky is too difficult to comprehend. That’s the challenge Michael Dietsch has balanced successfully in his second drinks book “Whiskey: A Spirited Story With 75 Classic & Original Cocktails.” Dietsch covers not only the history of the various types of whisky, but looks at the history of cocktails from Revolutionary War times to the present day, and does it with a lighthearted style that will keep both groups of potential readers engaged.

“There aren’t very many books out there for people who are brand new to the category and don’t know much about whiskey already,” Dietsch said in a telephone interview. “That’s what I wanted to aim the book for…the whiskey category is growing so fast now, as you know, that clearly there are a lot of new consumers coming on board and a book that’s a deep dive into Scotch isn’t necessarily the right thing for them.” Dietsch balances the need to bring those potential future connoisseurs up to speed while providing the right amount of historical context and depth that longtime connoisseurs expect.

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Michael Dietsch:

The book features (as might be gathered from the title) 75 recipes for whisky cocktails, starting with the Cherry Bounce that Martha Washington prepared for George Washington’s journeys between the Revolutionary War and becoming the first President of the United States. Award-winning Vancouver mixologist Lauren Mote contributes her recipe for The Acadien, a cocktail that combines Western Canada’s legendary Rye whisky with Eastern Canada’s maple syrup liqueur to, as Dietsch puts it, tell “the history of Canada through a cocktail.”

There’s also a nod to the original recipe for the Mint Julep – without the crushed ice, and while the modern Mint Julep is the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, this weekend’s Preakness at Baltimore’s Pimlico had its own bespoke cocktail for many years. The Preakness is a Rye-based cocktail inspired originally by the popularity of locally-distilled Ryes in the Baltimore area, but was eventually replaced by the Black-Eyed Susan as the official cocktail of the Preakness. Perhaps with the resumption of Rye Whiskey distilling at several local distilleries, The Preakness might once again find its way into favor with the Maryland Jockey Club, which operates Pimlico.

In short, “Whiskey: A Spirited Story With 75 Classic & Original Cocktails” comes highly recommended as not only a guide to whisky’s origins and differences, but old and new ways to enjoy the water of life. The photography by Dietsch and his wife, Jennifer Hess, is outstanding as well. By the way, don’t miss Dietsch’s explanation of the differences between “whisky” and “whiskey” in the beginning…don’t want to spoil it for you.

Editor’s note: This article has a link to purchase the book in the WhiskyCast Bookstore powered by Amazon.com. CaskStrength Media receives a small commission on all sales. 

Links: “Whiskey: A Spirited Story With 75 Classic & Original Cocktails” 

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Interview: “A Glass Apart” Author Fionnán O’Connor

"A Glass Apart: Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey" by Fionnán O'Connor. Image courtesy Images Publishing. March 13, 2016 – While today’s Irish Whiskies are known largely as smooth, mellow, triple-distilled drams, the sub-category known as “Single Pot Still” whiskies is enjoying a resurgence in interest. While triple-distilled as their more widely-available blended cousins, these whiskies are currently produced from a combination of malted and unmalted barley and use pot stills exclusively (blended Irish whiskies use a percentage of pot still whiskies with a much larger percentage of spirit from column stills). While the name “Single Pot Still” is a more recent term, so-called “Pure Pot Still” whiskies were the predominant style during the golden era of Irish Whiskey that ended a century ago with the combination of the Irish Civil War, World War II, and the advent of Prohibition in the United States.

Fionnán O’Connor is a postgraduate researcher at Dublin’s Trinity College, and started looking into the history of Irish Whiskey while studying medieval history as an undergraduate. In late 2015, he published his first book, “A Glass Apart: Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey”. While studying at the University of California Berkeley, he taught classes on whisky appreciation and worked as a brand ambassador for Bushmills, and now works as a historical consultant for Tullamore and several other Irish distilleries. He is also an active member of the Irish Whiskey Society.

Fionnán was one of the presenters during a recent Tullamore D.E.W.-sponsored press trip for a group of whisky writers and journalists, including WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie. While traveling on a bus from Tullamore to Dublin, they had the chance to talk about the history of Irish Whiskey, along with some of the characters that helped grow – and tear apart – Ireland’s national drink.

 

Editor’s note: While this interview was conducted during a Tullamore D.E.W. press trip in which travel expenses were covered, full editorial control over the content of this story and our interview remains with WhiskyCast. 

Links: Irish Whiskey Society

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Cask Finishing? Ailsa Bay Turns The Process On Its Head

Ailsa Bay Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Image courtesy William Grant & Sons.February 14, 2016 – Ailsa Bay Distillery is tucked away inside the William Grant & Sons-owned Girvan distillery complex in Ayrshire, Scotland, and now, nine years after opening its doors, the first single malt Scotch whisky from the distillery is on sale. The no-age-statement malt comes from one of the three styles of peated spirit produced at Ailsa Bay, according to Kevin Abrook of William Grant & Sons.

“We knew we couldn’t out-Islay Islay,” Abrook said in a telephone interview. “What we wanted to do was celebrate that at a modern distillery using the latest methods but still obviously adhering to the traditions that are in single malt whisky.”

Listen to Mark Gillespie’s interview with Kevin Abrook:

The distillery was designed to produce whisky for use in the company’s blends, but also gave Master Blender Brian Kinsman a chance to experiment with a new style of maturation. According to Abrook, the “cask-starting” process uses small casks previously used at New York’s Tuthilltown Spirits for Hudson Baby Bourbon to give the new make spirit an initial boost for several months before the whisky is transferred to a mix of traditional-size refill, first-fill, and Virgin Oak barrels for the rest of the maturation period.

Essentially, the process is the exact opposite of “finishing”, in which distillers put mature whisky into a different style of cask to add unique flavor characteristics. “If you cook a roast in the oven, you put it on high for 200º (ºC, or around 392º F) and then after 20 minutes, you take it out and lower the temperature,” Abrook said. “You give the maturation a real boost in the small ex-Hudson casks so you’ve got a great liquid-to-wood ratio, and that accelerates the maturation.”

The Ailsa Bay single malt is bottled at 48.9% ABV, and is available at UK retailers and in several Nordic countries with a recommended retail price of £55 ($79 USD).

Links: William Grant & Sons

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Midleton Dair Ghaelach: Reviving Irish Oak

Midleton Dair Ghaelach. Image courtesy Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard.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:

Tasting notes for Midleton Dair Ghaelach and Green Spot Chateau Lèoville Barton are available at the WhiskyCast web site.

Links: Single Pot Stills of Midleton

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Interview: Waterford Distillery Founder Mark Reynier

Waterford Distillery founder Mark Reynier (R) tastes the distillery's first spirit with head brewer Lisa Ryan (L) and his son Ruari (C) December 9, 2015. Photo ©2015 by Mark Gillespie.

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

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Why Can’t Scotch Whisky Makers Be More Transparent?

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.

A screen shot from the WhiskyCast Facebook page. 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.

A screen shot from the WhiskyCast Twitter feed. 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.

An original bottle of Johnnie Walker Oldest from the 1980's. Image courtesy Diageo. 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.”

James Espey, photographed in New York City March 10, 2014. Photo ©2014 by Mark Gillespie.“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…

Links: Compass Box | Scotch Whisky Association

 

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