Now that I am safely home and enjoying the use of my superfast internet, I'm going to start uploading a few videos here and there. This first one shows John from Chieftain's explaining how they keep track of their whiskies. There are hundreds in their warehouse. How do they know when each one is ready?
Sitting here at the airport in Edinburgh, waiting for my flight, trying to summarize everything I've learned on this trip into a few short bullet points. Here's what I know now that I didn't before:
- Indie bottlers that own distilleries can trade for some great barrels if their own whisky is a key component for another company's blend
- Up until now, indie bottlers have sent their own casks over the distilleries to be filled, or at worst, selected which type of cask they wanted filled. Because most distilleries are discontinuing this practice, it is IMPOSSIBLE to break into the indie business now. You need to have decades worth of previous stock to compete with these guys.
- Distilleries will sometimes teaspoon their casks (add a wee bit of another distillery's whisky) to prevent indie bottlers from selling the whisky as a pure single malt.
- Indie bottlers have to be very careful when purchasing barrels from the broker market as some can be 4th or 5th fill barrels, rendering the whisky pale, bland, and practically worthless. It might say "Glen Keith 17 hogshead," but it still might look and taste like white dog.
- The U.S. system that only allows for 375ml, 750ml, and 1.75L bottles is preventing everyone here from drinking more whisky, and preventing us from selling more whisky. There are numerous distilleries and bottlers that don't want to deal with a different format just for one market that isn't drinking anywhere near as much as China anyway.
- The type of barrel and the quality of the wood might be more important than just about every other step in the process of making of whisky.
- Small, independent distilleries are so much smaller and hands on than one would think. It's amazing they can supply so many parts of the world.
- Bruichladdich makes so much whisky that no one can collect it all. I love that. Just drink it, guys.
- Campbeltown doesn't have much going on besides Springbank distillery.
- The Spey doesn't look anything like I thought it would. The large distilleries are like factories churning out robots. There is nothing romantic about it.
Maybe I can think of some more later.
Alright! I found a faster connection via the airport service that I signed up for my first day here, so I'm rocking with photos now. We pulled up to Edradour in the middle of a downpour, but by the time we left the sun was starting to shine through the grey mountain mist. That gave us a chance to snap a few pictures of this fairy tale-esque, tiny distillery. With the river running through the middle, the sound of running water permeates every room in the facility, even in the warehouse while we were going through barrels. Des met us on our arrival and immediately took us up to the store for some tasting.
If you've ever thought to yourself, "Why don't we get that bottle in the states?" I can give you reason number one right now: our stupid 750ml liquor bottles. No one else in the world (except South Africa) bottles at that measure and no one else designates that liquor must come in that or 375ml sizes. Edradour has a TON of different expressions and only 5% of them are available in the U.S. because they bottle single cask expressions in 500ml bottles. They don't want to deal with the bureaucracy involved with getting them stateside, so they say just forget it. We're really missing out as you can see from the shelves above.
The distillation room at Edradour is cute like a babies little fingers are cute. So teeny tiny, so adorable! They only make about mash about 1.15 tons of barley a day for distillation, but MAN! was that barley aromatic and delicious smelling. David and I stuck our heads in the tank and couldn't believe how fragrant it was. The stills are wide and dumpy which allows the heavier alcohols to find their way through and that makes Edradour an oily, chewier malt. The whole place is so quaint and wonderful, and because Edradour is owned by Signatory, the shop is full of their amazing bottlings as well.
So then began the Signatory side of today's business. I don't want to reveal too much until it all gets worked out, but if we have our way this will be the year that K&L resurrects the departed and forgotten distilleries of the Lowlands. I've had such education on this trip and I never realized how much I DIDN'T know until now. The indy bottling business is tough and right now it is next to impossible for these guys to get new casks. Signatory was smart and they went big a few years back when they saw this trend coming. They're sitting on some wonderful barrels and they let David and I run freely through their selection as we jumped up and down, high-fiving, and thinking to ourselves, "Oh my God! We can really take this?"
As David and I sit here at the Hitlon bar, drinking a beer, conducting business via the internet and getting ready to fly back, I know we're both as exhausted as we are excited. I can't wait to get back and share some of the experiences we've had on this trip with all of our customers. I've also got loads of great video for the blog when I get a better connection back at home. Until then.
I have plenty of beautiful pictures to show you, but they'll have to wait because the wifi at the Hilton by the airport is super slow. It's taking ten minutes to get one picture online and I'm not patient enough to wait. Big tasting today at Edradour with Signatory. I'll say this for now and then post the rest later:
- Since I know for a fact other retailers have infiltrated my customer email list and are using my notices as a tool to jump the gun and undercut our pricing before we get it established, I'm assuming you're doing the same with the blog. If you sneaky folks are reading this, let me just tell you that you're really missing out by not getting over to Scotland. Some of the people we've visited have never met with ANY American retailer and are happy to sell us wonderful casks. We're about to blow the single malt roof off of 2011, so I hope you can keep getting by working low margins and taking what your distributor can get for you.
- We just tasted insane casks and if the pricing works out, we'll be bringing in insane whiskies. Insane whiskies. INSANE WHISKIES.