K&L Casks & Diageo
Since I posted the last article about Diageo's take on their single malt distilleries, I thought I'd also enlighten you all a bit as to how many of our 2011 K&L whiskies are independently-bottled Diageo malts. As a company, Diageo does not do retailer bottlings, but that's not anything to moan about. Very few distilleries are willing to do retailer casks because the amount of work needed to get it done can be more than it's worth. They're mostly about goodwill and keeping relationships strong, rather than lucrative opportunities. Needless to say, because Diageo has a number of distilleries that are either not released as single malts, or are no longer in production, we take a certain pleasure in bringing these whiskies into the U.S. market. We're collectors like anyone else, so we want the chance to explore Scotland's many distilleries just like any other enthusiast. Here's how our recent K&L barrels fit under Diageo's gigantic umbrella:
1998 Blair Athol K&L Exclusive 11 Year Old Provenance Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky - The most recent of our latest arrivals was a lovely little barrel of old school malt from one of Scotland's oldest distilleries. In 1798, two businessmen founded Aldour Distillery which was a play on the nearby river Allt Dour (seen in the above photo taken on our trip). In 1825, the name was changed to Blair Athol when the facility was expanded. Twice closed (once in 1832 and again 100 years later in 1932), the distillery was sold to Arthur Bell & Sons in 1933 where it became the foundation for what would become the UK's most popular blended whisky today - Bell's Blended. The Guinness Group purchased Arthur Bell & Sons, and therefore Blair Athol, in 1985 and the distillery became the property of Diageo when the Guinness Group merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997. After Talisker and Oban, Blair Athol is the third most visited distillery of Diageo's holdings with around 40,000 per year. It is not released as a single malt, with the exception of a few rare Manager's Choice releases now and then.
1992 Bladnoch K&L Exclusive 18 Year Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky - While Bladnoch is no longer owned by Diageo, it was acquired by the Guinness Group as part of the same Blair Athol deal mentioned above (as Arthur Bell & Sons took over in 1983). However, Bladnoch was mothballed by United Distillers (a combination of Arthur Bell and Distillers Company run by Guinness - the pre-cursor to Diageo) in 1993 when they also shut down Rosebank, Pittyvaich, and Balmenach. In 1994, a businessman from Northern Ireland named Raymond Armstrong purchased the copper-stripped distillery under the condition that he would not produce any whisky with it. Why he did that is beyond me because he did not get any of the aged stock as part of the deal. However, after heavy lobbying by both Armstrong and the community surrounding the distillery, Diageo agreed to allow limited production in 2000. The 18 year old we have is therefore from one of the last Diageo runs before shutting the distillery down.
1983 Dailuaine K&L Exclusive 27 Year Chieftain's Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky - One of Diageo's blending blocks, Dailuaine operates solely to provide quality malt for its owner's great blended brands. However, since the middle of the last decade, Dailuaine has produced three different types of malt so that there are various flavors to choose from. Founded in 1852, the distillery was included in a series of mergers until it was ravaged by a fire in 1917. In 1925, it was purchased by Distillers Company which eventually became Diageo. The interesting part about our 1983 is that its from the same year that the facility ceased on-site malting. Is our bottling one of the last home-made malts before barley was sourced externally?
1988 Auchroisk K&L Exclusive 21 Year Duncan Taylor Single Octave Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky SOLD OUT - Auchroisk is just a baby compared to the previously-mentioned distilleries, having only been around since 1974. The building began in 1972 by the company that would eventually become Grand Metropolitan to help provide a new source for their blended whiskies. It was the original malt under the Singleton name (now sold stateside with Glendullan whisky) when released as a 12 year in 1986. Grand Metro merged with Guinness in 1987 to form United Distillers. Our 1988 was distilled one year later.
1975 Banff K&L Exclusive 35 Year Duncan Taylor Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky - Founded in 1824, the history of Banff distillery is a tragic one (one that I documented in our printed newsletter last month from K&L). The building's propensity for catching fire was simply incredible and numerous times there were terrible losses as a result. It was family-owned for more than 80 years, but was sold to Distillers Company in 1932. Banff was closed in 1983 before Distillers became Diageo, but Diageo still holds the remaining stocks. Even though the distillery was non-operational, it still caught fire again in 1991 and this time was completely destroyed.
As you can see, Diageo has had quite a role in the making of some of our exclusive casks. We still have a 1980 Caol Ila K&L Exclusive 30 Year Old Sovereign Single Barrel Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky on the way, which of course is also part of the umbrella, as well as some unannounced casks coming late February that are all Diageo products. We have to work with brokers, independent warehouses, and various bottlers to acquire these casks, but all were purchased through dealings with Diageo at some point.
Speaking of those three unannounced casks coming early next year.......they're going to cause quite a stir.