Scotland - Day 11: Back to Buying
While we've visited many distilleries in Scotland, rarely is the distillery the place where the whisky actually comes together. As we learned at Lagavulin and Caol Ila, those spirits are sent off the island in a tanker where they're actually matured and blended elsewhere. While Morrison-Bowmore does age many of their casks directly at Bowmore, Auchentoshan, and Glen Garioch, all of the blending and whisky-making is done at their head office in Glasgow. We were in town today to see our old friend Jamie MacKenzie and meet with master blender Rachel Barrie. The last time I had seen Rachel was in San Francisco two years ago when we co-promoted an Ardbeg tasting. She has since jumped ship, however, taking over the reigns at MB, hoping to steer them back to dominance. Can the lady who created the Corryvreckan get the old Bowmore going again?
Rachel's laboratory is brimming with amazing samples. Since we had expressed interest in doing a distillery-direct cask of Glen Garioch, she had chosen four different expressions that MB could make available for such a wonderful store like K&L. All were hand-picked by Rachel herself for their distinct personality and character. We tasted through two 1998 barrels, a very fruity 97, and a floral, lavender-full 1986 that really impressed. In the end, one barrel stood out among the rest - a lightly-peated 14 year cask that had everything we were looking for: a nose of big, rich vanilla with whisps of dried leaves and fresh tobacco, and a stunning flavor profile of autumnal goodness mixed with campfire smoke and soft fruit. This should be a huge hit. With the wonderful time we spent at Glen Garioch distillery and the surprising re-introduction we had to their current malts, I have a feeling that 2012 could be the year of Glen Garioch here at K&L. This barrel will do for this distillery what last year's 16 year old cask did for Glendronach.
What's very interesting is the fact that Rachel Barrie is actually from Oldmeldrum, the area where Glen Garioch is located, so blending with MB is almost like a homecoming for her. She absolutely loves working with the creaminess and the texture that comes with their spirits, saying that the higher proof (48%) of the GG expressions and the fact that they're unchillfiltered are very important. She noted that Glenmorangie was such a fine whisky to begin with that filtering the spirit didn't actually remove much from it, whereas GG is absolutely packed with fatty oils in comparison. She claims that the actual wash at GG is quite rich and that it tastes quite like the character of the Garioch itself - wholesome, rustic, mealy, organic, and like homecooking. At one point she found it quite spooky because the flavors of the whiskies kept reminding her of her grandmother's kitchen, located not far from the distillery. You can't always explain everything in whisky, or how each flavor finds its way into the malt - sometimes it's simply terroir.
After selecting an exclusive cask for K&L, we tasted through a slew of other MB samples, including some incredible Bowmore casks. Rachel had just finished putting the final touches on what used to be called the Bowmore Tempest, but will now have a new name in the U.S. It's easily the most exciting release from this distillery in ages. This will be the first whisky to hit the U.S. that has Rachel's fingerprints on it. The nose was all smoke and eucalyptus with hints of menthol, then blossoming into pistachio before finishing in a flurry of citrus and savory grapefruit. It's amazing how detailed your tasting notes are when you taste with a master blender! I can honestly say that I tasted each of those flavors, but having Rachel next to me, working out the flavors with me really helped. There's no doubt in my mind that Bowmore has the best stocks of whisky on Islay, it's just a matter of doing something great with them. Rachel believes that whisky, much like wine, can be unlocked with age. That's not to simply say that it gets better, but rather that certain spirits have the potential for magic locked away inside them, and like wine, maturation helps to coax these flavors out of hiding. In her mind, no spirit has more potential for greatness than Bowmore and I can't help but to agree. The variety and quality in some of these malts is like no other distillery, but they do need someone to craft them into something fresh and exciting. I think she's the one to do it and I will be buying as much of this new Tempest as I can once it hits the U.S. later this Fall.
After leaving Morrison-Bowmore, we hit the road to meet with a new whisky party we had never done business with before. I am blurring out the names on these two casks because I'm not willing to give away: 1) the surprise, and 2) the person we're working with - just yet. I'll say this: we absolutely scored. Slam dunk.
There were names in this warehouse that we never see with our other whisky sources. We plan on buying each and every one of them! Deals, deals, deals! For those of you fearing the end of great value-priced whisky at K&L (myself included), today was for you. Get ready for mega-quality and amazing price points!
That's it for today. Two more appointments tomorrow and then we're back home Wednesday! Have you been missing us so far?