Sunday, September 26, 2010

Imperial - a hidden gem ?

Imperial is shut down. It never had a lot of attention when it was running. It has never been regarded anything special by whisky entusiast

Duncan Taylor changed this for me.

Duncan Taylor is an independent bottler located in Huntly

They always wanted their own distillery and thought they were gonna purchase Imperial. The deal went off in the last minute. My theory is that Duncan Taylor was so sure of the deal that they had stocked up on Imperial casks.

Whatever is the truth, the fact is that Duncan Taylor has released quite a lot of Imperials the last few years. In the Duncan Taylor series, the Whisky Galore series, the NC2 series and also from their shop Single Malts Direct : the Whiskies of Scotland series.

I've been trying quite a few of these and most have been good, the rest excellent. The first eyeopener was when I tasted an 8 year old Imperial bottled under DT's Battlehill range, and since then I have been aware that here is something to look out for.

I would describe these Imperials as "simple" whiskies. Classic whiskies. Ex-bourbon casked whiskies. No wines, no peat, no small casks. Just plain good whisky at a young age. 

Imperial was mothballed by Allied Domecq in 1998 and when AD was acquired by Chivas in 2005 the deal with DT was mothballed together with the distillery.

1. Imperial 1997 13yo 56.4% Whisky Galore

Classic whisky nose, very ex-bourbon caskish :-), fresh and minty

Palate : Very minty, fullbodied and creamy, still very fresh

Finish : medium and very fresh, like a mint pastil

I like this. This is simple good whisky. It was correctly bottled at full strength. A nice dram. 

Rating 85

and thanks to Mark Watt of Duncan Taylor for introducing this gem to me :-) . Imperial is great value for money whisky, lets get some while no one else knows about it :-)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Norbert Merics of Maltbank Herald - A bartenders inside comment

This is Norberts, mind you -quite long and passionate, reaction to my blogpost about drinking whisky in bars. Enjoy

The companies in the hospitality industry just use the sentence in their leaflets, websites: We have huge range of malts!.
Yes,but this sentence means: we have 50-100-120 bottles on the shelves.
Do you feel the differents?
Why I said this?
Because their barmans usually works for minimal wages, no knowledge about the malts, no passion for their work, no time for a recommendation, no knowledge about the qualified service, no claim for the qualified job.

The managements wants more money, so no chance for a position in a bar as the sommeliers in a restaurant. Because the managements in a bar wants from their barmans everything in a shift. Nobody wants to spend money just for a plus barman who has the knowledge. Because the knowledge is expensive. The development, the trainings, the travels to distilleries, the accessories as a nosing glass, the time for talking with the customers, up-to-date bottlings,etc. It's all expensive for a management. If a barman has perfect knowledge and immagination about the high quality whisky service its just a "problem" because he always wants "something". New whiskies, new glasses, more events or more time to recommend, new bar menu for the pairings, etc.

The barmans all over Scotland doesn't know too much (nothing) about the malts and about the position of the malts in the scottish economy. The hospitality managements and the whisky industry doesn't understand why it's so important for a bar to have a good barman and a HQ whisky service. I tell you. If I can give you or for a tourist group a qualified whisky recommendation and tasting service they will be new buyers. Buyers who wants to buy a BOTTLE of whisky later. And I can tell to them where they should buy that bottle, what kind of bottle it should be, whats the correct price, where is the nearest distillery with visitor centre, what are the clubs where they find a scottish culture enviroment in Belgium, Japan, Scandinavia etc.
So I can make more money for Scotland .And not just money. More. Emotions. Emotions in your palate, in your soul. And you will come back to spend money in Scotland. Or you will buy a scottish product as a whisky and this will help the scottish economy. And all this emotion just started with a well prepaired barman. Many mainstream foreign whisky blogger started their passion in a trip to Scotland and with a dram in their accomodation's bar. Do you remember your first dram in a scottish bar or in hotel? Did you get any information from your barman?The whisky, the malts have an own language, own mainstream style or experts, own subculture now. If we can lead the "ro
rookies" to this new and fast growing way we can win time. If we can win time it means that a newbie will buy a bottle faster than an ordinary person who just sat in a bar, tried a malt, maybe he liked or not, maybe he got his style maybe not, we dont know he intrest the malts or not.

But this is not acceptable by the hotels, bars, whisky retailers,etc.
No qualified education, no time and no money for the personel development. A nosing glass for a bar just a problem because it's breakable, the dishwasher no good for the perfect cleaning for this type of glass, so better if we use a tumbler, they say.

Anyway the scottish whisky adverts always show a tumbler in their ads, this is the scotch feeling. Thats what the people got in the bars. You cannot see anywhere the companie's adverts about the malts and the tasting with copita. Just tumbler and ice.
So the malts are just products, decoration not a real heritage, not an useable treasure for making money and reputation for the bars, hotels. This is the sad truth. In 90%.
Yes so many places is different. Craigellachie, Torridon,etc. Some bars like Whiski,Albannach.There are unique.
But when I have seen in a 4 star hotel's bar just max 10 malts and the barman put a milkjug with water to the counter and 90% of the countryside hotels bar staff cant speak anything about the whisky, I think its a shame.
I was in a world famous whisky bar in Edinburgh where the barmaid said after my third dram, sorry we have no more copita, please wait and I wash for you what you used before. World famous bar .In Edinburgh. Hmm?
The selections are average in most place. No new or up to date bottlings, no single cask, poor IB offers, no vintages. Because they are expensive. I understand if a bar doesnt want to keep money in a bottle what from a dram is 20 pound sterling. Because we cant sell it out. But why we could not sell it? Because now the whisky drinkers buy a bottle and they drink in their home. The qualified whisky drinking is out from the bars to whisky clubs, masterclasses and internet forums. But this is a different problem. Not my business. I just thought, with a good recommendation plan for a bar can helps. But they have no plans to build up the malts reputation.

The retailers, companies sells bottles. But not sell informations, trainings, samplings for a barman who have to presents their product to the people. The companies has a connection with the managements of bars,the bars call them with the weekly orders, the retailers delivered the bottles and thats the all connection. Never ask the barman, hey mate,what kind of malt was succesfull in this week, what was the style what the people liked in this week, hey here is a new port finish try to sell instead the sherry wine aperitifs,etc.
I spent my money to training myself, I buy malts for myself, I buy the books, I pay the travels of mine to a fair or expo. All from my wages. Not so big money my wages..But this is my passion,my life and I like to work with whisky. But nobody helps me. But I work for a scottish company, for Scotland, in a part of important scottish economy.
So,the bar and whisky drinking-culture is two different things now in Scotland.
I dont want to hurt anybody here because I like Scotland, I respect them, the whisky and the country changed my life, I have to say big thanks to everybody here. Now I lucky because I can do tasting nights for my hotels guests, foreign tourists, they accept and respect my knowledge and my passion but this was a hard "fight". And I cant use everyday the copitas:))
But generally this is the situation in the bars, hotels. Generally.

If you want to serve malt with qualified knowledge, you are alone.

If the companies will understands it, a whisky barman is same important like a mixologist with cocktails or a sommelier with wines and the whisky industry start to educate the whisky barmans we have chance to change some things.
But right now is not important for the owners, managements, bar staff or industry leaders.
And is not good for the customers, see your post.

So that's my first reaction to your post. A little bit darker than the real world but that is my personal opinion. Many places are differrent. I know many places where the owners is real whisky fanatics with passion. I know some barman who has huge knowledge. But you have to be very lucky to find them.

I asked Norbert to write a short intro about himself and his blog :

The blog, The Maltbank Herald is the only active hungarian whisky blog. This is a "radical" scottish single malt whisky blog because I am interrested in just scottish single malts. No blended, no japanese, no irish,etc. The posts in my blog is mostly news from the industry, new bottlings, mainstream themes. 
I have a blog-in-blog section, this is the Barman's Choice where I post my tasting notes in my personal style. Usually in this Barman's Choice posts I make pairings different themes with malts(like actual culture news, some historical anniversary,etc) or I post my adventures in my work time about the customers and malts, tasting etc. It's a really personal part of my blog. I posted some reports, interwievs with some famous guys from the whisky life. Like Ralfy Mitchell when he had his 100th whisky rewievs, I was the first who wrote about him same time with his 100th video release. Or David Kovacs who is the well known hungarian whisky expert, president of the only hungarian whisky club and main organiser of the first ever whisky show in Budapest in april of 2010. Or last time I had a two part interwievs with Stuart Nickerson who spoke first time to my blog about their new range Manager's Legacy (english summary available at end of the post).
I know is not a big advantage in the whisky blogosphere my blog's language is hungarian. But I seriously believe in my passion and I seriously want to show the scottish single malt's beautiful world to the hungarians. I am a big supporter of whisky blogs in different national languages. Because it can helps to make this fantastic drink more famous and popular. I believe and I hope my blog is important part of the whisky world especially because not so many whisky blogs in Central Europe. If somebody knows the history should have to know around Hungary in 6 different countries we have huge hungarian minority. So a good blog can catch 7 countries whisky fans. It's seven different markets. In one language. So I hope one day the big whisky companies realise this and they want to use my blog to introduce their malts in Central Europe. I have readers from Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine and Croatia because there so many people speak hungarian. 

What is special in my blog instead the mainstream whisky blogs is my job. I work as a barman and if I know correctly I'm the only one who write a blog behind the bar. The others works in a whisky shop or professionals in the industry or just "simple" fanatics. I can see the things inside and outside too. I'm not just drinking the malts, I work with the malts.I  know whats the knowledge or the reactions of the customers and the foreign tourists. And I have to say the most of the people doesn't know
anything about the malts, especially not about the up-to-date news. I try to colourise my daily job with these news, with the experts opinions,with my tasting experience and I can write posts what the people thinking about the malts. First fill opinions :). And I believe its a little bit different like a professional whisky blog or a whisky shop or famous bloggers inner circle's posts. I like and respect all the other bloggers, some of them are in my life is very important. I hope one day my blog and my name will have same important in the whisky life like Serge or John Hansell in America or Neil and Joel in UK .I know for this I have to write my posts in english but I wont. I'm hungarian and I am proud of that. I would like to be an unmistakeable point between Hungary, the Carpathian basin and Scotland in the single malt theme. Not just another whisky blog:) This is hungarian(magyar)! This is special.
anything about the malts, especially not about the up-to-date news. I try to colourise my daily job with these news, with the experts opinions,with my tasting experience and I can write posts what the people thinking about the malts. First fill opinions :). And I believe its a little bit different like a professional whisky blog or a whisky shop or famous bloggers inner circle's posts. I like and respect all the other bloggers, some of them are in my life is very important. I hope one day my blog and my name will have same important in the whisky life as many mainstream,famous bloggers .I know for this I have to write my posts in english but I wont. I'm hungarian and I am proud of that. I would like to be an unmistakeable point between Hungary, the Carpathian basin and Scotland in the single malt theme. Not just another whisky blog:) This is hungarian(magyar)! This is special release.

Thank you Steffen,
best regards
Norbert Merics

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why I don't drink whiskies in bars

Well I do, but there's actually a lot of reasons not to

1. Glass
Many bars do serve your whisky in proper glasses, but a lot don't. A copita type glass is needed. I wrote a bit of, what I consider good glasses, here :

A lot of bars still serves whiskies in tumblers. Even SMWS in Leith serves drams in bulk mini-whitewine glasses at the bar (but not in their tastings). No bars would serve a red wine in a milk glass, which in my opinion is not as bad as serving a whisky in a tumbler.

Glencairn glasses should be the obvious choice for the bars due their sturdiness

2. Temperature
Whisky should be kept cool. Not refridgerated, but the maximum temperature should be low room temperature. Heat will alter the whisky by removing flavour. The common source of heat in a bar is light

3. Light
Most bars store their whiskies in a spotlight. Heat and light is a no-no when it comes whisky. It removes flavour and can make the whisky appear flat

4. Almost empty bottles
When a whisky bottle becomes almost empty, the whisky inside it will be and will have been affected by a lot of oxidation. This will make the whisky go flat

Now here is a few things to look out for

Turnaround. If the pub has a great turnaround the above effects will be lessened substantionally. Most of these damage-effects are long time effects and nothing really happens overnight.

ABV. Cask strength whiskies takes a lot less damage than 40-43% watered down whiskies do

I have often been into a pub or bar that had a rare old whisky on the shelf. Old in the sense that it has been a few years or even decades since the whisky has been bottled.

I remember being in the Quich Bar at Craigellachie Hotel, who used to have the largest selection in the world. They also had the largest selection of bad dregs of around 5cl og 40% whisky in the world, very expensive and old whisky that probably had been on the shelf for years. I only made a mistake of trying one of these once, then I went for almost full cask strength bottles for the rest of my time there :-)

Another thing I think can be a problem is the price. The advantage of dramming in a bar is that it's possible to try a few things without purchasing a whole bottle. Most bars have a price somewhat proportional to the bottle price. This means that when it comes to the more expensive bottles, you actually start to pay a lot for the bar to open the bottle and pour the dram for you. 
I think expensive whiskies should be cheaper in bars in general. A bar might have a certain price policy, but selling nothing won't earn them anything. So often I have seen bottles in bars that stay unopened for years, or maybe just 1-2 drams taken.

Lower the price, get some turnaround. It doesnt cost you more to open and serve a 25£ bottle than a 200£ bottle. You might end up selling the 25£ bottle for 100£, so no need to sell the 200£ for 800£, I'd reckon 400£ would be enough and actual selling some drams would earn you money. Selling nothing won't.

The last thing I can mention that sometimes is a problem is selection. Most bars won't stack 50 or 100 different kind of bottles. 10 can do usually. But get some variety on your bottles. 3 Glenfiddichs, 2 Glenlivets and a couple of Glenmorangies and a Balvenie isn't what I describe as selection.

Make sure there is at least 1 from each of the below catagories :

1. Eye catcher.
A lot of people won't order things they haven't heard of before. Make sure you have a too well-known brand on the shelves. Glenlivet or Glenfiddich usually does this

2. Peated whisky
Get some Islay peated whisky up for sale. Caol Ila, Laphroaig or Ardbeg would be the classic choices. It's popular whisky as well

3. Sherry-casked whisky
Glendronach, Glenfarclas or Macallan (not the Fine Oak) could do this

4. Something not well known for the adventurous.
Tomatin, Balblair, AnCnoc, Benriach,  Bladnoch - there's loads of great malts out there to choose from

5. Get some age variety
Don't just stock 12 years old, get some 15 and 18year olds as well

6. Cask Strength Whiskies
The more the better :-). Well I do recognise that this stuff might be too strong for the average customer

7. Single cask bottling.
Independant bottle companies hardly does anything else. It shoudl be replaced by a different bottling when emptied

8. Other countries
Don't forget other great whiskycountries - Amrut, irish, japanese or american whisk(e)y also offers great quality products

9. Exclusive.
You want a rare and "expensive" on your shelf as well. Something really old. Remember :  don't price it too heavily :-). A Port Ellen, Brora,  old Ardbeg or Glenfarclas will do :-)

With a stock of 10-15 bottles the above catagories can easily be covered.

And remember. Put the dregs up for cheap offers!