Sunday, 6 May 2007

The magic of single malt (3)

This is the third part of "the magic of whisky"... It remains unclear why I choose this title for this series of articles (see the first and second parts)... Till now, no magic. I guess it will become obvious in this third part...

In the second part of the article, I mention that Glenfiddich was the real pioneer of marketing single malt as such. But the real massive revival of single malt had to wait a few more years to become a reality... In fact, single malt became a real economical fact with the decision of some blenders and other independent bottlers to bottle some single malts without blending them. Signatory Vintage has quite a huge responsibility in the nowadays fancy for single malts.
The great paradox is that distilleries which were built only to produce some raw material for blends, suddenly discover the single malt marketing, and try to impeach the independent bottlers to continue their business by simply not selling their casks anymore... Or even worse, some distillers have found a very tricky way to make sure their single malt will not be on the market under the label of an independent bottler: it is as simple as adding a small glass of single malt from another distillery of the group (for instance, Glenfiddich adds some centiliters of Balvenie in a cask, or vice versa), and it is impossible to sell this as a single malt anymore...
Why? Why do distillers not see that there is a market for independent bottlers... Some say it is because it would be bad for the "image" of the distillery, it would give a false image of the "style" of the distillery... In my opinion, just nonsense.
But this will probably be the subject of another article... Let's come back to the main subject.

The main subject was that many distilleries followed the example of Glenfiddich, and dared selling their own single malt. And this was a great thing for lovers of single malt. And there are many of them.
Obviously much less than blend drinkers, but most of the single malt drinkers are connoisseurs, and perfectly know why they prefer one brand to another one. Some of them even know why they prefer whisky from a given cask to the same from the neighbor cask... Of course, this only applies to single cask bottlings, something no distillery does... This is just a specialty of independent bottlers...

Most distilleries sell (often a very small) part of their production as a single malt. And there is quite a hierarchy of distilleries in the mind of single malt drinkers. Many of them have tasted at least one dram of each existing distillery, or at least have read tasting notes about them.
And honestly, if some are really magnificent, some others are just "OK". Not really transcendent pleasures... At least if one just consider the standard single malt from those distilleries.
My impression is that many of them feel they are obliged to sell single malt, but are not really interested in the quality of it, as it is just a very small part of their business.
For instance, Glen Keith or Macduff (Glen Deveron) make drinkable whiskies, but not great ones.
And here comes the magic of single malt whisky...
Knowing the making process remains mainly unchanged for years and years (same stills, comparable malt, same yeast, etc...) it's magic to notice that some very special bottles appear on the market from those distilleries working quasi exclusively for the blends market. And this are very great surprises for a single malt amateur.
I had recently some of those great surprises. Glen Keith for instance. Gordon & McPhail bottled an very special cask, distilled in 1967 for la Maison du whisky, (I did not personally taste it in good conditions) and Jack Wieber has also found very nice versions from that distillery, (see on this blog). The same is true also for others, like MacDuff or Glen Spey...
This what makes single malt really magic. These great and very nice surprises are not possible with most other spirits. Of course, such casks are unique, and as such the whisky become quickly expensive, as there are mostly only a few hundreds of bottles available worldwide. Isn't that magic?
In fact, the magic comes from the used cask. If you use a magic cask, you will make magic whisky, at least if you have some patience...

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