February Whisky Round up

A highlight reel of the best releases and biggest news lines.

What a month for Whisky!

New releases, new look branding, new appointments at the helm of major distilleries, record breaking numbers and some new campaigns making waves…

Here’s the roundup of all the important Whisky News from Feb.

Port of Leith Perpetuity

To say we, as well as many other whisky enthusiasts are excited about the opening of Port of Leith Distillery this summer is an understatement. There’s not long to go now and thankfully, the team have launched a blended whisky to tide us over until then. The new release celebrates vatting as a technique and is made from a combination of single malt and single grain whiskies sourced from three Scotch distilleries. 

Much like Glenfiddich’s recent Perpetual Collection, Leith’s blend, also called Perpetuity, follows on the concept of an infinity bottle – the kind that is constantly topped up with new liquid to create a unique combination of whiskies. 

Batch 1 is made up of casks from Deanston, North British and Glentauchers distilleries, combining to create distinct caramelised apple and toffee on the nose, marmalade-like citrus malt to taste and a lemony finish. The distillery plans to bottle at least half of this vat to make Batch 1 and then replenish with different whiskies before then releasing the next – creating a perpetual vat of intriguing and complex Scotch whisky.

We love it, not just for the modern look, but vatting is an intriguing concept as once a producer is on batch two or three, there are too many malts in there for the conversation to be about the source, the blend, the type of whisky inside. All of the discussion becomes about past, present and future flavour. Where it’s been and where it’s going – pushing the narrative around blends into a far more interesting concepts rather than relying on the same old formula – that a blend is just a formula of components that equals a bottling. 

Not only is it a good sign for blended whisky lovers, it is the type of progressive thinking and youthful aesthetic that lives up to the expectation we all have of what that distillery will create from its own stills soon.

Compass Box Delos

Pioneering Scotch whisky makers Compass Box introduced their new, limited-edition expression called Delos. Delos is the second release from the whisky maker’s Extinct Blends Quartet series and this time, the team opted to reimagine one of their most famed releases.

If you don’t know about the four-part limited-edition range; The Extinct Blends Quartet celebrates discontinued characters and flavours from the brand, reappraising four very different expressions of blended Scotch. The first (Ultramarine) was released last year, Delos is the second and the remaining two from the series are set to be introduced in late 2023 and early 2024.

Delos caught our eye as it re-imagines an extinct blend called Asyla, which was first created in 2001 and to many became the cornerstone of Compass’ core range until its retirement in 2018. It’s quite memorable as a blend and for fans of the brand, a familiar companion on the shelf. 

In terms of similarities – the style and recipe structure are said to be inspired by Asyla, but Delos has notably richer flavours from using older stocks of whiskies that amplify its character. You can expect more than a sense of the familiar about it, namely the nose and its unique waiflike quality alongside the bright medley of honeyed-citrus and tropical fruit. 

If super-charged Asyla peaks your interest, go quick as there is only 5,520 bottles (which for someone like Compass Box will disappear fast)…

A trio of new releases

The GlenAllachie Lum Reek

In more Blended Scotch news, The GlenAllachie Distillery released a second batch of its Lum Reek 10-year-old cask strength blended malt.

For those that missed the first, the whisky gets its name from an old toast to living a long and healthy life, ‘lang may yer lum reek’, roughly translating to ‘long may your chimney smoke’.

The second instalment is made up of Speyside and Islay single malts at its core, with GlenAllachie spirit driving their typical fruity, honey-sweet house style with Islay peat smoke.

The Deacon

In headline grabbing fashion, Sovereign Brands’ partnership with Pernod Ricard was unveiled and the world welcomed The Deacon.  The blended Scotch Whisky includes single malt spirits from Islay and Speyside and sits in embossed copper bottles.

If you can look past the number of times the word disruptor is being used, or the incessant calls for how “unorthodox” it all is - it’s actually an intriguing release. Okay, and the lunacy of the Mad Max meets Bad Batch meets Coachella advertisement video. 

The liquid inside is quite enjoyable (there’s a tinge of peat, charred orange malty biscuits and woodsmoke – it’s perfectly decent) and Sovereign Brands have attracted celebrity ambassadors and supporters to their other brands including Rick Ross, Lil Wayne, Wiz Khalifa and DJ Khaled in the past. 

Will this be a hit or will this be all too much, too “disruptive” and trying too hard to be taken seriously within the category right now? Only time will tell. 

Proper No. Twelve Irish Apple

Over in Ireland-come-US focussed exports, Proper No. Twelve added an apple-flavoured expression to the range.

Their Irish Apple release is made of a blend of grain and single malt whiskeys combined with apple flavourings to offer a crisp taste alongside notes of warm caramel, oak and browned butter. 

Why is this news? Outside of the controversial celebrity owner (Proper No. Twelve is owned by MMA star Connor McGregor) – it’ll be a huge test for the thirst for flavoured whiskey in the US. Love it, hate it, drink it or ditch it, flavoured Whisky – just like flavoured Tequila is already big business and there are many eyes on this to see how it fairs…

New Woodford Reserve Master Distiller

The Woodford Reserve Master Distiller job doesn’t come around often – only twice in 26 years so far. But change has been coming behind the scenes and this month the distillery named Elizabeth McCall takes over from veteran distiller Chris Morris (who will now assume the title of master distiller emeritus).

McCall may be the first female to hold the role but she’s not a new face in the team - she joined Woodford Reserve's parent company Brown-Forman in 2009 as a member of the research and development department, raising up to “master taster” in 2015. She’s also been working alongside Morris as the assistant master distiller since February 2018. 

A change of guard perhaps, but a continuation in standards in almost every other way – the perfect succession!

Helter-Skelter month for Scotch

The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) were at the heart of a lot of the trade talk this month, releasing figures about Scotch whisky exports and corresponding data. The announcement made clear that Scotch whisky exports broke records in 2022, growing 37% by value to more than £6 billion for the first time.

Despite sales to established whisky markets such as France, Germany and Spain bouncing back post Covid-lockdowns, the Asia-Pacific region overtook the EU as the industry’s largest regional market. The SWA noted specific headroom for future potential in India where Scotch Whisky currently only makes up 2% of consumption in that market. Their estimation is that a UK-India free trade deal could result in an additional £1 billion of growth over the next five years.

The announcement couldn’t have come at a more opportune time given the climate domestically. The fiasco with the government’s bottling recycling scheme, DRS, is still ongoing while an official consultation is underway about proposals that, in our opinion, are equivalent to proposing a mini-prohibition. 

It reminds us all of the tangible value of Scotch. Not in what it means, not in what the name carries and the reputation or the soft power that has been argued over the tabloids. In hard economics. The potential to grow exports even further is huge and that must be supported. 

This isn’t cash made offshore and staying offshore either - look at the bigger human picture at stake here if the support stops, let alone both the proposals and the DRS scheme go ahead un-altered. 

The whisky industry is responsible for employing 11,000 people directly in Scotland, over 7,000 of whom work in rural areas, and a further 42,000 jobs across the UK. Getting domestic policy right matters for all here as without that platform there are no foundations off which producers can build up from. Hopefully a focus on the global status of the spirit can give a bit of perspective to what at times has been made to look like a “local” issue and local politics. What’s at stake is far greater than many realise. 

Spirits Kiosk
Compass Box Hedonism Grain Whisky
Compass Box Hedonism Grain Whisky
Compass Box Whisky Spice Tree
Compass Box Whisky Spice Tree
Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Woodford Reserve Bourbon

By Olivier Ward

21 February 2023