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Sunday, 1 July 2012

All Hail The Rise Of The Artisan...

Over the last six months, we've tried some simply stupendous whiskies from right across the globe, leading us to the assumption that making the brown stuff is probably more popular than ever.  
From Scotland to Switzerland, everyone, it seems, is getting in on the act.

Recently, I wrote a column in Whisky Magazine about the rise and rise of America's craft distillation movement with much enthusiasm about how the lack of a draconian rulebook was helping to create some incredibly innovative spirits - to all intents and purposes, 'whiskies' in their native environment, but under our own relatively (closed-minded) set of regulations in the UK, almost certainly not.

Balcones,  a Texan distillery seemingly run on elastic bands and invention, recently changed a lot of perceptions about 'craft' distillation and how it has clearly outgrown the patronising 'hobbyist' tag when their distiller, the great Chip Tate, came over for Whisky Live a few months ago.  Without a doubt, his small stall at the event was as busy, if not busier than a few noticeable heavyweight Scottish distillers and his incredible concoction, Rumble (technically not even a whisky, due to its lack of a cereal) was the star of the show in many minds.

Tuthilltown have also ripped up the rule book and made a whisky from the pages, especially when it comes to their unconventional maturation methods, which you can read about here.

Closer to home, Adnams have been steadily moving the benchmark forward in terms of an innovative take on new distilled spirits over in Norfolk, without the slightest bit of interest in what the SWA thinks. And with the news that our good friend Darren Rook is gearing up to undertake London's first whisky distillery in over 100 years, the climate for change feels warmer, brighter and less inclement than ever before.

Of course, all this is happening outside the UK or below the border and I kind of feel sorry for anyone wanting to set up a new whisky distillery in Scotland these days.  Even the smallest craft operation is likely to have someone with a clipboard and a red pen breathing down their neck in no time at all, should they dare utter the 'W' word, or, even more shockingly, try using something other than malted barley in their mash tun.  Yes, the world needs Scotch (now more so than ever, especially in the emerging global markets) but it is also woefully short on innovation, which, like it or not SWA, is an attractive proposition for the next generation of whisky drinkers -  given the rival lure of rum and white spirits.

So I thought it was about time we drew attention to a bit of bedtime reading for the would-be (or frustrated) distiller.

First up comes possibly the best new whisky book in the last ten years. A bold statement, but each page is positively dripping with possibility, inspiration and flavour.  

Alt Whiskeys - Alternative Whiskeys And Techniques For The Adventurous Distiller is a labour of love, eloquently written by Corsair distillery owner Darek Bell.   For those of you who aren't familiar with Corsair, it was founded in 2007 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, with an additional distillery site opened recently in Tennessee.  The copper still which Darek has lovingly maintained is now 100 years old and looks like something you'd expect to see in an over-sized science lab.

When Darek and his business partner Andrew Webber aren't distilling their more conventional whiskies, (like the one below) their minds are clearly wandering through an imaginary field of bizarre crops, working out whether they can make a whisk(e)y from the harvest.    Hopped whiskies, ale-inspired recipes, buckwheat, black rice, blue maize, einkorn, quinoa, spelt - even...cannabis. Corsair have tinkered, furtled and fiddled with so many different ideas, they surely haven't got room to mature anything 'ordinary' in their warehouses.  With a whole chapter dedicated to the use of different smoke (from hickory and grapevines to cherrywood and pimento) Darek demonstrates that there is life outside the conventional, tried-and-tested 'holy trinity' of ingredients.  In short, he's the modern day Galileo to the Catholic Church of established whisky making and we can't recommend 'Alt Whiskies' more highly.
Click here to buy this amazing book and you too can endlessly wind up distillery managers with amazing facts next time you take a distillery tour.

Like Reservoir Dogs, Corsair are
coming to cut off the ears (of corn) from the establishment
Here's one of Corsair's more conventional recipes, for which the distillery have won a few gongs over the past 18 months.

Corsair - 100% Rye Whiskey - 46%

Nose: An initial spiciness, (think anise, cloves and woody cinnamon) followed by crushed black pepper, some meaty notes, roasted nuts and pipe tobacco.  Given time, notes of fresh vanilla start to emerge and with a dash of water, a salty, buttery note begins to develop.

Palate: A big hit of white pepper, followed up swiftly by more woody spice, (cinnamon and clove) 
a deft touch of vanilla, some dried fruit sweetness (figs and prunes) and more aromatic pipe tobacco. 

Finish: Very spicy, with dried ginger, white pepper and a little lingering vanilla round out the diminishing flavours on the drying palate. 

Overall: Big, bold and spicy.  This is a monster of a rye. It is youthful, but has a full-bodied character kicking you firmly in the nuts from the get go.  It would nail the first Manhattan cocktail of the night, that's for sure. 

On the subject of top whisky books, a certain Mr Ian Buxton has got round to updating his highly successful tome 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die, giving it a wider 'world whisky' scope (although he shamefully missed the one above... ;-p )  The new edition is full of interesting drams to try from Austria to Wales and is well worth a look.

In fact -  it just so happens that we have one to give away...

If you fancy getting your hands on a copy, it's very easy.  Send us your thoughts about 'One Thing You'd Really Like To Try Before You Die' and the funniest, most entertaining entry will win a copy.  Extra points for rudeness, skullduggery and downright shamelessness!

Email your entries to - Competition closes midnight 7th July.