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Australian producer slams whisky magazine critics

By Dominic Roskrow

Australian producer slams whisky magazine critics

Leading whisky maker Cameron Syme has hit out at a leading whisky magazine and its writers for failing to understand Australian whisky and give it a fair hearing.

Although he does not name names, his comments are directed at a leading European-published English language magazine and he pulls no punches accusing its writers of being prejudiced against what they see as young whisky. He says they are out of step with most other whisky judges and critics across the world. And he says the magazine is supporting big advertisers and global whisky companies at the expense of small and new producers.

He points to the numerous awards his and other Australian whiskies are achieving and he says that the magazine in question is biased and unfair.

He may have a point. While early bottlings of his Limeburners malts were too young and sappy five years ago, they are among the most improved whiskies in the world, and three recent expressions tasted by World Whisky Review were not only very good, but were up with the best of new world whisky.

"While things are 95 per cent great, as an Australian Industry we still have some difficulties with one group of internationally based whisky ‘critics’ who are published regularly in one of the key whisky publications," said Syme. – they consistently tell us our whisky is not on the mark, and score our whisky poorly.

"Most Australian distillers refuse to send whisky to that publication any more – unfortunately the critics seem to be at the behest of the big advertisers. Their approach to tasting is also questionable as we are informed that they don’t do blind tastings and are prejudiced by the fact that our Australian whiskies are relatively young.

"For instance they recently slammed our single malt which won “Silver Medal – Outstanding” using a blind tasting approach at the IWSC in London in 2012, and also performed well enough to get the 'Pourers Prize' (which goes to the pourers’ favourite whisky of the event) for the second year, and a silver medal, against much older whiskies at the 2012 MWSOA single malt whisky competition.

"It seems odd that true competitions award us with medals, but a mass publicised review which is read widely is very poor. Shame on them, I say. The proof of the pudding is in the eating goes the saying, and we will ignore the poor reviews from people who should know better. The people who taste it know that we make very fine whisky indeed. The consumer demand continues to grow at a rapid rate and that speaks for itself.

"But these overly critical international critics comments do not help us in our pursuit of excellence, and only serve to reinforce the perception that control of the whisky industry is still at the behest of the big global players with large advertising budgets. This does not send a good message to us boutique distilleries who put our very life and soul into the product and whose sole objective is to try and make the best whisky in the world, with an unwavering commitment to quality."

Penderyn is stepping on up

Independent Welsh distillers is to invest nearly £1 million to install additional whisky stills and increase its current output and target new international markets.

Penderyn will install an additional single pot still, identical to the innovative original which has made the distillery famous, as well as a new two-pot still production unit.  These will be installed at the existing premises and are expected to be completed with the first unit being commissioned in August 2013 and the second in January 2014. 

Following completion of the expansion project, Penderyn expects to increase its annual sales to 500,000 bottles per year in due course.  The increase in productivity will enable the distillery to meet the increasing demand in the United Kingdom , France and Germany, as well as distributing Penderyn products more extensively throughout Europe, North America and Asia.

In addition to an increase in productivity, the new still arrangement will enable the distillery to experiment with new and creative styles and expressions of single malt.

Stephen Davies, managing director of Penderyn, commented: “Annual sales of our whisky have been steadily climbing since the launch of the brand.   We’re currently producing as much as we can with our existing still so the expansion of our distillery is necessary if we’re to keep up with demand and build our business."

See the full interview worth Stephen Davies elsewhere in this issue.

Wemyss is coming home

The much anticipated micro distillery project at the Kingsbarns Golf Course in Fife is to go ahead - and is now in the hands of the independent Bottling Company and family firm, Wemyss.

And the company has laid down a challenge to Doug Clements, the man who has kept the project alive for years and battled to find funding: learn to distill in the next year, and the distillery manager's job is yours.

The involvement of Wemyss is a win-win for the whole project because the family is not only Scottish, but is originally from Fife. And although the new distillery will be bigger than first envisaged Wemyss managing director William Wemyss is committed to craft distilling and will be looking to create a distillery with an output at the lower end of the Scottish scale.

The new distillery will produce about 500,000 litres a year - about the same as Benromach. The aim is to start producing spirit by the middle of 2014. It will make a Lowland style of whisky.

"We'll have to see if it works but the aim is to open a distillery that links in with golf in the area," said William Wemyss. "There are all these great courses and a love of whisky, and yet no distillery. We are hoping to take advantage of that by providing one."

The Kingsbarns project has been ongoing for years but finance was always an issue. Becuas many Scottish whisky experts questioned whether a small distillery could be successfully built, the people behind the project turned to Australian craft distiller Bill Lark for advice, and Nant Distilelry in Tasmania was taken as a blueprint.

Doug Clements has battled tirelessly to make it work. And William Wemyss says that he will be given the opportunity to run the new distillery. "He will be involved in some capacity, whether it's running the visitor centre or something else," he said. We've told him that if he learns about distilling and come back and shows he can make whisky, we'll consider him for the job of distillery manager."

So then: here's the ball, Doug - catch and run!

Jack's back

Irish whiskey maker Jack Teeling and right hand man Alex Chasko are set to pick up where they left off with Cooley, and are all poised to shake up Irish whiskey and challenge our perceptions of it.

Teeling and Chasko left Cooley when it was bought by Beam Global, a move which strangled the independent sector's supply of whiskey. And although Irish Distillers has played an impressive role in keeping interest in Irish whiskey alive, 2012 was a flat year for innovation and excitement.

But already this year is set to be radically different. Alex recently sent me samples of three whiskeys set for release and three 'works in progress.'

The first three are all excellent and will enrich the Irish whiskey category. They include a new blend finished in a rum cask ands bursting with dark chocolate, raisin and spices, a cask strength single malt that will show that Ireland can match much of Scotland in the single cask arena, and a new Sauternes-finished cask strength single malt which tastes like nothing else ever released from Ireland and which twists and recreates Irish whiskey flavours.

The works in progress suggest that we're only just starting on a fascinating and exciting journey for Irish independents. See the full interview with Jack Teeling and another leading Irish independent, Bernard Walsh, elsewhere in this issue.