September 11, 2014
Industry Comment, The History Of…, Thoughts & Ramblings
In one of my last posts I mentioned that the ‘yes’ movement in Scotland hasn’t necessarily been that well backed by Scotland’s drinks industry but the next few days will determine whether Scotland goes off on its own into the big, wide world. Whilst the wranglings around financial control, oil, gas and institutions like the NHS and Beeb rumble on, I figured there might be an easier way to sort this all out – down the pub.
Let’s pitch what our Northern cousins have on their bar back versus the Union’s best in class – maybe it’s a Battle Royale but maybe you’ll feel it’d be better to stick together and mix your drinks on a night out against your mother’s advice.
Entirely subjective though it is, I’ve scored each brand out of 5 on personal enjoyment and taste so see if you a) agree and b) if you don’t, how you’d score the showdown.
England, N Ireland and Wales
This County Antrim-based distillery claims to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world linking its heritage to a licence from James I in 1608, with the Bushmills distillery company established in 1784. Much like the Bacardi advert doing the rounds, Bushmills has been through a lot: since Hugh Anderson formally established the distillery, they’ve survived fires, prohibition on their exported whiskey and numerous changes of ownership.
The British fleet has always been the pride and joy of this nation and it was a tradition in the Royal Navy that all newly commissioned vessels receive a “Plymouth Gin Commissioning Kit”, a wooden box containing two bottles of navy strength Plymouth gin and glassware. For those without sea legs, 23 gin based cocktail recipes in The Savoy Cocktail Book, a seminal cocktail guide compiled by the legendary Harry Craddock, name Plymouth Gin specifically… more than any other drink.
Vodka: Black Cow Vodka
The world’s only pure milk vodka, this quirky drink is made entirely from the milk of grass grazed cows at Childhay Manor in West Devon by farmer Jason Barber. It’s beautiful and so easy to drink, it’ll be gone before you know it… I got a bottle for Christmas and it didn’t see New Year’s Eve. Buy here
Produced on 152 acres of vineyards across West Sussex and Hampshire, Nyetimber had a disastrous 2012 when more or less their entire crop was wiped out by freakishly poor weather and the business scrapped product worth nearly £10m. This, however, didn’t dent the chutzpah of Head Wine Maker Cherie Spriggs and her team as the business went on to win a gold medal for its 2009 Classic Cuvee at this year’s International Wine Challenge, Nyetimber’s second success in as many years.
Ales: Camden Pale Ale and S. A. Brain & Co.
Founded in 1600, the East India Company opened up global trade routes to India and the story goes that in order to sate the demand for beer coming from the Colonies, George Hodgson, who began brewing at the Bow Brewery, London in 1752, created a new style of higher alcohol, hoppier beer so it could better withstand the long journey to India. This has been somewhat refuted by others that claim the beer’s origins lie elsewhere but what can’t be argued is that Camden Pale Ale is a belter and that, as a sub-category, IPA has enjoyed considerable growth over the last 3-4 years.
The fact that Brains sponsor an international rugby team should say enough but, this multi-award winning beer maintains its family ties and is still owned by descendants of the founders who set up a brewery round the back of a Cardiff pub in 1882. Still independent but now the proud owner of over 270 pubs across Wales, the business goes from strength to strength.
According to a briefing by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) “Scotch Whisky is a cornerstone of our [Scotland’s] economy impacting local jobs and economies, communities, health, transport, tourism, the environment, exports and business.” and, in 2011/12 was worth £4 billion a year in gross value for the economy, supporting 35,000 jobs in the process. Whisky is the nation’s second largest global export behind oil & gas, accounting for just over £3.5 billion.
This is whisky without a ‘e’ you’ll notice so, because the drink’s evangelists get uppity over constant misspelling, here’s a quick way to remember how some of the world’s biggest producers spell their products:
Countries that have E’s in their names (UnitEd StatEs and IrEland) tend to spell it whiskey
Countries without E’s in their names (Canada, Scotland, and Japan) spell it whisky
However, it’s not all about whisky – as with the wider British Isles, smaller, cool brands have cropped up recently and, what’s more, a number of distilleries are now producing different, interesting liquids to complement their more traditional output.
Whiskeys: Auchentoshan Classic / Bourbon Oak Cask and Glenfiddich
Known as the Breakfast Whiskey, due to its sweet palate, this is a great drink that has real Bourbon notes to it. Auchentoshan (pronounced Aw-khen-tosh-an) is one of a handful of extremely interesting and successful lowland distilleries in Scotland. Built in 1800, the business continues to thrive, possibly in part due to its taste profile… after all, Bourbon’s doing well.
Still the only Whisky to sell over a million cases worldwide, despite Glenlivet’s best efforts this year, Glenfiddich is a global powerhouse that has also put Donald Trump’s nose out of joint in the past. All the more reason to love a brand that marries great taste with 126 years of history, promoted in this year’s Family Run Since 1887 marketing campaign.
Gin: The Botanist
Winner of thewhiskyexchange.com’s Spirit of the Year 2013, in their words, The Botanist is very much ‘a gin with a difference’. Distilled by Jim McEwan and the team at Bruichladdich in ‘Ugly Betty’, a Lomond Still, The Botanist takes on the traditional aromatics of other gins with 22 others local to Islay – the inspiration behind the name. This gin is amazing. Not only does it come in a beautifully designed bottle that labels all of its botanicals but it’s crisp, complex enough and easy to drink.
Made in Scotland from Sugar Beet, this brand has certainly courted controversy from counterfeiting to naming rights – awful stuff really but available from most corner shops for not very much. I guess if you’re not bothered about quality, don’t want to pay much and can drown this in mixer then you’ll be alright.
Ales: Innis & Gunn and Tennents
Scotland’s craft beer of choice, Innis & Gunn’s distinctive oak barrelled beer came about by accident when, in 2002, a whisky distiller approached the business to see whether they could use I&G’s beer to season their barrels. The experiement was a success and the resultant whisky took on a number of virtuous qualities… the beer got thrown out. However, unbeknownst to the brewery, a number of the staff at the distillery tried the beer beforehand and had raved about its refined taste… something bold and new was born and, although strong, Innis & Gunn’s rum aged beer is phenomenally good. Buy it here
Tennents got all patriotic as long ago as 2012 when it launched its Scotland to a T glassware in the country’s bars and pubs. First produced in 1885, and labelled Scotland’s Favourite Pint, the country’s no.1 lager has shaken off its dusty 1980’s tag and has responded with innovative experiential campaigns to coincide with this year’s Commonwealth Games, it’s also the brand behind T In The Park.
Rest of the UK: 22/30
So, those are some of our Fair Isle’s best drops as things stand and the RoUK just scrapes it… admittedly, Scotland’s wine industry isn’t exactly booming and Nyetimber provides stiff competition for any drink but an extra whisky in there does balance things out I think. Whether Alex Salmond gets his way or not, we’ll no doubt continue to enjoy all that Scotland has to offer (except Glen’s)… only now it’ll be RoW Duty Free won’t it? I’ll fetch the van.
Just as a slight afterthought, if the Scots vote ‘yes’ does that open the prospect for further Celtic independence in future…? Would we lose Cornwall’s Doom Bar?! We’ll see, for now let’s look beyond the fact that they’re owned by Burton-based Molson Coors and enjoy it whilst harmony reins.