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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...

Amber Lights

Japanese whiskies – some of the best in the world

June 11 2016

Whisky was first distilled in Japan around 1870 but the first “big” distillery, Yamazaki, was built in 1924 after Masataka Taketsuru spent several years working in the Scotch industry, learning whisky distilling from the ground up. Since then their whisky industry has grown like Topsy and is today dominated by two giants, Suntory and Nikka. Today seven Scots distilleries are Japanese-owned. Suntory owns five — Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch, plus Ardmore and Laphroaig, acquired in the recent Jim Beam takeover — and also the well-known Teacher’s brand. Nikka owns just one, Ben Nevis at Fort William, and Japanese conglomerate Marubeni owns Tomatin distillery near Inverness, plus The Antiquary and Talisman blends. The industry in Japan produces a formidable range of blended whiskies, plus single and blended malts. Of that vast range, a great swathe is sold in the UK, mainly in specialist whisky shops, although some can be seen on supermarket shelves. Japanese high-end malts and blends are not cheap but experts regularly praise them as among the best whiskies you can buy. I have sampled only a few but all struck me as delectable. I’m listing the “top five” that some of the cognoscenti tend to rave about. However, as is increasingly the case with Scotch single malts, most exist in a bewildering array of ages and finishes — and with prices ranging from the reasonable to the stratospheric, depending on age and from whom you are buying them. They are available from numerous online stockists but some of them may be lurking in your local supermarket or off-licence. In roughly ascending price order they are: Nikka From The Barrel (no age, 50cl); Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt (12-year, 70cl, but older expressions are available); Suntory’s Hakushu Single Malt Distiller’s Reserve (70cl, no age statement); Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt (17-year, 70cl); and Suntory’s Hibiki triple-distilled (70cl, at 12, 17 or 21 years). The Yamazaki is the most widely-available, having been imported for decades. The Hibiki tends to be the most expensive but has won rickshaw loads of gold medals and other prizes. Whichever ones you manage to track down, I hope you enjoy them.

Perth & Kinross

One for the road Tullibardine whisky distillery could soon be fuelling cars

September 26 2012

We have spent the last two decades successfully stigmatising drink-driving. But what happens if you put the alcohol in the car instead of the driver? A Perthshire distillery plans to be the first whisky maker in the world to turn whisky by-products into fuel. Tullibardine Distillery in Blackford, near Auchterarder, has linked up with a spin-off company set up by scientists at Napier University in Edinburgh. They plan to use waste material from the whisky-making process to produce butanol, which can be used to power vehicles. The idea of using alcohol to power cars is not new. As early as 1980 articles were being written on how budding home mechanics could convert their car to run on ethanol a high-octane fuel produced by sugar or starch fermentation. It is generally made from sugar cane or corn. Ford, Volvo and (on the second-hand market since their demise) Saab offer cars that can run on ethanol. Ethanol can also be mixed with conventional fuel in low concentrations (typically under 10%) that can run in conventional engines without any modifications. However, the vast majority of biofuel is made from converted crops meaning it takes up land that could be used to grow food. Because many of the crops that are developed into fuel are grown in second or third world countries making green fuel for the rich western world's cars often takes food from the mouths of the poorest people on Earth. Making fuel from distillery by-products would change that. The other exciting thing about butanol which the Tullibardine/Napier tie-up hopes to produce is that unlike ethanol it can be used in an 85%/15% mix with ordinary petrol and used in a normal petrol engine without any modifications. The butanol at Tullibardine will be made by encouraging bacteria to feed on by-products such as draff and potales. This is tremendously efficient as more than 90% of a distillery's output is by-product that would otherwise go to waste. Napier University's Biofuel Research Centre (BfRC) has already shown that the right bacteria can feed on those by-products to produce butanol. The spin-out company, Celtic Renewables, and Tullibardine have signed a memorandum of understanding. Together they will apply the process to thousands of tonnes of the distillery's leftovers. Professor Martin Tangney, founder of Celtic Renewables, said: ''Our partnership with Tullibardine is an important step in the development of a business which combines two iconic Scottish industries whisky and renewables.'' The area's MSP Murdo Fraser also welcomed the development. He said: ''I welcome the initiative shown by Perthshire's Tullibardine distillery in their pursuit to produce butanol from whisky by-products. In recent years distilleries have looked to re-purpose heat energy and waste products to create bio-energy. ''However, this process goes one step further and produces butanol which can be used to power cars and buses. ''This project is a great example of the contribution private enterprise can make in providing sustainable energy. For too long the focus has been on subsided wind power initiatives like these should be rightfully applauded.'' As well as potentially creating green and renewable fuel the project could also save Tullibardine a significant amount of money. Currently the distillery spends around £250,000 a year disposing of its waste products. Celtic Renewables hope to eventually build a processing plant in Scotland and work towards turnover of up to £60 million a year. Tullibardine alone has the capacity to provide 6,500 tonnes of draff and two million of litres of pot ale, the by-products of whisky which are currently spread on agricultural fields, turned into animal feed or safely discharged into the sea under licence, all at significant cost. If all the distilleries in Scotland were able to turn their waste into fuel it could create a sector that would rival even that of our whisky industry. It just leaves one question: will we have to start breathalysing cars as well as the drivers?

Business news

Drinks firm Diageo toasts rise in visits to distilleries

January 23 2018

A record number of visitors attended Diageo’s whisky distilleries last year underlying the importance of Scotland’s national drink to the country’s tourism sector. In 2017, a total of 440,360 people visited the drink giant’s 12 distillery centres across Scotland, an increase of 15% on the previous year. Blair Athol Distillery in Pitlochry, the iconic home of the Bells’ Scotch whisky brand, was Diageo’s busiest distillery visitor centre drawing in 86,019 people. The Perthshire distillery recorded a 23% rise in visitors, in part due to the launch of a new whisky tasting bar. Diageo’s head of international supply Ewan Andrew said: “As the country’s lead export, Scotch whisky is one of the biggest magnets for tourism and we’re continuing to grow visitor numbers from around the world. “We’re also continually working to ensure those visitors have the best experience at our distilleries. “They always enjoy meeting the makers, then tasting and learning more about our outstanding single malts and blended scotch whiskies.” Over the last five years, the attractions have recorded a 96.3% growth in visitor numbers across the country, fuelled by international visitors to Scotland and the increasing rise of staycations. The firm’s Scottish visitor centres will open their doors for free on February 8, 10 and 11 to mark the second International Scotch Day. VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead, who opened the Pitlochry distillery’s new bar in July, welcomed the new figures. He said: “This is an amazing achievement and a testament to the hard work of staff to give visitors the best experience possible. “We look forward to welcoming even more visitors to our distilleries throughout the year. “Whisky is one of Scotland’s most valuable commodities with people from all over the world coming to our shores to experience an authentic Scottish dram. “A culinary icon, it remains as important as ever to the tourism industry with one in five visitors making a trip to a whisky distillery during their stay and even more visiting a bar, pub or restaurant to sample our renowned national drink. “Whisky tourism is a vital part of local tourism for many areas in Scotland, attracting visitors, creating jobs and sustaining communities.” Diageo operates 28 malt whisky distilleries of which 12 have visitor centres, making it the leading provider of whisky tourism facilities in Scotland. rmclaren@thecourier.co.uk


Fife whisky is record breaker at auction

May 9 2018

 A Fife single malt whisky has fetched a record-breaking price at auction for the first release from a distillery. Bottle number one of 300 from the Eden Mill limited release first bottling, the first drops of whisky to be distilled and bottled in St Andrews for nearly 160 years, achieved a record sale of £7,100 through Whisky Auctioneer. With a number of bottles gifted to long-standing Eden Mill employees and auctioned, there are now only 100 of the limited release remaining which go on general sale, each priced at £500. Co-founder Paul Miller said: “This auction has given whisky enthusiasts the chance to own a piece of history. “For our first ever single malt whisky to be rewarded with the prestige of a world record sale is the pinnacle of what has been a journey filled with experimentation and passion.” The release offers whisky connoisseurs the chance to secure historic bottles containing the first drops of spirit distilled in St Andrews since the Seggie Distillery closed in 1860. Whisky Auctioneer Sean McGlone said: “As an auctioneer, the only thing that excites us as much as old whisky, is a brand new one. “It’s great to see new distilleries not just opening up across Scotland and contributing to our great industry, but also to see them doing such a great job. “Eden Mill is a distillery with an already strong reputation and connection to a distilling heritage that we feel made their first bottles a perfect inclusion in our auctions.” The launch follows the sell-out hip flask series from Eden Mill. This was a series of seven 20cl single malt whisky expressions released last month which gave whisky fans the chance to sample the products of a range of experimental small-batch distilling methods. Those interested in purchasing a bottle are invited to register their interest by emailing casks@edenmill.com.

Amber Lights

A journey worth making

August 13 2016

It may be a cliché but certain families have whisky in their blood — namely, the urge to make good whisky passes from generation to generation. So, almost a century after the Loch Katrine Adelphi distillery closed in Glasgow’s Gorbals in 1907, one of the founder’s descendants, Jamie Walker, relaunched the Adelphi name in 1993 as a bottler of notable and idiosyncratic whiskies that have consistently won wide acclaim. He then sold the firm to Keith Falconer and Donald Houston in 2004, who eventually faced the need for an “in-house” source of whisky. So, about five years ago, plans were drawn up for Ardnamurchan Distillery at Glenbeg on Loch Sunart, which started distilling in 2014 and was formally opened by Princess Anne. It is Scotland’s most westerly mainland distillery, sitting just a few miles from Ardnamurchan Point. It has several notable features within its stark white-and-black exterior — a wood-fired boiler, an on-site maltings (no malt is trucked in) and, uniquely, four oak washbacks, while all other Scots distilleries use either pine, larch or stainless steel. As the distillery lies at the end of a long, winding single-track road with bridges only 3.3 metres (11 feet) wide, the mashtun, boiler and stills are exactly that diameter. Any wider and they wouldn’t have got there. Two styles of malt whisky are distilled — peated and unpeated — with casks sourced from the US and Spain. Distillery tours operate every day bar Saturday and visitors can sample the fine new spirit that will have to slumber for many months yet until it can be sold as whisky. You have to be keen to reach the distillery. From Fort William take the Corran Ferry, then head west through Strontian, Salen and Glenborrodale to reach Glenbeg. Alternatively, take the Mallaig road and branch off at Lochailort down through Moidart, Acharacle and Salen. Either route is stunning and it’s worth driving the extra miles from Glenbeg to Ardnamurchan Point. I recently sampled some of Ardnamurchan’s best and found it stunning, with hints of cinnamon and cloves. If it tastes that good at 18 months, it’ll be a world beater in a few years’ time.    

Perth & Kinross

Whisky lovers unite for record-breaking anniversary bid at home of Famous Grouse

November 6 2015

Scotland’s oldest working distillery celebrated a milestone anniversary with a bizarre world record attempt. Glenturret bosses marked 240 years in business by cramming as many people as possible into their Crieff visitor centre and getting them to simultaneously “raise a dram”. It was the first time the record has been attempted anywhere in the world. The result was recorded with a huge selfie on social media afterwards. More than 150 people took part in the event, with many joining in at the last minute. The Crieff distillery and visitor attraction originally hoped to lure at least 240 people to the centre at 5pm on Thursday night and get them to raise a warming measure of the distillery’s famous single malt. As part of the anniversary celebrations, the centre opens its doors for free, offering tours of the distillery and the chance to sample food and refreshments by award-winning caterers Wilde Thyme. Whisky has been produced at the distillery in the traditional way since its launched in 1775. Today, the Famous Grouse Experience at Glenturret Distillery is the most visited of its kind in Scotland, welcoming an average of 100,000 visitors each year. General manager Stuart Cassells said last night’s festivities added another chapter to the distillery’s long history. “We have been producing exceptional whisky on this site, at what is now Glenturret Distillery, for over two centuries and we are unique in that we are now Scotland’s only remaining producer of hand-mashed whisky. “We are very proud of our heritage and that we are able to keep these artisan processes alive in the 21st Century, 240 years after the first whisky was distilled right here in Crieff.” He said: “Our ‘raise a dram’ world record attempt is, we think, a fitting way to mark our 240 years.” Members of the public were urged to sign up in advance of yesterday’s record-breaking bid. The event was backed by Miss Scotland Mhairi Ferguson, of Stirling, who is a contender for the Miss World title in China later this year. The 22-year-old joined the crowd after filming a promotional video.

Amber Lights

Raising a glass to distillery tour guides

August 19 2017

Apart from working as a journalist, I have spent many years working as a tourist guide. Many foreign groups I accompany around Scotland have at least one distillery on their holiday itinerary, others are just one long pilgrimage to one distillery to the next. And I can say the vast majority of distillery tours are enhanced by the guides – who are knowledgeable, enthusiastic about their distillery and its whisky and, to boot, often very witty. I have noted how nearly all of them, after the initial fire and safety blurb, immediately ask how many of their visitors have been to a distillery before. Every year, more and more hands shoot up. What’s more, those hands have sampled drams not in one previous distillery, but sometimes 17 or more. It seems some whisky devotees can never see enough distilleries. Many observers would assume that, over time, their fervour would wane. After all, nearly every malt distillery has the same sequence of malt intake chute and bins, grist mill, mash tun, boiler, washbacks, copper stills, spirit vat and casking store. Yet these aficionados never tire of seeing them – and presumably of sampling a dram or two at tour’s end. And they come here unprompted by any marketing or publicity from VisitScotland: their devotion to Scotland and whisky is as total as it is self induced. In response, many distilleries have developed their visitor centres and tours to a fine art, with tour after tour purring through like trains on the London tube. At other distilleries it’s still a work in progress, but I notice how they improve year by year. Indeed, some distillery tours have almost become too smooth, slick and choreographed – one almost wishes a deluge of froth would gush from a washback or a fire alarm go off at an awkward moment to interrupt the guide’s patter. But I’ve yet to see that happen. Well, perhaps just once. At the end of a tour in Canada, in a warehouse where racked casks stretched out of sight, I asked the guide – a very serious student on a summer job – if they had their own cooperage. She looked blank and replied: “That is an expression with which I am not familiar.” Wow, she must have studying for a PhD in obfuscation.  

Perth & Kinross

Perth to host new Home of Whisky Festival

March 19 2014

Whisky enthusiasts will descend on Perth later this year for the city’s first festival celebrating “the water of life”. As one of Scotland’s great whisky-producing regions, Perthshire is home to both the country’s smallest distillery, Edradour, as well as the oldest, Glenturret, with many other notable local distillers. Among those to welcome the May event is cabinet secretary for food and drink, Richard Lochhead. “Whisky is one of Scotland’s most iconic products and, with a number of great distilleries in Perthshire, the Fair City is the perfect location for a festival celebrating our national drink,” he said. “The masterclasses and tasting sessions on offer in the first ever Home of Whisky Festival are the perfect opportunity to enjoy and learn about Scotland’s finest during Homecoming Whisky Month in May.” Exel Wines is hosting the Home of Whisky Festival, which will take place in the Salutation Hotel in Perth on Saturday May 3 between noon and 5pm. Dianne Barrie, company administrator at Exel Wines, said the idea came out of a discussion with Peter McKay, UK sales manager at the Scottish Liqueur Centre, when he visited the South Street shop in Perth. “We were talking about Perth’s rich whisky-making heritage and the idea of hosting a whisky festival in the city seemed like a great way to celebrate this,” she said. “When I got back to the office I put the idea to my colleagues, who liked it, too, and the rest, as they say, is history.” Russell Wallace, general manager, added: “The Home of Whisky Festival will showcase not only the whisky industry in Perthshire, but also throughout Scotland, giving those attending an opportunity to sample some of the best whisky Scotland has to offer and learn more about whisky production and distribution across the globe.” As well as the chance to taste some fine drams from distilleries and independent bottlers across the country, the event will include a number of in-depth masterclasses led by some of the most notable names in the whisky industry. For more information about the Home of Whisky Festival and to purchase tickets visit www.homeofwhisky.exelwines.com.

Amber Lights

New whisky distilleries are springing up south of the border

February 10 2018

New whisky distilleries are not just a Scottish phenomenon, they are springing up in England, too, even in London. So far there are six south of the Border, and all are keen to make their mark. One which has come several times to my attention, although I have yet to visit it, is the Cotswold Distillery, near Stourton in Warwickshire, some miles west of the M40 and Banbury. Photos show a small building, with striking ochre walls and tiled roof, in a five-acre idyllic rural setting. It was opened in September 2014, distilling started on September 5 with the first spirit casked on the 22nd. The first batch of 4000 bottles has recently been released at 46% and a £44.95 price tag. Founder is New York-born former hedge fund manager Daniel Szor, who long yearned to distil, aided by the late Dr Jim Swan and Harry Cockburn, a Scotch master distiller who has helped establish distilleries throughout the world. Everything at Cotswold is small-scale and devoid of automation – all 120-plus taps and valves are operated by hand. A half-ton mashtun feeds six 2500-litre washbacks, a 2500-litre wash still and a 1600-litre spirit still, both from Forsyths of Rothes, plus a German-built 500-litre gin still. Several heat exchangers and solar panels help heat the mains-sourced water. Water used for production and diluting is carbon-filtered and de-ionised. All barley is local and organic, other ingredients and raw materials are locally-sourced where possible. For a small distillery, its product range is remarkable. In addition to its malt whisky, Cotswold offers three gins – their Dry Gin, which won an IWSC gold award, plus Barrel-Aged Gin and Hedgerow Gin, steeped with sloes and other hedgerow fruits. Also listed are Summer Cup, Cotswold Cream Liqueur, Spirited Sherry, coffee-based Espresso Martini, Cotswolvados Apple Brandy and Pomme Oh!, an 18% mix of apple brandy and apple juice. Lastly Absinthe, a heady (60%) and fabled spirit, first developed in France, with such additives as green anise, grand wormwood, fennel and angelica seed. Ah, but what’s the whisky like? The answer is: piquant, slightly sweet and very good. For a three-year-old single malt from an all-new distillery, it is delectable. I’m not surprised it netted a 94 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. It deserves it.