Saturday 26 July 2008

Whiskey Miscellany

The wind that takes the barley

The age of sail is coming back. Dublin has just received a shipment of French wine in the hold of a 108-year old sailing ship. The Kathleen & May, a three-masted wooden schooner, has tied up along the docks with its cargo of more than 12,000 bottles.

I think the original concept was to save on carbon dioxide and sell the resulting wine at a slight "green" premium. But with the rise and rise in oil prices it turns out that this is actually a competitive method of transport.

The whiskey aspect of this story comes with the ship's return journey to France in September. Then it will carry Irish and Scotch whiskey.

These are proving voyages with rented ships. The company behind the venture is also having new vessels built to achieve greater efficiencies.

Cling film wrap

Diageo (owner of Bushmills and a bunch of Scottish distilleries) has been trying an interesting experiment.

A maturing barrel of whiskey loses about 2% of its volume to the surrounding air every year. It's usually considered a necessary evil as some liquid must be absorbed into the wood and released again in order for whiskey to acquire its colour and flavour. The fact that the wood "breathes" along with the temperature cycles in the warehouse is generally considered to encourage this process.

Diageo has "solved" the evaporation loss by wrapping the casks in cling film. Conventional wisdom says this would interfere with the maturation process but Diageo says its test casks have aged well over the last five years.

I'll be surprised if this results in whiskey with the same flavour profile as if the casks had not been wrapped but I can definitely see the contents of such barrels ending up in cheaper blends.

Chilled whiskey

John Hansell reports on a different experiment: cheap whiskey designed to be drunk extremely chilled. It makes marketing sense.

Jameson results

Pernod Ricard continues to post good results for its Jameson brand. Sales for the year ending June are up 15% in volume, 21% in value. The company aims to increase the current sales of 2.6m cases a year to 3m cases by 2010.