The World of the Scotch Superpour

1 March 2013

By Mitch Bechard, US Brand Ambassador

Day 1

Touchdown Vegas! I have landed in Sin City for my annual pilgrimage to the Universal Whisky Experience, arguably the most extravagant whisky show in the world. Here customers have the opportunity to taste scotch that can cost the equivalent of a reasonably sized automobile or small apartment. Now in its third year and run by avid Scotch whisky collector and enthusiast Mahesh Patel, the show attracts whisky connoisseurs from around the world. Mahesh is also the proud owner of 1 of only 11 bottles of our Glenfiddich Janet Sheed Roberts. Aged for 55 years, these bottles were auctioned off worldwide for various charities. The record bottle being sold in New York for a staggering $94,000.  Amazingly, six of the Janet Sheed Roberts bottles make up the top ten most expensive bottles ever sold in auction, with the total amount raised through their sales equating to an incredible $617,477 for various charities.

The view from the Grand Canyon from the helicopters was breath-taking.

 

As I taxi on the runway and prepare myself to get blasted by the Nevada heat outside I recall the first year of doing the show with Mahesh and how the world of the super premium Scotch whisky has reached dizzy heights in recent years.  Looking back 10 years ago a Scotch that had reached the aged of 30 years was considered ‘hyper aged’ fast forward to 2013 and it is the 50 year plus age statements that own that category. The oldest Scotch currently on the market is produced by Elgin based company Gordon & McPhail who boasts two expressions at a mind-boggling 70 years old!

At this point I must emphasise that whenever I am talking on the subject of age I will always tell people that it is not the yardstick by which to measure the quality of single malt. A good friend of mine once made the analogy; “we all know a 40 year old person who we don’t like!” However, I have had some amazing experiences with older scotches. The one that will forever be etched in my memory is trying the Glenfiddich 50 year for the first time. Incredibly for liquid that has been in cask of half a century I got mango and pineapple with a hint of orange marmalade on the nose, the palette is velvety smooth with the slightest wisp of smoke. If I am starting to wax lyrical here I am sorry but it is an incredible experience and one that I wish everyone could enjoy.  

After making my way out of the airport and into a cab I arrive at the Encore, the venue for the Universal Whisky Show. As I am checking in I feel a hand grab my shoulder and I turn around to be greeted by the legend that is Ian Millar, Global Ambassador and ex distillery manager of Glenfiddich. We then proceed to regale humorous tales of our travels while making sure that our craftsmen back at the distillery are still doing a fantastic job of producing the world’s most awarded single malt. I would like to expand on this section but as they say ‘what goes on in Vegas....’ 

Day 2

Ian and I are on our way to the airport, not to fly out of Vegas but to jump in a helicopter and do a tasting in the Grand Canyon, an event that has been arranged in conjunction with the show. We are joined by a few consumers who have paid over $1,000 for the privilege and members of the media. As we land in the Grand Canyon it feels very surreal to have such a stunning backdrop while sipping on 50 year old Glenfiddich but a feeling that I could get used to!

The Glenfiddich 50 Year Old was unsurprisingly well received.

 

On my return flight I think about the experience I have just had and how fortunate I am to do what I do. I ponder on how rare the liquid was that just passed my lips. My thoughts then turn to the fact that only 1% of single malt makes it to over 21 years of age. The demand for these super aged scotches is growing at an alarming rate. I say alarming as we have a small problem with Scotch whisky. Yes we can crank our distilleries to create more liquid but the problem comes in the form of not being able to speed up time. The numbers on the label refer to the youngest liquid that has gone into make that expression, therefore if it is 12 years old there is nothing younger than 12 years in that bottle.  So where is this demand coming from?  I have been educating Scotch whisky consumers for nine years now and in that time I have seen the curiosity in the subject shift to a younger audience with a lot more females taking an interest.  Along with this I have witnessed a shift geographically in the demand for my home countries number one selling product. The USA still holds the title of buying the most single malt, but there has been a shift to emerging markets such as India (+28%), Taiwan (+14), Venezuela (+31%) who are now really starting to get a thirst for the older single malts that are becoming available to them. In certain markets it is very much a status symbol to be seen drinking older scotches the same way it would be to drive a high performance sports car or wear a valuable timepiece on your wrist, a trend that I predict becoming more popular.

Ian Millar pours a dram.

 

Day 3

As I finish off a hearty breakfast I prepare myself for the busy day ahead. I am loading up with a Vegas sized omelette, side of bacon, several slices of toast and a few cups of coffee. Looking over my notes for my master class titled - “Age does not always matter, rarity does.” During this I am showcasing some of our rare expressions including Snow Phoenix and Cask of Dreams, both of which are in their teens. Prior to this we will be pouring some very old Glenfiddich at the show itself. Our super pour for the night is a Glenfiddich 1959 that has been pulled directly from a sherry cask by our Malt Master, Brian Kinsman. Brian has also kindly pulled samples from a 1973 American cask, 20 year, 8 of which have been spent in a rum cask and a 1983 refill sherry butt all of which have been hand selected especially for the show. Getting these unique expressions reminds me of the advantage of working for an independent family owned company, this not only gives us great flexibility in what we do but it also means that we have access to some of the oldest and rarest stocks. I finish my breakfast and look forward to another great day of working in an industry that I am passionate about and for the most awarded single malt whisky in the world.

A group shot, with our wonderful guides.