In case you were still totally unfamiliar with it (don’t hide yourself, it can happen, some of us do have a life which doesn’t necessarily include daily hours curating whisky news), Edinburgh Whisky Ltd. is a privately-owned independent company, based in Scotland’s capital city, carrying on the age-old tradition of Edinburgh merchants who cannily sourced, blended, bottled then traded supreme Scotch whiskies all over the world. The company carefully creates whiskies that have real character and complexity, to be enjoyed in myriad ways in a modern world.
“Created locally, enjoyed globally.”
As I wanted to find out more about the company, its products and future, I got in touch with Gordon and Gregor, the team behind Edinburgh Whisky, who kindly agreed to answer some questions… So, here we go!
Hey, do not forget there’s also a fantastic Twitter giveaway running from today until April 12th to win a bottle of the above Advocates Batch!
First of all, could you please tell us more about yourself: where do you come from, what is your career background and why deciding to create Edinburgh Whisky?
Gordon: Edinburgh born and bred, I spent 10 years with Moet Hennessy in a business development role, i was fortunate enough to have involvement in cognac brands, one line called early landed cognac was fascinating, casks of new spirit were sold to clients around the world, matured in different countries and climates, samples would be returned after 10 years before bottling, experiencing the effect of climate on the maturation of spirit serves me well for the whisky industry.
Gregor: I lived in Edinburgh for over twenty years, but originally from Aberdeen, though I’m not allowed to talk about that down here! As a Food & Beverage specialist my background is creating and developing high-level hospitality businesses with an innovative approach – and I have always wanted to apply the same to the wonderful world of Scotch.
Hopefully Edinburgh Whisky does all this – the best possible modern blends and rare casks, bottled and presented imaginatively with some human connection, warmth, and spirit.
Creating the company came from an idea formed in the Canny Manns pub “as all best ideas” The two strongest names in Scotland “Edinburgh and Whisky” we believed had every chance of creating a market both at home and overseas if the quality of the liquid matched the strength of the brand. We took over 3 years to design the brand and create the team before launching last September. Within 5 months we achieved UK coverage.
During the 1880s Leith was Scotland’s premier port for handling grain. While earlier in 1822 six ports, including Leith, were allowed to store whisky under bond thanks to a shake up in the rules and regulations governing the strict control of production and excise. Some of the other ports – Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee also went on to become significant bases for blending Edinburgh used to have many whisky merchants, i dealt with the Lambert Brothers and Jim Hogg in the 90s.
With over 1.6 million people using Edinburgh as a base every year to visit a Scottish distillery we thought we had a chance to recreate the Edinburgh whisky merchants of old who sourced casks created interesting blends and exported around the globe from the Port of Leith. Seven years on we do exactly that and proud to call ourselves modern day whisky merchants.
What is your personal relationship with whisky: first whisky sipped? A personal favourite? Any prefered food and whisky pairing you’d recommend our readers?
Gordon: personal favourite was a simple great quality blend called Baillie Nichol Jarvie , a great every day glass perfectly priced and was always happy to see me after a hard day at work.
Gregor: I grew up near some of the best fly fishing rivers with parents were both keen salmon fishers, so Dad always had some 12yo Macallan to share with the guests and (favoured) ghillies on the banks of the River Dee. I was fascinated by the mahogany colour and sherried fruitcake nose, so as a young adult I grew to love this malt which was reinforced by all the happy family memories and associations.
Recently I have fallen in love with Balblair 1997 – first fill bourbon. It transcends most people’s perception of malt. Disarmingly light at first, supremely smooth, then complex tropical and with a really elegant and balanced structure. It’s almost like a very special old rum. A lot of these Highland malts fascinate me. Amazing.
Whisky and food? [Ahem. Scratches head and looks at the floor]. We are not actually huge followers of universal whisky and food pairings. There are obviously great ingredient matches like various chocolates and some fabulous cheese matches like our New Town ‘Advocates Batch’ with slivers of comté or gruyere. But too many dish pairings are cynically shoehorned in there to help the big brands find a new promotional angle. Do you really want to drink strong spirit with complex dishes?
Edinburgh Whisky comprises a range of single cask bottlings called The Library Collection. Could you please tell us more about this range: how do you select the casks? Any specific profiles you’re looking for? Why deciding to come up with this range and what makes it special? If you had to pick ONE expression from The Library Collection, which one would it be and why?
Gordon: We are in the fortunate position of having stock holdings which would envy some of the bigger brands, we meet monthly and taste a selection of casks, its a team decision on what we bottle, we take into account retail price points & volumes to keep our stockists supplied. But most importantly is we all need to be happy with the quality before a cask is chosen.
My chosen Library Collection favourite to date would be the Glenvlivet 8 year old, sherry finish. We had all agreed that it was too young but in every blind tasting it appeared in the top 3, a perfect example of quality over a number and has turned out to be a firm favourite for many of our accounts and won a few awards.
Gregor: we are all a little bit obdurate here, if the sample resonates with us and makes us all smile we’ll instinctively think about bottling it. For example, many would have kept the Glenlivet 8 year old until is reached a standard age – 12 /18 years etc. But this is from a stunning first fill sherry butt and was so unique and full of personality, that we felt compelled to bottle it – and the reaction has thankfully backed-up our hunch.
I am very excited about the Glen Grant 19yo we are currently bottling. In its commercial (often young) guise, Glen Grant is sometimes sniffed at for being light on impact, but I am fan of elegance, and this cask is a stonker! – A phenomenal, highly complex and quintessentially fruity Speyside single cask. Seriously classy – but will probably be sold on allocation sadly.
You’ve also released a “New Town” blended whisky called The Advocates Batch. Have you tried to reflect the character of this part of Edinburgh (New Town) in the liquid? How can a whisky achieve this?
Gregor: Exactly. This was very much the case. Although small, Edinburgh is a nuanced city where the full spectrum of life can be found a few blocks from each other. In headline, the New Town is cosmopolitan, quite grand and a bit little bourgeois – inspiring us to create more elegant styles to fit with this part of the city’s character. So the very first New Town – the Advocates Batch – was designed to be classy, understated, but full of subtle charm. Hopefully you agree? Out latest New Town batch is nearly ready for release that will be an expression of a different facet of New Town character. Watch this space!
On the other side of Edinburgh, The Old Town is more robust with a much longer and darker past – and that will be reflected in the styles we create in that suite of blends.
Gordon: We spent a long time discussing the liquid to compliment the brand… A quick Edinburgh history lesson – The decision to construct a New Town was taken by the city fathers, after overcrowding inside the Old Town city walls reached breaking point and to prevent an exodus of wealthy citizens from the city to London. The Age of Enlightenment had arrived in Edinburgh, and the outdated city fabric did not suit the professional and merchant classes who lived there As the successive stages of the New Town were developed, the rich moved northwards from cramped tenements in narrow closes into grand Georgian homes on wide roads. However, the poor remained in the Old Town
We believe the merchant classes of the day would have appreciated the Speyside qualities of the New Town Advocates Batch!
I’m curious! Can you tell me a bit more about this specific expression: how many/what kind of whiskies come into its composition (distilleries/regions/profiles/ages…)? How do you manage to achieve the desired flavour profile? Are you surrounded by external whisky consultants/experts?
Gordon: As mentioned, we are lucky enough to have over 70 years combined experience, with noses like trufflehounds and finely-tuned pallets. Okay, I exaggerate, but collectively we are pretty good, and always learning. Whilst we have access to industry ‘noses’, we believe too many external influences could effect our final product, so ultimately everything is agreed between the three of us.
The heart of the blend is core, once we are happy with this we look for selected casks which allow the finish or middle pallet to be brought into play, depending on the style we hope to achieve. In this blend we have a number of young casks (around 5 yrs old) and a little of some older established names (the oldest being 13 yrs) but rather than trade on anyone else’s name, we are happy this is known as our creation, and an expression of a classic, elegant Speyside blended malt.
Pssst! I reviewed it a few months ago… This way!
The Big question now: The New Town Blend will undoubtedly be followed by its Old Town brother, right? Are you planning to expand the range any further with other areas of the Edinburgh region? (Maybe a Pentlands blend? An Arthur’s Seat blend or a Royal Blend of Holyrood?) When can we expect The Old Town blend to be released? Any plan to set up an actual distillery in or around Edinburgh?
Old town will arrive hopefully in 2016. It’s a hot topic and we are nearly happy as a team!
The Edinburgh Distillery is always part of our long term plans, we have had some interesting conversations but to be honest, building the brand is taking up so much time at the moment. Unless you know anyone with £10 million burning a hole in their pockets with aspirations to build a distillery in the heart of Scotland’s Capital?
How do you see the future for Edinburgh Whisky? How do you picture the brand in 5/10 years time?
In 5 years:
3 Library cask bottlings in the market at any given time
2 New Town blends
An Old Town
And a couple of what we like to call Golden Monkeys.
Ideally the distillery benefactor will have come forward and plans will be under way!
pic from The Scotsman