Whisky Waffling

RIP Joe Brandie

This Sunday (Sept 24th) we received the sad news that the longtime barman and gentleman of the Fiddichside Inn, Speyside has passed away, aged 88.

We were lucky enough to have met the man in March last year, and had received a tip-off from a friend that no trip to Speyside was complete without having visited the Fiddichside Inn and having a chat with the quaint publican who served fine whiskies, in the heart of scotch whisky country but with the name Brandie! Sure enough, we set off down the old railway line from Aberlour and ended up at a bridge over a rolling stream and saw a little cloud of smoke coming from the chimney of an old whitewashed pub. When we got to the door, we noticed that the pub was not due to open for another 30 minutes or so, but as we started to ponder knocking on the door anyway, Joe opened the door and beckoned our rain-soaked troop into the warm, tiny bar. There we sat in front of a freshly lit fire and chatted with him about his time behind the bar, the history of the area from his perspective and his love of fishing, before the regulars streamed in at the standard opening hour, all happy to be in the company of Mr Brandie.

If you search #fiddichsideinn on twitter, you will find numerous people with similar stories to ours and lots of lovely tweets and dedications to the gentle, spirited man, who reportedly had only taken 4 days off in his 57 years behind the bar.

I won’t gush anymore, but here is a video that we have put together of our short visit and warm meeting (in many senses of the word) with Scotland’s longest serving innkeeper.

Rest in peace, Joe Brandie

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Highland Park 12: New Outside, Same Inside?

Riddle me this: I have a Viking soul and Victorian history. I am old, new and 12 years old all at once. What am I?


You could forgive Highland Park for resting on its laurels. They are one of the most successful whisky brands around–their bottles have always stood out on bar and store shelves alike. With a long history dating to 1798 (the Victorian history) and tapping into the heritage of Orkney Island (the Viking soul) has been the equivalent of marketing gold. Who doesn’t like a Celtic swirl, a nod to the Vikings? The distillery’s stylised “h” is iconic. Not to mention their whiskies are pretty good, especially the 12 year old, which combines fine flavours with a wee peaty punch, all at a very decent price.


Highland Park 12 – Out With The Old

But if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards–isn’t that what they say? Highland Park must be listening because they have undergone a bit of a transformation of late. It started with a new Travel Retail Exclusive range, of which you can see our thoughts on here.


The distillery’s widely successful 12 year old has not escaped a reboot. From box to bottle it is reborn. Gone is the curved, flask shape packaging, along with matching bottle shape. A more traditional, squared box replaces it. But the real change is in the styling. Where there was empty black space, the box is adorned with a raised silver Celtic design–a deer amidst all the swirls and knots you could ever want. Like a “magic eye” picture, look long enough and the famous “h” appears. Splashed all over is text pertaining to “viking honour” and “reflections of ancestors”. The usual distillery marketing blurb on the back is accompanied by more design and the now ubiquitous social media icons.


The bottle itself is now tapered, with a wider bottom than top. If Celtic imagery is your thing, then this bottle is a sensual awakening: raised on its front is more knots and the famous ‘h’ once again. Very pleasing to the touch.



Highland Park 12 – New Bottle

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for a bit of “Viking soul” (who isn’t?). However, we have clearly ventured into some kind of Game-of-Thrones-meets-Viking-marketing-whisky mash-up. This rebranding is meant to grab your attention and pick it up, especially for the gift buyer. Well, it got my attention. Not so much for the Viking font and squiggles but because I had to know: is it the same on the inside? Let’s find out:


The nose is candied fruit and vanilla pods. A hint of peat is discernible of things to come…


Fruit cake bounces on the tongue with all its marzipan and raisins, wrapped up in honey. So far so good…


And then there it is, the Highland Park 12 coup de grâce: a deep (for a 12 year old) and smoky finish, with embers rising to keep you warm any day of the year.



Highland Park 12 – New Packaging

Highland Park 12 was one of the whiskies that hooked me into this world. It’s accessible, with simple, discernible flavours that belie a deeper finish. It’s in my pantheon of whisky; one of my desert island drams. I love it for its versatility, its adaptability to any whisky drinking session. Who knows, maybe deep down I’m a sucker for Viking soul.


So, I’m happy to report that Highland Park 12, with its Viking soul, Victorian history and updated marketing may be new on the outside, but it’s business as usual on the inside.



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Travel Retail – What Is It All About?

Like most whisky enthusiasts, my inbox gets hammered by the numerous mailing lists and newsletters that I’ve signed up to on my quest for my new favourite dram, but one thing that I keep asking myself about some of these ‘hot new releases’ is: what is the deal with “travel retail” bottlings? I mean, really?

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time in a few airports and the ‘duty-free’ stores are always a personal highlight for whiling away a lot of the waiting time. What I seem to find though is that whilst you are always greeted with some familiar faces, there are then some unusual yet somehow recognisable ones – like a friend of a friend that you keep running into from time to time. Usually dwarfed at the side of the wall full of Johnnie Walkers.

Dealing with the familiar faces first – yes, they are always there, but not always in a familiar guise – they may be in slightly different packaging or different sizes, and are usually that welcome bit cheaper.

[As a side note, I’ve never quite understood why the UK deals with 70cl bottles, but finding a favourite dram at a similar price but larger bottle is something of a win – on the return leg of my last holiday abroad, I managed to pick up a litre bottle of Balvenie Doublewood 12 for £24 – like I said, win!]


Glenmorangie – The Duthac

Those unfamiliar faces though… I’ve never quite understood what it’s all about. Highland Park Svein. Laphroaig PX Cask. Glenmorangie Duthac. Old Pulteney Noss Head. Smokehead Extra Rare. Why limit these to the ‘travel retail’ bracket? Do they actually earn that exclusivity? Do they taste nice? Do they warrant the extra 20% difference in price to their standard stuff? The 200% difference? The 2000% difference? Some of these things have wild prices, and often what they lack in age statement – not that I have a problem with that kind of thing – they make up for in cask types and maturation processes. So are they simply experiments in whisky development? If so, are they failed experiments? If not, and there was a particular dram flying off the duty-free shelves, would it make its way into the regular in-land stores?

I doubt it.

What the retailers have is a captive and (usually) more affluent audience. Whether it is someone looking for something different or simply buying a bottle that they are just not aware of, you will usually see the word “exclusive” branded across the packaging of your old favourites, alongside its associated larger price tag. This all combines into a considerably successful ploy to ultimately part the travelling party from their cash – whether in their own currency or otherwise.

What particularly frustrates me is that you have to be on that tax haven soil to actually acquire one of these. Whilst they are usually generous with their samples in the airport, there is no greater sense of corporate pressure to get you to shell out the big bucks. With free booze starting to course through your veins too, you’re more likely to do so too. With mixed results too. The Highland Park Svein, for instance, would have been a mistaken purchase. Not that it is a bad dram, but it was just not as good as the Highland Park 12yo, which is readily available at a fraction of the price. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed some of those drams before now too – ‘The Duthac’ by Glenmorangie particularly so – but at £100 a bottle for something not much better than their 10yo, it is just too much of a stretch. Which is a shame, because if it was readily available at a more affordable price, then it would definitely become a regular WU tipple.

Like it or loathe it, the travel retail market is not going anywhere though, and, with a multi-billion dollar catchment, who can blame the distilleries? It was recently reported that travel retail whiskies are expected to gross $80billion worldwide by 2020 and with the footfall in airports worldwide hitting a billion a year, there’s only one way the whiskies and prices are gonna go… skyward!

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