Whisky bottle design insanity

There’s a great blog post about packaging design and antique bottles, inspired by this monstrosity from Highland Park.

After seeing the packaging design for Highland Park 50 year old it made me think back to the days that I don't actually have any memories of; the days when there wasn't a bunch of goofy stuff on a whiskey bottle and all you had was good clean glass color and simple type. Lucky for us there are sites like Antique Bottles so we can all have look back and find a little color inspiration. We’re also checking in with current popular brands and their label colors and designs. Drink up, cheers!

(Via Color + Design Blog by COLOURlovers.)

The Glenrothes Adventure part 5: Tradition & Competition

Now, if you’re going to enter this ‘Glenrothes Whisky Maker‘ competition that starts on Monday, you’ll want to be aware of some things. The first is that there is a tradition in Rothes House: guests cook breakfast. Competitively. Be prepared for that.

Anyone who’s ever stayed in Rothes House has been up at the crack of dawn, figuring out the coffee machine, trying to find the eggs and searching for interesting and appropriate ideas for a cooked breakfast for whomever else is about.

And it’s not just a case of rustling up some toast and a cuppa. Breakfast is scored and your efforts are recorded in detail, kept for posterity and then revisited and compared against all others, past and future. Ronnie Cox has a book with reviews, and a complicated system of marking (out of five quaichs). You’re scored on the food itself, promptness (we’re talking 8am here), presentation, and even the cleanup afterwards.

I made the above oaty pancakes (and even a separate batch of eggless pancakes for one allergic attendee), served with poached eggs, banana, crispy bacon and maple syrup. I reckon I scored pretty well – and especially on the cleanup. But there were some little touches I could have added. Apparently you’d do quite well at this if you rustle up some hearty bacon sandwiches, but serve them with mimosas on the verandah.

Outdoor pursuits
And then it was off to the hills to engage in the local sporting activities. At least, the kind you can do without building up a sweat. And again, the atmosphere was competitive – and that tends to stay with you for a while afterwards.

In particular, that spirit has remained through to the writing of this blog post. Through careful editing and some judicious selection, for instance, I’m able to present the (frankly fallacious) idea that these activities were something I was generally better at than whisky writer Dominic Roskrow.

Witness and compare our respective skills on the field:

Okay – so I only chose the best bits. In fact, between the three of us (Marcin Miller is holding the camera) it was all pretty even. We each won one event, came second in another, and third in one. It could not have been more satisfyingly egalitarian if there’d been some sort of public relations exercise at work (oh, wait… hang on a minute).

We decided not to try the blindfold crosscountry driving game, but instead opted for extra rounds of shooting at inanimate objects. It was a lot of fun. Of course, we didn’t get time for the salmon fishing that the four winners of the Glenrothes competition will no doubt get to share in – but I’m convinced that if we were able to pack so much activity into just 24 hours, a whole week will be an incredible prize with some fantastic memories and souvenirs to take away at the end of it.

You’d also get to visit The Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh (which we’ve blogged about here) – and have dinner with Scotland’s pre-eminent whisky writer, Charles MacLean. There are going to be hundreds of other prizes too, apparently.

Entry will be simple; you just supply your details and then answer in 50 words or fewer why you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Well, I say “simple” – my guess is that getting that sort of thing down to fifty words is going to be tough – though brevity’s never been my forté.

The competition will run from 4th October 2010 to 31st January 2011 and can be entered at www.theglenrothes.com . They’re taking entries in English, Spanish and Chinese.

All the best of luck with it. And if you do win, do us all a favour – blog it, would you?

The Glenrothes Adventure part 4: The Inner Sanctum


After all our hard work making the barrels, and touring the distillery, it was finally time to sample some of the fruits of our labour (or rather, the labour of others over the past decades).

This is what we whisky writers like to call ‘the whole point of the exercise’.

And what a fantastic tasting it was. Rather than simply pass out a few drams and get us to say whether we liked them or not, Ronnie took us through some really interesting aspects of whisky tasting – including some I’d never encountered before.

For instance…

I’d never considered thinking about whisky in terms of its characteristics as reflective of different moods, and charting the course of an evening. There had always been whiskies that seemed a good place to start, and others that were a good place to end – but equating the mood to the changing of the seasons is a really nice metaphor – and one I’ll come back to.

Of course, what makes The Glenrothes a natural place for this kind of artisan approach to whisky production is the fact that their licensees are Berry Brothers and Rudd, the London wine merchants.

Glenrothes single malt whiskies are offered as a range of vintages, rather than released (in the more traditional way) in terms of their age. And in keeping with that, some of the ways in which the malts are discussed and understood borrow their language from the world of wines.


The private tasting room – the inner sanctum (or, if you like, the boss’s office) – contains a bewildering array of vintage malts, and a lot of different glasses, jars of different ingredients for comparing and learning about aromas.

The circular wooden table (not to mention the exceptional whiskies) makes for a convivial atmosphere, and, as is traditional in this part of the world, the conversation quickly turned from explanation to anecdote. Well-known drinks writer and retailer Dominic Roskrow was also in attendance, and the four of us (including Marcin Miller, the company’s PR – currently holding the camera) enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion.

A 32 year-old (1972 vintage, to use the Glenrothes nomenclature) became the occasion for a discussion about the correct accent for Latin speakers:

And Dominic related this whisky tale about just how long a ‘long finish’ should be:

It’s fair to say that what Ronnie describes as a ‘conversational’ whisky was doing its job well.

And you can expect, should you be one of the winners of the competition that the distillery is running from next week, that you’ll spend as much time (if not more) swapping stories over a dram as you will experiencing the whole whisky production process.

Because this part is, as I mentioned, the whole point of the exercise.

But there’s more to whisky than just making it and drinking it. There’s everything else that goes on around it – and in part 5, you’ll see the glimpse we were given into the culture and lifestyle that surrounds the Glenrothes.

The Glenrothes Adventure part 3: From grain to spirit

In this video, Ronnie Cox takes us on a private tour of the Glenrothes distillery – explaining the process of making the spirit that, over time, becomes The Glenrothes whisky.

The four winners of The Glenrothes Whisky Maker competition will be immersed* in every part of whisky production from beginning to end – so you might want to take notes.

Feel free to ‘Full Screen’ the video. I shot it on the HD Flip camera, and the stills and factory machinery always look much more impressive in “big mode”. Also, Ronnie is a larger-than-life character, so it seems appropriate.

*Not literally ‘immersed’. That would be bad.

The Glenrothes Adventure part 2: Hangin’ with Mr Cooper

There’s your bits and pieces – now get to it

Clutch and I have a saying: Ordeals beget treats. We’re thinking of having it made into a coat of arms.

Essentially, it reflects the fact that everything we do together that has an element of difficulty about it (like that time we thought it would be a good idea to cycle across the bay in low tide from Bruichladdich to Bowmore, rather than simply stick to the road around the Islay coast), there’s usually a dram at the end of it. And, we like to think, the treat more than compensates for the ordeal.

I’m delighted to say that the motto held true in this instance.

As I mentioned yesterday, there’s this competition. Four people will each be appointed The Glenrothes Whisky Maker for a week following a worldwide competition which launches on 4th October 2010. That’s Monday week, guys.

The successful candidates will be recruited to work as The Glenrothes Whisky Makers in the heart of single malt production, Speyside, Scotland.

That’s right: work.

So one of the first things I did when got to The Glenrothes in order to find out about this competition was to partake in a bit of cooperage. That is – I got to make a barrel.

First, Ronnie showed how it’s done:

Then, in some bizarre twist on the Generation Game, it was suddenly my turn. Cooperage, it has to be said, is one of those things that could benefit from a spot of practice. I’d never done it before in my life.

Naturally, things did not go entirely smoothly.

I felt I did remarkably well under the circumstances, since there is usually a clear delineation of work between Clutch and I whenever it comes to this sort of thing. He takes care of all of the craft skills, woodworking, DIY, practical abilities and anything requiring coordination, and I provide company and moral support.

It’s served us well to this day, and so, in his absence, being in the position of actually making something was a bit of an experience. It’s certainly one I can recommend though, because it meant that I’d had some small hand in the making of some future dram – and an excellent one at that, I’ll bet.

There was more to come, and this was just the tip of the iceberg – but if you think that looks tricky – wait till you try rolling a barrel. I mean – it’s easy enough to roll them – they are built for that sort of thing. It’s not quite so easy to roll them with a destination in mind. Forward momentum is not the problem – it’s steering.

Thankfully, nobody recorded any video of my efforts on that particular front. Suffice to say, that particular barrel might not be included in the less than 2% of whisky selected by The Glenrothes each year for their vintage release…

But you’ll be relieved to know that after the ordeal of manual labour – there were indeed treats. And not only were those treats spectacular, the ordeals were pretty great as ordeals go too.

More about the upcoming Glenrothes competition soon…