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Contents 04 Society news

The latest updates on Society life from all over the world

07 Jim Murray

Our columnist is alarmed after a curious conversation in Stockholm

08 The Knowledge

Digging deeper into the whisky world. This issue – the painting of cask ends

17 Outturn

Our selection this issue includes three different casks from three different regions

32 Aide Mémoire

A round-up of Society events around the UK and our international branches

34 The last drop

The founder of the Society in America, Alan Shayne, on how he discovered the Society

28 • AgendA • feAture: excisemen

In his 34 years as an officer of H.M. Customs and Excise, as it was then known, Ian Milne spent 14 years working in distilleries. Here, in his own words, he recalls what it was like to work in a role at the heart of the industry

feAture: excisemen • 29 AgendA • 28

wonderfulIt’s a B


eing an exciseman and working in a whisky distillery was a wonderful life. It’s one that I had always planned on ever since I was a young lad and used

to visit my grandfather who lived next to the Glenugie distillery near Peterhead. I used to love playing there, pushing the empty casks around and especially sneaking into the maltings, which had that wonderful smell of malted barley. I was aware of the exciseman who lived

at the distillery in his own house. I could see how he was a much-respected member of the community – and I knew that was the life for me. I was appointed to Customs and Excise

in January 1966, as an unattached officer, but it was some time before I actually saw a distillery. As an unattached officer, I could be


posted anywhere in the UK where work was needed. I spent five years working on a wide range of roles: from Purchase Tax in London to customs duty on the Newcastle docks. However, in June 1967, I was delighted to get my

first taste of working at a distillery, even if it was only relief work in Speyside for five months. I was initially based in Keith and travelled between three distilleries: three days at Glentauchers, two days at Aultmore and the Saturday morning at Strathisla. The work involved checking spirit charges

and overseeing the filling and transportation of casks. After two months in Keith, I moved to nearby Dufftown where I was employed at most of the distilleries on relief work for a further three months. In 1972, I finally got a permanent position

Ian returned to Knockdhu, one of his former workplaces, to be photographed for this article

with a distillery when I was posted to Cameronbridge Distillery in Windygates, near Kirkcaldy. I was one of three excisemen living and working on the site. In the past, there were nine officers but, because of changing excise practices, such as taking representative samples of spirit from casks instead of checking all the stock, fewer officers were required. However, there was plenty to do for the three of us, as it was a large operation. Our main role was to monitor and ensure the security of the site’s whisky production and we held several important keys for the distillery plant and warehouses. Nothing moved unless the distillery officer was there with the keys to supervise – the locks could not be tampered with without breaking the official paper seal over the keyhole of each Crown Lock

padlock, which was replaced after opening. We worked on three shifts, or “courses”, and

were helped by three Revenue assistants – called “watchers” – whose primary job was to oversee the security of the casks in the warehouses and ensure that the correct numbers of casks were delivered to the bottling plant on the correct days. The first shift started at 7am when the officer opened the safe and gave the keys of the warehouse doors to the Revenue assistants. The officer then took the distillery keys and recorded the spirit charge – the amount of spirit that was produced since the last charge, which was probably about 2pm on the previous day. Only then was it pumped from the spirit receiver over


exciseman Ian Milne refl ects on the ‘wonderful’ years he spent working at distilleries

Go on a voyage of discovery with Alan Shayne on page 34

THE SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY 10 • AgendA • feAture: gold PHOTOGRAPHY: PETER SANDGROUND 8 • THE KNOWLEDGE The quest for whisky enlightenment continues


PHOTOGRAPHY: PETER SANDGROUND The mountain of multi-coloured cask

ends, with its honeycomb- like hotchpotch of brightly coloured circles, is always a beautiful sight at a distillery – one which is guaranteed to have first-time

visitors reaching for their cameras. Raymond Armstrong, the owner of Bladnoch distillery, says it is a sight that reminds

him of another classic Scottish scene – the row of coloured houses on the shoreline at Tobermory

on the Isle of Mull. Going further, he describes the image as a “wee gem” from the history and culture of whisky. “I love whisky,” he says,

“but it’s not just the drink, it is also all the sights and sounds that are associated with it. The coloured cask ends are another part of the overall attraction.” The story of why cask ends are painted

in this way is a simple one, but perhaps not widely known. Each cask has a story to tell and each colour represents a chapter on its journey – in this case, how many fi llings each cask has had. At the Glenfi ddich and The Balvenie distilleries, they used to use white paint to indicate a fi rst fi lling and blue for a second. These days, however, they mostly use small plastic bar codes, which can provide all kinds of information about the cask when scanned. It is also, of course, more cost-eff ective than buying vast amounts of paint every year. The colour coding system is a throwback to a time when it was standard practice for distillers to

paint their cask ends, or use stencils. Ian McDonald, head

cooper at Glenfi ddich and The Balvenie, remembers when paint and stencils were commonplace. “My fi rst job 42 years ago was painting casks,” he says. “Then we moved to stencilling with a brush and spraygun. The stencils used a numbering system showing a year of make and fi rst use – for example, 11-1 for fi rst-fi ll cask in 2011. “I remember distillery managers used to be very

strict about all the casks being displayed correctly in the warehouses with all the stencils sitting upright at 12 o’clock so they all looked neat and tidy.” Ian also recalls seeing some stencils on

old Spanish casks that were gouged into the wood like “works of art”. In other cases, distillers used punchmarks in the rims around the cask ends to identify the number of fi llings they had had – for example, one punch for fi rst fi ll, two punches for second fi ll and so on.

These days, Speyside Cooperage still paints some

casks, as do some distilleries – at the BenRiach distillery, they use green paint for a cask that is on its fi rst fi lling, blue for a second-fi ll cask, red for a third fi ll and white or grey for a cask with more than three fi lls. But that picturesque pile of coloured

cask ends may well, like many other traditional aspects of whisky- making process, become a thing of the past soon.


It’s a beautiful sight – but why are cask ends painted in all those different colours?


JANUARY 2012 ~ THE SCOTCH MALT WHISKY SOCIETY feAture: gold • 11 AgendA • 10

In the Drink

Take the plunge with Unfiltered as we discover gold can be found in the water that flows into some of Scoland’s best-known distilleries


distillery in the valley below has been using the Turret’s waters for its malt whisky. I’ll be sampling a drop or two of the distillery’s


liquid gold later. But, for now, I’m about to jump into the river’s fast-flowing depths on a frosty autumn morning in search of the real gold that lies beneath its chilly waters – because the River Turret, like many other Scottish rivers, is concealing unexpected riches. Clad in a specially designed drysuit with diver’s

gloves and a neoprene hood, I lower myself into the river from the slippery bank, pull my goggles on and plunge underwater. It’s an entirely new view of the heart of this stunning glen, one few have ever seen, and for a moment I’m entranced by the tranquil freshwater world beneath the surface. As single malt lovers, we can all feel how a

particularly good dram captures the spirit of its environment, both in terms of the natural influences it was created from and those it was matured among, whether that’s as a sea salt tang in a wild Islay whisky or in the mellow flavours of a laidback Lowland drop. Here, bobbing in the icy fresh waters of the River Turret, beneath the wild crags and towering, bracken-coated sides of the Turret glen, I feel as much a part of Glenturret’s whisky world as if I’d been poured


Our intrepid scribe Warren Pole donned his finest and most dapper drysuit suit to brave the icy currents of the River Turret in his quest to find some gold

he River Turret has carved its way through the Perthshire glen named after it for several thousand years – and, since 1717, the Glenturret

Happy New Year to all members (and soon-to-be members) of the Society. Anyone that’s encountered Swedish

A classic Unfi ltered adventure fi nds our writer on the hunt for gold in a freezing river


Sweden unmasked


Unfiltered travels to Stockholm to take the pulse of a country which has a deep passion for malt whisky – and to meet some of the local devotees


n a cobbled plaza in the shadow of Örebro Castle, southern Sweden, is the unprepossessing entrance to the Bishop’s Arms

pub – an establishment as British in appearance as in name. At fi rst, it seems a curious choice for a meeting with self- confessed “whisky geek” Andreas Karlsson, but the cornucopia of single malts behind the bar quickly dispels any doubts. I’m in Sweden to get a better understanding of the country’s ferocious love of single malts, and the trail has taken me on a two-hour train journey from Stockholm to Örebro, an emerging whisky hotspot (the Society’s new branch in Sweden is based in nearby Nora). Early for my meeting, I settle down with a

burger, a Glengoyne and a copy of Full Moon by PG Wodehouse from the pub’s well-stocked library. Just as I’m wondering how “kind hearts are more than coronets” might translate


into Swedish, Andreas arrives with his own dram – a cask-strength Lagavulin 12 year old. Andreas is a typically easy-going Swede, and

laughs knowingly at my story of one well-known Scottish distillery whose younger tour guides hide whenever a coach of his countrymen arrive, leaving their torrent of questions in more experienced hands. Possibly by way of explanation, he then shares the story of his own metamorphosis into a whisky devotee. “Back in the early 90s, I had a bottle of Tullamore Dew in the house and that was the kind of whisky I knew. Then a friend bought a bottle of 12-year-old The Macallan, and I realised there was a lot more to this than I’d thought. So I started casually seeking out more whiskies – though they were quite hard to come by in Sweden at the time,” he says. “My fi rst semi-religious experience was

a Springbank 21 year old. From there, I started collecting rare bottlings, going




Marianne Wallberg, curator of the

Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival was photographed at 2.14pm on 4 November at Riddarholmen, a small island in

central Stockholm. In the background is Lake Mälaren and the Västerbron bridge


18 A fl ying visit to

Stockholm to fi nd out more about Sweden’s passion for single malts

whisky enthusiasts will know that there’s an impressive and often surprising level of interest for Scotch malt whisky in Sweden. Now that the Society has re-established itself there, we decided to travel to Stockholm to fi nd out more about the reasons for this infatuation. Along the way, we encountered some interesting characters and some great stories. Malt whisky has a wonderful habit




Our crop of experts debate what would happen if the barley harvest was a disaster

of attracting a range of fascinating characters and you’ll fi nd some great examples in this issue. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about former SMWS ambassador Sam Simmons (aka Dr Whisky) who is now the Global Ambassador for The Balvenie, the refl ections of former exciseman Ian Milne and Alan Shayne’s account of his fi rst experiences of the Society almost 20 years ago. Let us know what you think

about this and previous issues by completing the online survey that’s featured on the opposite page. We look forward to your comments and ideas.

Kai Ivalo, editor unfi

Pyramids of

pastel-coloured casks ends are one of the

classic images from the

whisky landscape – but why are they painted in this way, and what do the colours all mean? WORDS: JIM BYERS

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