It is hard to appreciate just how evolutionary ManX Manx Spirit is until you understand the background to our unique product. In the early 1970's Lucian Landau, co-founder of the London Rubber Company and author of numerous patents, decided to apply his knowledge of organic chemistry to the "Art of Distilling" and so began my story.
If you have accepted the given tale of the Scottish distillers without so much as a second thought then the following will hopefully come as an eye-opener, if however you are a purveyor of the "Heritage" theme of whisky then prepare for a wake up call.
Spirit distilled from grain is a centuries old product, it was after all a good way of preserving surplus grain which would otherwise have rotted in the barns, in fact the substrate has not always been grain, any sugar-containing vegetable matter can, and has, been used. If you think about it you are more likely to have seen turnips growing on the poor upland soils of Scotland than waving fields of corn.
The increase in supply of Scotch Whisky over its neighbor Irish Whiskey (reputed to have the oldest licenced distillery in the world) started during the oppressive Corn Laws. During the great famine in Ireland there was no shortage of grain to feed the starving masses, there was however no intention of allowing it to stay in Ireland either. With no surplus grain in Ireland there was an obvious decline in Irish whiskey production. At this time Scotland had no reputation for producing quality spirits, it did however have a lot of wealthy landlords with properties in Ireland.
It wasn't until the turn of the twentieth century that whisky actually became the well defined product it is today, for nearly 70 years previous to this an argument had reigned over whether spirit produced from unmalted grain distilled using the Patent still could be called whisky, this was settled by the 1908 Act (or was it 1911?) which basically stated that in order for a spirit to be described as whisky it must be distilled from a fermented mash of cereals and stored in oak casks for no less than three years. From this time onwards spirits would have a set of well defined rules with which to comply with in order to be called whisky. It also spelt the death knoll for innovation in the industry.
Heritage has played the greatest part in building the reputation of Scotch Whisky, and rightly so, for an industry to have grown to such a size over so many years is indeed an achievement. With strong advertising and a solid foundation in British society Scotch became the bye-word for respectability and sophistication.
The Welsh immigrants to America were mightily put out by the introduction of Prohibition in the States, Jack Daniels, Ezra Brooks and a host of other settlers who had established fine distilleries in New England states were effectively shut down for the duration of prohibition. Some moved north to Canada, others just waited out their time.
There was no reduction in demand for whisky however, and soon this void in the market was being met by supplies of whiskies from Scotland. This one piece of luck spelt the beginning of the boom for Scotch. The second World War introduced yet more Americans to Scotch and soon it was the established drink of the well-to-do Americans.
That was the heritage bit over with, there still remain a few myths which need putting right.
Firstly the perception that the darker a whisky is the better or older it is. Absolute rubbish. For many years a colourant, E150, has been added to many Scotch whiskies in order to darken the spirit. The argument goes that this is done to produce homogenous batch colour ( i.e. each bottle from different bottling runs will look the same) well if this is the case why is it that so much is added! ( disclaimer bit here: Not all whiskies contain E150, these additive free whiskies tend to be sold in green or brown bottles, and of course some whiskies will add exactly the right amount of colourant to produce the desired effect and not one molecule more) Take "Loch Dhu" Black Whisky as an example, there appears to be so much E150 added that the product appears black!, it has been marketed as a unique rare whisky when in fact you could easily reproduce the effect by adding gravy browning to your own bottle of Mannachmoor.
It's the water is what makes each whisky unique. In the European definitions of spirits drinks it states that "any water which is added shall not change the nature of the product" (CD 1576/89 Article 4.6). The water which is used to ferment the cereals before distillation may well come from the hills or some other such evocative place ( in reality it is probably demineralised tapwater) but it of course undergoes distillation itself when the spirit is first made.
The older a whisky the better it is. This is probably the greatest myth which benefits the whisky industry. As whisky ages in burnt oak cask the chemical composition of the spirit changes, there are reduction reactions, oxidation, extraction (additions from the burnt wood) and other subtle changes which will have a bearing on the finished product.
It is obvious that there will be an optimum period of maturation, things cannot keep getting better after all, and in the case of the majority of malt whiskies this period is between 8 and 12 years. There are many factors which affect this, including the quality of the wood ( and how many times it has been used in the past), the temperature at which is stored and indeed the variations in temperature that it has undergone during the period it has lain in the cask.
This accepted it is not difficult to reason that there is this optimum period of maturation. Now what happens to the whiskies that don't pass the nose of the blender. They are likely to be returned to the warehouse to see if they get better. Next time they might be just right, but suppose they aren't! Send them back to the warehouse or throw them out are the options. A logical progression to this argument leads to the inevitable fact that some whiskies will just get older, pass their best and be sat around forever. The accountant doesn't like this because there has been a value to this stock on his books for years and he doesn't want to be the one to throw away all that investment in product, storage and time.
So the marketing boys step in and declare how unique the product is! and it's old so it must be valuable. "I know", says one "let's sell it at a premium." Result one very happy accountant. What fine clothes the Emperor is wearing today. ( Another disclaimer bit here: Some very old whiskies might be better than they were at a younger date. But we'll never know will we)
The question of flavouring the finished product with sherry or other such drinks is not for me to address. The European law is clear on what whisky is and believe me nowhere does it include grape juice products. It does however clearly state what may be added to whisky ( water and "spirit caramel" E150). The argument whether sherry is added to whisky or whisky merely acquires the flavour of the sherry through magic is not one I can afford to take up with the Scotch Whisky Association. (although an email to them asking their opinion would not go amiss email@example.com)
The "Angels Share" is a commonly used term to describe the losses that occur due to evaporation of volatile compounds from the cask as it ages. If I were to suggest to my accountant that the 2% loss in stock each year actually increased the value of the remaining stock he would be impressed. If however there were a process which would greatly reduce this then perhaps he would suggest that I use it.
This is where the evolutionary bit comes in. The Scotch Whisky industry has effectively hamstrung itself, it stands behind laws which specifically prohibit the use of further processing the matured spirit. And long may it do so! If Mr. Gates declared that Windows 3.1 was the best product on the market, which I am sure he did in the late 1980's, and there shall never be any improvements in the software, then perhaps he would not be where he is today. If modern applications cannot be used to improve a product for the consumer then who stands to benefit.
Well if you have over 3,000,000,000 litres of pure alcohol (enough for approximately ten billion bottles of whisky) stored in your warehouses then you might well resist change! (Source: Scotch Whisky Association figures for stocks of maturing whisky 1998)
Oh and the bit about Mr. Macwhatsisname falling off the ladder and dented the still all those years ago so we have to reproduce the dent in every still that has been made since, is just what it sounds like. Who do they think they are kidding?
The above opinions are just that , opinions. If you don't agree with any of them email me firstname.lastname@example.org. If you think that you know anything I don't, which I am sure some of you will, then again get in touch over the Net. If you think that whisky should never be improved upon then send me a post card .
I do not think whisky is bad, far from it, it is an excellent raw material from which ManX Manx spirit can be made. Whisky is just a crude product which needs refining that's all.
As for predictions for the future, I honestly believe that soon other redistilled whisky products will appear, whether they will overtly describe themselves as whisky is anyone's guess, whether they will be made by great Scotch Distillers is another mystery, but rest assured, soon others will follow. After all, as the current whisky drinkers get ever older someone has to use up all that whisky in the great whisky loch! Might as well refine it and introduce the younger adult drinker to the joys of Manx Spirit.
"Contemporary technology with classic taste" That just about sums Manx Spirit up. I am only a small fish in a huge loch but who knows, T-Rex once ruled the earth!
If you read all this then your probably a lawyer. Or maybe someone who just wanted to see whisky from a different angle. Let me know.