Life is challenging at the best of times and keeping up with the releases from the Thompson Brothers is proving to be as such. The original idea for this article was to track down and interview Katie, who creates the distinctive labels for each of their releases.
Katie is a busy lass and difficult to pin down at times. As illusive and captivating as any of her creations, I wanted to discuss her inspirations and interest in whisky. Noting the Bruichladdich we are reviewing here today, with its more classical visual presentation; how she found this compared to some of the more wacky labels she’s delivered for the Dornoch duo. Then, the news broke on the 14th October that Scotch Whisky was to close and instead, I felt the need to talk a little about this alarming news. Katie can wait until the next batch of Thompson releases.
Firstly, I want to state what sad news it is to see such a resource of whisky information coming to an abrupt end. For many of you, SW has been a daily destination since its launch 4 years ago. It served a daily purpose for many for all things whisky. Whether it was the reviews, the well-researched articles, distillery histories, opinion pieces or just industry news, the site was (it’s difficult writing in a past tense) a melting pot of ideas and variety. SW was a vital part of the online presence of whisky and a viable resource and stepping stone into this enchanting liquid that we all love.
Personally, I’ll openly admit, SW wasn’t a regular destination on my browser due to a combination of time constraints and the sense that it was more aligned to the industry. Again, just my personal perspective, but I always valued articles from Angus and the rapid fashion it covered any industry news developments – something you can only do with resource and a full-time approach. Such a service requires funding, regardless of the URL and did we all take such a free service for granted?
This is what I’m asking myself now, being the co-editor and co-owner here at MALT. Because, I can fully appreciate the time and resources required to bring you content daily. We don’t do news here as we won’t be able to do it justice. You want more than a mere press release; a statement, opinion and candid reporting of such news. I think those who love industry developments will miss SW the most, given its consistent coverage.
Such focus and turnaround requires revenue. We all know that SW moved to include advertisements recently to harness a revenue stream. In reality, this wasn’t too long ago, which makes the decision to shut the site all the more shocking. Such things take time online. To build rapport with companies and demonstrate the value of placing an advertisement with your website takes time. Sadly, for whatever reason, that time was never granted.
All of this shows, how difficult a business model is to sustain when it comes to a full-time website. Even in the midst of this current whisky boom, we as onlookers and readers were collectively unable to sustain such a free service. More than most, I know the cost of financing our platform, as after our re-launch, Mark and I, split all the costs 50/50. Hosting, URLs and service packages all mount up and this wasn’t with the added cost of wages, or freelance fees that SW also had to cover.
After a while, we realised that such a path would only reach a dead end, where we could no longer continue to financially support this entity. Both being new fathers, also adds a burden on other fronts beyond mere finance. We considered all the options to hand including advertising, which we felt would aesthetically impact on our platform and go against our independent stance. Visit the Whiskey Wash if you want to see how intrusive advertising can become and slow down the nature of the user experience. The same reasoning applied behind sponsored content and its non-starter status.
This left the option of Patreon and the readership paying the equivalent of a magazine monthly for what we generate. The funding platform ensured our independence and since rolling out our offering online, we’ve been delighted with the take-up. All the bills are covered and we have enough each month left over to cover technical fees, give the team a little thank you and the occasional bottle purchase. From Mark’s and my own perspective, it has been a huge success. We provide a daily preview of tomorrows content, a weekly podcast and the occasional video. When attending events, or visiting distilleries, there is exclusive content as well – we treat it seriously, with respect and never take such support for granted.
The support is liberating and suggests that there is the potential through such a facility to ensure some revenue for the SW model. Perhaps not enough on its own, but an important player in the scheme of things. As it stands the axe has fallen on SW and I’ll reiterate what a disappointing end to its life this is. Another whisky voice has been lost, at a time when we need more voices and opinions. The whisky online landscape is a little bleaker this week and hopefully you’ll join me in raising a dram to the site and what it gave to the community.
Now, returning to these Thompson releases with the prospect of a Bruichladdich and the latest entry in the mysterious blended Campbeltown malts. The Bruichladdich was distilled in 2006, before being bottled at 13 years of age from a bourbon barrel. It features picturesque artwork of the Rinns of Islay from Katie and will set you back £110. The 5-year-old blended Campbeltown Malt follows hot on the heels of its debut earlier this year. Distilled in 2014, it’s a vatting of 2 casks resulting in 816 bottles at a drinkable 50% and will cost £40.
Thompson Bros. Bruichladdich 2006 – review
Colour: gold leaf.
On the nose: a pleasing assortment of damp driftwood, caramel, milk chocolate and used black tea leaves. A noticeable peat level, honey, mint leaf, red velvet cupcake and those mushroom sweeties from your childhood. Water unlocks the natural oils, resin, orange juice and a brass-metallic aspect with a touch of smoke coming through alongside sweet tobacco.
In the mouth: more peated than I expected and a plesant chewy aspect bringing in toffee alongside a chalky nature. A touch drying also with almonds, popcorn, crackers and more tea leaves alongside fenugreek leaves. Water dampens the peat, bringing more creaminess and a sappy nature with wine gums.
Thompson Bros. Campbeltown Malt 2014 – review
Colour: pine wood.
On the nose: a pleasing and concentrated arrival of apples and vanilla butter icing. Silver needle tea, cask char, saline, melon and grapefruit. A gentle peat and gentle waxiness follow, alongside white pepper, white chocolate and a sprinkling of coconut flakes. Water unlocks lemon, a floral nature and Kiwi fruit.
In the mouth: a simple spectrum, but wholesome. More apples, grapefruit and a whipped vanilla cream spray. Limes and a chalky nature follow and I felt water wasn’t beneficial, but time in the glass was.
Both are winners in my book and good cask selections. The Campbeltown is tasty, affordable and does enough to satisfy; showing age isn’t everything. The Bruichladdich has character unlike many official releases. It has substance and a swatter. Some of you may query the price, but I had a look around for teenage, cask strength indies from this distillery. Islay clearly comes at a premium nowadays and my final conclusion is that £110 is a fair price for the experience.
And on that note, a wee dram to Scotch Whisky.
Samples kindly provided by the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar.