QR Codes and Blockchains

Sounds like the title of a 60s’ pop song?

It’s not about pop songs.  It’s about the advances and utilisation of technology.

 

Remember the bottle of Ardnamurchan that I opened during lockdown?

Ardnamurchan has been an innovative distillery since it began production in 2014.  And one of their major innovations has been the adoption of QR codes and blockchains.

At a dinner held in Wellington a while back the Honourable Alex Bruce, MQ, of Adelphi and Ardnamurchan fame talked about blockchain technology that was planning to be put in place around the Ardnamurchan products.  The subject meant very little to me –  pretty much went right over my head.

Hold that thought, and fast-forward to the opening of my bottle of Ardnamurchan.

On the bottom left hand corner of the label is a QR code.

Coronavirus and social distancing has made the QR code quite familiar – the weird little spotty squares that you scan with your cell phone when you have to register for contact tracing at a café these days.

A QR Code

But I don’t remember ever having seen one on a bottle of whisky before.  Especially one that lead to such a fascinating world – the world of the blockchain.

If you thought the production of whisky was a complicated and complex subject, you’ve not met blockchains!  I’m pretty sure that, after 70 years of absorbing information ranging from good to totally useless I no longer have enough brain-space left to get my head completely around how blockchaining works.

Coronavirus has made QR codes quite familiar– the weird little spotty squares that you scan with your cell phone when you have to register for contact tracing at a café.

Forging ahead …

To quote Alexander Pope,

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep , or taste not the Pieran spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Here is a (very) little learning on blockchains.

Blockchain technology was created for the crypto-currency market.  Didn’t help me much, knowing that – bitcoin is an area just as obscure as blockchains themselves.

The general idea is that every single little activity (an ‘event’) that goes into something – in this case, the production of a bottle of whisky – is recorded in order to create an unchanging record.

This record is known as a “trust layer” and, according to Ardnamurchan, is “…creating an unbreakable link with the physical product and the digital data that describes its creation.”.

So, when I used my cell phone to scan the QR code on my bottle I got transported into this netherworld of information.

Ardnamurchan

First to the Ardnamurchan Distillery site, and a page encouragingly headed ‘We found your bottle’ – number 871 of 5,000, bottled by Lewis Hamilton on 2 Oct 2018.

Next I am asked for my name, address & bath-night to prove that I am old enough to be reading about whisky.

I am.

We go to a page headed ‘Your spirit’s production’.

And here the rabbit-hole begins in earnest!

You will have to accept my apology now –  I have never tried to interpret blockchain data before.  So I only hope I am reading the information correctly, and doing it justice.

My bottle seems to be the outcome of three lots of unpeated concerto barley.  The first was supplied by Broomhall Farm in the Mid Mills and Gracewells fields on the 01 Jan 2014, the second and third came from Bairds Inverness on 02 Jan 2015.

Mashing for the production run was managed by Gordon MacKenzie.  There is detail of how many mashes were included in the unpeated spirit for that week, how many kilograms of Anchor Yeast was added to each batch to aid fermentation and the length of fermentation.

Now the juicy bit:

Batch 1 was filled into 1 American oak Oloroso Butt.  Batch 2 went into 17 American oak Pedro Ximenes Octaves, and Batch 3 went into another three PX Octaves.  The casks were moved to the upper floor of the Adelphi Warehouse for maturation.

An absolutely amazing level of information and detail!  When did you ever know that much about what was in your glass – unless you were on the site actually making the stuff?

“… we look forward to seeing how other brands follow suit …”

Ailsa Bay

Pat discovered that the Lowlands Ailsa Bay Distillery has also adopted blockchain technology for a recently-released Travel Retail Only whisky.

William Grant & Sons own Ailsa Bay.  They also own Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Tullamore, Kininvie, and Girvan Grain distilleries.  Unsurprisingly, they are the third largest producer of Scotch whisky.

On the Ailsa Bay website, Dominic Parfitt, head of e-commerce at William Grant & Sons, is quoted as saying: “We’re constantly looking to evolve our offering and learn new things in order to push the boundaries within the drinks industry.

“We’re doing something now that we hope will set the bar for the future experience of spirits, and we look forward to seeing how other brands follow suit as innovation within the industry continues to develop in the next few years.”.

As Ardnamurchan say at the end of all my bottle data:  “Each step of this journey from barley to bottle has been carefully recorded and written to the blockchain as a guarantee of transparency and authenticity”.

Will William Grants stop at blockchaining Ailsa Bay?  I very much doubt it!

So I will be looking forward to seeing more QR codes and blockchain data on my whiskies!

Getting Back to Normal

The restrictions we embraced so willingly during lock-down all those innumerable weeks ago have started being replaced now with “Getting Back To Normal”.

I’m not entirely convinced, though, that I want to quite so quickly replace all of that new “normal” stuff that we found in lock-down.  There were lots of quite positive changes, some of which I have been quite looking forward to keeping in the Brave New World.

I’ve enjoyed looking out of my office (read “spare bedroom”) window at the trees and listening to the tui singing.

I’ve loved a tank of petrol that lasted for five weeks instead of five days.

I’ve enjoyed walking to work each day – all three metres of it, with a coffee in hand – instead of braving unreliable public transport, gridlock, and inexcusably astronomical parking fees.

I’ve greatly enjoyed Zoom whisky tastings with friends of an evening, without the hassle of having to arrange a ride home or pay cab fare.

And I’ve enjoyed “killing off” some of the longer-serving bottles in my whisky cabinet (I think at last count I’d emptied about six).  Some of them I was a bit sad to see go, others not quite so much.

But Nature abhors a vacuum.  When you kill things off – like whisky bottles – their departure creates a vacuum in the cabinet.

And that vacuum needs to be filled.

The obvious filler is new whisky bottles.

As a result. some whiskies have been promoted from the Reserves Bench to the First Team – I was going to say First Fifteen, but I thought that sounded rather pretentious.  Or greedy.   Or suspiciously alcoholic.  Or all three.

Among those that caught my eye for promotion have been a Loch Lomond Inchmurrin Madiera Finish and a G&M Bunnahabbhain  2009 Cask Strength.

But the two standouts have been the Ardnamurchan 2018/AD Limited Release No 03 and an Arran “The Laird’s Quiache”

Ardnamurchan

The tasting notes on the bottle talk about “earthy mango & waxy orange peel, HobNobs and distant Clyde Puffer smoke”.

The bottle has been covered almost head to toe in a matt grey coating which, in the normal course of events, would make it impossible to see just how much remained in the bottle.

The Ardnamurchan, with sight-glass panel.

But a bit of thoughtfulness has added two narrow viewing panels – one on either side of the bottle.  The panels remind me of the sight-glass on an antique car’s radiator cap.  But, most importantly, through these you can see the liquid level against a graduated scale.  Clever!

Casks: Oloroso, PX

ABV: 55.3%

Nose: Silage grassy, with a dusting of cocoa powder.  Peat, sour mash and rock pool marine salt.

Palette: It starts with sweet lollies, then heads straight to smoke with bacon & eggs cooked over an open outdoor fire.

Finish: Eskimo lollies with a slight peat overlay.  The finish is long, with the peaty lollies staying on.

Comment:  Having vicariously watched from the sidelines the genesis of Ardnamurchan over the last few years, I was waiting to be seriously impressed with the whisky.  Initially, though, I found it to be a bit less impressive than I had hoped. and the first two or three drams left a vaguely disappointing feeling.  Almost a let down.

As so often happens, however,  when the level in the bottle drops a dram or two, the whisky seems to improve.  Now, with a third of the bottle gone, it is a whisky I look forward to having another glass of.

Overall, my view is that it is a whisky to have for the experience of having it.

Arran Private Cask, The Laird’s Quaiche.
From Malts of Distinction.

Arran – The Laird’s Quaiche

Age: 11yo, ABV: 53.5%

Cask: Ex-sherry Hogshead.  Bottle no 116 of 305.

Colour: Dark!

Nose: This is a sherry bomb on the nose.  Muscatel raisins, sweet brown sugar and maple syrup.  And to follow for dessert is fresh peaches in an old leather armchair.  This whisky has sooo much nose and so many complex aromas going on.

Palette: Dark almond chocolate and a big hot mouthful with fresh nectarine peel.

Finish: The finish is slightly tannic and drying, but the heat stays. There is a long finish, with the beautiful flavour lingering in the mouth.

Comment: Stunning.  Simply stunning!

However, as so often happens, when the level in the bottle drops a dram or two the flavour seems to improve.  Now, with a third of the bottle gone, it is a whisky to look forward to having another glass of. 

Post script:

The killing-off exercise has engendered some interesting ideas, the most obvious of which is using the tail-end of bottles for a kind of Teapot Whisky.

But my sister, Alex, came up with what I think may be the best one yet – Whisky Jelly.  I haven’t quite figured out yet how it’s going to work, but the basic idea is that you use the last inch or so in the whisky bottles as the liquid section of jelly.

It sounds fun, and I’ll let you know how it pans out!  With luck, the result might go quite nicely with Les’s Damson Plum Gin – the next batch of which, I understand, should be due to make its debut very soon!

Slainte!