Tuesday 28 October 2014

PR #23: SIA Scotch Whisky

I'll often bang-on about cask strength this and SWMS-that on this blog, because I love the idea and I (generally) love such whiskies. I do need to remember though, that my palate wasn't always that way. There was a time, many years ago, when I called a Glenfiddich 12 "strong", scoffed at anything above 43% ABV, and preferred my whisky with Coke, or at the very least, dry.

"Approachable" whiskies help introduce people to the category - people who may not have previously considered whisky a viable option when ordering at a bar, for example, and are fantastic for expanding the market. Starward tried it locally (and that seems to be working out pretty well for them), and now a new entrant is aiming to make Scotch more approachable in the US. Enter SIA Scotch

When I first received an e-mail about SIA, I thought...hold up...Scotch, US? I was intrigued. The name ("SIA") also didn't sound like any distillery, brand or release I'd heard of. What was this all about?

Turns out, SIA Scotch is all about the ambition of Cuban-born, San Francisco-based Carin Luna-Ostaseski, who decided to turn her passion for whisky into something more, and produce an affordable, easy-drinking whisky for a younger audience (an audience who, we presume, probably don't even realise they like whisky at first).

So how does a San Franciscan go about releasing a Scotch whisky? That's where Douglas Laing come in. Masters of the world of vatted and blended malts (and single cask releases, for that matter), and no stranger to this blog, Douglas Laing produced a blend to meet the needs of SIA's target audience - with a 40% malt / 60% grain ratio, and a regional breakdown of 50% Speyside / 40% Highlands / 10% Islay.

So it's made by a very well known icon of the whisky industry, it's got a popular regional make up (if it works, why mess with it?) and a decent amount of malt whisky in it. Sounds good so far, and while approachable, custom-made blends may not be a unique thing, the way this whisky came about certainly was. The result of a successful Kickstarter projectSIA Scotch raised over $45k USD in 40 days, and has since gone on to be sold in over 200 bars, restaurants and shops in the US.

As I read up on the background of SIA, it was clear there was a huge amount of effort undertaken to bring the whisky to market, including researching over 80 distillers, conducting blind tasting sessions and experimentation with blending based on the results, 8 months' work on the bottle and packaging, and no doubt many headaches dealing with the various regulatory requirements in bringing an alcoholic beverage to market. As someone who previously had no ties to the spirits industry (much like myself), I think it's a huge achievement.

SIA Scotch recently won a Double Gold at the SFWSC, and whilst I've often commented that spirits fairs (and their related awards) are a dime a dozen, there's no arguing that it went up against a number of other whiskies in its category, and came out with the equal top honours (besting several more expensive Johnnie Walker blends and equalling the likes of Chivas Royal Salute).

The bottle (and name), to my mind, is slightly "feminine", but hey, if that's going to open up the category to the most number of new drinkers, I'm all for it. It's the whisky inside that counts.

...speaking of which, we've received a sample kindly sent by the US distributor, and will be tasting it on the blog shortly. If it's as good as the back story and the idea behind raising the awareness of whisky for a whole new audience, it'll be a great drop. Expect our tasting notes soon.


SIA Scotch can be found online here and retails for $49.99USD.

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