I Come From A Land Down Under

Taste Review #120 Starward Dolce

You just can’t be in two places at one time. As much as there is plenty to go around, you can’t split yourself in two without negative consequences. And that’s why I found myself on a ship in India and not on my usual vessel, which is now in Australia. Twice with this company I have obtained an Australian work visa and twice I haven’t gone. Guess I’m just going to taste their whisky instead.

There are a few distilleries to choose from and in my quest to try a few world whiskies I decided to try one from the Starward distillery. This isn’t your typical distillery hidden in a glen or a valley; it’s set up in the middle of Melbourne. Founded by David Vitale in 2007, the distillery makes use of locally grown ingredients and casks from the Australian wine industry. Add some variable hot and humid weather and you get a perfect environment for rapidly maturing whisky.

The whisky I’m tasting today is the Starward Dolce. Limited to 4800 bottles, it is around the 4 year old mark. Matured in Australian Red Wine casks and finished in a dessert wine cask, let’s see if the New World whisky is as good as some of their wines.



Starward Dolce

Region – Australia Age – 4 y.o Strength – 48% abv Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – Red Wine / Dessert Wine Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Red fruit, strawberries, Raspberries, chocolate, Pink Marshmallow, quite sweet. Salted caramel. Palate – quite spicy on the arrival. Spirit burn to the fore. Ginger, pepper, gives way to sweetness, again with the marshmallow. Dates. Medium mouthfeel, slightly oily. Finish – short and sweet. Pretty pleasant to be fair. The caramel theme carries on and fades into stone fruit. Possibly chocolate coated cherries. The spices drop off quite quickly.



Conclusions

I’m glad the original inhabitants of Australia were poor at evading capture after committing criminal activities, as without those original colonial settlers, we would not have had a whisky as delightful as this one. I picked this one as the tasting notes of fruit were right up my alley and I have not been disappointed in the slightest.

It is worth remembering that despite its young age, the environmental conditions in Melbourne mature whisky faster, and this while still detectably young, drinks like an older whisky than it is. I could go onto wine critics descriptors such as a tango on the tongue, like lambs gambolling across green grass meadows, a party on one’s palate but I won’t. It wasn’t that good. I would however strongly recommend if you enjoy a fruity whisky, this is one to get. I’ll certainly keep an eye out on this distillery.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

An Indian Winter

Taste Review #119 – Amrut Fusion

When I thought of doing a wee run of world whiskies for review and to expand ones horizons, one of the natural choices was Indian whisky. This is most appropriate at the time of writing I am currently working offshore the east coast of India, working from the port of Kakinada.

India is for me one of these countries of extremes. It can be filthy, yet colourful. It has many rich people within, yet sees the extremes of poverty when you do an excursion around the Dharavi slums, made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire. You can experience the mountains of the North, leading onto the Himalayas, or have a beach holiday in Goa, and everything between.


Cows everywhere in the streets of Kakinada – I think this one is interested in seeing a moo-vie

When I last worked in India during 2009, we used to fly from an airport called Rajahmundry, about an hours drive from the port of Kakinada in Andra Pradesh. The journey between the two towns was in a rural area giving the opportunity to see some very pastoral scenes. The city sits on the eastern bank of the sacred Godavari river, and we’d often get a night in a hotel there before flying out the next day. One of the hotels I remember sat on the riverside and we used to have our well deserved beer after 6 weeks of abstinence. Forget the ideas of Kingfisher lager – we were in India and the brands we were offered were Haywards 5000, Royal Challenge, Knockout and Maharaja. If you know the Scottish sit-com Still Game, you’ll understand when I say images of Fusilier lager came to mind!

And so it comes to pass that Indian whisky has always been in my head as an unknown quantity. Totally incorrect I will have to admit. As I am writing this, I don’t have any facts and figures to hand, but I’m sure that I remember that Indian whisky is the largest seller worldwide. You’ll need to check the Malt Whisky year book to confirm, but I’m sure Johnny Walker is the highest selling Scotch brand but only manages third place. So, if Indian whisky can sell so much, it can’t be bad, eh?

Because I didn’t want to invest in a whole bottle that I may not take to and I already have a surplus of open 70cl bottles, I chose to buy a variety of world whiskies using the Perfect Measure from The Whisky Exchange and Drinks by the Dram from Master Of Malt. The Indian sample I chose was from The Whisky Exchange and is Amrut Fusion.

Amrut Distilleries started out in 1948 after the British Colonising forces withdrew the previous year. Based in Bangalore, the current distillery was built in 1987. It came to more attention when whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murray gave their whisky a 82 out of 100 in 2005 and 2010. These were in the days when many Indian whiskies were made up of cheap imported Scottish whiskies blended with local spirit, so the bar had been raised for Indian whisky.

Maturing spirits in a hot and humid climate is totally different to doing it in Scotland. The higher temperature gives a much higher evaporation rate of around 10-12% compared to 2% in Scotland. Therefore I doubt we’ll ever see significant age statement Indian whiskies in quantity.

The whisky I chose was Amrut Fusion. This was originally launched in 2009 and it is made with 25% peated Scottish barley and 75% Indian unpeated barley. While some of the ingredients have Scottish provenance, it is very much still an Indian Whisky. So let’s see if the fusion of Scottish and Indian barley makes a taste sensation on my palate.


Amrut Fusion – a fusion of Scottish and Indian Barley

Amrut Fusion

Region – India Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Barley, wood shavings, light smoke, peaches, orange peel, runny honey, barley sugar. With water added got an ozone note of distressed electrical equipment. Palate – gentle arrival, light / medium mouth feel. Pineapple, wood, barley, chocolate (?), smoky peat. Creamy caramel. Orange rind. Finish – medium / long. Peat smoke, astringent, brine, woody taste (oak). Fades into a marmalade-esque sweetness and a bit of a spicy burn. Water takes away most of the spicy finish.


The Dram

Conclusions

Not too bad is my conclusion. I’m not a regular drinker of world whisky, so my experience of this is limited. I’d drink this again, but not sure if I’d buy a bottle. I’d say I much preferred this with a drop of water.

I don’t understand how Jim Murray can say this was the third best single malt whisky in the world in 2010, as I can think of many more that I’ve enjoyed more than this, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad whisky at all. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to pick some Indian whisky up on the way home…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


All content subject to copyright and must not be replicated without permission.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Black Isle Bummer

Whisky Review #118 – Glen Ord 12, 15, 18.

Not one to be positive when there is a chance of negativity, in this article you could say I’ve hit the jackpot. I’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory somewhat, but it is a hollow victory.

One of the issues of being a whisky geek is working out when you need to switch off from the constant marketing, promotions and opinions from those in the whisky social media circles that you mix in. While you may get a lot of enjoyment of having a massive and consistent whisky geek out, for me I’ve been finding this more of a burden than a blessing. While I usually have broad shoulders for these sort of things, I’ve become tired of bearing the load, so I’ve decided to shed some of the dead weight that troubles me. But like my big belly, this weight isn’t the easiest to offload.


Glen Ord Visitors Centre

I understand the need for marketing and pushing a product. Otherwise how would we know what is new and available? How would we get information about products? It can just be anything from subtle advertising in a publication or repeated adverts online – a personal hate of mine. Or it can be countless people online repeating the same stories countless times. Don’t ask me about Whisky Santa or Tweet Tastings – those got muted some time ago.

Before you are wondering what has happened to make me so bitter and twisted, don’t worry, I’m not. I’m just tired and have developed a low tolerance for faff that continually targets me but provides little benefit to my journey. I first spotted this issue after a visit to Glen Ord distillery in February 2020. Before I start this semi-rant, I’d be interested to find out how many people feel the same, so pay attention to my points.


Mash tun. 99.9% of distilleries have one

Once upon a time Diageo had three Singletons – Glendullan which was for the US market. Dufftown was for the European market and Glen Ord was for the Asian market. Therefore, before I visited Glen Ord it was a distillery I knew little about. That’s because most of their produce goes directly overseas to the Far East, where they don’t seem to be able to get enough of it.

It’s a pleasant enough distillery, with all the same bits that other distilleries have. The tour started with a video and off we went around the plant. But what stood out to me was the guide. I remember their name, but I won’t mention it for not wanting to embarrass them, but I have to say it was the worst tour I’ve ever had in a distillery. Not because the guide was unpleasant – indeed they were polite and courteous. My fellow visitors were the same. What made it the worst tour for me was the constant company propaganda.


Glen Ord Washbacks. Other distilleries have them too.

Of course, each distillery will try to make their product look as good as possible. Go to the Tellytubby-like distillery of Macallan and it’s a full on assault of the senses with audio visuals. Despite me not being a big fan of Macallan, I was expecting the sort of bombast from what is undeniably an iconic brand. Given the impressive nature of their new distillery and the premier status of their product, there was no way that they weren’t going to shout from the rooftops about what they do.

But we now look back to Glen Ord. This is a brand not many people in the UK know, unless you are a whisky geek. Or you may have had an independently bottled spirit, picked up one through a Diageo special release or travel retail. While I have never owned a bottle of Glen Ord, I have tasted it before and it wasn’t anything stunning. So it grated on me a little bit when my guide was singing the company line. Everything the distillery did was apparently to the highest standard that no other distillery matched.


Glen Ord Stills. All other distilleries stills.

You can’t blame the guide for trying. But for this weary whisky geek it was too much – the trip switch got flicked and rather than turn me on to the brand, it turned me off. It got to the point that I could not wait to get out of there.

As mine was a solo trip, the samples given at the end had to be put into a drivers pack for me to taste at home. The tour at the time gave out samples of the 12, 15 and 18 year old. If I remember correctly, the 12 was bourbon matured cask, the 18 Sherry matured and the 15 was a 50:50 mix of both. And unusually instead of the usual Glencairn style glass you get from a visit to a Diageo distillery, the glass given was a rocker glass. Unusual to me, as I prefer the Glencairn, it was at least a full sized glass. At last I had found something to intrigue me, but it didn’t fire my imagination too much as the glass went into the cupboard and the samples went to the back of the cabinet and got forgotten about.


Muir Of Ord maltings. Gives away the mass produced nature of Glen Ord and other Diageo Malts.

So we come now to the present day. I took it upon myself to sort out the whisky samples in the display cabinet in the kitchen. There lies the wreckage of samples tried then forgotten as I either didn’t care for it or I had just not got around to tasting them. There, hiding in the background were the Glen Ord. Better late than never I suppose, and this would give me the chance to clear three sample bottles. It also gave me the chance to test the rocker glass I had also been ignoring.

I wanted to be positive. Trust me, I did so badly. I wanted to like this whisky. Alas it was not to be. What I thought should have been a 10ml sample wasn’t even that (8ml x 3) and looked decidedly pathetic in the glass. I don’t know if this affected my perception of the whisky, but I’ll be honest and say it didn’t help. The samples were only really two sips each which made it almost impossible to do any serious tasting of the whisky, so hence in this review there are no tasting notes.


(L-R) 12 y.o, 15 y.o, 18 y.o Glen Ord. Spot the two major issues.

To be truthful, I did get the aroma profile of a bourbon, sherry and mixed casks from the nosing but it would be impossible to say much about the flavour profile as the samples were so small it wasn’t easy to tell. Yes, again there were hints of sherry and bourbon, but that’s about it. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the drams if I was to be honest. If you are going to shout about how good your product is, at least give us enough to be able to taste it.

And here we come to the worst point – this is a whisky aimed at a certain market. Even when we look at the samples we can see that they are all the same colour despite the difference in age and casks. We know that this dram is chill filtered. We know it’s diluted and we know it’s coloured, so in a message to distilleries, please don’t continue to preach about quality and standards when you are handing out a whisky that has been blended for a foreign palate and has been butchered to an inch of its life in unnatural and undesirable processes. We know you’ve got to do your marketing spiel, but to me it’s all getting a bit boring, especially when the product does not live up to the hype.


Rocker Glass. The Glen Ord sample looks lost in it. Did not enhance my experience at all.

A recent tour of Glenallachie during Spirit of Speyside 2021 also seemed to follow a company script, but was a lot more subtle. Once you’ve done a few tours, you’ll understand what I mean. The great thing was that this time the tour was given by a true whisky enthusiast and had a great deal of personal passion which could be based on their knowledge of other whiskies. I have to be careful as the guide on my tour is a follower of my blog, but I can comfortably say the message was passed over to everybody with a personal interaction; they genuinely wanted to know how the others were enjoying their whisky. They took the criticism of one of the drams well. And being fair, to push the Glenallachie line wouldn’t be a boast as Billy Walker does seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to consistently releasing good whisky. You could comfortably argue this would be a statement of fact in my opinion.

Alas, it’s lodged deeply in my mindset rightly or wrongly that a large distillery pumping out the goods to a specific mass market doesn’t necessarily earn the same bragging rights. It’s your money they are after is what you need to remember and you want to ensure is that you are going to be spending your money on quality based on taste and not some company fed bombast.

Turds can be polished regardless of the myth, therefore when consuming marketing or promotional output, it is essential to know not all that glitters is gold. By all means pay attention to what is getting released, but for me the best thing to do is let the whisky do the talking. Glen Ord may not be the metaphorical turd; not everyone can like everything, but I won’t be paying out for a special release or an original bottling. I think I’ll be seeking out an independent bottling to see if I can connect to this distillery in another way.

Now, as it’s now past the season for the Christmas Grinch, I’m happy to assume his duties for the rest of the year. After this rant, perhaps it’s time to beat up Whisky Santa. The miserable git didn’t even give me a bottle of Bells…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

All content within this blog is subject to copyright.

In The Bleak Midwinter

Taste Review #117 Glenmorangie A Midwinter Night’s Dram.

As I write this, the bleakness of a Highland winter couldn’t be further from my mind as I head to warmer climes. Pity it’s not a holiday and will mean Christmas away from my family again. But on one point I can’t really pretend to be sorry, as who really misses having to constantly shovel snow off the path, de-ice windscreens and the long dark nights? No, I didn’t think there would be many hands shooting up with keen voices shouting “Me, Me, Me!” If you were one of these deranged people then I’ve got a wee job for you…


A hard frost this morning. Nae looking forward to de-icing the car.

Thinking of the title of this latest review, I was reminded of a snowy winter scene. I am a bit nostalgic for the winters we used to get as children. Snow was often a magical, beautiful thing and it’s arrival often was around the time that the fat guy in the red suit started leaving presents. I remember way back in the day going round the streets of my home village in Aberdeen singing carols at Christmas time. In the snow was the best, as it seemed to deaden the sound of the adjacent airport and made the whole activity seem that little bit more traditional.

But the truth of a Scottish winter can be miserable with short days and long nights for months on end. It’s no surprise that the suicide rate in the Northern Highlands and Islands is sadly so high. So the kind bosses at the Ross-shire distillery Glenmorangie used to have a tradition that saw them give the workers a gift of whisky to help them warm themselves at home over the festive season. Perhaps giving people alcohol to assist their mental health may not be so approved of nowadays, but in the past this would have been appreciated when distilleries employed far more people and times were definitely not as easy as today.


That’s a bit of a frost. Midwinter in Kingussie 1978. The building on the right is the Tipsy Laird pub. I won’t be complaining of de-icing the car so much now. (Am Baile)

As a nod to this tradition, Glenmorangie released a whisky called a Midwinter Night’s Dram. It harks back to that whisky that was given to employees. It’s supposed to be fruity and spicy so sounds as though it’s just the job to cuddle up to on a cold winters night.

I managed to get this sample as part of a delivery from the Really Good Whisky Company. They had a bit of a flood and stock was damaged. So they had a draw in which you paid £49.50 for a ticket. The bottle would be at least that value. There was at least one bottle that was worth £1800. While I wasn’t imagining I’d win the first prize, I thought the chances of me getting something worth more than £50 was high.


Unrequested freebie. Still, all said and done a nice touch.

Well, me and a lot of others were disappointed as what we got was an old style Glenturret. This had been discontinued in this packaging for over a year and I couldn’t help but feel I had been duped into entering a draw to move new-old stock. I was livid, as my bottle was completely undamaged. If you know my whisky journey, you’ll understand that I know exactly what a flood damaged bottle looks like. But now I’ve calmed down and now we approach Christmas and the season of goodwill, it is time to forgive and move on. Perhaps this is the appropriate dram to have.

Glenmorangie – A Midwinter Night’s Dram

Region – Highland Age – NAS Strength – 43% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Red apple, orange peel, biscuit, caramel, biscuit. Palate – Medium body – oily. Malted biscuits, orange, slight drying bitterness. Caramel in background but hidden a bit by oak spice – cinnamon and nutmeg. Peppery too Finish – spicy and drying. Medium length. Pepper, cinnamon, citrus – more lemon / lime bitterness.



Conclusions

Not requested or expected. That’s the best way to sum up this free dram. I thought it to be a nice touch in all honesty and had discounted its value when thinking of my raffle prize. Eventually I’m going to get calm about TRGW Co using me as a patsy to shift excess stock. And it was a Glenmorangie I wouldn’t have otherwise bought so I got an experience that was reasonably enjoyable.

Would I buy it? No, not based on this taste but not because there was anything wrong with it; the whisky didn’t light my fire, as simple as that. However given that it was free was a big plus point. Being Aberdonian made me see the value. Should I be offered this again I’d be happy to drink it. The whisky for me was spicy and drying while I prefer the more sweet and fruity drams.

This will be the last review before Christmas, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2022. Here’s hoping it’s an improvement on 2020 and 2021.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Kingussie High Street November 1978 – Am Baile Highland Archive

All other photos – Authors own

All content on this site is subject to copyright and may not be reused without permission. Image copyright remains with the photographer or copyright holder and is credited as appropriate.

The Tale of Two Towns

Taste Review # 116 – Banff 1974 CC / Glen Deveron

When you go to a whisky distillery or read the rear of the packaging, there is usually some story or legend connected to the distillery. For this review I manage to review two Highland whiskies from the North East of Scotland. One distillery has been wiped from the face of the earth, while one continues producing almost anonymously. One has the sad epithet of perhaps being the unluckiest distillery in Scotland and the other seems to have little story at all. But in the absence of an industry created legend, there is a story which connects the two communities associated with these whiskies. These distilleries were part of two towns on either side of the mouth of the River Deveron, namely Banff and Macduff. This tale not only connects both these towns, but also the Badenoch area in which I currently live, and later involves Scots literary titan Robert Burns. It is a tale of illegitimacy, prejudice, outlaws, treachery plus a hanging. It will also include a fiddle and a well known Scots folk song.

So, if you are intrigued, pour yourself a dram, put your feet up and let me tell you a story.

For over 300 years, Macduff residents don’t tell people from Banff the time.

While there is only a river that separates the two towns, Banff and Macduff are very different places. Both fishing towns, for over three centuries there has been a now largely forgotten feud that has been part of Scottish folklore ever since. For if you are to look at the tower of the Doune Church in Macduff which houses the town clock, you will observe that there is a face to the east side, and one facing out north to sea. There can’t be one to the south due to the building construction but unusually there is no clock face on the west side for the people on the Banff side to see. The reason that Macduff people traditionally do not give people from Banff the time is all down to the hanging of Jamie Macpherson on the 16th November 1700.


Doune Church, Macduff (Stanley Howe)

The link to Badenoch area which happens to be the southernmost reaches of the Speyside whisky region comes from the illegitimate birth of James MacPherson (Jamie), the product of a tryst between one of the land owning Invereshie MacPherson clan and an attractive gypsy traveller woman. When his father died, the young Jamie returned to his mother’s travelling folk and soon became the Scottish equivalent of Robin Hood, embracing the vagrant lifestyle and robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Tales attest to his popularity and his skill with a sword and a fiddle, but he had a few powerful enemies – namely Lord Braco.

The Lord Braco was a rich landowner that had property around 5 miles east of Keith, in the region of Bracobrae. He’d have plenty of reasons to be vexed by Jamie Macpherson when his livestock or that of his tenants was robbed, as there is evidence that Macpherson was a reiver, a Scots word for Bandit. Being a traveller or a gypsy made it worse as since 1573 it was illegal to be a Gypsy (called Egiptians / Egyptians) in Scotland and when he was captured by Braco at the St Rufus fair in Keith, this was the charge to be put against him. At the fair, there was a skirmish to capture Jamie, and the legend was that a woman threw a blanket over him from an upstairs window ledge disabling his fighting ability for long enough that he could be captured.

Unfortunately for Jamie, the blanket was only the start of the treachery against him. The jury for his trial in Banff courthouse was never going to be unbiased, as the jury was full of people sympathetic to Braco. Judge Dunbar, also a friend of Braco, quickly found Macpherson guilty. For the charges of being an Egiptian and a vagabond the penalty was death and MacPherson was scheduled to be hung on the gallows tree along with three others.

The story goes that MacPherson played a lament on his fiddle before he was hung and once he was finished, he offered his fiddle to his fellow clan members. Nobody took it as it would betray them as being part of MacPherson’s band of vagabonds, so he smashed it over his knee, proclaiming nobody else shall play it.


Banff Town Clock Mechanism in Clan MacPherson’s Museum, Newtonmore

It is now we come to the part where the issue of the time comes. Upon the sentence being pronounced, a friend of MacPherson rode to Aberdeen to the High Court to get the sentence overturned. Prior to the hanging, Braco saw the rider coming with the pardon, so had the town clock advanced 15 minutes so the hanging could legally take place. And this is why people in Macduff traditionally never give people in Banff the time, as they remember the injustice served to Jamie MacPherson.

The remains of the fiddle were recovered and returned to the MacPherson clan at Cluny Castle, between Newtonmore and Laggan on the A86. The fiddle is now on display in the Clan Macpherson museum in Newtonmore.


The fiddle of James Macpherson in the Clan Macpherson Museum, Newtonmore

To cement the place this story has in Scots folklore, the words of the lament Macpherson played before he was hung were worked into a song by Robert Burns in 1788, known as MacPherson’s Farewell.

MacPherson’s Farewell

Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch’s destinie!
McPherson’s time will not be long,
On yonder gallows-tree.

Chorus (after each verse)
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play’d a spring,
and danc’d it round,
Below the gallows-tree.


O what is death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I’ve dar’d his face, and in this place
I scorn him yet again!


Untie these bands from off my hands,
And bring me to my sword;
And there’s no a man in all scotland.
But I’ll brave him at a word.


I’ve liv’d a life of sturt and strife;
I die by treacherie:
It burns my heart I must depart,
And not avenged be.


Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!


Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play’d a spring, and danc’d it round,
Below the gallows-tree.


I remember it from the popular Scots Folk singers The Corries. This was a regular tape that was played in the family car which formed at the time what I imagined to be the forerunner to modern child abuse by music, but in what may be a case of Stockholm Syndrome, I find myself tapping my foot to this. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube – MacPhersons Rant


View of Macduff from Banff (Xavier Laffitte)

And back to whisky!

The whisky distilleries in Banff and Macduff are also very different. One has sadly fallen silent and now no longer exists whereas the other is a more modern distillery and is still in production.

The original Banff distillery was situated at Mains of Colleonard just to the south west of Banff. In 1823 the Excise Act was passed and the first distillery at Banff was established by Major James McKilligan, who lived at Mains of Colleonard, along with two others, Mr Alex McKay and Mr William Hodge. The distillery was known as the Mill of Banff distillery and in 1826 was producing 3230 gallons of spirit.

The 2nd Banff distillery from which my sample comes from was built closer to the village of Inverboyndie and had a more reliable water source from springs on Fiskaidy Farm. Also the recently built Great North Of Scotland Railway built a branch line to Banff which passed the distillery site which made it easy to get raw materials in and whisky out. James Simpson built the new distillery in 1863, but this distillery had a very unfortunate existence involving fire and explosions. The distillery had a major fire that destroyed much of the distillery in May 1877. The distillery was rebuilt by October that year, and a fire engine was then stationed at the distillery. In 1921, a portion of the distillery was sold to Miles End Distillery Company, but by 1932, DCL bought the distillery outright for £50,000 and closed it immediately.


Banff Distillery (unknown photographer)

On the 16th of August 1941, a Luftwaffe Junkers JU88 bomber operating from Sola (now called Stavanger airport) attacked the distillery, suspecting it to be a military target associated with the nearby RAF base at Boyndie, which destroyed warehouse 12. Much stock was lost and spirit flowed into the local streams which resulted in reports of very intoxicated livestock in nearby fields. RAF Banff would be an important target as Mosquito fighter bombers based there were used for the hunting down and destruction of German shipping in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast. In 1943, 248 Squadron moved into the distillery and remained there until the end of the war.

After the war, the distillery resumed production but its relationship with catastrophe was reignited when in 1959 an explosion happened when a coppersmith was repairing one of the stills. DCL were fined £15 for safety breaches but thankfully nobody was seriously hurt.

But by 1964, the adjacent branch line stopped carrying passengers and by 1968 had also closed completely to freight, making transport costly as at the time the distillery was still coal fired. In 1963, the coal fired stills were converted from being fed by hand to a mechanical feed. In 1970, the distillery stills were converted to oil firing.


Site of Banff Distillery 2011 (Anne Burgess)

One can only guess why DCL selected Banff for closure during the 1980’s whisky glut. Being a small distillery of a single wash still and two spirit stills, possibly needing investment and higher transport costs, the distillery closed its doors in 1983. By the late 1980’s much of the site had been dismantled with only some warehouses being left. It’s kind of appropriate for such an unlucky distillery that the last of the warehouses were destroyed by fire in 1991. Pretty ironic don’t you think? The site is now derelict with limited remains of the former buildings, and is a site begging for development. Sadly this will likely be housing. So we should maybe have a moment of remembrance as we move to take a sample of Banff whisky.

Banff 1974 Connoisseurs Choice

Banff 1974, Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice

Region – Highland Age – VINTAGE Strength – 40% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Nutty, malty, green apple, pineapple, runny honey Palate – Medium mouthfeel, apples, honey, hazelnuts, slight woody notes with a fizz on the tongue. Finish – Not as short as I thought it would be. Honey, Ginger, Malt, hint of oak spices. After leaving in the glass for a while, there was a spirit burn on swallowing.

This whisky opened up quite a bit over the evening. It took me three hours to drink and by the end I could say that with the burn that developed, it was hard to believe that this sample had been so evaporated.

Macduff Distillery

Macduff distillery was one of a few of ‘new’ distilleries that appeared in the early 1960’s, slightly after Tormore and Glen Keith and just before the mini boom in the mid 60’s. Unlike its closest rival, it has never suffered any similar catastrophes.

Founded by brokers that included Brodie Hepburn who also had involvement with Deanston and Tullibardine, the distillery eventually came into the ownership of William Lawson, which is the whisky making arm of Martini & Rossi. The distillery eventually expanded to have 5 stills by 1990 and two years later, Martini merged with Bacardi. This resulted in the distillery becoming part of the Dewars stable in 1995.

Traditionally, the original bottlings from the Macduff distillery have been labelled as Glen Deveron or Deveron. Independently bottled spirit is normally named Macduff. The output from this distillery is normally unpeated, with a large majority of it destined either for blending or to export. It’s apparently quite popular in Italy.

Glen Deveron 12

Glen Deveron 12 1980’s distillation

I took the opportunity to put the remains of the sample into the fridge to see if there was any Scotch Mist that would appear. None did, so chill filtering is effectively confirmed.

Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not stated, likely Bourbon Colouring – Not Stated, probably Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Nutty, almond like marzipan, custard, pear, salty air Palate – cream crackers, apricot, unsalted potato crisps, stewed fruit, brine. Really watery mouth feel. Finish – Short and disappointing. Brine, bitter. Stewed fruit with wood spices. Slight burn.

I have no idea of the age of this bottle but it’s contents are not that attention grabbing. I’d go as far as say this whisky tastes flat.

Conclusions

This was never a taste comparison. Both were whiskies from distilleries of different eras and was a good way of killing two samples in one review. It was also a good opportunity to tell a wee story of the area both distilleries originate from. Great tales are often told while nursing a dram and I hope that I be have done these stories justice.

I doubt I’ll ever own a full sized bottle of Banff whisky. It may happen if I see one at the right price but as the years go on, the remaining spirit will be diminishing as bottles get drunk. I would be amazed if there are many more complete casks in existence so this will be more and more a unicorn whisky. It made no sense to keep my sample in its bottle only to evaporate to nothing, so the best thing to do was drink it. A dram has finally made its destiny and whisky history has been drunk. And the world’s stock of Banff has decreased by 40ml or so. Another true moment of whisky history consumed.

When it comes to the Deveron I have to say that I got a shock at how flat the dram was. Of course the purpose of the distillery is mainly to provide malt whisky for blends but the dram had no strong character. It was almost as though I’d drunk an alcohol free whisky. Despite the bottle being properly sealed and no sign of evaporation with a good fill level, there was just something missing. I suppose you can’t like everything.

Without a doubt the evaporated Banff which was originally bottled at 40% also was the far superior dram.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Doune Church – Stanley Howe – (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

Doune Church, Macduff – Xavier Laffitte (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

Banff Distillery– unknown photographer/ public domain

Banff Distillery Site – Anne Burgess (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

All other photos – Authors Own

ALL PHOTOS ARE SUBJECT TO COPYWRITE AND SHOULD NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PERMISSION

That’s The Spirit!

It’s amazing how often you can drive by something and not realise the treat you are missing. Being somebody who works away from home, I get used to missing things as deadlines and events pass me by. But this month I was going to make a stand and take action about some things that I’ve passed by for years.

The first thing that that I regularly pass by is the Bridge of Avon at Ballindalloch castle. If you are familiar with the A95 road that runs through Speyside, you’ll know of the hairpin like bend that descends past the Delnashaugh Hotel, towards Ballindalloch Post Office and Filling station. There is a modern bridge going over the River Avon, and out one side, you may see the gatehouse for one of the Ballindalloch Castle entrances, but it’s hard to see the old bridge.


The Bridge Of Avon

The other thing that is easy to pass by is some whitewashed steadings, but not just any old steadings – these contain the Ballindalloch Distillery, which started production in 2014. I have to admit that I don’t pass it by, as I have visited before and completed the ‘Art Of Whisky Making’ day that was run before the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic. This time I was going to be able to stop and take part in my first Spirit of Speyside Festival event in many years.

The Spirit of Speyside festival is probably the largest whisky festival in Scotland, if not the UK. Starting in 1999, the festival can ordinarily have over 700 events spread out over 6 days. Over the past couple of years, the festival has been impacted by the pandemic and the normally springtime event in 2021 was moved to the late autumn. This was great news for me. Normally the spring through to summer periods are a busy time at work due to the fact a lot of projects kick off at sea when the weather is more conducive to oil industry operations so I normally miss out, but the rescheduled festival this year meant I could take part once again.


Ballindalloch Distillery

As part of the Spirit of Speyside Festival this year, the distillery opened its doors once more. Not only would you get a detailed tour of the very compact distillery, but you would also get the chance to taste their single malt some two years before its official release.

Our party of 8 for this event included Richard Forsyth OBE, the former managing director of Forsyth’s of Rothes, the company famous for the manufacture of distilling equipment. Mr Forsyth told the story how he and some golfing chums used to play on the Ballindalloch Golf course. One day they had been playing and had met the Laird of Ballindalloch Castle at the time, Oliver Russell. Mr Russell had been mentioning to Mr Forsyth and his friends that he didn’t know what to do with the ruined buildings, which were listed, and means they could not be demolished, so the story goes that Mr Forsyth had suggested a distillery.

It is a good job that this advice was taken, for by 2014 the Ballindalloch distillery had started production. One of the issues in the construction was that the buildings could not be modified externally due to listing regulations, therefore any distilling equipment had to be fitted within the available space.


Mash tun and stainless steel under back

The distillery has a copper topped mash tun, with a charge of 1 ton of grist, the process then flows through the building beyond with 4 wooden washbacks followed by the single wash and spirit stills. All the equipment is on an upper mezzanine which makes the process easier to understand. While the majority of those present had been to the distillery before, the distillery manager Colin Poppy gave us a detailed yet unhurried tour and the opportunity to ask whatever questions we wished.


Wash backs with spirit Spirit Still and Wash Still in the background.
We’d be meeting this one later

Previously, tours usually ended in the tasting hall or sitting room where there were comfortable sofas to sit and relax while drinking whisky from some of the family Cragganmore whisky casks, on account of there being no Ballindalloch whisky to taste. This time was going to be different.


The tasting table

I’m not going to beat around the bush; the highlight of this trip was to sample the Ballindalloch whisky. For the tasting we were able to try two 7 year old samples of Ballindalloch. One was from cask 5, which was a bourbon cask, and the second one was from an Oloroso sherry cask number 130. 

Due to the nature of the tasting, I wasn’t able to take detailed tasting notes of any of the whiskies at the time as I was not able to take the time to really analyse the drams but I can give you the following: –


Ballindalloch Single Malt. Bourbon Cask 5 on the left, Oloroso Cask 130 on the right.

7 Year old Bourbon Cask – 60.3%

Nose: – Black pepper, Apples, slightly acidic – lemon. Hint of vanilla.

Palate: – Sweet – vanilla fudge, Apple jolly rancher candies, pastry notes. Became more spicy once water added, and the apple became less prominent and more like an apple pie with cinnamon and ginger. Light to medium mouthfeel with little spirit burn.

Finish: – Long but gentle finish with the apple, ginger and vanilla notes fading gradually.

7 Year Old Oloroso Cask – 60.2%

Nose: – Raisins, Fig, Christmas cake sponge, Red Apple.

Palate: – Much more Raisins and Fig, Plums, Sultanas, Nutmeg. Sweet, light to medium body, excellent mouthfeel with little spirit burn.

Finish: – Again, became a little spicier when water added. Another gentle fade with the Christmas Cake Spices and dried fruit dominating.

These drams both have something in common – at no point would you have guessed you were drinking cask strength spirit at such a young age. I found both these spirits to be immediately drinkable. Water was not necessary, though did open the spirit. Indeed, everybody at the tasting had the same opinion of the Ballindalloch spirit. It was agreed that the whisky that we were provided was exceptional. In my opinion the fact that Ballindalloch had made the decision not to release whisky as soon as they could legally do so was the correct one. I’ve tasted a few younger drams from some of the recent crop of recently opened distilleries and they come nowhere close to this.


Three Cragganmore from the MacPherson-Grant private casks

The three Cragganmore that followed were also very delicious, ranging from a 28 y.o Bourbon Cask at 53.1%, a 28 y.o 2nd fill Bourbon cask at 42.6% and a 29 year old PX cask at 43.2%. 

Ballindalloch will always be a distillery with limited supply of whisky when they eventually release. All the barley for the distillery is grown on the Ballindalloch estate, and the distillery was never designed with 24 hr operation in mind. If they were to up production, they would also likely need more washbacks to maintain the long fermentation times that are required to give the light and fruity spirit that is produced at Ballindalloch. And here is where the problem lies is that there is no room for extra washbacks. 

With Ballindalloch not having a large output and not able to expand, it is likely that releases of Ballindalloch will have the same buzz that is seen when a Daftmill is released. And it deserves this accolade, if not more than Daftmill. I’ve had early Daftmill and at 12 years old it came nowhere near to the levels of enjoyment I got with the Ballindalloch whisky. Colin and his team have done an excellent job in developing the Ballindalloch distillery right from the start. The unrushed approach to the distillation of the whisky has paid off, and I can’t wait to taste the final spirit.


Empty glasses are a sure sign of a good dram

We were told that Ballindalloch is not likely to release its spirit until 2023, this will be as an 8 year old. Colin informed those present that the plan would ideally to be to progress to a 10 and 12 year old once stocks allow. Of course, one does hope for single cask releases too.

Based on this experience, I don’t think anybody should have any sleepless nights over the quality of this whisky. The only sleepless nights I will get will be because I just can’t wait.

Hopefully the Ballindalloch distillery will get back to allowing regular tours next year, as well as the day long ‘Art of Whisky’ making course. I can personally recommend this, as you can see the passion in the Ballindalloch team in their distillery, the care they take with their spirit, and hopefully now the smiles they will have now the public have had a taste of their work and have loved it.

The countdown has begun to 2023.

Yours In Spirits (and in Speyside!)

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Thanks also to Fiona and Andrew at the Delnashaugh hotel just around the corner from Ballindalloch distillery. I stayed here when visiting for the Art Of Whisky day and again for this trip as I could not drive after drinking.

A great family run hotel with delicious food and large comfortable rooms. I slept well and the breakfast the next day was outstanding. I thoroughly recommend that anybody visiting Ballindalloch consider staying here.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Sharing is caring.

apparently!

As I start to write this article I’m currently returning to Scotty’s Drams HQ from Poland on the train between Glasgow and the Highlands. For those of you who haven’t been here from the start, the blog had its genesis in Krakow after I decided to change direction with my interest in whisky and to concentrate on something other than Brexit that was flooding social media.

I never managed any whisky this time in Poland, though a couple of bottles of Krupnik were demolished celebrating my wife’s birthday. It’s been some time since I’ve sat at home and enjoyed a whisky so as I travel back I’m thinking of what I could have from the selection I already have open or the numerous samples I’ve amassed. It always seems the amount of samples always goes up and not down, and while away I’ve been bad and have ordered more. This time it’s mostly world whiskies to maybe expand my outlook. I’ve not even reviewed an Irish whiskey yet, though this is on the cards for a change. I’ve a bottle of Waterford that I was gifted, but I’m at the point that if I open a full bottle, then I have to kill another.


In the beginning

The only bottle I have currently near the bottle kill stage is a Daftmill 2006 Winter. It was a hard bottle to get hold of, and I had to time it carefully on the secondary market to avoid paying the flipping premium. I know the whisky wasn’t worth the vastly inflated prices that Daftmill often sees at auction, but having had a sample previously I really wanted a bottle as I enjoyed the whisky a great deal.

It was while contemplating other whisky matters such as how a bottle changes from the initial pour to the last pour, it struck me that for this Daftmill that I couldn’t tell you, simply because I’ve had hardly any of it. I’ve been doing some calculations, and from what I can remember I’ve been lucky to have to have had 5 x 25ml measures. I’ve given most of it away to friends and colleagues, and I’m left having paid significantly over the £95 RRP and have had hardly any of it.

And at the end. the The kill came 2 days after writing this article

There is a train of thought that whisky isn’t whisky until it’s shared. I’m sorry, I just don’t subscribe to that thought for one second. Not because I’m a tight Aberdonian, but because it will always be the same whether I share it or not. What I have done is given people a chance to sample a whisky that most people had almost zero chance to taste. And despite Daftmill having more regular releases, the small scale of them still means most never will. But has the whisky changed since my first taste of this bottle?


One more to go, the Benrinnes could be next for a bottle kill

Thus once I had finished the bottle, I have to say that in my opinion there wasn’t really much change, but that is mostly due to the fact that I use inert gas to arrest deterioration in my open bottles. I’d go as far to say that while this whisky is perfectly competent and quite tasty, I’d say that the original price of £95 is a little steep for a 12 y.o but is probably down to the costs of small scale production and it’s scarcity on the market. The whisky isn’t really worth much more. Many whisky enthusiasts are guilty of giving into FOMO, and in this case I just wanted to try and one small sample wasn’t enough. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be chasing Daftmill in the future. Sure, I’ll stick my name in the hat if I see a ballot come up in the off chance of success, but I’ll not worry if I get the email telling me it’s not to be this time.

Indeed, the fact it has to be balloted on release is a sure sign that the popularity of this dram is in effect its downfall as very few people can get their hands on it at even the expensive for what it is retail price. We quickly skip over and ignore how much I paid for it on the secondary market (£168 including shipping and fees) as it really does make me shiver now I’ve had more experience of it. However I am detecting a nice warm glow within my stone cold heart when I think of all the people I shared it with. Sharing is caring after all. That, coupled with the fact I have another bottle in reserve…

Do you feel lucky?

Yours In Spirits,

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Luck Of The Draw?

Is gambling for whisky worthwhile?

Probably Not.

We all know the reputation of Scotsmen supposedly being tight with their money. Apparently us Aberdonians are supposedly able to take this to a much higher level. Because if I have to tell people my favourite word in the English language, it has to be the word “free”. “Gratis” will also do, but that’s an extra two letters and I’d want to be economical with those as well. Yeah, getting something for nothing, it really is attractive to us Doric speakers.


Looking down Aberdeen’s Union Street.

Aberdonians and those from the North East of Scotland really appreciate economy, probably best illustrated by the apocryphal story of a farmer from the Peterhead area wanting to place the death notice for a recently deceased family member. He learns of a special offer in the Press & Journal, the daily provincial newspaper of NE Scotland, where the first 7 words of the death notice are free. He phones the classified ads dept, and tells the lassie at the other end of the phone of his intended notice.

He wanted it to say “Sandy Reid, Peterheid, deid.”

The lady at the end of phone is puzzled by the brevity of the notice and asks if he wants to say anything else as he hasn’t even used all of his 7 free words.

After much thought he says “Aye lassie. Make it say – Sandy Reid, Peterheid, deid. Tractor for sale.”


So it goes to say if we can’t get something for nothing, we’ll definitely be looking for a bargain. While I am not able to confirm if my second favourite words are ‘sale’ or ‘discount’, you’ll get the gist. And to be fair, it’s not just the likes of me who prefers to get something for a lot less than the RRP. It’s often human nature to be interested in obtaining things without needing much effort and if you could get something hard to source, rare or expensive it becomes even more alluring, but how would you feel if your quest for easy winnings isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

For those who collect whisky or are interested in obtaining bottles that aren’t available in the retail market or are beyond their normal price range, there are growing numbers of opportunities to get those relatively unobtainable bottles. But these come with a catch.

I’m getting bombarded with advertising on social media for whisky raffles. Well, they aren’t raffles as raffling a prize for a non-charity profit is illegal in the UK, so they are termed as a competition. To make it legal to perform a draw, you are required to answer a skills based question prior to buying a ticket, which according to the law is supposed to be able to prevent the majority of people who attempt the question being able to enter. I’ve yet to see a question that is difficult at all, and some of them have the answer on the bottle right beside the question! A case in point was I asked a friend who had no specialist knowledge of whisky to answer some of the questions on a couple of sites and he scored 10/10. So essentially most of these sites are still running raffles.


No need for tickets for on line prize draws

To me, these competitions are possibly fun, but in my opinion they are a rip off and cause damage to the whisky community at large. Here is my reasoning.

1. The chances of winning the bottles is quite low. Ticket prices are often not that expensive but if you buy ten, then even if there are only 500 tickets for sale, your chances of winning are still quite dismal relatively speaking. That is simple statistical fact, also driven by the opinion I have that if I shell out some of my hard earned cash then I’ll be wanting a return.

2. It is my opinion that some of the people running these competitions source the rarer whiskies from auctions. This is based on some of the whiskies involved. They don’t worry about overpaying as all they have to do is adjust the price of the ticket so enough profit is generated. One example was of a site raffling a Hibiki 17. To be honest, I have no real knowledge of how they came to source this prize, but there aren’t a lot on the open market. This was a popular and now discontinued blend though and it is still sought after. Average auction prices were at the time £550. Retail price was around the same or slightly lower in some cases. The gross takings should all the tickets be sold was over £1100. See what I mean about a rip off?

A limited Glenfarclas. Ripe for exploitation

3. Another issue about sourcing these whiskies at auction is that if they continually overpay to get the desirable bottles, this could contribute to the increasing price distortion prevalent in sectors of the secondary market. What it actually does is put more whiskies out of reach of the dedicated whisky drinking enthusiast. They are little better than flippers.

One such site says that they were fed up of losing out on inaugural releases and wanted to improve peoples chances of accessing rare or desirable whiskies. This cannot be further from the truth. Let’s return to that Hibiki – at the time of the auction concerned, there was a Hibiki 17 available at retail for £440. All you had to do was walk into the Speyside Whisky Shop or go on their website and hey presto! A prestige whisky could have been yours.

Now, just think how many tickets you could have bought before you win a bottle which will probably be worth a lot less than you have ‘invested’ in these prize draw sites. I personally have to think as a comparison about how many times I’ve played the UK National Lottery scratch cards then inwardly sob when I realise how many bottles of Macallan 18 year old I could have bought with that money compared to the couple of bottles of Famous Grouse I would be able to buy with the winnings I’ve had so far. If I start reviewing 1926 Macallan, then you know I’ve eventually hit the jackpot.


Might be true, but what are the chances and the real cost?

In conclusion, easy access questions and making it appear you have a chance may make it more tempting to enter, and why not? If a little flutter is your thing, it may not concern you. In my mind however, the low odds, the fact that many sites are potentially helping to distort the secondary market further, plus putting limited releases increasingly out of the hands of those genuine enthusiasts have made me think they aren’t good for the whisky community as a whole and are best avoided.


No potential raffle prizes at Scotty’s Drams HQ. Just getting them ready for storage down south. Octomore, Ardnamurchan, Macallan, Glenmorangie and Waterford all been seen on various prize draws. You’re better off buying them financially rather than supporting the Whisky Industry Bottom Feeders.

The thrill of gambling and the potential to win big for relative little outlay is understandable but you’ll likely spend a lot more than any return, which means you will not be able to buy as much whisky.

That can’t be a good thing, can it?

Scotty

Index of articles here

Index of tastings here

Get Yourself ‘Barred’

The benefits of visiting a whisky bar

Finally. God pats me on the head and says “Good boy Scotty”. After weeks at sea and a virtual disappearance from the world of whisky, I finally land on my feet. Due to the mis-match of COVID quarantine rules for seafarers between Scotland and England, I find myself in London for 10 days while I wait out the time limit before I can return to the land of my birth.

Seeing as it has been some time since I’ve drunk any whisky, I was straight down to the hotel bar to observe the spirit offerings. Pretty poor for a whisky enthusiast, but as a bit of a peathead, it could have been a lot worse. Talisker, Ardbeg, Laphroaig 10, Lagavuilin 16, Dewars 12, Glenfiddich 12, Blue Label Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal 12 and a dribble of Macallan 18. Pretty uninspiring, so I knew I’d have to look further afield.

A whisky SOS was put out on Twitter and while I got a couple of replies and DM’s, the only meeting that came to pass was with Claire Vokins, a fellow member of the whisky twitterati and occasional blogger (www.woodforwhisky.com). It was agreed to meet at Milroys of Soho, a whisky shop / bar in Greek Street, just in time before I nipped back up the road to Scotland.


Milroys Of Soho (timeout.com)

It was good to meet Claire, and we soon got into the whisky based topics that I knew we would. But it was hard to keep my eyes off the shelves behind the bar, wondering what whisky to start with after a warm-up beer. I’m cursing the fact that I didn’t take photos now, so you’ll have to make do with some I pinched from the web. Being in a whisky bar isn’t a new experience for me and I hadn’t planned to blog about it.

The set up of the bar is quite simple. World whiskies at the far end, moving to Islay at the opposite end. The cheaper drams are at the front with the more expensive ones to the rear. Much more expensive are the top shelf whiskies.


The Bar (drinkmemag.com)

My last article touched on the concept of buying whisky that you may not drink. I’ve been collecting whisky since 2006 and I have to be honest there are some bottles in my collection I’ll never open. Partly as I did buy them with investment in mind, some because their value has risen beyond a point I’d feel comfortable opening, and some because I’ve discovered that I just like the look of the bottle but have no real desire to taste the dram over others that I want to drink more. This leads to the issue that I have bottles I will never know what they taste like.

If you are a newcomer to whisky, it is tempting to try as much as you can. While this is a laudable ideal, it can get very expensive when buying multiple bottles. It gets even more damning when you discover you don’t like the liquid within. This is why a whisky bar is an ideal solution for the enthusiast, collector and novice alike.

  • You get a bigger range to try from.
  • You aren’t committed to buying a whole bottle that you may not ever like.
  • Staff can give advice based on your taste preferences – this is a crucial difference between a whisky bar and a normal bar.
  • For the collector it can give the opportunity to try a dram in their collection without the need to open it.

The second dram. A secret Cragganmore.

These are the four positives, although there are caveats which some of my drinking companions last night found themselves falling foul of. Let me introduce you to Matt, Oliver and Harry. Oliver was a wine drinker and didn’t like whisky, so his two mates were trying to persuade him otherwise. Harry was an inquisitive newcomer to whisky and Matt – I’m not really sure where he was on a whisky journey and seemed a little squiffy, but all three were a good laugh in the end.

Matt had heard me and Claire talking about our drams, and started asking questions, so we started giving guidance. After Claire had left I continued to talk with them. Harry became more inquisitive and asked very pertinent questions over barrel types and how to taste whisky. By this point I was on a Linkwood 19 Darkness, a whisky that has been finished for three months in a PX Octave. This was a heavenly whisky, which gave me strong chocolate and coffee notes and was easily my whisky of the night, despite some pretty good contenders to choose from. However, Matt ignored my suggestion not to buy a round of Darkness for his mates and soon found out it was £21 a dram. Didn’t seem too happy about it but that was a rookie error. However he did enjoy it so all was good in the end.


Linkwood Darkness. Coffee and chocolate in abundance

This is where you have to be careful in a whisky bar. Without wanting to seem snobbish, there is no point going instantly for the expensive drams as a novice. You’ll maybe know that the whisky is good and you like it, but you’ll have few points of reference to know why it is good and how it ranks compared to other whiskies. For instance, I knew the Linkwood Darkness was good once I tasted it, but I can get almost as good an experience from drams that were a lot cheaper. We all know you can get decent drams under £40 a bottle, but knowledge takes time to acquire and requires you have many experiences to build up that mental data bank.

Once you are a more experienced hand and you know what you like, it becomes easier to discern what styles you like tasting and knowing what you would like to taste next. This is why a well stocked whisky bar is a cornucopia of delights for whisky geeks like me – the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

One thing to point out that in a bar like Milroys where you run a tab and pay before you leave, you have to keep an eye on the spending if you have little experience. For me, I never once asked the price of any drams I bought; I picked the drams I wanted to taste based on what I knew about the distilleries and being allowed to smell the bottle contents before I came to a decision. Specialist whisky bars often give tiny samples to allow you to try before you buy, which is another bonus. I had no idea of what I spent, and apart from the Linkwood I had no idea of what each dram cost until I got my bill. 5 drams and a beer came to £76. Bargain, especially considering the quality whisky I felt I had consumed as well as the company and ambience I had over the course of the evening.


Can you ever have a bad Glentauchers? Despite its young age, this one was fantastic with a strong natural runny honey note fresh from the hive

Another good point for the inexperienced whisky bar novice is to plan your drams. Try and stick to lower abv drinks to start with. Also, if you are planning to drink a heavily peated whisky, then try to have that towards the end of your night, or have a suitable palate cleanser to hand. The higher abv’s will possibly desensitise your taste buds and impair your enjoyment of something more delicate afterwards. Plus you are at a danger of getting intoxicated quicker. Consider a high abv whisky as a finisher whisky before you head home.

My final tip for whisky bar newbies is to be cautious in picking a dram that only has one or two drams left in it. Whisky bars will not gas their bottles to arrest oxidation and evaporation. The plus side is that stock in a specialist whisky bar will not be sitting long, so the effect should be minimal. However if buying a more expensive dram and it has a small amount in it, consider asking how long since that bottle has been opened. Under 6 months and everything should be good. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Some whisky shelves have lighting facing the bottles that generate heat and will have an effect on the rate of oxidation and evaporation. Having said that, I’ve had bottles open 5 years and they tasted fine, but I’d bet they aren’t at the stated abv on the bottle. Being cautious can ensure you are actually getting what you paid for.

The bottle of Macallan 18 in the hotel that I mentioned earlier got finished during my stay in London. I bet the consumer didn’t get as good an experience as they would have had from the first pour. Let the lesson sink in as that would not have been a cheap dram.

For the record, the whiskies I tried were (in order):

  1. Fable Whisky Benrinnes 12 y.o / Chapter 4 (57.5% abv)
  2. Gordon & Macphails Single Malt Whisky – Speyside 21 y.o (40% abv). Turns out it was a Cragganmore.
  3. Whisky Barron Glentauchers 6 y.o (62.5% abv)
  4. Darkness Linkwood 19 (48.5% abv)
  5. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte OLC 1 (55.1% abv)

If you are wondering if I took notes on any of the whisky, then the answer is no. Whisky is meant to be enjoyed, not constantly analysed. I get much from more tasting in good company. Indeed, once Claire, Harry, Matt and Oliver had all left, I fell into conversation with Jason, one of the bar tenders at Milroys who was enjoying a day off drink. If you think that all we spoke about was whisky you’d be mistaken. It turns out we have a shared enjoyment of photography. Another geek moment.

There’s more to whisky than a simple alcoholic drink… if you haven’t experienced a specialist whisky bar, then you need to.


Thanks to everybody mentioned in this article. I had a great night and look forward to be able to return. Also thanks to the two on duty bar tenders who I didn’t catch the names of – one was on her first day I believe. Your service was exemplary.

Matt, thank you for your generosity of offering to buy me a drink. I only refused because I could have really taken the piss accidentally as I wasn’t asking the price of drams and didn’t want to take advantage. Maybe next time buddy.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own unless otherwise credited.

Don’t Be A Knob

Taste Review #114 – Knob Creek Small Batch

There is a saying about how absence makes the heart grow fonder. This my first review / article in a while and to be honest being away from it all due to a heavy work schedule had only made my heart grow fungus. I’ve not been able to write about whisky as I just haven’t been able to drink any and standing well back from whisky social media has not helped me gaining any insight. Well, until last week that is…

I’ve written a few articles over the past year about how social media is anything but social, the truths of the whisky community and how not to blog. You can click on the links to be reminded of my words. Recently a fellow blogger wrote a post that has left me wondering if she is reading my mind, as me and a fellow member of the Whisky Twitterati regularly gurn about the same subject ad nauseum. You can read the article by Claire here about Can’t See The Whisky For The Words’

It’s words that bring me to the subject of this article. One thing that tires me about whisky social media is the regular ego-fest when one person thinks they know better than another, or thinks they know what others should do with their whisky. There was a situation recently where there was a Twitter post about how somebody got bent out of shape because of them failing to secure a release from the Lakes Distillery. That in itself could be an article, but I’m zeroing in on the subsequent fallout from it. We need to review some guidelines for the Whisky Community methinks.

I’m going to blot out the names of the main participants but should they see this article then they will know who they are. One of them needs to learn a bit of online etiquette. See for yourself in the images below.

So let’s get one thing straight.

  1. Whatever somebody chooses to do with their whisky is entirely up to them. For me the exception is flippers for whom the focus is never the whisky, but the money it could raise. These people are not whisky lovers.
  2. If it’s expensive whisky you wouldn’t have bought anyway, why get upset about it?
  3. Placing the odd picture of your collection on social media is not showing off.
  4. If something doesn’t please you online, shuffle past it. Ignore it. Mute the person or conversation. Failing that, unfollow them.
  5. Calling people offensive names makes you look the a**hole.

There is much debate within social media about those who collect whisky as an investment, some saying that it is preventing genuine drinkers from experiencing limited drams. While I can see the logic in this, if you couldn’t afford it in the first place, why worry about it? After all, you wouldn’t have been buying it anyway. I myself have whisky I have bought with no intention of drinking, but some of it has been to complete a collection; most has been bought on the secondary market where I’ve taken the chance prices could also go down and is also at the price the average drinker would not be able to regularly afford. And while I have bought bottles as an investment, I’d be happy if they don’t make any money, as long as they kept pace with inflation. It’s basically a liquid piggy bank. And here is the crucial point – at any time I could change my mind and drink it. This is why it’s nobody else’s concern what I or anybody else does with their bottles.

Furthermore, there are bottles I have bought with the intention of opening but the price has risen so much, I’d possibly be mad to open them. This is where there is wisdom in the practice of obtaining two bottles if you can. If you are still feeling aggrieved about somebody posting pictures of expensive whisky that you can’t afford or wouldn’t drink anyway, it’s sometimes better to just say nothing rather than reveal yourself to be the knob in the room.

Whisky social media will always reveal people who have larger wallets than you, more expensive tastes than you and also more knowledge than you. Be content with what you have and be ready to learn. A battle of egos online is so boring, especially when one of the parties is probably jealous. Copying that example means you could be part of the Dead Brain Collective and look like the knob in the corner.

Speaking of which, I saw a Knob Creek in the corner. Returning from Mozambique meant I can’t go back to Scotland without being locked up in quarantine for 10 days. Due to the rules for seafarers being less stringent in England, I decided to stay in London for this period. In the hotel bar, I spotted a bottle of Knob Creek and thought it was time to review another bourbon. So let’s get cracking.

Knob Creek Small Batch

Region – USA Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – 0.8 Deep Gold Cask Type – Charred American Oak Colouring – Not stated, but I believe Yes. Chill Filtered – No Nose – Vanilla, coconut charred oak, caramel, a hint of mint perhaps? Palate – Caramel, vanilla, charred oak, peppery spices Finish – Peppery, caramel, corn, a hint of cherry at times.

This was a knob I could get along with.

Conclusions

I’m not going to wax lyrical about how good this whisky was, as for me it was just so-so. But this was the first whisk(e)y I’d drunk since mid April, so maybe I’m requiring a little calibration. Knob Creek is an upmarket Jim Beam made by Beam Suntory. This version has no age statement, but the age in the bottle is somewhere around 9 years old. The age statement was removed a couple of years ago when stocks dictated they couldn’t guarantee the minimum age. As of this year, the age statement has resumed.

I paid £4.50 for a 35ml measure in a Kensington Holiday Inn which was a good price given location. Was it value though? Probably. I got a smooth 50% bourbon, and it didn’t feel that strong. It was an easy drink to take neat and ended with the same cherry notes that I got from Wild Turkey Longbranch. Perhaps that’s a Bourbon thing.

Would I drink it again? Yes. Would I seek out a bottle? No. It was nothing special and I enjoyed the Lagavulin 16 that followed it much more. I’m discovering my Peathead dark side at the moment. It’ll be a while before more bourbon is drunk.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own