Whisky Myths Examined – Whisky of a Different Era Tastes Better – Or Does it?
This week coming sees the start of an occasional series in which I start to turn my attention onto one thing that has been niggling me a wee bit. Each person has their own opinion on this matter and I am no different, yet I feel with a building collection of miniatures that I need to get rid of, it is time to investigate this potential myth a little bit closer. Do whiskies of a different era taste any better?
This is a subject that could open a whole new carton of worms, as everybody will be adamant in their own belief whether or not this will be the case. I’m sort of already convinced I know the answer, and I believe the myth is true but this is based on my experience of the old style Macallan versus the newer releases. I’ve also been tasting more whiskies from a different era on account of purchasing a few whiskies from Cheaper By The Dram, the company that enables you to be able to drink whisky from the bottles of a different era that would otherwise be unobtainable due to high auction or retail values.
Let’s be up front. This series will not be strictly scientific. As far as possible I have chosen to compare whiskies from individual distilleries with the same age statement and cask types. However in some cases there has been a need to compare a 12 year old from the 90’s to a 10 year old of the up to date version; but I have checked they use the same cask types. I’ve made sure that I’m not just comparing varying batches; there will be at least a 10 year gap between the releases to help assess if there is a significant difference between the two.
As far as possible I have tried to get at least one sample from every region and to vary the styles a little. I feel I don’t have to keep you in suspense and I can reveal the distilleries I am reviewing in a list below. The list may get added to if I am able to source other samples but as of the end of September I currently held pairs of whiskies of differing eras of
Springbank, Glendronach, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Macallan, Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan, Clynelish, Auchroisk, Highland Park, Glengoyne and Glen Keith.
My aim is to do 2 comparison reviews a month, so I can continue to review contemporary whiskies, but this will depend very much on my work schedule. However if I have no article for a weekend, a whisky challenge may be in its place.
I’m pretty excited about this. My first review will be released this following Wednesday, it’s already written and I can’t wait to share this with you. Of course, I’d love to hear your views on this matter or responses to my review, on any of the social media platforms I use – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even a comment directly on the blog. Maybe you have whisky you could do this with as well? I’d be interested to hear your experiences in the matter.
Many among you will know that I am employed in the oil industry. I come from Aberdeen where it seems every man and his dog is involved with the oil industry. From the late 60’s to the early 80’s, Aberdeen was awash with American accents as the nascent oil industry found its feet and local people started to take over more and more jobs that had been the preserve of Americans from the oil patch in the Gulf Of Mexico. Aberdeen grew to be the oil capital of the UK, and it also proclaims it is Europe’s oil capital, although I have my doubts. Aberdeen has a nasty habit of bigging itself up a little too much and the reality is often different when outsiders visit. I don’t mean to disrespect the town of my birth, but for those of you have lived there all your lives you certainly notice a difference when you move out and look back in. It can be laughably joked that that’s all Aberdonians do – look inwards.
Don’t get me wrong, Aberdeen isn’t a bad place and has plenty of things to do for a city its size. It has felt the resultant oil crashes quite badly, but yet the place muddles on. One of the other global oil centres in the world is the city of Dallas in Texas, USA. Now, I’ve never been there, but I have passed through its airport. I wonder how many Dallas residents knew that when working in Aberdeen they were less than 80 miles away from the tiny village in Morayshire that gave their city its name? Rather than oil / black gold / Texas Tea, this Dallas in the midst of whisky producing Speyside was more likely to give them a sweet golden spirit than a similarly coloured sweet crude.
The morning I decided to write this article I was under the influence. Not just tiddly, mildly intoxicated or minging. I was outright paralytic, smashed out of my skull and totally incapable of thought. Not bad going for it not even being 9am. Before you think badly of me, and wonder how could I think of an article when not in full control of my bodily functions, I would like to point out that I was not under the influence of alcohol, at least not directly. However something got me so distracted that I couldn’t think of anything else and it was all based on one of my senses. Sight.
We should know our 5 senses – sight, smell, sound taste and touch, but how many of them do we use when choosing a whisky? We cannot tell whether or not a whisky is any good without at least smelling or tasting it, so why had I let one of my other senses nearly override my common sense?
I’ll hasten to add it was not my fault. I’m in the true sense of a shirker blaming somebody else; perhaps I should be a politician. I received a mail shot last week from Hard To Find Whiskies which detailed the offerings they had from James Eadie, an independent whisky bottler. This email must have been targeted at me directly for not only must they know the one James Eadie bottle I have had been opened that week, they also must have guessed my primary weakness when assessing bottles to buy.
The specific bottle in question is from the Teaninich distillery in Alness, a stones throw away from Dalmore on the Cromarty Firth. It was 12 year old, so had an acceptable amount of age, but what grasped me was the colour. It was almost as dark as the infamous Beinn Dubh black whisky. Only being a James Eadie whisky, we know it will be natural colour, cask strength and non-chill filtered. Despite being tempted I decided to resist as the amount of bottles in the ‘awaiting tasting’ is getting ridiculous.
However, it was the colour that intrigued me. Diageo owned Teaninich is one of those distilleries that there are few official releases, the main one being the 10 year old Flora and Fauna bottling, of which I have a couple for collecting and one in store for eventual ‘tasting’. Teaninich is unique amongst Scottish distilleries, as it does not use a mash tun, but rather has a mash filter which enables it to get an ultra-clear wort, and helps provide grassy, malty spirit that is desirable for blending. I suspect the casks used are bourbon, given the light colour and flavour profile of Teaninich. So, seeing such a dark Teaninich played on my mind. I wanted to taste that sweet nectar, having been finished in a 1st fill Oloroso Sherry cask which is another of my weaknesses.
My last James Eadie bottle was Madeira finished, which while not giving it a such a dark appearance, gave it a sort of pinkish hue in the glass and I have to say that I was entranced by it. Fortunately it turned out to be a decent whisky and there is probably no doubt that this whisky will be good as well, but we actually have no clue. So what is it that drives us to buy whisky based on colour?
I guess that we associate a darker colour with a particular kind of cask, with darker colours being predominately from wine or fortified wine styles of maturation or finishing. I have to admit that I am guilty of this as I do like the deep fruity tones of something like a GlenDronach 18 Allardice or something from the Glenfarclas distillery, or dare I say it, Macallan? Even thinking of Macallan with the Edition series where attention was paid to the colour, I must say it took all my effort not to break into my Edition 5, as the colour had alerted by brain to something tasty may lie beyond the cork. But this is where we have to be careful as not all colours are true. Many whiskies use E150a in various amounts to achieve consistency and depending on how honest the bottler wants to be, our mind can be tricked by what our eyes are seeing.
To this end, recently Glencairn Crystal Studio released a set of coloured Glencairn whisky glasses, so the person doing the tasting cannot be influenced by colour. And it’s a good idea, as one of the things we may mistakenly do is assume that a darker colour has either been in a cask longer or in a cask of a certain type, which could mislead our brain into misconceptions. To this end, taste, mouthfeel and aroma should be our only guides to the quality of a whisky.
So, what about this Teaninich? Everywhere I look it has sold out, so it looks as though I will have to give up. I am looking on the secondary market where I feel I have more of a chance, but let’s just see. There will be other whiskies, perhaps very similar to this, and bottle chasing can often lead to overpaying. I guess I have to find that other misplaced sense. Common Sense.
Judging the colour of our whisky to avoid undue influence
Colour. It’s so important to us whisky drinkers. Or is it? I am asking this now as I’ve written a little article for release this weekend and it has got me thinking quite a bit. I don’t want to add more to the article for the fear of making it unwieldy and unreadable.
It must be important to us, because I have had several conversations with followers of this page and also those who I join on my Twitter social media feed over this subject. One of the followers of this page works at the Whisky Shop Dufftown, the curators of the Dufftown ‘Whisky Colours Festival’, and the fact the festival mentions colour so directly adds more credence that colour is very important to us as whisky geeks. I suppose those who just drink it don’t give it a second thought, but something has to influence you to buy that bottle in the first place.
The more observant amongst you may have noticed that I have been playing about a wee bit with the format of my blog posts, mostly in the details section of any tasting. Those with 20-20 vision and an acute attention to detail will have noticed the colour I allocate to samples now have a figure in brackets. This relates to a figure on a colour chart that I have started using to make a clear and consistent differentiation between samples, especially if I am sampling more than one in a single review. This is because it is a number assigned to a specific colour on the following colour chart.
The caveat with this is whether or not I have managed to guess the right colour, but it should ensure that we will have at least have a consistent pattern to my assessment of the colour.
What’s your favourite whisky colour? Does it influence you? I have to confess, I’ve been led astray by colour this month, but that is a matter for the next article.
I’ve recently been thinking about the things that make me and others buy whisky. I have to say I am pretty bad on buying bottles based on the spirit colour or the description. You see, I am guilty of buying the Glenmorangie Truffle Oak Reserve at the distillery (before I had a clue about whisky) because it had the word Truffle in it. Being a dedicated eating enthusiast, I could only think of Chocolate Truffles. I was to be disappointed. The whisky was bought to wet a baby’s head that sadly didn’t arrive. The bottles were hidden away and forgotten about. Glenmorangie have just done the same thing to me again with their release ‘A Tale Of Cake’. I’ve got a degree in the cake and pastry sciences bestowed on me by the University of Life and if you ever meet me, you’ll see not only did I graduate with full honours, I’ve got the Masters and PhD as well. At least when I bought the latest Glenmorangie release, I was not thinking I was getting Battenburg in a bottle.
We step forward into 2020 and the release of Fettercairn 16 year old, and this one is made with a Chocolate Malt. Of course, having a predilection for sweeties, you can tell that my ears would prick up at this. But of course I know what a chocolate malt is and I am not expecting a big slab of Galaxy or Dairy Milk. It is a malted barley that has been roasted in excess of 200 Deg. Centigrade, and is a technique used more often in brewing. Guinness is a well known user of chocolate malt and if you ever go visit Guinness in Dublin, the smell from the malt is out of this world.
Fettercairn is one of those distilleries that flies under the radar, and in my limited experience of Fettercairn, that is probably deservedly so. It is not a malt that I can honestly say I’ve had a lot of success with. The NSA Fasque was instantly forgettable and I believe Fior wasn’t that much better. The other thing going against it for me, is that I’ve not had a lot of luck with other Whyte and Mackay owned distilleries, bar Invergordon. Dalmore is the premium one out of the block, and I have had a few decent Dalmore, but they use colouring in so much of their range, I’m not impressed. The less said about Tamnavulin and Jura the better for now.
Anyway the Fettercairn distillery was founded in 1824, situated in the village of Fettercairn in the Kincardine area of Aberdeenshire. The local area that the distillery sits in is known as the Howe Of The Mearns, which is a very fertile farming area stretching up from Strathmore in the south ending in the north at the fishing port of Stonehaven. The area was where the famous Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon was raised and wrote about in his classic Scottish trilogy ‘A Scots Quair’. One of the books, Sunset Song was often compulsory reading in English Classes for pupils in the Aberdeen area and was made into a film a few years ago.
The distillery has a unique cooling feature on the Spirit still, which is a cooling ring that sprays cold water down the swan neck over the still. This allows the outside of the still to be cooler, and encourage reflux in the still to give the spirit a lighter style.
Fettercairn has been undergoing a bit of a re-brand. Recently they released a 12 and 28 year old into their core expressions. The 12 year old has been generally well received, but the 28 year old was marketed at £400. Its a bit of an ask for a distillery that doesn’t perhaps have a stellar reputation. Who will take the chance at that money not knowing if they are going to get a delicious whisky? Personally if trying to build a more upmarket brand, make sure the product is seen as upmarket, before charging upmarket prices.
However, before the Mr Grumpy of the whisky blogging world goes off on one again, let’s turn my attention to the offering today. It is the Chocolate Malt distilled 16 year old. It was originally for sale exclusively in the Whisky Shop which for me was a big turn off. I think the Whisky Shop are one of the worst for overpricing their goods. Certainly in the Inverness shop. Even online, some of their prices are way above their competitors. However, they do have lovely staff when I pop my head in, and bargains can be had. But that’s not enough recompense this time so, not wanting to splash out the £70ish for a bottle from a distillery I don’t really enjoy from a shop I don’t want to patronise, a glimmer of hope came in the form of a fellow blogger.
Enter Nick. Nick has a great blog called Whisky, Aye? Its full of all the great things you need in a whisky blog – witty banter, great whisky and also lots of pictures of his dog. And definitely less waffling. Perhaps I should copy him and add more pictures of my dog. His dog looks well behaved though, mine will hump anything that gets in his way. Anyhow, Nick offered me the chance to receive a sample, and 4 different quality drams arrived – I’ll review the other 3 in good time…
Cheers to Nick, we can now proceed with the review.
Fettercairn 16 (2020 release)
Region -Highland Age – 16years Strength – 46.4% Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type – Bourbon, Sherry, Port Colouring – Debatable. See below Chill Filtered – No Nose -malt, honey, ginger, raisins, chocolate, Sherry sweetness. Palate -Dark malt, with oak spiciness arriving, stout mixed with Port. Chocolate. Peppery, a hint of expresso. Finish – medium long, sour citrus, prunes, plums, tobacco.
I’ve heard that the Fettercairn 16 does not have colouring added, yet on an export bottle we can see the dreaded words in German that tell us this bottling does have added colour. It’s a pity, as it might not have needed it. Mind you Signet also has colour added, but then again, is rumoured to contain 30 year old whisky. In my opinion the spirit in Fettercairn 16 is pretty all much of the same age.
Well, I have to say that I was pleased to have been able to try this. It was indeed a good malt, with a nice depth of flavour. I felt it had a really good nose, a quite good palate, yet the finish was a bit insipid. The issue with this though is that I only had a 3cl sample, and as such couldn’t easily take a second opinion. However, based on every other whisky I’ve tried, I can usually tell if I will like it or not just with one nip. Did I like this? Yes I did. Would I buy one? No. The reason for not buying is this; supply is getting limited and I prefer another chocolate malt driven whisky, Glenmorangie Signet. While Signet is NAS, it is also a similar abv, slightly lower at 46%. It means I’m going to have to chase the bottle if I want it and I wouldn’t want it that badly. I can wait until the next batch.
Is it good value? Certainly if you can buy it at its original retail price or not far off of it, then yes, I’d say it is reasonably good value. Perhaps I might look at the 2021 release from Fettercairn. The distillery has a visitors centre, but perhaps I might wait until some more of this COVID malarkey is over.
A big thanks to Nick for his generosity for giving me a chance to taste this dram. You can read his blog by clicking here – Whisky, Aye?
After all the furore about Jim Murray, I thought it was time for something a bit lighter. I was flicking through YouTube after receiving a notification that well known Whisky v-Blogger Ralfy Mitchell has released another video. Great, so I pop to have a look.
I could not believe my eyes! Not more than a week when I reveal that I plan to compare new and old whiskies, Ralfy releases this v-blog.
Hahahaha. I had to laugh. As though Ralfy would even bother to read what I write. I’ll look at what he has to say, but my research will just concentrate on the drams I’ve selected.
I just couldn’t believe the coincidence.
Anyway, I hope it raises a small smile. We all need it in these hard COVID times.
How the mighty have fallen or may fall. Certainly there is a large fall from grace in the case of whisky writer Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. This tome has been released on an annual basis since 2003 and many look to it as a guide to what’s good to drink in the wide world of whisky. The 2021 release has become a bit controversial, thanks to fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin calling out some of what can be considered lewd or sexual comments. Apparently comments like this have been made throughout the past 25 years, but according to Becky this edition she managed to count 34 questionable sexual statements. She made a post on social media saying how she felt it was unacceptable and now was the time to call time on it.
Indeed, it seems this is the time to call time on questionable behaviour. This summer has seen protests about Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality in the United States though in the UK this has mutated to also question the reverence paid to people who were involved in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was followed by protests and vandalism throughout the UK, with the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol Harbour.
Lets look at some of Jim’s quotes in the whisky bible by looking at this thread of Becky’s Twitter Feed. Click on this linkBecky Paskin’s Initial Tweet to see the full thread.
While none of this is particularly dirty, there seems to be a general sexualisation of whisky, which to be honest I have to say is becoming more and more unacceptable as time goes on. It is juvenile humour at best and venturing into creepy old man territory at the other end of the scale. As a male, even I find it a bit distasteful. I don’t want to have images of a man in his mid sixties speaking about sex come into my mind when I am having a dram.
Jim himself, from what I have read on social media feeds almost seems dismissive in his defence of his comments, going as far to accuse the subject being pushed by those jealous of his writing and talent. But in my mind, this dismissal could well be Jim’s downfall.
Becky Paskin is not just another run of the mill whiskyphile or blogger such as myself. She was the editor of a great website scotchwhisky.com, a great resource for those researching whisky and industry news. She’s also a whisky journalist, consultant, presenter and currently is a co-founder of OurWhisky which aims to provide education about the industry while recognising the modern face of the drink. Becky is also a Keeper of the Quaich, so you can safely say that she would seem to have an excellent grasp of the industry. You can almost feel that Jim Murray’s accusation of jealousy may have been founded by the fact the person calling him out is a woman. Would have been any different if the whistle blower was male?
I don’t know either person, but to read what has been said by both of them, it would seem that Jim has become a dinosaur from a previous age. I think the fact that 50% of potential readers of his books would be female should give enough motivation to be careful in what he may be saying; many women wouldn’t be particularly happy in reading the various smutty comments that are in his latest publication. It may also have passed him by that a growing proportion of talent in the industry have XX chromosomes, with many distillers, blenders, brand ambassadors, distillery guides being of the fairer sex. I learnt something from this debacle that Penderyn Welsh Whisky is made by an all female distilling team. Just goes to show that what is between your legs doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you progress in the industry.
What is more enlightening is the amount of female responses to Becky’s post, applauding her stand and letting their own struggles being known. Jim’s response to saying in the previous 20 odd years that he had not received a single complaint. Dismissal like this does not excuse any ill considered comments. Most people will just read, move on and get on with their day, but when it is consistent and throughout a publication then one has to ask what is the mindset to the author, especially when it adds nothing to the primary content which in this case is whisky. Have we forgot that many people don’t report sexual crime because they don’t want the fuss but once others start, then they feel encouraged and enabled to speak about their experiences. It may be unfortunate that Jim might also be facing the wrath of people affected by the actions of others and not just what has been written in his publications. He isn’t the first person to make questionable comments offensive to women in the industry, but he’s certainly being made the poster boy for the whisky world equivalent of #MeToo.
It has been a challenging time trying to get Scotty’s drams restarted after the drama of my wee flooding. To be fair it’s pretty easy to get the blog back on keel, all I have to do is drink whisky and write about it, not exactly a hardship. However trying to find the time in doing so when looking after a four year old means this is more easily said than done. Once the wee one is in their bed, all I can think of is having a coffee and looking to see what is on TV. I just want to switch off and not have to review a whisky or write about it.
Looking over my boxes of miniatures, I can see that I have quite a few pairs of different whiskies, one older and one more recent. Back in the day when I started Scotty’s drams I thought about thinking about some preconceived ideas and challenging them, such as blends are inferior to single malts, and the best whisky is old whisky. Well, there is one idea that I have been thinking about for some time and that is whisky from a different era is better than the whisky we have now. This is relevant to me in some way, as one of the bottles that got damaged in my flood was an old bottle of Macallan from the 90’s I’ve tasted this 10 year old before and I have to say I feel having compared it to Double Oak, the 90’s Macallan trounces it.
Now there is several reasons for this to be, but is it the same across the whisky spectrum and can it be proved? With those several doubles of differing eras sitting in my study, this not only gives me the chance to perhaps try and determine if this theory is true, it also gives me the chance to clear out a few bottles relatively quickly.
I’m planning to do one of these comparisons a month minimum,with whisky from every Scottish region. I only lack a spirit of yesteryear from Campbeltown, with the mass majority being from Highlands and Speyside. Samples include Benromach, Glenfarclas, Clynelish, GlenDronach, Auchroisk, Glen Keith, Auchentoshan, Bruichladdich, Highland Park, Glengoyne, Glenrothes and Linkwood. As close as I can, I’ve managed to secure whisky of the same age statement or cask type. However the Benromach is an old style 12 year old with a new style 10 year old. That might not be comparing Apples and Oranges, but a bit like comparing a Ford Sierra with its replacement the Mondeo.
I’m not convinced I’ll get a definitive answer, but there is a definite direction of travel on the three pairs I’ve tasted so far. I’m not going to reveal what it is until I post the relevant reviews.
This week has seen a bottle kill in the collection, the infamous Beinn Dubh from the Speyside distillery. Despite what many may think about it, I quite like it. I’m not rushing out to buy a bottle in the near future as I’ve quite a few more on the go that need to be cracked open, but I’m glad I tried it and would buy another in time. The bottle definitely improved as it went down as oxidisation took effect. The other whisky that I have looked forward to killing is the Glen Keith distillery edition. My earlier review “Giving Keith a Kicking” was perhaps a wee bit unkind. I’ve tried it in the best of the worst single malts to include in a hot toddy and it still failed miserably. The winner in that wee experiment was Jura Journey believe it or not. Anyway, as part of an effort to move some bottles closer to being killed, I tried some Glen Keith again.
It was surprising. It still isn’t really my taste, but was a lot more palatable after being open for over 6 months. I have to say I enjoyed it. Therefore after finding an old style Glen Keith in my miniature pile, I’m quite happy to perhaps review this one once more. It goes to show you that sometimes you just need to be in the mood for second opinions, or some whiskies really need a bit of time to open up and to be given a second chance. However, unlike the Beinn Dubh, I will not be buying a second bottle. The Coop sold it for £20 for a reason!!
Ergo – always give something second chance. I have rarely disliked a whisky but always have gone back to make sure. I’m kind of pleased I did this time.
Anyway, hopefully I can get another few reviews done for you soon. I’ve 2 weeks of isolation coming up in the near future so I’ll have no excuse not to write something down before I go back offshore. There is a host of drams to have, some older, some recent and some newer distilleries. Amongst them are Highland Park, Glenury Royal, Kingsbarns, Tamdhu, Braeval and Allt-a-Bhanne. There may also be whisky that isn’t Scottish….. and as I type some other samples have arrived from a Scottish exile in Belfast. My friend Nick has sent me some Glenugie, Cask Strength Benrinnes and Edradour along with the chocolate malt from Fettercairn. These go into the sample pot as well and will be reviewed as soon as I can.
We’ve now reached the end of the insurance claim process and I’m at the point of payout. Now seems a good time to wrap up the procedure and the precautions and advice I have about my experience. There are links to the companies I mention in the article at the end. This is not a promotionalpiece but a summary of my experience of the whole process, and I feel it would be remiss of me not to share the details of the companies used and my feelings about the service provided. I’ve included some pictures of the damaged bottles and cartons.
With a quick email it was over just as quick as it started. My insurance underwriters are prepared to pay for the loss in value to my collection. 21 bottles worth just a shade under £6000 and now they assess there has been £1000 loss in value. Realistically this is the best situation I could be in as all the bottles are still drinkable and had they been written off by my insurer I would have maybe not got the chance to purchase the ones I wanted to taste. Now that decision is mine. I’m not so sure that the value now is worth what was determined it to be post flood, but that is the thing with auctions – it could well be more or I get the chance to crack open a bottle I otherwise might not have.
Looking back on the experience from the horror of the first call to inform me there has been a problem to where I am now, the experience has not been as bad as first feared and indeed has been a lot smoother than expected. Let’s look at the reasons for this, for if there is one thing I’ve discovered, planning ahead prevents or limits disasters.
Find a decent storage area or facility
I use a storage facility in Perth. It’s about 70 miles from my house but prevents wee accidents when I maybe fancy cracking into something that I have bought as an investment. Ask the facility about their flooding record, ask about flood prevention. Look at security and the condition of the building. Is it likely to suffer flooding from a watercourse? Is it in good repair – does the roof look likely to leak? It’s always better to get an internal storage unit as it is less impacted by the changes in temperature. Going for a first floor locker prevents accidents like mine. Be aware those close to a metal roof are more likely to suffer variations in temperature and could affect your seals.
Keeping the collection at home? Keep it in a darkened place so the whisky isn’t exposed to direct sunlight or variations in temperature.
If using a storage facility, make you are well insured. Out of around 130 storage units in my facility, only 27 had any sort of insurance. Close to 100 units were flooded (some of the external containers did not get affected), and many of the insured only took the basic level of insurance which was £1000. However, the value of the items damaged was a lot higher and people have been left out of pocket.
I knew my items have high value, so using the facility insurance provision was not economic. So I insured via a specialist broker, Bruce Stevenson insurance brokers. Not only was this a great product, the service provided by them has been exemplary. I felt really guilty having only started my policy in April to making a claim in August, but that’s what insurance is for. I’m impressed by the friendly and efficient service I received, especially from Alexandra Richards, the broker that dealt with my claim.
The process was easy – one phone call and e-mail started the ball rolling. All I had to do was access my locker, record the damage and provide the details to them. They sorted the rest. They arranged a loss adjuster to see the damage who assessed how much damage had been done. I already had an estimate by time my loss adjuster arrived, so was already ahead of the game. That is why it pays to know the value you paid for your bottles and an idea of what they are worth as time goes on.
The loss adjuster reports back to the insurance company about the damage, having taken advice from a valuation expert. Then it is just a case of waiting to see what the insurance company will do. Alistair Spence of Criterion Loss adjusters gave some good advice about my situation and was very reassuring about the whole process.
If you are storing at home, make sure your home insurance will cover you in the event of flood and fire. Just because you only paid £35 for a Speyburn Flora and Fauna in 1991, doesn’t mean that it is still worth that amount. It can be well into the £2000+. If that gets destroyed would your insurance cover you?
Indeed, those with large collections at home may find themselves seriously underinsured as most policies have a limit per item, and above that will require each individual high value item individually listed. Be aware, large collections in the home will be seen as a fire hazard, something pointed out to me by my home insurance company that uses a red telephone on wheels as its logo.
I now know a couple of whisky brokers, and was lucky enough to have one who valued my damaged items for a nominal figure acceptable to any tight Aberdonian. However it is important to have an idea of what your collection is worth. Companies like Rare Whisky 101 monitor the prices at auction of bottles, and will provide a valuation or you can use the Bottle Valuation Index service which you can use to track your high value bottles, but you need to buy credits to use this service. I believe other companies do valuations cheaper, but I’ve used RW101 for a few years now and find the service pretty good and accurate.
You cannot just keep your whisky collection in its carton and expect it to survive. Part of the reason my collection survived mostly intact was due to the fact I professionally packed it in Airsacs. The only bottles damaged were those not in Airsacs on the lower layer of boxes on the pallets. I’ve learnt a lesson from this and now will flat pack cartons and make sure any packing that could be damaged is now at a level that flooding can’t affect it. Of course; the roof could leak, but I’ve put PVC dust sheets over my boxes to limit the chance of damage.
I use silica gel in all Airsacs, as well as polystyrene nuggets. Don’t use the environmentally friendly ones, as they go to a nasty goo when wet. All my packing materials come from Macfarlane Packaging. Airsacs aren’t the cheapest solution, but the alternative isn’t worth thinking about. The Airsacs on the lower layer of the pallets gave rigidity to the sodden cardboard boxes, keeping more expensive whiskies high and dry. Had this not been the case, then we would have been looking at a high 5 figure loss. If you are collecting whisky and storing it, a £200 investment in storage solutions makes sense and preserves the condition and value of your bottles.
And Alexandra from Bruce Stevenson agrees with me. For any asset it is important that good risk management and protection is key, and hopefully my insurance company sees that I made the adequate provisions for the foreseen threats in choosing a unit with flood protection, not exposed to temperature variation and professionally packed. Nobody foreseen the flood coming up from the drains and overcoming the flood prevention measures. And that’s why we insure.
At home, most of us will want to display our bottles. They are our whisky babies, but we need to store them where light will not fade labels or liquid, away from sources of heat and cold, away from children’s hands that might not drink it but accidentally knock it over and break it. Just be careful. It is understandable that you want to display your pride and joys, but consider where carefully. I know many people who have a whisky cupboard in their homes. Consider one yourself.
I’ve considered all these things and still got caught out. Don’t think it can’t happen to you as it can. It’s not the events that you can forsee that catch you, but those you don’t. I’m just very grateful I have had a specialist insurance policy in place which has met each one of my expectations. For around £350 the piece of mind alone has been priceless. I may have been facing a loss over a hundred times the cost of my premium so it is a no-brainer.
And now with payment looming I now have the decision of what to do with the damaged bottles. Part of me says sell them and move on. Part of me says drink them. In the case of the 10 year old Macallan this will be happening as I know the value in that bottle, and it is a superb dram. I’m licking my lips already in anticipation and so should my friends as I will be sharing. Of course I am on the lookout for another one, but we will see what comes up. I think a new change of direction is needed. From every disaster comes new beginnings and that is the way the pragmatist in me is seeing it. There will always be new bottles to buy, perhaps with a new focus altogether. Keep an eye on the blog or my social media feeds to find out.
The one thing that bothers me about items like the Macallan 10 is that I paid £240 after fees for it. Auction prices are now £340 then fees on top of that. Although I’ve been compensated fairly, there is an emotional thing that won’t let go. I’d say that once you sell, write off or open a bottle, you need to detach yourself from it. You need to stop tracking it unless you plan to buy another. For me it’s almost like stalking an old lover to see what she’s up to, which is wrong and creepy. Move on to bigger and better things.
I have a couple of things I wish to say in conclusion. Firstly, to all those who wished me well after my disaster, thanks for your support. It could have been a lot worse, but it was very touching to have your support, even though I’ve never met most of the people on the www (world whisky web). I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through what I’ve just experienced. It’s a fact of life we never expect bad things to happen, something that could be summed up by the fact how few in the storage facility had adequate insurance or any insurance at all.
It’s also been good to have been helped and advised by others in the whisky industry, and a special shout out goes to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. The resultant whisky geek out gave me tons of food for thought.
Lastly, I’ve had great service from my insurance company, Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers. They’ve ensured what needed to happen did at the right time, good communication and always left me with the impression that my situation was important to them. Despite not being a customer of theirs for very long, I felt every bit as valued as a customer who has used them for years.
I apologise if it seems I’m over promoting this company, but it’s with good reason. Other insurance companies are available but I can only speak from my experience with Bruce Stevenson compared to the cost of others I’ve used in the past. Bruce Stevenson has been recommended to me by several people and that spoke volumes. It’s turned out to be a good call.
Insurance can seem like that unnecessary expense that could be dispensed of to buy another bottle, but don’t lose your kingdom for the want of a nail.
It’s better late than never. I didn’t plan to run out of reviews in the summer, but an extended trip offshore of 16 weeks meant that I would have to be going some to have that amount of back dated reviews. I fear that this may happen again in the future, so keep yourselves braced for a period of inactivity here – however just because I may be down, I am most certainly not out.
As you will know from previous articles, my storage locker in Perth got flooded the same day that I came home from my last offshore trip and I sustained a considerable amount of damage. As I write this, I am still none-the-wiser as to what the insurance settlement is likely to be. I had already ordered some whisky online while offshore, and the morning after the flooding I realised I could not pick this up in person, so asked the retailer to ship it to me. When I contacted them they said if I added one more thing to my basket, they would ship the whole lot to me with no extra charge. As I had not seen the damage at my locker, and fearing for my Glenfarclas bottles from BP Magnus Platform 25 and 30 year anniversaries, I decided to order another Glenfarclas – this one the 2005 14 year old that was destined to be released as part of the now cancelled 2020 Spirit of Speyside. The retailer mentioned he had an open bottle, and if there was still some left when I next called by, I would be able to get a sample.
They say bad fortune often happens in threes, and I already had been stuck offshore, flooded whisky and a few days later, my wife had an accident in the car when she hit a small deer, damaging the bumper that had only just been replaced in March from a previous accident. Spirits were low, but the day after the accident I receive an unexpected parcel – a sample of the 14 year old Glenfarclas. It was a certainly well timed boost to morale.
In all, within the whisky community (although I prefer to hover around the edges) I have not experienced such an outpouring of sympathy for my phlight with my storage unit. Even my insurers so far have been brilliant and I await the outcome of my claim. But time waits for nobody and it’s time to look and move forward with the blog and look to the future. So without further ado, let’s move onto the tasting.
Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 58.2% Colour – Brown Sherry Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Figs, rum and raisin ice cream, dark, berry fruits, blackberries, slight leathery nose. There is a note of dark roast coffee powder too. Palate – quite tame without any water considering the abv. A pretty smooth arrival with a gradual rise in heat through the development. Waxy mouthfeel, with dried fruit flavours as is typical with sherried whiskies. This has the Glenfarclas DNA all over it. A hint of stone fruit, perhaps cherries. Finish – quite mellow while neat with a medium to long finish. A slight sulphur note, but this was quite pleasant, a good meaty malt. Water intensified the spicy wooden character for me, and was slightly tannic, giving me bit of a dry mouth.
This bottling left a bit of a sour note. It is / was only available through 2 retailers – The Whisky Shop Dufftown and the Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour. One of these retailers had a bit of a situation where somebody buying a bottle complained about the dispatch and shipping only it was getting sent straight to an auctioneer. That is pretty sharp for a flipper – at least let it reach your hands. It’s only £150 and despite being limited, it’s not sold out so it’s a bit of a risk trying to flip so early. Thankfully, the two I saw at auction only realised £140. Accounting for fees, the flipper only made £123 – a £27 loss minimum as the shipping hasn’t been accounted for.
As an aside, I feel for special releases that specialist retailers and auctioneers could refuse to take such consignments, as this is something that often pushes limited whisky out of reach of the genuinely interested in the liquid. But that’s a conversation for a different day and seeing how specialist retailers have been battered by the effect CV-19 on the economy, who can blame them for taking a sale?
The other sour side was that I had a wee bit of a conversation with somebody on twitter who reckons this bottle at £150 is over priced, as you can buy the 25 year old at Costco for £99. In fact the guy’s post I felt was quite arrogant, suggesting anybody who knew anything about whisky would know the 25 year old is a superior dram. Well, that’s fine if you have a Costco card. Even if I did, by time I drive back and forth to my closest Costco, I’ve lost the savings in the price of diesel getting there.
Plus, the guy made the mistake of assuming I had bought the 2020 release and hadn’t tasted it. Well I had – and while I never proclaim to know everything, I know that the other mistake the guy was making was getting hung up on the idea older is always better. It isn’t. I’ve tasted the 25 also and in my opinion the 14 is better. The higher price reflects the fact the bottling is limited. The 25 year old is freely available. I personally think anybody who knows anything about whisky would also realise the 25 year old is only 43% while this is cask strength at 58.2% and a true whisky lover won’t shop for it in Costco but support their specialist retailers. Touché.
To complete the verbal tennis match, the 25 year old is also available at the same price on Amazon. That would save the young man wasting their time and fuel in driving to Costco, but we all know what I think about shopping for whisky on Amazon. Game, Set, Match.
Moving on, I did really enjoy this whisky. The high abv was very easy to drink neat with very distinct sherried notes. Adding water for me spoilt it as it accentuated the spiciest parts of the profile and killed the fruity notes I had been enjoying. I felt it matched the experience I had last year with a 1973 Family Cask, likely to have been about 40 years old. As I never saw the bottle, I didn’t know what year it had been bottled.
Whether or not it’s over priced, well that’s subjective as it all comes down to the taste and everybody will have an individual opinion. It’s certainly not a bottle for every day drinking, and while I can say you won’t be disappointed £150 is a bit much for many people to drink on a regular drinker. What auction prices do remains to be seen but I doubt that it will go up that much in value unless a few get drunk. Initial low auction values may encourage a few to get cracked open. It’s meant to be drunk really.
The last few bottles are still available from the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Whisky Shop Dufftown having sold out. It should be a good bottle to have in a collection as if bought at £150 or below, should it not go up in value then it’s still an affordable bottle to drink and really enjoy.
I’m grateful to Matteo for the kind gift. The milk of human kindness isn’t dairy – it’s definitely distilled!