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

A hidden Islay.

Taste Review #113 – Finlaggan Old Reserve

Hiding in plain sight. Thats often what I think when I essentially ransack my study or bedroom looking for something that is sitting innocently on a shelf in full view when I am doing my mental calculations as to where I last saw it. Before I left for my last offshore trip I couldn’t find my head torch. I always have a dirty one for work, yet also carry a clean one if I am going to be staying in a hotel or have one in my cabin. Should there be a fire, you never know when you will need help. After wasting a day and a half looking for it and realising that I could have left it in a hotel in Borneo, I was only able to start to end the mental anguish by ordering a new one. And 6 hours after ordering, I found the old one tangled up in the lanyards of my memory sticks. I shook my head, as I tipped that bag out twice. It’s never easy being me sometimes.

The dram that I am going to review just now is the similar, although I haven’t had to waste a whole day looking for it. Sitting on the shelves of whisky retailers and even sitting on the shelves of my local Tesco Extra from time to time, Finlaggan was another of those whiskies I kept clear of because I did not know what distillery it was from and I’ve plenty of other drams to keep going on with. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the Whisky Shop Duffown, plus in their 5cl range, but I decided against it. “I’ll stick to what I know of” I kept saying to myself.

It was a trip into Inverness to a kilt makers of all places that also had a range of tourist souvenirs that prompted me to look in by. It was actually a recommendation of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill across the road, which incidentally also have a good range of miniatures. I know what I said about going into the touristy places in my Loch Lomond review, but it was in the EWM that I found a 16 year old Glentauchers G&M miniature for £7. You just need to be careful but bargains can be had.

Finlaggan is an anonymous Islay Single Malt which is released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, formed by Brian Crook in 1992. Brian was a former director from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Finlaggan was one of its launch brands, which were updated in 2014. Currently the core range is Finlaggan Old Reserve at 40%, Eilean Mor at 46% and a cask strength one at 58%.


Finlaggan Castle and Chapel

As the whisky distillery is anonymous, the brand is named after Finlaggan Castle, which sits on an island in Loch Finlaggan, Islay. There isn’t really a lot to write about it, so I’ll just proceed with the tasting.

Finlaggan Old Reserve

Finlaggan Old Reserve

Region -Islay Age – NAS Strength -40% ABV Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Peat, hard cheddar, iodine, toasted wholemeal bread, citrus. Palate – Light mouthfeel, brine, lemon, peat, nutmeg. Finish – medium short. Peat, brine, sweet. Strong wood spices going down the throat, but a small splash of water brings it into control. Drying in the end


The Dram

Conclusions

I don’t like judging things on first tastes, but my first taste of this to be honest was not positive. Not too bad a nose, a calm palate with spice building and the insanity breaks out once swallowed. Hot spices and a weak peat, the sweetness turning to dryness. It became more balanced with a splash of water.

I like peaty whisky, so it’s not that I don’t like peat. In my opinion this is a young Caol Ila. I’ll base that thought on that it is the closest distillery to Loch Finlaggan and it is probably the distillery most likely to have the capacity to keep up with demand for the independent sales. It doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as other Caol Ila’s I’ve had and that’s being kind. I hate to admit this, but I couldn’t finish it and sadly had to dispose of it down the sink. You can’t like everything unfortunately.

It may be cheap, but I’ll be leaving this one on the shelf though in my opinion it’s best left in a dungeon, never to escape. I’ll be continuing to hunt for something more tasty. However if I see a mini of one of the other drams, I’d love to try for a second go, but this dram was definitely not for me.

*** There will be a following article about this review in the very near future. Be sure to catch it ***

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Finlaggan Castle – Heikki Immonen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Taking The High Road?

Taste Review #111 – Loch Lomond 18

This review was originally posted on 1st June 2021. Unfortunately for me, it turns out some of my sources of information were incorrect. After contact from Loch Lomond’s Master Blender, Michael Henry, I decided that to preserve the integrity of my blog and not spread further misinformation that it was better to remove the review and produce a re-write. And to be honest, I think it’s a better read.

It was often relayed to me by my parents that nothing in life comes easy. However, in this case they were most certainly wrong. This has been one of the easiest review titles that I have ever created. Since I have decided to review this whisky, every time I think of it the song ‘Loch Lomond’ has come into my head. As a Scotsman of a certain era, it is a right of passage to sing the Runrig version at the end of a wedding or just at some point in the proceedings. Some clubs I’ve been in also play it at the end of the night. We can’t forget either the twee Scottish soap opera that was filmed in Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond. Lunchtimes were usually the time to see Take The High Road, which later moved to an evening slot.

The programme was drama based, and as in every drama, there is usually some sort of mystery. Often there is a character that isn’t who they seem. This is the case with Loch Lomond distillery. The first part of the mystery is that Loch Lomond is the preferred whisky of Captain Haddock, the best friend of Tin Tin, an investigative reporter created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé. Often these characters get into adventures trying to solve various mysteries. Tin Tin was created around 1929, which pre-dates Loch Lomond distillery by some 35 years. This brings us on to our mystery now – Loch Lomond Distillery was founded in 1964. So why do the bottles carry the year 1814?


A Tv advert from a Tin Tin comic

This is a mystery that we may need Tin Tin to solve, as when I looked up Loch Lomond on the internet and in various publications, it seems that there was a variety of information out there and not all of it correct, which contributed to me getting a bit waylaid in my search for facts. What was worrying was that some of the sources were normally creditable and supported by well known people in the whisky industry. It is time for the truth to be told about Loch Lomond distillery.

To kick off my investigations, when you look at any full-sized bottle of Loch Lomond whisky – it gives the year of 1814. Why is this the case when the distillery was opened in 1965? Well, it turns out the initial Loch Lomond distillery was opened in 1814, further up Loch Lomond in the village of Tarbert. There are no records to when the distillery closed, so the link is only the name. However, it was the owners of Littlemill Distillery who opened the Loch Lomond distillery and that whisky heritage goes back to 1772 with the founding of Littlemill. The owner of Littlemill, Duncan Thomas and an American company called Barton Brands formed a partnership to build Loch Lomond in 1964. By 1984 the distillery was closed before it was eventually being taken over by Alexander Bulloch / Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouses. In 2014 it was taken over by Loch Lomond Group, In 2019, the Loch Lomond Group was sold to Hillhouse Capital.

Loch Lomond is a shapeshifter of a distillery, with three different types of stills, making it possible to distill both grain and malt whiskies. This has led to a lot of confusion, as many websites claim that the distillery has Lomond stills. This is not true. Master Blender Michael Henry explains “Lomond Stills were never used at Loch Lomond. They were only ever used at Hiram & Walker distlleries.” The first Lomond still was developed at Innerleven distillery. As the distillery was close to Loch Lomond, they took on the loch’s name. The development of this style of still was some 9 years before the creation of the Loch Lomond distillery in Alexandria. Lomond stills were only ever used in Inverleven, Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Scapa. Only one is currently in use as a wash still at Scapa, with one more being used at Bruichladdich to create the Botanist Gin.


Loch Lomond Straight Neck Stills

The straight necked stills were first used at Littlemill in the 1950s by Duncan Thomas, so were also used in Loch Lomond. There are some significant differences between the straight neck still and the Lomond still; size being the most obvious one. A Lomond still is short and fat, whereas the straight neck stills are taller and thinner. The next important difference is that the rectifier plates inside a Lomond still are moveable, to control the reflux within the still, which will make big differences in the spirit. The plates inside the straight necked stills are fixed.

There are definite advantages to using a straight neck still with the rectifier plates and still head cooling. A straight neck still is more efficient and can produce whisky up to 90% when using the still head cooling. Taking a cut between 90% and 80% which will give a strength at 85% at the spirit receiver. If still head cooling is not on, then a much wider cut is taken from between 90% and 55% giving a spirit at 65% at the receiver. By having the flexibility of the straight necked stills, coupled with clear wort, long fermentations and specific yeast varieties ensure that Loch Lomond are able to capture the fruity nature of the spirit. And that is something that Loch Lomond are aiming for – to capture the fruity essence into their whisky in a definitive distillery character.

The distillery also has continuous stills for producing grain whisky and the more traditional pot stills. In total they have one set of swan necked stills, three sets of straight necked stills and 3 continuous stills, each with 2 columns. The smaller of the sets is used for malted barley wash, and the larger continuous stills are used for wheat wash.

Why so many stills? It was the intention of the previous owners to be able to be self sufficient in whisky when making blends. Loch Lomond has over the years made many brands such as Inchmoan, Inchfad, Croftenga, Inchmurrin, Craiglodge, Old Rhosdhu, Glen Douglas, and Glen Garry. While many of these brands have fallen by the wayside, it has been instrumental in creating perhaps a false impression of the distillery and has made it harder to discuss distillery character. Whisky enthusiasts were confused and most other whisky drinkers didn’t get it at all, asking where the Inchmurrin distillery was.


Swan neck still at Loch Lomond

I asked Michael why he thought it so hard to discuss distillery character, with Loch Lomond in mind. I got quite a comprehensive answer. “While single malt has been establishing itself against blends, distillers have mostly talked about wood and flavour, as it is easier to explain why a whisky takes on a sherry character if it has been matured in a sherry cask. It is a lot harder to discuss why a whisky has a fruitier character because a different yeast was used for a longer fermentation time with a different shape of pot still.” And I have to agree. As a whisky geek who has a limited understanding of chemistry, I am starting to study more about fermentation and the chemical processes that convert sugary water into whisky. None of it is dinner table style conversation, but it is much easier to skim over the whisky tastes by discussing casks. There is definitely a romantic story that can be built on that rather than discussing esters, phenols, yeasts and how long the fermentation takes.

It’s not to say that wood does not play a part in the formation of Loch Lomond whiskies. Michael told me that Loch Lomond buy 10,000 bourbon casks a year, all of which see the attention of their on site cooperage for inspection, repair and re-charr / de-charr of casks. The distillery has a 2 or three fill policy per char. A cask may see two de-charr / re-charr before that cask is scrapped. Their American wood policy is important to them, to give them a honey / caramel sweetness to compliment the fruity new make.

One other thing that Loch Lomond have started to do is experiment with yeast strains. I could write more about it here, but the Malt Review site had their own interview with Michael in which he goes into much more detail about this subject, and to save space and any plagiarism, you can link to the article here.

With all this information being shared, I asked Michael why he thought that there was so much misinformation about the distillery. The answer was pretty conclusive, and that was that the previous owners simply did not engage with the public. Essentially they had a high volume / low margin production policy. Nearly all their stock went into bulk blends, and there was no marketing as there was no brand to market. With little engagement and no background to any releases, people have made their best guesses. This easily perpetuates and I found quite a few reputable sites and vLogs with incorrect information.

There are no visitor facilities at Loch Lomond distillery, which makes it harder for the distillery to get its message out. The majority of the spirit produced at Loch Lomond is matured on site, which can amount to 300,000 casks. This makes it quite a hazardous site in terms of fire and explosion control, which is subject to tight regulation. In my interpretation of the distillery, it was never set up to be a site for visitors, and is essentially an industrial site. To take groups of people around would necessitate stopping operations, which is less than ideal. “This can create some suspicion as people think we have something to hide, when it is down to safety reasons that we have not been able to work out to an acceptable level,” says Michael.


Charring a Bourbon Cask. These are used for honey and caramel influences

As we come to the end of my investigations into Loch Lomond distillery, I feel that all my doubts about the distillery have been cleared up. There is a lot of work to do for Michael, who has said that the main role of his presence on Twitter is to engage with people so he can end the confusion over the various aspects of the Loch Lomond Distillery caused in part by the legacy of the former owners.

The range has been trimmed, which will make it easier for those drinking Loch Lomond to see the distillery character. The latest offerings has seen the Islands Collection brought into the Loch Lomond range. Inchmoan being the peaty offering of the two and using spirit from the straight neck still as well as the swan neck stills. The Inchmurrin is more lighter and floral, using spirit only from the straight neck stills.

The current range is:-

  • Core Range All 46% Non-chill filtered, colouring; Loch Lomond 12, Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 12, Loch Lomond Inchmoan 12, Loch Lomond 14, Loch Lomond 18, Loch Lomond 21, Loch Lomond 30. All
  • Supermarket range 40% Chill Filtered, Colouring; – Loch Lomond Classic NAS, Loch Lomond Original NAS, Loch Lomond 10.
  • Single Grain. 46% Non-chill filtered, natural colour; Unpeated NAS, Peated NAS. Both single grains are 100% malted barley.

I’ve not tasted Loch Lomond before, because I was one of those confused by the distillery and I never really gave it a chance. But when I was browsing through the miniatures of the Aviemore Gift Company, I saw the 18 year old sitting there, and I could hear the voices in my head telling me to take it off the shelf and buy it. I only wished I had a bit of situational awareness, as here I was in a gift shop in a tourist area away to buy whisky. £10.55 for a 5cl bottle… I really should have known better. Don’t worry, by telling this story and making this error means you don’t have to. But it’s an 18 year old from a distillery that plenty of people rate despite misconceptions, so it can’t all be bad, can it?

Let us find out.


Loch Lomond 18

Loch Lomond 18

Region – Highland Age – 18 years old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Russet (1.3) Cask Type – American Oak – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Strawberry Jam, Apple jolly ranchers, marzipan / almond, raisin, peat, hard toffee. Palate -Rich, like that hard toffee I am thinking of in the nose, very gentle on the palate, no real burn, light wood spices, slight apple, date sponge, hint of chocolate and smoke. Finish – medium. Woody spices really take off when drunk neat. ginger, white pepper, nutmeg, a woody metallic taste, Granny Smith apple bitterness, finished off with blackcurrant at the end. Leaves a slight sourness in the mouth and a very slight hint of sulphur.

With water, the spices in the palate wake up for an instant white pepper delivery, but the overall spice heat is tempered and brought into more balance in the finish. I found it much more drinkable.


The dram

Conclusions

When Michael first contacted me, his initial message said that he felt that my misconceptions about the brand had probably affected my ability to connect with the whisky. Now I have been able to understand more about the whisky, I have to agree with him. There will always be tendency to veer off to the negative when there is something you aren’t sure of. Being an Aberdonian, negativity is something that can perhaps too easy to attain. However, I still feel that this hasn’t affected my actual tasting notes, as if the truth be known, I was wanting to be proved wrong about some of the naysayers about this distillery. And having paid as much as I have for the sample, I was wanting value for money. Thats also a very Aberdonian trait.

The nose was appealing, and the finish had its good points, but it just didn’t totally float my boat. The palate was rich, but I felt it lacked something, almost a calm before a storm. The finish while taken neat was way out of balance for me. A sudden hit from the wood spices and a metallic presence made me think I had sucked a piece of oak with a nail buried in it. If I was to look into why this was the case, I can perhaps only explain it away by suggesting there may have been some interplay between the cap and the spirit? Will make sure I go for a corked bottle next time.

I have only altered my tasting notes slightly in response to the contact with Michael; not to change my opinion, but to alter facts. The distillery uses only ex bourbon casks in the core range, so I have had to remove the part about a possible sherry influence. Also, Michael explained that while the 18 year old is non chill filtered, they do add colouring due to the lighter colour produced by the bourbon casks. I know some people get bent out of shape about this, but I’m not going to. While I prefer a natural presentation, I’m not worried about a bit of colour, as it is flavour that matters. As long as I can’t taste the colouring, its good. I’m learning to not drink whisky with my eyes. Besides, most of the core range is under £40, the 18 year old is under £80, so it is not as though I am paying premium prices for a non-natural presentation. I would say this represents good value.


Captain Haddock didn’t realise he’d been given a sample straight from the receiver. A bit powerful at 85%!

With water, this whisky was perfectly competent, and the spices reined in. As you can see, I did experience some fruity notes from the whisky – predominately apple ones for me. It’s been some time since I’ve had an apple Jolly Rancher! While I did not take to this release this time, now I know more I’d be happy to try another whisky from their range. From the descriptions, the Inchmurrin is likely to be the candidate, but that will be some time in the future. I think that taking the time to investigate Loch Lomond whiskies by yourself could be very worth while.

**

I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Michael for the help he has given to ensure an accurate article has been written. In disclosure, no incentive or samples have been given or expected and the content solely reflects a partial but accurate overview of what is being achieved at Loch Lomond, as well as an honest whisky review.

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

Tin Tin Cartoons – Tintin Whisky Fandom

Whisky Photos – Authors Own

Distillery Photos – Loch Lomond Distillery

Hello Tam.

Taste Review #112 – Tamdhu 15

Times are hard, and I have to economise. After the potentially financially crippling Old vs New Series, the cost of which will be revealed in another article, I can no longer afford a decent article title. So this is it. If your name is Tam or Thomas, I’m not specifically saying hello to you, although you are welcome to join me, but just shortening the name of our next dram – Tamdhu.

Tamdhu sits in the parish of Knockando, not too far away from the Knockando distillery, and right beside the railway station for the parish. The Speyside line was instrumental in the genesis of many Speyside distilleries, such as Dailuaine, Imperial, Knockando, Tamdhu, Cragganmore and Balmenach, not to mention other distilleries within easy reach. Dr Beeching did the area a disservice by cutting this and the Boat Of Garten to Forres line, as it means I have to sit behind so many lorries on the A95 carrying casks, malt, yeast and waste products.

The original Knockando station was known as Dalbeallie, named after a farm in the area, was built after the distillery was constructed in 1899, long after the 1863 opening of the line. This name has enjoyed a resurgence as a special edition in commemoration of the railway in the Tamdhu story. The name changed to Knockando in May 1905, to avoid confusion with Dalbeattie Railway Station in Dumfries And Galloway. A similar problem existed further south in Strathspey when Abernethy Railway Station was renamed Nethybridge. Imagine landing up in the Highlands when you expected to be in north Fife!

The Knockando station goods yard was where the distillery used to take in its sherry casks. I’ve heard unconfirmed stories that they used to be unloaded in ships in Lossiemouth harbour, then taken on the railway to Elgin, then down to Knockando via Craigellachie railway station. Sadly the station closed in October 1965. The station and it’s signal box have survived, thanks to the distillery renovating them, and it is hoped that they will form the basis of a visitors centre in the future. Whisky and railway geeks unite!


Knockando Station – the distillery is off to the left of the photographer. (Julian Paren)

The distillery has been owned for the majority of its life by Highland Distillers, later to become Edrington. They already had a sherry monster distillery in the form of Macallan, and I wonder if that was the reason that little known Tamdhu was chosen to be mothballed. Thankfully it wasn’t mothballed for long with Ian Macleod Distillers purchasing it in 2011, opening it again in 2012. The first release was the 10 year old with a more Victorian look to the bottle, now synonymous with the distillery.

Much is made of its former owners’ dedication to quality, but Tamdhu has just the same passion for their wooden casks. Using imported American Oak or native European Oak from Galicia in North Western Spain, their wood is dried then filled with Oloroso Sherry from the Vasyma Bodega in Jerez. The casks sit for 6 years, slowly absorbing the sherry into the wood fibres, ready to play its part in the maturation of whisky. And it isn’t just the cheap sherry that goes on to be used to make sherry vinegar – this far exceeds the 2 year minimum maturation that cheaper sherries may experience.


Tamdhu 15

The dram I am going to try for this review was released as a 15 year old in 2019 as a limited annual release, with about 24000 bottles being produced. I have had this dram before, but I wasn’t in a place I could take notes to review. That’s a casual way of saying I was in the right physical place (a bar) not in the bodily correct place (on the way to being tipsy.) I do remember enjoying it, so I have purchased a nip so I can sample again to relay my experiences.

Tamdhu 15

Region – Speyside Age – 15 yrs old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Oloroso Sherry (American + European Oak) Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Classic Sherry aroma, but not too powerful, balanced. Raisins, sherry, red apple peel, mint choc chip ice cream Palate – Raisins, honey, then the wood spices hit with pepper and ginger. A light alcohol tingle, drying, dark chocolate. Finish – medium. chocolate orange, biscuity, slightly bitter but not in an unpleasant way.



Conclusions

Tamdhu is always the sherried whisky I mention first if people are wanting a recommendation of a sherried whisky that isn’t Macallan, followed quickly by Glenfarclas and GlenDronach. I’ve never really had a bad dram from these distilleries, with the exception of an experience I had with a Glenfarclas 15 mini. I really do wonder why Edrington gave up this distillery when they were just on the cusp of a whisky boom. Perhaps they wanted more money to finance the Tellytubby land distillery they’ve made up in Craigellachie. Yes, I know that the building is impressive, but while the Macallan does make good whisky, they aren’t the only ones. Others do to, and they make it cheaper.

With the investment in good casks showing at Tamdhu, I really rate this distillery, even though on the global stage it is still a bit of a sleeper. Definitely one to watch and I cannot wait to see what will be replacing the 15 year old. With GlenDronach possibly edging towards the start of Chill Filtration on the 15 year old, if this does come to pass, I will certainly be looking at changing where I spend my money. If they do turn the old railway station into a visitors centre, I cannot wait to visit the distillery.

Tamdhu can be found in a 10 year old expression, which has been discontinued with the 12 year old replacing it. There are other limited editions as well as regular Batch releases of cask strength spirit.

The 15 year old costs around £82 in specialist whisky shops, and I’d say for that price, the quality you are getting from your dram is well worth it.

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 Other Photos – Authors Own

Tamdhu Station, looking for a role – Julian Paren (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A New High.

Taste Review #110 – Braeval 18 (Old Particular / Douglas Laing)

There is always somebody who wants to go one better. We all know that person. When you’ve been to Tenerife for your holidays, then they have gone to Elevenerife. They have the guitar amplifier that goes all the way to 11. You know the sort. They are really annoying to work with, as you end up feeling that you can’t say a thing without some sort of oneupmanship or some sort of belittling comment.

How annoying is it when somebody claims to be one better, yet only this time they aren’t trying to belittle you, their claim is actually true? As Winston Churchill said “I find humble pie to be a most edifying diet”, yet some people seem to have gone on hunger strike.

If you have the pleasure of visiting Dalwhinnie distillery, nestled on the northern reaches of Drumochter Pass, given the remote and desolate landscape around you, it is hard to conceive that there could be a distillery higher above sea level than this in the UK. But there is. And nobody in Dalwhinnie speaks about it. For if you were to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, but travel a bit further south, and you will come to a small settlement called Braes of Glenlivet. Travel through the hamlet and on your right will be the 1970’s distillery called Braeval. Despite the green farmland around you, believe it or not, if you stand beside the still house with a hand held GPS, you will find that you are 2 metres higher than Dalwhinnie. Of course, this could be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the satellites available and who our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are bombing, so lets not offend anybody any further and allow Dalwhinnie to not lose any face by saying they are the highest distillery with a visitors centre.

The Braes of Glenlivet was built in 1973, constructed for Seagram, a Canadian based distiller. The distillery was one of the first to be built as a fully automated distillery, requiring only one operative. It was also one of the first to be built as entirely open plan. There is a rumour that the first mash took place before the roof was put on so the incoming Canadian chairman could be impressed, but that’s likely to be a part of distillery folk lore that each distillery has its own tale. The other thing that is a bit fake about the distillery is the pagoda roof. Due to the age and automation of the distillery, there has never been any malting taking place on site, but it does help it’s brutal 1970’s architecture blend in with the local area.


Braeval Distillery

If you think that the architecture is bad, then look a bit further north to its sister distillery in the shadow of Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhainne. It also was constructed by Seagram, opening in 1975, and bought by Chivas in 2001. Allt-a-Bhainne was eventually given a single malt release in 2018, which while I thought it was ok, wasn’t going to set the world on fire, despite all of the marketing cliches that accompanied its release.

The distillery changed its name to Braeval in 1994, to avoid any confusion with its much more famous neighbour in the glen. Not that there would be much confusion, as Braeval as a single malt is quite hard to get a hold of. As far as I know there has never been an official bottling, other than the Distillery Reserve bottles released by Pernod Ricard who took over the distillery in 2000. The distillery was mothballed a year later, not resuming production until 2008.


The sample

If you want to taste a Braeval, then your best bet is going to be through an independent bottler, and for this we have to be thankful that Douglas Laing has done just that with their Old Particular brand. Given the hot mess of the Allt-a-Bhainne release, I’d dread to think of what PR would do with Braeval. So it comes to be that I ordered some time ago a 3CL sample from Master Of Malt in order to make up a tasting set. I’d never tasted Braeval before but thought the time had come to set this right.

Details

Old Particular Braeval 18 (Douglas Laing cask 11205)

Region – Speyside Age – 18 yr old Strength – 48.4% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite light, Honey, apple, walnuts, spices, a hint of malt. Palate – oily, apple continues, honey, slightly sweet. Finish – medium/long. Warm and drying, sweet. Apple peel, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, a hint of raisin. Water smoothed things out a bit, but shortened the finish.


The dram

Conclusions

Not a bad first venture. Definitely very pleasant to drink, and despite it’s slightly higher ABV, the spirit doesn’t seem very forward; there isn’t any great spirit arrival here, it is all gently warming, with a surprising dryness that thankfully doesn’t cause your mouth to pucker. There is a bit more of a spirit burn as it goes down your throat, but burn is a bad word to use here – heat and warmth is probably the best description. This is a malt you could seek out and enjoy if it wasn’t just for one catch – it’s discontinued.

By all means you could look around at auction to see if it turns up, but you’d be better off keeping an eye on what independent bottlers are releasing. If you can find a Braeval from a sherry cask with the same sort of age, I’d definitely recommend it.

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

Braeval Distillery, ChapeltownStanley Howe (CC BY-SA 2.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own