Supermarket Sweep

Taste Review 148 – Smokehead

Christmas. Done and dusted for another year and good riddance to it all. I really cannot be doing with all the hustle and bustle of people getting ready for some festival that pretty much most people don’t seem to believe in and spending money that they may not be truly able to afford to waste.

The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome during 336AD, which is quite fitting, for the gluttony that traditionally takes place at this time of year wouldn’t be out of place in a Roman orgy. Perhaps nothing much has changed after all? I had decided that this year we’d just treat our child and keep everything else low key. Being a good Aberdonian, I wasn’t really wanting to waste cash on anything that wasn’t necessary, though I’d caved in a bit when it came to the budget for Brussels Sprouts, Pigs in Blankets and crisp based snacks. The wife intimated that she wasn’t really looking for much for Christmas (or she gave me that impression, which was to be my defence if needed) and didn’t look that disappointed when that’s exactly what she got. Well, sort of; more about that at the end.


A typical Roman celebration in December for Saturnalia. I suppose they didn’t have Hogmanay to fall back on. Doesn’t seem much has changed.

One of the things I dislike most about the festive season is being asked what do I want as a gift? I let it be known that I’d be happy with getting very little, but my wife wasn’t going to let me away with that so easily. As I tend to buy what I want when I need it, I couldn’t really say that I needed a new power tool. I’m pretty much fashion unconscious, so the offer of new clothing wasn’t taken up. My favourite designer is F&F and I only wear clothes because we have to in public. It gets pretty Baltic in this part of Scotland for most of the year, so clothes are a good idea for more than legal reasons. I sort of knew I was heading for the present that most whisky geeks may detest – Supermarket Whisky.


Putting all the batteries in the decorative animatronic toys is also a festive bugbear. And so is taking them out 4 weeks later.

I’m not that much of a whisky fascist, as there are sometimes a few bottles of whisky in a supermarket that may be acceptable, but the problem is that my dearest knows next to nothing about whisky, and shows little or no interest in reading my blog so had no idea what I’d like. I’d instantly start to feel guilty about asking for something like Talisker 18 while my wife is currently taking time out of her career to look after our child. There was a slight glimmer of hope when she went shopping in Inverness just before Santa day, as she was wanting to go into Leakeys Bookstore – just up the street from wine and spirits retailer Wood Winters. The command that was issued to the effect that I was banned from entering her dressing room once she came home from that trip meant the chances were even higher of something decent. But I was deceiving myself.


Please God, no! Don’t let her buy any of this! And since when did Welsh whisky become local to a Tesco in Speyside?

I’m no stranger to a supermarket whisky gift. Previous presents have been Johnnie Walker Red, Laphroaig Select, Cardhu Gold, Glen Keith, Glen Moray Classic. None of these I’d say are bad whiskies, but definitely not anything I’d purchase myself. There was a wee bit of worry that I may end up with a full size Jura Journey, which given it took me over 5 years to finish a half sized bottle that ended up being poured down the sink filled me with dread. Even if it was a whisky from a specialist retailer, what would she get me? At best I was looking at a Macallan or Glenmorangie, which aren’t to be sniffed at, but not that exciting either. I started to mull over the contemplation that the word “Gift” is also the German word for poison, and wondered if the person who entered that into their lexicon had received supermarket whisky as part of a Christmas present. The regret from not asking for something from the Master Of Malt site was growing. I knew all my contemporaries on social media will be parading the fantastic whiskies that I’d love to try and didn’t want the feeling of pity when they learnt I got something so uninteresting as supermarket whisky.

Come the big day and I was right. It was supermarket whisky. However it was a complete surprise, as I hadn’t had it before and it turns out that my wife had put a bit of thought into it. My gift was a bottle of Smokehead. Not the basic one at 43% but the 40% even more basic version. Probably loaded with colour, chill filtered and as thin as water. I was going to find out that my misconceptions were misplaced.

Smoked bottle makes it look darker than it is.

Smokehead – NAS

Region – Islay Age – NAS Strength – 40% abv Colour – Cherry Oloroso sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Not stated. Colouring – Not Stated but likely Chill Filtered Not stated but most likely. Nose – Sweet. Strawberry fondant cream, petrol, salty smoke, a hint of TCP, vegetal note of silage. Palate – sweet arrival with no obvious kick. Banana, ginger, malt, salt, smoked bacon, vegetal, liquorice. There is an oily mouthfeel which while light is surprising for such a low abv. A mineral note is present in the later part of the palate. Finish – Spicy but short finish. Ginger and nutmeg, mineral taste, coupled with smoke and a light TCP. Similar to Laphroaig, seaweed, oak and a hint of char.

A healthy pour. Well, it is only 40%!

You’d be justified in saying that I am a whisky snob; anything on a supermarket shelf just doesn’t get me excited unless heavily discounted, and even then there are limits. But this one was a bit of an eye opener. I don’t mean to sound so surprised but I enjoyed it. Complex – it wasn’t, but what grabbed me was the mouthfeel. It was more oily than expected, the smoke and peat was well controlled in such a way it was a pleasure to drink neat. There was a sweetness to it that persuades me that a Sherry cask may be in the mix somewhere. While I have had a lot better whisky than this, it was well balanced and pleasurable to drink while watching a Christmas movie. I may have some cheese and crackers with it when I watch my next Christmas movie. Scotty’s cheese box in the fridge is well stocked with smokey delights.

My wife’s thought process was impressive, remembering that we’d both visited Talisker distillery and she knew I preferred that smokey whisky to the Dalwhinnie later on in the trip. While she had no idea how smokey Smokehead would be, she thought it a safe bet. And it was genius idea, as the chances of me having a supermarket whisky were to be frank, low. While I would have maybe preferred to receive a Talisker 10, that is based on my perception of quality and consistency. But the Smokehead was no slouch, despite it lacking in the usual geek credentials of ABV, age statement, NC and NCF.

It is so easy to dismiss whisky that resides on a supermarket shelf, but we need to remember one or two things that will keep us grounded. Firstly, not everybody has the same whisky budget. Some might want something cheap and cheerful. Some may want a bit of variety, some may just want something a little different but don’t want to break the bank trying something they may not like. While we are not likely to find whisky geek banger whisky in Tesco, we can get something that is palatable at a decent price. Crucially, it could be someone experimenting with whisky who doesn’t want to spaff £75 up the wall on some thing they don’t like. We’ve all been there or known somebody that has.

Mouthfeel was good. More oily than you might expect, giving a feeling of quality. While it is obvious the this spirit has seen a bit of chill filtering, there is still some thing left to give a hint as to what a cask strength one would be like. Unfortunately the standard release is only 43%. No massive spirit burn, although there was a little on the finish. I’ve no idea what distillery it is sourced from. Common belief is that it’s Caol Ila or Lagavulin, but I felt it was less peaty and more smokey putting it into Laphroaig territory for me. Wherever it’s from, I’m not going to say it’s definitely that, but hats off to Ian Macleod Distillers, for it was a perfect dram to sit and sip without the attendant analysis of what I could and couldn’t taste, along with the distractions that such processes demand. Just get it down you and enjoy.

I’m not that jealous of those who got better drams than me for Christmas. I’ve enough whisky in the house and had already had potential Christmas disappointment averted by a delivery of two Murray McDavids from Aberdeen Whisky Shop, though I’ve not felt the need to crack them open in lieu of my supermarket whisky. As we now move past 2022 and into 2023, it’s time to maybe forget such snobbery about supermarket whisky. After all, I’ve got a whisky which some people could pay ten times that amount for other whiskies and not have a much different experience with. Who’s the mug? Obviously there will be stinkers on the shelf, but a wise whisky drinker will know what they are. Just because they have 46% and and age statement means nothing; besides it’s all subjective anyway.

Lastly, just in case my wife does actually read my articles, I’d like to say thanks for your present – I’m really enjoying it. Hope you liked your ironing board cover.

Had to hide wifey’s face; but judging by that smile, she’s delighted with a top of the range Minky Ironing Board cover. Only the best for her!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Public Domain Thomas Couture – The Romans in their Decadence

The Dark Half.

Taste Review #147 – Linkwood 19 y.o (Darkness – Atom Brands)

As we approach the New Year, memories come back of the years past, of preparing your house for the Hogmanay to come. The lazy Susan would be loaded with peanuts and crisps, the cocktail sticks would be loaded with small pickled onions, cheese, pineapple chunks and perhaps cubed ham. As kids we’d be sent to bed early evening to get ready for being awake late at night. The cans of MacEwans Export and Tennents (with the swimsuited ladies) would be loaded into the fridge and your mum would be frantically baking, so all she would need to do was throw some frozen sausage rolls into the oven when the moment required it.

A festive regular from the 70’s and 80’s (@copmoustache)

The next day usually consisted of a visit to relatives, with the parent the least hungover elected to drive to meet your aunties and uncles, and endure more drinking while you were landed with at best coke and crisps. If you were lucky, the Advocaat and lemonade was shared. Not that it is advisable nowadays to admit that you enjoyed drinking snowballs at New Year parties. Those who know, know.

And such was the Hogmanay process repeated throughout the 1970’s when I was a kid. In a quieter moment, somebody would get maudlin and perhaps come out with something what they think was far reaching and insightful.

Fit’s for ye winna ging past ye.

some twee bollocks.

For those who don’t speak Doric as a native language, that translates to “what is for you, won’t go past you.” It was a favourite of my Scottish Granny to say this, but to be honest I don’t think she had bottles of whisky on her mind when she was saying it. And saying to that to a person who is chasing a bottle that they are unlikely to get isn’t really that helpful, for that person is determined to get it, perhaps at any cost.

By this time the more sensible amongst is should know that whisky chasing isn’t a sport for the mentally healthy. In my view it can quietly be as destructive as many other habits when you consider the anguish of not getting what you want, the obsession in finding it, resulting in you spending a large part of your time online, trawling through retailer websites, obsessively looking at each auction or constantly leaving posts online via whisky social media to find out has anybody got the bottle you desire. Many will find this behaviour pretty disturbing and unhealthy, but I confess that this has been me.

I have a problem.

For those of you who know me or have met me personally, then you may beg to ask “what problem is it this time?” as it could be argued that I exhibit one or two behaviours that may often be classed as, to be succinct, ‘odd’. I personally don’t see anything wrong with having a few eccentricities, which is how I prefer to think of things. I mean, who doesn’t have or need a talking spanner? Let me introduce to you my mate Tommy Threequarters-Inch (to give him his Sunday name). Tommy was introduced to me upon a disastrous project in India this year that was supposed to be only 6 weeks long and became close to 4 times that.

Tommy in India

The initial idea behind Tommy was to feign madness and therefore be removed from the vessel and spend some time at home with loved ones. It’s a risky manoeuvre, as you risked getting painted with the looney brush and never stepping on an offshore vessel again, but seeing as half the people I work with seem mental at times I was prepared to take the risk. And I was off the ship the very next day…


…only due to visa issues, but Tommy was always kept in the back pocket so to speak when things were getting a little too much. Not so much as to get off the boat, but to provide a little light relief amongst the shift. Those who work offshore will understand. It’s not so much madness but just a dark humour. If we didn’t have a laugh, we’d be bashing each other’s heads in. Turns out that actually happened recently.


Tommy rises again. This time in the Congo.

Madness can be described as trying the same thing over and over again, still expecting a different result. While during my career I’ve seen plenty of others do this, on this one occasion when I’ve had the urge to keep on trying to find a Linkwood 19 from the Darkness range, I’ve done my initial searches and given up. I’ve had the odd look online to see if anything similar turns up and did look on a few auction sites, but as I mentioned in my review of the Auchroisk 9 a couple of weeks ago, I knew I’d eventually find something similar. While I think I did with the Auchroisk, it what was to happen next sort of stunned me.

So, let me introduce you to a Scotty’s Drams follower called Billy. A fellow whisky drinker and offshore worker, Billy contacted me to let me know that he had found a Linkwood Darkness bottle I wanted in Germany and could through various means get this to me. This was in March of this year and of course I said that I would be happy to pay what he wanted for it. I did wonder if he’d give change for my first born, but I’d have happily paid in hens teeth – an easier denomination to count out.

Fast-forward to the end of June when both of our schedules met up, and I was able to travel to the east coast of Scotland to pick the bottle up. I could not believe that I had found a holy grail of whisky that I craved. And it didn’t cost me payment in offspring but some good hard cash. Billy and I had a great chat over a coffee, mostly about whisky and collecting. It was great to think that whisky is the thing that can bring likeminded people together. We don’t need to imbibe as much as possible. We don’t need to be drinking the most expensive whisky available. We just need to drink what we enjoy, and know why we are enjoying it.


Linkwood 19 y.o

Region – Speyside Age – 19 y.o Strength – 48.5% Colour – Tawny 1.4 Cask Type – Bourbon / PX Octave finish Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – toffee, coffee, hint of apricots, honey, ginger. Palate – rich toffee, instant coffee, raisins, sultanas, ginger bread and clove. Ginger snaps Finish – Sweet coffee, chocolate, cream, ginger. Medium – long finish.

Conclusions

Was it as good as when I first tasted it in London? No. It wasn’t.

That may come as a surprise, but don’t let me fool you, this was still very very good and I enjoyed it very much. While some people may see £120 for 50cl as expensive (it is), Master Of Malt are selling younger whisky in 50cl bottles for more than this. But it’s the way it makes you feel when you drink it that should be the deciding factor. When I first drunk this dram, it was on a night out and in a place that I was not familiar with, and if being honest, perhaps that coloured my judgement, as I was having a great time. But whilst I still found the same notes that I remembered from before, they weren’t as vivid as I prefer to romanticise about in my mind.

The common sense reaction is to remember that this had been a bar bottle that I first drank a nip from and my bottle hasn’t been open nearly as long. So this one will remain ungassed and we will see how it matures with a little bit of oxidation.

Or perhaps this is just my memory playing tricks on me, or it’s similar to taking statements from accident witnesses: – if you don’t take them quickly, it’s been proven that people often unconsciously embellish their testimony based on what they thought they saw, and other experiences are starting to colour the real version of events. But for me, what it does do is highlight the points I made before in my Auchroisk 9 review, where although I thought these things were very similar, they are in fact quite different if you compare tasting notes. Our memories can’t always be relied on, therefore it is often crazy to chase a bottle, especially the rarer or expensive when something else will give you a similar or cheaper ‘hit’. Only perhaps when we examine in fine detail will we find differences but at that point to be it stops being enjoyable and more of a chore to drink. Just get it down your throat and enjoy responsibly.

To prove a point, I had another dram of each and placed them side by side. While there were slight differences in colour, by tasting alone, I found the differences hard to pick out, yet when looking back at my notes, they are demonstrably not the same. A trick of the mind or memory?

The Auchroisk 9 and Linkwood 19 side by side.

It’s hard to say what it was, but it further reinforces my belief in that it is pointless wasting time, energy and money on chasing a whisky to drink based on what you have tasted before. You are always going to find something that gives you the warm and fuzzy feeling that another whisky has given you in the past. To chase it just because you haven’t had it or need it for your collection is also a form of madness.

But I’ve been there before. More than once as well. Why not join my club? Plenty of room on the helicopter that flies over the Cuckoo’s Nest.


POSTSCRIPT.

It just so happens that despite my advice on chasing bottles has been put to one side. Jealousy got the better of me when I saw that someone on Twitter got 2 Mackmyra Grönt Te, a whisky I reviewed as part of my dabbling in world whiskies. I liked it, but as it had sold out by time I tasted my sample, I knew chasing that was pointless. That didn’t stop me looking.

Anyway, a quick Google found it for sale at CASC in Aberdeen. I ordered two and hoped for the best. These turned up on the 29th of December. One for opening and one for opening at a later date – maybe.

Alls well that ends well.

A lucky second happy ending for 2022.


And thanks to Billy for sourcing the Linkwood bottle. Legend.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Cocktail Hedgehog – @copmoustache (Twitter)

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Street Spirit

Taste Review #146 – Inchgower 5 – Murray McDavid Spirit of Speyside 2022

Of all the spirit swaps I’ve done, this one was probably on track to be the most depressing one, entirely due to the weather though thankfully it had its high points, for I was delivering whisky for a fellow member of the social media whisky community that I hadn’t met yet. After all, isn’t whisky the reason we are all together?

It was certainly a mission of mercy. Aberdeen Whisky Shop had a shop purchase only of a Thompson Brothers release, and my fellow whisky enthusiast couldn’t get down from Inverness to Aberdeen to collect them. These were the Craigellachie and secret Orkney bottling. Fortunately I had business in Aberdeen and was able to collect. Due to work it was harder to deliver, but met a couple of months later in a supermarket car park on the outskirts of Inverness.

Such a dreich day you’ve never seen. On the way up the A9 over the Slochd pass and past Tomatin distillery, I can’t remember having seen rain come down quite as hard. As I drove I kept repeating to myself that it had to be better in Inverness. That thought was totally fruitless, as if anything it was worse. Despite setting a time to meet, I obviously turned up early as you can never predict the time it will take you to travel on that road. Sad fact is that there are too many people on the A9 that don’t drive anywhere near the speed limit, causing frustration on the single carriageway sections. At the other end of the spectrum are those who also drive nowhere near the speed limits but in the opposite direction, mimicking a world land speed record attempt and the world’s most hazardous overtaking manoeuvre all in one go. It’s no wonder that the A9 is pretty much the most dangerous road in Scotland, with around 11 people killed in this year on the stretch between Perth and Inverness, making slow and steady in the inclement weather the order of the day.

Yeah, hanging around a carpark with the rain beating down on the roof of my car, radio on listening to the weather reports of other areas getting it just as bad didn’t fill me with joy. I was starting to feel like a drug dealer and then I started to muse as to what street drug dealers do in the winter? It’s can be fairly brutal in the darker months of freezing rain, snow and ice. But before long, my contact turned up.

This is where being chatty and forgetful almost became my downfall. For not only did I stand for a while chatting in the rain, taking my chances with pneumonia, but also as my colleague walked away, he suddenly remembered that he hadn’t paid me for the whisky. Note to self: – don’t become a drug dealer, I’ll not make money.

Whisky. Hiding it’s true colours

I got some samples as a reward for picking up the bottles and one of them was this Inchgower, bottled by Murray McDavid for the Spirit of Speyside festival. My last review was for another Spirit of Speyside release that was bottled by Murray McDavid, the 9 year old Auchroisk. This sample just to look at didn’t give anything away due to the tinted plastic bottle, so my normal colour misconceptions didn’t kick in. The age misconception did not go missing in action though. While I know that age is not the only thing to determine how good a dram will be, I can’t say that I’m over enthusiastic about drams under 10 years old. Neither am I that enthusiastic about the only regular official bottle from Inchgower distillery, the 14 year old Flora and Fauna. While not bad, it’s hardly brilliant. Only one thing for it and that’s putting it in a glass and having a go.

Inchgower 5 y.o – Spirit Of Speyside 2022 (Murray McDavid)

Region – Speyside Age – 5 y.o Strength – 53.6% abv Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type – Sherry Oloroso Hogshead Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No. Nose – Sweet and rich. Dark chocolate with raspberry – a Ruffle bar for those who know, orange peel, caramel, slight leather note. Palate – Sweet to start with but takes you on a wild ride which I wasn’t prepared for. This really needed water to open it up. Stewed plums, prunes, light peppery spice. Then mid palate the flavours start a riot similar to those in 1980’s Brixton or Toxteth. Sweet, bitter flavours. Tannins from the cask give a slightly bitter taste and a slight drying effect, but then there’s a hint of salty liquorice. Then burnt sugar, then buttery caramel and back to an oily sweetness, but the spice remains. Finish – coffee, chocolate taste, treacle toffees, molasses, ginger and spice which decreases slowly. Long finish.

Hello beautiful. Where have you been hiding?

Conclusions

I haven’t sworn on this blog yet and am not away to start now, but I’m sure my wife heard me say “Duck Me” when I tasted this. Yup, this was an absolute banger. Another great whisky that’s going to be hard to get, if ever but even if I manage to lay my hands on one, it won’t be remaining closed. It certainly speaks volumes why often independent bottlings really ramp up the value aspect compared to the official releases. This was far better than the Flora and Fauna by a country mile.

I’ve often doubted my palate due to regular long stints of alcoholic abstinence and sinus problems, but not this time. There were bags of things to taste here and they weren’t hiding away. They were bursting to get out and when they escaped, the result was a flavour riot on my tongue. All too soon the dram was finished and once again I’m left with slight regrets of a whisky I’ll never taste again. At least I’ll know to hang on in there; there will be something similar waiting for me to discover it in the future.

Thank you to my whisky brother for the generous samples – I look forward to trying the others. Hope you enjoy your bottles. Finally, thanks for remembering that you hadn’t paid me. That would have made the afternoon completely dreich.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Hope Is Important.

Taste Review #145 – Auchroisk 9 y.o (Murray McDavid)

Have you ever tasted a whisky, then realised that you’ll never get it again? I have, quite a few times, although the wise amongst us will know that while whiskies are pretty much unique, the chances of getting something very similar is quite high. Well, I had that moment last year when I was stuck in London for 10 days in September last year. I took the opportunity to meet a fellow whisky enthusiast in Milroys of Soho, and I had a great time, as any whisky enthusiast would in a specialist whisky bar. Of course I wrote a blog about it, but the great regret was one of the whiskies I had was one I’d likely never get again. A search of the internet the morning after made it clear that I’d be more likely to find a mouthful of hens teeth in a pile of unicorn turds than find this whisky. Therefore I’d have to find an alternative.

They say that time stands still for no man, and that’s precisely what happened. Before long we were into March 2022, and I had all but given up hope of finding this whisky unless I was fortunate at auction. In desolation I paid a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop, where I was invited to smell a sample of a whisky and to guess what it was. And to my surprise, I smelt all the key notes of the whisky I was mourning. When I was informed that this was to be their bottling for the Spirit Of Speyside Festival in May, I immediately intimated that I would love to buy at least a bottle.

Auchroisk 9 y.o.

Fast forward to the end of May when I was finally able to purchase it, unusually for me I was straight into the bottle. Was it the same as the whisky I yearned for? No. But it was darned close. Having a wee bit more abv, a decade less maturation and a different sherry cask finish meant it would never be the same but it was enough to cheer me up enough to realise that I could probably now relax and end my search for the whisky I was never likely to find.

I’m quite comfortable in admitting that I probably don’t have the best of palates, especially due to sinus problems brought on by having my nose broken (also known as talking when I should have been listening), though I can taste enough and still I’m able to learn and educate my palate by tasting many whiskies like everybody else. It’s easy to observe that many people in the whisky orientated social media drink quite a spread of whisky, which will develop their palates too, but how well will it develop their memory?

As you can see, this bottle has been raced through, but there has been a few samples shared.

Due to my employment patterns interrupting my enjoyment of whisky, coupled with the fact that once home I don’t want to spend every evening with alcohol when I do have time to drink results in the fact I may lack the practical tasting experience of others. However there are a handful of whiskies that I do remember the profiles pretty well, despite some of them only being sample size. I just can’t picture me remembering every single whisky I have ever tasted. While I might recall the general distillery profile, the exact taste I won’t. Hardly surprising, for I am the person who walks into a room then wonders why they went there in the first place. I joke that it’s not so much Alzheimer’s but more ‘auld timers’ that caused it. However, in spite of the variety of whiskies as I have managed over the years (mostly pre-fatherhood), I have to admit that I’m starting to see many as pretty much of a muchness, where only the truly standout whiskies for me stand a chance of being remembered. Am I alone in this?

Plenty of others are able to consume at will and search for the whisky-de-jour, but will they remember much more than the approximate profiles of those gone by in the past, other than an obvious distillery style? The restless cynic in me means that I personally doubt it. While the mind is a wonderful thing, I prefer to think unless it’s a dram they really identify with, in all honesty most people will only remember general profiles, unless they work in the industry and this have a vested interest in having such recall. That’s just my opinion, and of course everybody has a different whisky journey behind and before them. We can refer back to tasting notes, but I am of a mind that we can’t really always rely on them unless it’s a dram you have spent a lot of time with. Tasting notes can often represent that snapshot in time you had that bottle, which if you only got one or two, may not be a long time depending on how quickly you drank it. Our taste buds change over time too, so that whisky you tasted once then coveted could well be a disappointment if you have it again.

Food for thought? I’ll have probably forgotten this by time I publish this anyway, so don’t be afraid to remind me.

Anyway, this Auchroisk that was bottled for the Speyside Whisky Shop is my little aide-memoir to that early autumn evening in Soho.

Auchroisk 9y.o

Region – Speyside Age – 9 y.o Strength – 55.3% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Oloroso Hogsheads Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dark fruit. Dates, figs, toffee, dark chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Palate – creamy mouthfeel, with a prominent toffee and coffee note. Develops into a sticky toffee pudding taste with sultana and dates. The spirit starts to make an appearance with peppery heat appearing. Finish – The peppery heat dissolves back into a spiced fruit loaf with a hint of nutmeg. Medium long finish.

Perfect tone for the colour slave that I am.

Conclusions

A cracker of a whisky. Extremely enjoyable but unfortunately after a few glasses I have to concede that it just wasn’t the same as my memory remembered from last year. Close, but not close enough. The purchase price of £62-ish was good enough value for this dram.

Unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to buy this one, unless you are lucky to get one at auction, though I think I’m safe to assume that everybody that bought this bought it to consume. I managed to get two bottles and while I told myself one would be stored, I think I’ll be opening that one too. After all, the main takeaways from this article will be:-

1/Chasing whisky is part madness – there will always be another whisky which is close to what you seek.

2/ Does rare really matter? While there are some genuinely rare whiskies based on availability of stock, it seems that some whiskies are artificially made rare through the choices of the bottler to limit releases by only partially bottling a cask. If for example an IB releases a 12 year old “Glenbollox” finished in an Octave, then while it may only yield around 70 bottles, then there is still the rest of the Hogshead somewhere in the trade to be released with another finish. And unless it’s a unique cask and a rare vintage; it’s not really genuinely rare to the drinker – there will be other whiskies that taste similar that won’t have the same premiums, be they genuine or manufactured attached to them.

You’ll just have to find it.

And lastly, being totally contrary to my points above, did I really give up the search for that mythical whisky? No, not really. While I believe it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, my OCD decided not to let go. After all, sometimes you never find something, but it finds you.

To be continued…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

18 and (a) Life.

Taste Review #144 – Speyburn 18

Today has been a time for reflection.

The dram I have sampled for you today was bought for a special occasion, but there never seemed to be a special time for it. While I was purchasing world whisky samples for my previous reviews, I saw this Speyburn and thought it would do to make up the numbers, though it just joined a long queue of sample swaps and other miniature bottles I thought I’d buy. One of my followers very generously gave me a Glenugie 32 year old old over two years ago and I’ve still to try it, but I’m wanting the perfect moment when I can sit and savour the dram rather than just gulp it and think “Oh well.”

It was by pure accident that this dram was opened on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. I’m no monarchist at all, preferring to hold an ambivalent view of them. However I’ve had respect for Queen Elizabeth, as she held standards from an era gone by, plus was often in Aberdeen for the annual trips to Balmoral. I also understand the feelings of many servicemen past and present who have sworn allegiance to the Crown to defend our country. I’ve not felt comfortable about those saying that people are venerating our monarch now are bootlickers, as would they rather give an oath to our politicians? One former leader has certainly been found wanting as has his immediate replacement. Plus, politicians are much more temporary than a monarch, only being there by the whims of the electorate.

However, I’m no republican either although I’ve found a wee sympathy for this cause. To see how much has been lavished on a state funeral when we have people struggling with energy bills, etcetera, it’s hard to argue against. But in the end you have to accept that Queen Elizabeth has had an admirable reign, and as she’s the only monarch I’ve known, I’ve little idea how things will move forward. With King Charles already being 73, I can foresee change again in my lifetime.

A very reflective time indeed.

And we turn to this Speyburn 18 year old. This distillery is owned by Inver House distilleries, in turn a subsidiary of InBev; a Thai corporation that also own the Old Pulteney, Balblair, An Cnoc and Balmenach distilleries. Speyburn was opened in 1897, the diamond jubilee year of Queen Victoria. Founded by John Hopkins, the distillery is nestled into a steep sided glen through which the Granty Burn flows. Interesting fact though is that the Ordinance Survey Maps show it to be the Broad Burn by time it reaches the distillery, although the Granty Burn is still part of the same watercourse, but further north towards Rothes. Due to the topography of the small glen that Speyburn sits in, the legendary Charles Doig had to build his distillery a bit taller. Often all you see of the distillery as you drive past on the A941 Elgin to Rothes road is the Doig ventilator poking up above the trees.

Speyburn Distillery (Andrew Wood)

The other thing that goes past the distillery is the remains of the Speyside line from Elgin to Craigellachie. What is unusual is that Speyburn never had it’s own railway siding, unlike Glenlossie, Benromach, Longmorn and Coleburn. The only other distillery in the area that didn’t have a siding despite the railway going right past the buildings is Glen Elgin. This is confirmed by looking at historical maps. Rothes distilleries used the station goods yard. It wasn’t until 1950 that the distillery horse and cart were replaced by a tractor and trailer. Sometimes when driving on the A95 and A9 I wish that the Speyside line was still operating. When you consider that the majority of the distillery lorry traffic destined for any of the Speyside distilleries has to go on this route, thats a heavy load. Plus there’s few places to overtake.

Speyburn used pneumatic drum maltings until 1967, when these were removed in favour of bought in malt. It wasn’t until 1992 that DCL sold Speyburn to Inver House. At that time the only official release was the 12 year old Flora and Fauna, which as the deal included the stock, brought the production of that bottling to an abrupt end and is now probably the most expensive of all the 26 Flora and Fauna range. A whisky that used to cost less than £35 now costs anywhere between £2000 – £3000 at auction plus the usual fees. I own a couple of them, but the problem is that the whisky in the bottle is never going to match the price tag, so they are expensive paper weights. If you want to taste a contemporary Speyburn, then you have to either find an independent bottling or try the 10 year old in the core range, which is at 40%. I’ve reviewed this before and found it acceptable given its often sub £30 price, the only other core range that is cheaper is the NAS Bradan Orach, but that’s never really stood out to me.

If you want to try Speyburn as an enthusiast, your only real options in my opinion is to get one of the many tempting travel retail options, where even the 10 year old is bottled at 46% or you can get the 15 or 18 year old. In my last review of Speyburn I suggested that while the 10 year old core range was ok, I think I’d be buying a full size bottle of the 15 year old. That never happened as I detailed above. I did end up buying a 2004 13 year old Shinanoya cask from auction, but this was an accident, as I was actually meaning to bid on the 25 year old, but ended up bidding and winning a bottle which was EU based. I guess having an EU based mother in law has its advantages all of a sudden.

I suppose that I’d best get around to tasting.

Speyburn 18

Region – Speyside Age – 18 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Wine Gums, toffee, strawberries, honey, Palate – not a very aggressive introduction, rich mouth feel. Sweet, raisins, slight oak, touch of malt, cocoa powder. Strawberry, plum, cinnamon with a hint of ginger. Finish – dried fruit, smoky malt, wood spices.

Conclusions

This dram is spot on. It wasn’t very complex but there was a little bit there, which was opened up with a drop or two of water. It was an easy dram to drink, and you could feel that this one may go down the throat a little bit too easily. But here is the reason I really think this is spot on – the price. While there maybe better 18 year olds to had, you have to have a fairly large wallet to afford them. We’re looking at you Talisker – £185 is scandalous, as this could in theory buy 2 bottles of Speyburn 18 year old and a bottle of Bradan Orach. The cheapest I have seen the 18 year old online was £74.95, but Master of Malt or TWE have it for a smidge under £79. Amazon were one of the more expensive, at £82, but this is still good value for an 18 year old dram. Inver House do produce good whisky at reasonable prices, one other example has to be its other Speyside core range from An Cnoc.

This can easily be recommended, and if I am wrong, you can take solace that you haven’t broken the bank to break your heart.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

PRICES CORRECT AT TIME OF WRITING (30/10/2022)

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Speyburn Distillery Andrew Wood (Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own

The hill with a mill and now some stills.

Taste Review #143 Tamnavulin Sherry Cask

Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. That’s the phrase that continually comes to mind when I think about Tamnavulin. It always seems to have a presence on any supermarket shelf, and never ever near the more premier brands. I’m a bit wary of Whyte and Mackay whiskies, as I can never understand their seeming obsession with chill filtering and adding colour, especially to Dalmore. I’ve never really connected to Fettercairn yet and the less said about Jura the better. I have thankfully connected to Invergordon, but normally just the independent bottlings. So that leaves the shelf queen of Tamnavulin. One of those whiskies that always seems to be available for £20 at the Co-op. As this price range often includes the Glen Keith NAS Distillery edition, you’ll understand why I give it a miss.

The Sherry cask edition appeared on Tesco shelves for £45 but it seemed to be a little more than I wanted to pay for a litre of whisky I may not like. But when it made a drop down to £30 it was a no-brainer to try. I did buy a bottle, but was reticent about opening it, so put it in the drinking pile in storage and then bought the sample from drinks by the dram.

According to the information on the Tamnavulin website, this has been matured initially in American Oak, which I am going to assume is Bourbon, and finished in a range of three sherry casks. I’m going presume that will probably be PX, Oloroso and I’ll assume another oxidatively matured sherry such as Amontillado, but no further details are given.


The Tamnavulin distillery opened its doors in 1966, so it is a relative newcomer to Speyside. It is one of three distilleries in Glenlivet, with Glenlivet being the most northerly one, Tamnavulin being the middle one, in the hamlet of Tomnavuilin on the B9008 Ballindalloch to Tomintoul road. The most southerly distillery in Glenlivet is Braeval, which is the highest distillery in Scotland according to my GPS. The whole area is quite remote and I’d hate to live up there in winter, but it’s easy to see why Glenlivet was so popular with illicit distillers.

Being on the west river bank of the River Livet, at this point the Tamnavulin distillery just sneaks into the Cairngorm National Park boundary. This distillery takes its name from the Scots Gaelic meaning ‘Mill on the hill’. There happens to be an old carding mill within the distillery grounds which is where local shepherds would take fleeces to be made into wool.

Rather than spinning out a story, let’s take a look at the whisky.



Tamnavulin Sherry Cask

Region -Speyside Age – NAS Strength – 40% ABV Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – a sharp acidic note which I am assuming to be E150, honey, vanilla, red apple, dried fruit, brown sugar, sherry notes, slight maltiness Palate – Slightly oily mouthfeel but thin. Cadbury Caramels – caramel and milk chocolate, blackberry jam. Slight nuttiness Finish – medium. Chocolate, sweet, slight wood spice, creamy.



Conclusions

There is nothing better than being proved wrong. I thought I was potentially up for a stinker of a whisky and I was mistaken. Premium this is not, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not complex in any way, but drunk neat this to my mind is a well balanced whisky. No sharp spices or alcohol burn. I mostly got fruit, caramel and chocolate from the smell and flavour notes.

In my humble opinion, £45 for a litre may seem to some as expensive but perhaps not. While I’m normally unlikely to pay that for supermarket whisky at NAS, at £30 this has to be a very good value bottle. I’ll probably buy another and open it, leaving one in store for later on as it would be something I’d want to drink again in the future.

My only complaint would be for Whyte and Mackay to stop chill filtering and colouring this whisky. I’m not a snob and I do enjoy whiskies that have been filtered and coloured, but I think it would be better without. 40% seems to be fine for what it is, I found the lack of burn was part of what made this experience much more enjoyable, so the flavours came through more strongly. For enthusiasts this may not the best whisky in the world, but enough of a sherried whisky experience without the sherry overpowering everything else, and would be a good whisky for a beginner to try. It certainly has my favour over the Aberlour 12 which at a similar price proved to be disappointing.

I’d say this whisky can represent value even at £45 for a litre. If you see it offered for less, snap it up. A 70cl bottle is currently being sold on Master Of Malt for £32.95 at time of writing and at Tesco £40 for a litre. At these prices you cannot go wrong. However I encourage you to seek this whisky out at your independent spirit specialist, as the big boys don’t really need your money.

Yours In Spirits,

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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All Photos – Authors Own

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It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Have special releases lost their meaning?

No, it’s not that wonderful time. Hopefully you don’t have Andy Williams singing that seasonal song burying itself into your brain as a particularly vicious ear worm. By time I’m likely to publish this article, we’ll be well into the Christmas shopping frenzy. But even in September when this article had its genesis, the Christmas cards are already in the shops and adverts for booking the works festive night out are all over local and social media. It’s just inescapable and it really boils my carrots when we have still to mark Hallowe’en and Bonfire Night. We’ll soon meet that point on a virtual retail Venn Diagram calendar when items for all three celebrations are on the shop floor. For me, what should be a special time of year for those who celebrate the birth of sweet baby Jesus, the failed Government assassin or even Freddie Krueger, the commercialism has just taken the shine off of things.

The whisky world isn’t immune from annual events. Whether it’s waiting for the latest whisky book from Ingvar Ronde or Jim Murray, your favourite whisky festivals or a whisky holiday, there is always something to perk our heads up like the whisky loving meerkats we are. There was one whisky event that I used to look forward to, but now I’ve become a bit jaded about them and it seems to have lost that specialness. You may have guessed that I’m talking about the Diageo Special Releases. For the past 10 years I’ve always kept an eye out for the announcement of what is getting released, to see if there is a particularly enticing bottle, especially from one of their closed distilleries. Of course I was never going to be in the market for the Port Ellen or Brora, but I’ve always kept my eyes open for a Convalmore, Pittyvaich or even a sneaky wee Benrinnes should one arise; alas for me pickings over the past 5 years have been pretty disappointing.

It hasn’t just been the selection of whiskies that have been included within the special release portfolio that has disappointed. I’m going to express a personal opinion but it’s the artwork and labelling that have started to drive me away. In recent years special releases have started to have a theme associated with them, most notably in the artwork, with the 2018 having apparently the last individual labelling style on the bottle, with 2019 and 2020 having a wildlife theme for most of them, almost like a parody of the Flora and Fauna bottlings, but still tasteful. Then came 2021, and for me things started to unravel. The theme of Legends Untold and the artwork from what may be a Dungeons and Dragons illustration makes me think that they aren’t trying to sell that whisky to the likes of me – they are aiming for a completely different kind of market.

The 2022 Special Releases have been termed ‘Elusive Expressions’ and this time they’ve decided to go full Tonto with the artwork. My attention was first brought to this in a Nickolls & Perks promotional e-mail, and it was this that really put me off looking any further. I hadn’t even noticed the prices until they were pointed out and at this point I had to just stop and ask – is this really worth it? What makes these special? Was I just being grumpy for the sake of it, or did other people feel the same?

You have to remember that besides being grumpy, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. A whisky Calvinist of sorts, where any distraction from the liquid is seen as unnecessary, distasteful thing to be avoided, in similar way to how the original Calvinists thought music, dancing and fun was unholy in church. I like plain, understated labels or those labels that hark back to a previous era, as we all know that some things were actually better in the past. This may explain part of my love for Flora and Fauna bottles or the Gordon and Macphail distillery label whiskies. Of all the special releases, the 2005, 2013 and 2017 Convalmore offerings were for me a pinnacle of subtlety, evoking an era long past and memories of a silent and unlike Brora and Port Ellen, never likely to return to production.

In his recently released book, whisky author Dave Broom writes in the introduction about how whisky can be seen as a cultural product, and a way of “looking at a country: it’s history, people, stories and thinking.” This is something already mentioned by David Hayman when he presented the BBC Scotland three part documentary entitled Scotch! The Story of Whisky. He tells the story of how Scotch is so ingrained with the culture and identity of the country. So when we look to the special releases, for me the design evokes nothing of Scotland, except some lurid artwork and a fantasy story on the back. Of course, Scotland is a modern country and we shouldn’t be adverse from being colourful and fanciful, but when you know these twee stories are the whims of a marketing team, then the lustre dims somewhat. Some of us have progressed beyond the crayon eating stage.

Was I on my own? I decided to run a small poll on social media to find out if I was on my own with my thoughts.



Don’t let the small sample size fool you. The direction of flow was pretty much one way, with 90% of people expressing what might be seen as a negative outlook, or at the very least find that the special releases not special anymore. 150 people described them as a con. Whether this meant that they were a rip off for the money or just pulling the wool over our eyes as to how special they are, I’ll never know. I’m also surprised that 6 people class the Special Releases as good value. Perhaps they are, but I’m not so sure. While I can understand why people think they are a con, that’s not what I think. You can’t tell without drinking them and I’m not prepared to buy the set, though I will admit that I think they just aren’t special any more.

Let me tell you why I feel this way.

The Spirit

Firstly, let’s look at what is truly important, and that is the liquid itself. I have no doubt that these whiskies are all good, solid whiskies. Of course you may not enjoy every single one, but all of these whiskies are cask strength, non chill filtered and as far as I can see there’s nothing stated about natural colour, so we’ll have to assume there has been some added. Mind you, even Meatloaf thought 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, and there was nothing wrong with Meatloaf. Each one of these should be a great whisky, and I’ve heard that some of them are quite tasty, enough to get me thinking that I may spring for a bottle. But there’s more elephants in the room than at PT Barnum’s circus when we turn the attention to the prices, which for a drinker is possibly the second most important thing, if not the most.

The Price

Perhaps I have got this wrong. Maybe the price should be looked at first to then decide if you can afford to spring for a bottle, but for me I decide whether I may like it first, then look at the price. And to me, while some prices seem to have kept pace with inflation, plus bearing in mind that there has been a massive increase in costs recently, I don’t find the prices outrageous, but lets get this straight now – they are adventurous at best. While they don’t have the four figure price tags of Port Ellen, Brora and latterly Convalmore, these are certainly within the reach of more people, but there are still a few that have prices that raise a few eyebrows.

If you choose to pay £275 of your hard earned pounds for grain whisky that is only 26 years old (Cameronbridge) then I would suggest that the special thing about that whisky is when you drink it, you’ll know it to be an expensive drink (read: over priced). Similarly for the Mortlach NAS. £250 for what could be a spirit with an average age of 12 years is maybe justifiable in the eyes of the producer, as they know the make up of the vatting, but for the consumer, this price point is a lot to take a punt on. Let the fact that Diageo released a 30 y.o Mortlach for £3700 in August 2022 sink in before you consider purchasing an NAS.

The Uniqueness

Have we come to the point where special now ceases to mean what it was truly meant to? I think we have come to misuse this word in a similar way to the whisky industry also uses the word ‘rare’ and ‘limited’. While the Cameronbridge makes its first appearance in the Special Release line up, the other selections have appeared more than once. Yes, they may be a rarely seen expression, but does this alone make them special when so many of their contemporaries are doing the same thing? Will it remain unique if a similar release is made in a few years time? That I can’t say, but the cynic in me feels these aren’t unique at all.

Availability

Let’s think back to the days of the mid 90’s, for that was when a forerunner to Diageo, United Distillers, released the Rare Malts series. This was a step up from the Flora & Fauna, and was a truly limited release, as the bottles were usually numbered, but not always.

Looking on the internet. It doesn’t take long to find some special releases from 5 years ago still on the primary market. There is a cask strength Dalwhinnie 30 y.o from the 2020 releases on the Master of Malt site for £574.86 – the initial RRP was £550. However I have a 25 year old cask strength Dalwhinnie that I bought from the distillery for £180 a few years earlier at nearly a third of the price. While it seems that I am comparing apples and carrots, it gets easy to see why unless you know why they are priced the way they are, the selling prices seem to be that bit more arbitrary.

While the average prices of the special release sets have come down, they are still expensive for what they are, and if you see 2017 releases still on primary retail (Collectivum XXVIII £150) perhaps you’ve misjudged things a bit. Something summed up by another whisky social media user. Link here to see thread for context.

Get the price wrong and it will sit on the shelf. However, its worth remembering that Diageo or any other large whisky producer don’t really worry. They can wait.

Where have the big priced bottles gone?

As I outlined earlier, I anticipated the Special Releases for the ability to obtain older whisky from distilleries that have fallen silent, Convalmore and Pittyvaich in particular. But now with Brora back into production and Port Ellen soon to follow, plus rumours are that there isn’t a lot of Convalmore left, this leaves the collection lacking in the rarer big guns. Some of these are now are sold in a range called Prima and Ultima. It’s an 8 bottle set which costs £36500, but this has put older whisky well outwith the range of many common enthusiasts. You can go to the web page Diageo uses for the premium whiskies and buy separately, but no price is given for single bottlings. I have seen a bottle of Convalmore 36 from 1984 in the Prima and Ultima range being sold for just over £2000, on the Justerini and Brooks website, it is something that is perhaps beyond many of us, unless we have deep pockets and few responsibilities and even less common sense.

While starting to come to a conclusion, a DM conversation that I had with a well known face in the whisky world about casks suggested that there are three types of people in the cask investment world. This caused me to smile as I can see parallels in the bottled whisky market. Whether you are a seasoned pro with the right connections, knowledge and a bit of cash behind you, or the dabbler who has an idea, but perhaps not the cash, full knowledge or the connections, or lastly the idiot – money to spend and has bought into hype. Perhaps this is how brands like Diageo see their consumers – those with the cash to buy the premium and truly rare, those who can make do with the special releases, or those who choose to buy a full set of Game Of Thrones whisky who expect to make their fortunes because of the hype. I see the Diageo special releases becoming more hyped and no obvious uniqueness about them. Regardless if I have misjudged this, for me the shine has fully rubbed off and I don’t really see that these bottlings can be seen as anything special in the face of so much other good and cheaper whisky. It is a marketing exercise and nothing more; there will be more Lagavulin or Cardhu etc, what you are doing is solely buying a brand, pretty much like buying a new car from the same dealer every 5 yrs or so, and if you want something much rarer like a Bentley, then you need to dig deep into the wallet.

With a twist in the tail, I have to admit, my interest was piqued at the 10 year old Oban. I visited the distillery in 2019 and enjoyed the cask strength 9 year old they gave us as a part of the tour, much more than the mundane 14 yr. old. In an effort to see if there really was a specialness in the release, I decided to take a chance to see if I could rekindle memories of that glorious sample.


Taste Review 142 – Oban 10 Special Release 2022.

Elusive Expression Oban. Cosmic Bunny not included.

Region – Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 57.1% abv Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry / Amontillado Colouring – Not stated Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sweet. Blackberry, cherries, dark chocolate, salt air, seaweed, hint of black pepper and smoke. Palate – Instantly salty, if you can’t taste the maritime notes I’ll be surprised. Heavy cream sort of mouthfeel, yet no big spirit kick which is surprising given the strength. I found the salt became sweet with a hint of plums, oranges, and turned again with a peppery note going into the finish. Finish – medium length finish where the heat and spicy notes build. The oak starts to express itself with a slightly dry, tannic note but there is continued sweetness along with a hint of smoke coming out. The heat changes from a peppery heat to one with a hint of chilli as it slips down the throat, but it still doesn’t really have a need for water to calm it. Adding water gave me a burst of mint in the finish.


The Dram.

Conclusions

When all said and done, this is a nice dram. There’s plenty there to engage a whisky drinker with. I would say that if you like coastal drams, then this one should be considered. Was it as good as the 9 y.o I had at the distillery in 2019? I can’t say, as it is too long ago to make accurate comparisons as my memory isn’t that good. However I enjoyed it a lot. But was this dram special?

No It wasn’t.

I’m beginning to see why so many people think the Special Releases are a con. What I have tasted is no different to what an independent bottler would turn out, probably at a much lower price. This would appear only to be special as Diageo haven’t used these barrels for blending fodder, nor have they diluted them for core bottles or Distiller Editions. Should we all sit up like meerkats just because something is ‘special’ due to the way a distillery holds onto its casks? I could quite easily buy two independently bottled whiskies that are just as good for the same money. And two cask strength bottlings wouldn’t cost not much more.

The only people who would see these as being really special are Diageo themselves, as it is they who control the release of casks to the brokers and independent bottlers. Oban isn’t a common independently bottled whisky. But when there is only a description of being ‘limited release’ then there could be multiples of thousands released or more, and for me knowledge that my be the case takes the sheen off of the specialness. Bit like the knowledge Macallan Folio 5 was released not with 2000 bottles, but around 20,000

The last point is the price. Over £100 for a 10 year old whisky is pricey. Are we seeing the insidious creep of premiumisation here too? An unusual release shouldn’t be the excuse for jacking the prices up, as you may find the market you are aiming for will reject it, and those who do buy in will eventually move onto something else when the next fad comes along.

Despite being described by one whisky journalist on their Instagram as “good value”, I’d contend that these special releases are no longer that special. They are only special as we are being told they are but fancy artwork, hiked prices and slick marketing do not necessarily make a special whisky. While the whisky itself may be perfectly acceptable, the only thing making this special in my opinion is the fact we are being told that it is.

I think Diageo need to perhaps rethink the Special Release as for many they have lost their sparkle. I for one will not be buying another Special Release when so much other good value whisky is available. Special means different things to each of us, but for me this falls short of the mark.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

A Speyside State Of Mind

This year I managed the change to GMT from BST well. I happened to be awake and while everybody else in the house slept, I decided to manually adjust the clocks that needed it. I hope that my wife was impressed, but in reality I missed the one in my daughters bedroom but I’m sure we will manage for a couple of days.

This article isn’t going to be the easiest to read, but to be honest won’t be the easiest to write, as I am going to attempt to write it in one go without modifying a draft. While I try to base everything I write on this page about whisky, there are somethings that need discussed whether or not we drink whisky or not. So bear with me and pour a dram, then read.

The Friday before the clocks changed, I had the privilege of driving through a very autumnal Speyside. The A95 whisky road has some spectacular views on its winding path from Aviemore to Craigellachie, where it branches off towards Keith, away from the River Spey. If you have any sense, you can continue north from Craigellachie towards Elgin and still get entertained by a riot of colour as the trees begin to give into the approaching winter and prepare to shed their leaves. If you haven’t driven it yet, I recommend you do, as I’ve been treated to some really spectacular sights. Just keep out of my f***ing way and pull into the side of the road if you see anything you want to photo, as I’ve enough to contend with given the amount of whisky HGV traffic I can’t overtake, let alone a dawdling tourist.

Winter is coming. View from the A95 towards Cairngorm, Bynack More and Broomhill Railway Station, current terminus of Strathspey Steam Railway.

The Spey valley does give some amazing sights and while I have not been able to catch them as effectively as I have hoped to have, you’ll have to make do with the description of driving just after the start of dawn, heading from Aviemore to Grantown on Spey, with the mist just sitting over the River Spey and the first vestiges of pink light rising in the east. As you head north, you’ll pass the Cairn Distillery, Tormore and Ballindalloch at the road side. Descending from Tormore, you get your first good view of Ben Rinnes looking over the lower valley of the River Avon. A couple of steep climbs and it takes you to Glenfarclas, and the start of another descent towards Aberlour.

Benrinnes from above Cragganmore looking across Lower Avon Valley.

It is on this road you can get almost a drivers whisky heaven. At dawn, if you strike your timing right, looking towards Ben Aigan further down the Spey Valley, you can often see the steam rising from Dalmunach, Dailuaine, Aberlour, Macallan and Craigellachie distilleries as they start a mash. Sometimes on this stretch of road you can smell mash. Look right as you drive towards Aberlour and you may see similar from Benrinnes and Glenallachie distilleries. It’s even better on a crisp, frosty day. Winter has its advantages, even if it is for those whisky geeks who know that Daftmill will be producing again once the harvest has been gathered.

River Avon at Ballindalloch/ Ballindalloch Castle gate house.

But winter also has its drawbacks. Daylight savings time doesn’t suit all, and suddenly our afternoons get cut short in the rapidly approaching darkness. The arrival of autumn also lets us know that the year is coming to an end and we think back of what has happened over the year. I’ve had a busy year with work, family illness and a persistent cold, but one thing I can’t get totally out of my head was the suicide of a distant acquaintance, and these thoughts motivated me to write this.

Benrinnes from Dufftown / Huntly road. There’s a multitude of distilleries on the other side.

I don’t want to name the guy, as I do not want to cause his family any more distress should they read this, but I knew this guy since at least the mid 90’s. I remember him from the youth groups in the Aberdeen suburb we both grew up in, although I was some 8 years older. This guy always seemed happy to help, participate and just get on with things. He was a talented guy, but once I moved away from that Aberdeen suburb, my contact with him dwindled. It wasn’t until I saw mutal friends on facebook post requests for information on his whereabouts that I thought about this guy again. People drift apart as we move and life takes us in different directions. When the tragic news of the discovery of his body was announced, it hit me hard a little bit, as you never think that the person you had in your mind would do such a thing. But that theory doesn’t hold water. Just mention the name of Robin Williams and we know that the shadow of depression can fall on any one of us, yet we never know when or even how we will react. I’ve been in that situation where I was depressed enough to seek professional help and was under the care of a psychiatrist for nearly a year, but for some even that’s not enough.

View from the A95 just past Glenfarclas looking down towards Marypark. Steam coming from Cragganmore.

So why I am I mentioning this topic on a whisky blog? Well, while the changes of the season are quite noticeable and often beautiful, for some they won’t be so spectacular as they dread the long nights of the months ahead. Some people may seek solace in drink and this is not the best course of action. This weekend, Catherine, The Princess of Wales stated that nobody chooses to be an addict. Despite my long ago past experience of depression, it’s easy to see how people can seek crutches to help them through the day, and alcohol is an easily available and legal drug. We eventually get used to the effect it has, and we then need to take more to get more effect.

Social media often offers the anonymity where we can interact with people yet not show our true selves. People don’t want to admit weakness and just want to belong, appear normal and yet not manage what is dragging them down. While the majority of us won’t have this issue, you never know who will. Who would have guessed Robin Williams would be as sad as to kill himself?

You don’t have to be as miserable as this bugger to suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Just noticed the rapid advancement of grey hair. Clippers here we come!

If nothing else, its worth remembering behind every winter comes a spring. Few things we do in our lives is truly permanent, and everything can also take a turn for the better if you feel you need to make a positive change. One of my fellow bloggers recently posted an article entitled “It’s Good To Talk” and while this sort of talk may be different, it still holds true. Nobody needs struggle. Everybody has a burden they will find hard to bear at some point in their lives, so you are not unique if you are struggling. It’s OK not to be OK.

Don’t be like my acquaintance. A guy who hadn’t even reached middle age and left behind a young family. Talk to somebody, even me if it has to be but I’d recommend professionals like the samaritans who may be able to point you to the right direction to resolve your issues. Their website can be found at samaritans.org or phone 116 123.

Tormore.

For those of us not struggling, be aware that some are. Be ready to be that post that someone may need to lean on. Tough times are coming for many this winter with the cost of living rising rapidly. Keep an eye out for people; keep in touch with those you know.

We’ve seen many examples of people talking about the ‘Dram Fam’. Let’s make sure we are just that for those who may need us.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Coming out of the closet.

Taste Review #141 – Wild Turkey Rare Breed

I guess there will be a few people that know me will be wondering if I’ve suddenly decided that my lifestyle choices have been re-evaluated. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but even if you think that from time to time I’m more queer than a bottle of crisps; this closet isn’t where I keep my sexuality but rather one where I keep my whisky.

One of the oldest bottles in my closet, one bought pre-Louisiana visit. It’s still there.

A long time ago, before I became a total whisky nerd, (instead of just a techy nerd), the company I had just started working for sent me on a trip for a month in the USA to learn all about ROV’s. As you might already know, I work offshore as Remotely Operated Vehicle pilot, but back then this was a job you learnt as you went. My then company decided this was a bit backwards and developed quite an intensive course on the equipment they had designed and built. The idea behind it was that you could hook somebody out of a Macdonalds restaurant and change them from flipping burgers to operating ROV’s. In reality, it didn’t always work that way. I only got to do the electrical part of the course, then never saw the equipment for another two years. Some of the geniuses that had graduated from the university where Ronald MacDonald was the chief lecturer weren’t the freshest patties ever on the hot plate either, failing open book exams.


The Americans loved their decals. I think on this job in Morgan City the only things I feared were running out of beer or being told I had a pretty mouth a la Deliverance.

For the record, I got 97% and only used an hour of the allotted three hours. But this isn’t the education I remember the most. For we were sent to Morgan City in Louisiana and I started my bourbon education. At this point I was already a Wild Turkey drinker, but got to try others. However, on the way home I decided to stick to my first love and took home a bottle of Rare Breed. it was something that I never saw in the shops or bars back home. The internet was still in relative infancy back then, so I couldn’t rely on online retailers.

Well, I guess us Brits on that course did!

Anyway, the bottle was opened and sampled with friends then got stuck in my drinks cabinet. And there it stayed, as at the time I lived alone and preferred to go out to drink. This bottle survived 3 house moves before I realised I still had it, hidden behind the other Wild Turkey in the cabinet. After nearly 24 years since I bought it, it would be a foregone conclusion that the cork wasn’t good and I wasn’t surprised when the impressive wooden stopper came away in my hands.


After a nifty bit of decanting, we got the cork out and the whiskey back into its original bottle. But was the whisky as bad as the cork? Only one way to find out…

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (1997)

Region – USA (Bourbon) Age – NAS Strength – 54.4% Colour – Mahogany (1.6) Cask Type – American Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Dusty wood, acetone, dark fruits, vanilla, creamy fudge, Macgowans Highland toffee. Palate – Quite sharp on arrival. Caramel, wood, dark fruit (Blackberries, Cherries). Aniseed Peppery heat with some cinnamon in there. Finish – Heat well controlled and doesn’t increase until you swallow. More cherries, dusty wood, bit of cinnamon, vanilla and tannins, drying on the mouth. Dusty vegetal aftertaste.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed – 1997 Bottling

After drinking some of it and passing on my thoughts to a fellow whisky geek, there was a suggestion that perhaps I should compare it to a modern edition to see if the older bottle was really faded compared to an original. Only one way to find out. At least I now had the luxury of online retail rather than a trip to the US.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2021)

Region – USA (Bourbon) Age – NAS Strength – 58.4% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – American Oak No.4 char Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Wood, vanilla, caramel, honey, orange rind, cherry. Palate – Immediately sweet on arrival. Caramelised brown sugar, vanilla, cherries, milk chocolate. Wood notes with a peppery heat. Finish medium length finish, a bit of solvent, with more sweetness followed by cherries, oak, slightly floral towards the end.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed 2021 bottling

Conclusions

I think I got away with the older bottle. I suspect there has been some deterioration but not too much. While the newer bottle had a bit more kick, it was bottled at a higher abv. Tasting both side by side revealed a close similarity but not quite. The older bottle had a more vegetal finish which I suspect could be a hint of old bottle effect. Both bottles still pleasant to drink, although the older bottle benefited more from water.

Both needed a bit of water, though I did also enjoyed both neat. The newer one was obviously brighter on the palate but not overly so. I’d say these are going to be my winter drams as quite warming. However the older dram was more astringent and left my mouth very dry afterwards.

While I don’t recommend leaving open bottles of whisky 24 years before drinking again, it’s safe to say you can get away with it if the bottle has been kept properly.

This concludes my planned sampling of world whisky and it will be back to Scotch next time. Or will it? I still have some German, Danish and South African whisky left that was given to me by followers on Twitter. There might be a wee mini review in the future, but next I return to Speyside for a pleasant change.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Dead In The Water

Taste Review #140 – Milk & Honey Apex (Dead Sea Aged)

You couldn’t get a much more appropriate title for this review, but I’d like to heavily stress that this does not refer to what I thought of the the whisky that I’ll be having later. For this whisky has been at least partially matured by the Dead Sea, the lowest place on dry land throughout the planet. Plus, (and somewhat unusually) I’ve a story to tell for this world whisky review.

I’ve been to Israel twice for work purposes, the first time was for the recovery of a two seat F16 jet that had crashed into the Mediterranean Ocean. That was certainly dead in the water. Come to think of it, for the more observant of you may notice a lot of my blogs are entitled with a musical theme. The David Gray song “Dead In The Water” was banned in many ROV control rooms as the more superstitious amongst us reckoned it was likely to induce breakdown as soon as the machinery got wet. You’d go to the music hard drive, and in some cases find the song deleted from the folder. Personally I’d be just as happy if all of David Gray’s depressing music was deleted.

F-16D Fighting Falcon. (Georgios Pazios)

The fighter that we recovered in the late 1990’s had suffered an engine failure. Thankfully the crew had ejected and the aircraft had hit the water and fell another 800m to the seabed. This was on the very limits of our equipment, and we were crossing fingers that there wouldn’t be a catastrophic leak into our electrics. I remember the water being so clear, with lights being visible up to 100m deep; in the North Sea it’s lucky to see lights much more than 30m down.

As you may imagine, there wasn’t a lot of the aircraft left. The engine was the main part that was needed for the investigation and whatever else we could recover. As a small aircraft like an F-16 was spread out over an area 250m x 250m, this was a tall task, but in the end we managed to recover about 50% of the aircraft, due to it being held together by the cabling.

In the days when I had a ‘real’ job, I trained in avionics, so was pretty keen to see if I could get a memento from the wreckage of something I could identify. When I asked the military person on board if I could have something from the aircraft, I was told it would be not a problem. Most of both cockpits had come up, again mostly held together by wires, though I knew what I was looking for. Piece by piece I was then told I couldn’t have, due to it being needed in the investigation or was top secret. In the end, a yellow handle stood out and I grabbed it. This got the green light from the Air Force, and it turned out that I got a panel that had held the Canopy Jettison handle.

Before…
…and after

So, with that bird dead in the water, we turn to the Dead Sea. I’ve never been there, but I’m quite sure that there isn’t a lot of life in it given that it’s about 9 times saltier than normal seawater. Being so dense, if you are scared of learning to swim it would be the perfect place as it’s not easy to sink. Even normal salt water gives a massive increase to buoyancy over fresh water. One of my colleagues trimmed an ROV in a fresh water lagoon once; he had a pretty red face out at sea when we were trying to get the thing to sink!

With such a salty environment, I’m banking on plenty of brine notes, but let’s see what happens.


Milk & Honey Apex (Dead Sea Aged)

Region – Israel Age – NAS but 3y.o going by dates on bottle Strength – 56.2% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso (1.2) Cask Type – Red Wine / Bourbon / STR Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No. Nose – Vanilla, oak, mint, chocolate, marmalade. Palate – slightly oily mouth feel. Spicy but not aggressively so. Vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, chocolate, slightly tannic, orange citrus, possibly something fruity and creamy in there as well – banana? Finish – medium finish. Pleasantly light but there is a slight sour note there, a bit like the last dregs of an IPA. Cinnamon, honey and a hint of brine.

Conclusions

Never got the expected large amounts of brine although there was brine present in the finish. Nice enough but not enough going on for me to engage with a whisky that costs £105 a bottle. Sample cost me £9.25, which is saltier than the Dead Sea. If you can see the past the current uniqueness of where the spirit has been matured, and have the means to spend on this whisky, I wouldn’t imagine that you’ll be disappointed, but I also doubt you are going to be wowed on the basis of value if you are counting your pennies. You can get a lot more for a lot less by drinking an independently bottled, cask strength Scotch. But that’s just my opinion, others may disagree. I don’t want to dismiss this whisky completely, but didn’t really engage my palate to justify seeking out a bottle.

Perhaps there is a difference with maturation occurring a lot quicker in a hotter climate compared to northwestern distillates, with the cask maybe not passing on the brine quick enough. That I don’t know.

I would say that the produce of the Milk And Honey distillery have my attention and I’d love to try other samples should I come across them. However I won’t be seeking them out.

L’Chayim! / Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own EXCEPT – F16D, – Georgios Pazios