Taste Review #45 – Speyburn 10
This review has gathered a wee bit of attention already. I just put out a few clues on the Facebook page as what the next review would be and the traction it gained was a wee bit of a surprise. None of you got it right, not even close! Perhaps we want a wee competition like this every now and again?
On my holidays over the festive season, I took a bundle of malt miniatures with me so I could continue building my backlog of taste reviews for when I was offshore. One of the bottles I picked up happened to be this Speyburn. There was an inwardly groan as it was yet another 10 year old, but it’s in the pile and review it we must!
John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”, and in my case this was so true, as on Boxing Day I went down with a severe bout of man flu and couldn’t smell or taste a thing. We are now well into the first week of January and this will be my first dram of 2020. God knows when the review will be published, but such is life. That I can’t plan.
Speyburn distillery sits to north of the village of Rothes, in Speyside. Just to the east of the A941 Elgin – Craigellachie Road, you can see the pagoda roof stick up from amongst the trees. It is said that is is Scotland’s most photographed distillery but I doubt that is the case as there isn’t a good place to stop and take a picture, and it fades into insignificance compared to Strathisla distillery.
Speyburn has been one of those malts that have been below the UK whisky radar for some time and is almost as hidden as thet building itself. As a whisky that has mostly been used for blends in the past, it doesn’t seem to have a great deal of exposure over here in Scotland. However the current owners, Inver House Distillers have been making some good, award winning whisky. They also own Old Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu (AnCnoc) and Balmenach distilleries, most of which are very highly regarded whiskies in their own right. Only Balmenach doesn’t produce a branded single malt, but is also the location where Caorunn gin is produced.
The Speyburn distillery started production in 1897, which was Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year. It is one of Charles Doig’s designs, and is marked by the pagoda style ventilator. One of Doig’s other inventions, the pneumatic drum malting was also installed here, and was in use until 1968 when malting stopped at the site.
The village of Rothes had a further 4 distilleries, 3 of which are still in production – Glen Grant, Glen Spey, and Glenrothes. Sadly, Caperdonich closed in 2002, and was demolished in 2010. It is now the site of Forsyths, who manufacture distillery equipment, and are well known for their stills. Speyburn has fared better than most, having only been silent for 4 years from 1930. It survived the Pattison Crash and also the 1980’s whisky loch, unlike its neighbour to the north, Coleburn.
Speyburn is a malt you don’t see a lot of in the UK, but that is starting to change. I believe it’s first official release was the Flora and Fauna Speyburn 12 in 1991. This is the holy grail of whiskies, as it was only produced for reportedly one run before the distillery was sold to Inver House. It is the rarest of all the Flora and Fauna bottlings, and prices are now starting to go above £2000 a bottle. Not bad for a release that only cost around £35 when available on the shelves! I’m quite happy as I have a couple in my storage unit, but obviously can’t afford to drink them, so a modern Speyburn is as close as I’ll get.
There isn’t too much to do in Rothes itself, but you can visit Glen Grant distillery, and the Macallan distillery is very close. To the north you have the option of the Glen Moray distillery to visit.
Despite its relatively unknown presence in the UK, it has done quite well in International spirit competitions, and is a top ten single malt in the US. Without further ado, let’s crack on and see what the fuss is about.
Honey, creamy lemon, citrus, green apple. Some floral and herbal aromas in there. Quite a fresh smell. I got reminded of freshly laundered linen.
Quite timid on the arrival. Medium bodied, not as thin as some other 10 year old whiskies I’ve tried recently. Subtle malt notes, a hint of a toasted cereal giving a slight sweet taste. Vanilla, pineapple, herbs and a light bit of sweet liquorice.
More malt in the finish, which for me tended to be short to medium. I got some spicy oak there too which was very pleasant which rounded out to be sweet in the conclusion.
Quite a surprise. I felt that my taste and smell senses may not have returned to normal after my cold, but there was flavour aplenty in this dram. I didn’t find it that complex at all, but then maybe my cold is hiding other taste and smell sensations, but going on what I did taste I enjoyed it considerably. It has all the essences of a decent Speyside whisky. It has been matured in American Oak Bourbon casks and some ex-sherry casks, and although I couldn’t say that I picked up the sherry influence, it was still sweet enough.
What is also amazing that this is a cheap whisky. You can pick this up for mid 20’s €/$/£ which is a total bargain. Yes, there may be cheaper bottles but you are getting a well built Scotch Single Malt for the money. In my mind I wasn’t expecting a lot and the price point was what was swaying me, but this is because it isn’t that popular a malt in the UK. Despite being widely available (Pretty sure I’ve seen it in Tesco) it doesn’t seem to have a lot of marketing spent on it in the UK which is a shame. As it seems to be a distillery that produces mostly for blends don’t let this distract you from the fact that there is also a NAS whisky as well as a 15 and 18 year old available.
If I was to pick fault with this, it’s solely because I suspect there is colouring added but not a lot. I’d also say it has been chill filtered, but most malts at this price point have. A higher abv would be a great leap forwards, but still there is nothing wrong with this whisky.
I don’t think I will go out to buy a bottle of this, but not because there is anything wrong with it. Indeed, I can recommend this whisky and if I do find myself with a Single Malt shortage combined with a tight bank account, this malt definitely hits the mark. I won’t be buying this as it has opened my eyes to Speyburn and will definitely be buying one of the older age statements. I also recommend this dram to people as is well made and would be perfect as an everyday sipper or even as a present. In this case, budget does not mean bad.
For me this presents a problem. I’m now looking at pictures of my Flora and Fauna bottles and wondering even more how they would compare. Thank god I store my stash in a different city!
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Speyburn Distillery – Anne Harrison under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0
Other photos – Authors own.