Taste Review #62 – Stag’s Breath Whisky Honey Liqueur
Well, it had to happen sometime – I was always going to be reviewing something that isn’t whisky. At least this does have whisky in it I suppose and in my book that qualifies. However we will be drawing the line at whisky cocktails so you can be breathing easy.
Living in the southern end of Speyside whisky region, I am in close proximity to Speyside, Dalwhinnie and Balmenach distilleries, with the Highland distillery of Tomatin being a short journey up the A9. There is also a couple of gin distilleries locally (Kinrara, Daffys and Inshriach) and a brewery (Cairngorm) close by, but it is very easy to miss one of the other alcoholic beverage producers in the area, and that is Meikles of Scotland, based in the nearby village of Newtonmore. Never heard of them? Neither had I until I moved to the area, although I was aware of Stags Breath liqueur but not being a drinker of that sort of offering it was not firmly on my radar.
I was pretty taken aback when I realised how widely sold this drink is and how popular it is, especially in the local area with tourists. This part of the Spey valley isn’t known as Speyside or even Strathspey, but the ancient region of Badenoch, which has Kingussie as its capital. Sandwiched between the Cairngorms to the east and the Monadliath Mountains to the west, the River Spey meanders between the two of them, flowing through the densest collection of distilleries in Scotland.
The local area is heavily linked to stags, not only as they are the local wildlife, but also to the Monarch of The Glen – the famous Edwin Landseer painting of a stag and the popular Scottish TV series. which was filmed in and about the area. This was mostly just further south west of Newtonmore in the area of Laggan village. This used the impressive house at Strathmashie, while much further to the north the Strathspey Steam Railway station at Broomhill is still carries the sign of ‘Glenbogle’ as the railways station in the series.
It is the Landseer painting that most people may recognise. Although not painted in the local area, English painter Sir Edwin Landseer spent time around the Glenfeshie area, which is the other side of the Spey from Kingussie. The well known mountain bothy at Ruigh Aiteachain used to have another small dwelling beside it in which Landseer had stayed, and there had been sketches of his famous painting on the walls. This building was reportedly complete in the late 1940’s, but sadly all that remains now is the fireplace and chimney breast, with no sign of the sketches. Deer do gather here, and it is perhaps these that inspired Landseer.
On a more whisky based note, the Glenfiddich Stag logo is also reportedly based on the Landseer image. You can see why Stags are so relevant to the area and indeed give the perfect name to this liqueur as you are probably going to be so close to stags that you can hear their breath!
Moving onto the liqueur, I thought this would be quite an ommission not to try and review this liqueur. Meikles of Scotland have been making this product since 1989 and last year was their 30th anniversary last year. It is the 30th anniversary edition of the liqueur I will be trying. With tongue firmly in cheek, I was a bit apprehensive in trying, as I live in Kingussie – home of the most successful Shinty team in history and firm rivals of Newtonmore, another very successful shinty team. It remains to be seen if anything good can come out of Newtonmore, so lets have a try!
Mostly honey, with a background of whisky. Quite sweet obviously, the whisky nose is fairly well hidden, but I can pick out creamy vanilla and orchard fruit, which are also present in many of the honey noted whiskies I try. A hint of heather too.
While honey dominates, there is an apple taste to start with, which reminds me of a particularly sharp pressed apple juice. A bit of a lighter mouth feel than I was expecting due to the dominance of the honey, but there are also floral notes, vanilla and heather with a hint of clove.
As it is a honey based liqueur, you can’t be surprised about the honey presence, but the whisky doesn’t seem to have a lot ot say here. A burst of spice here, but I don’t know if this is one of the liqueur ingredients or a part of the whisky maturation. Medium to long finish with a lemon sourness tempering the honey and an afterthought of spice. Nicely warming.
Well, I am going to be upfront and say I am not a liqueur drinker. Despite having a sweet tooth I found the honey a bit overpowering for me. But that is because I am unaccustomed to this. I have no idea of how it is made, so I can’t really taste any distinct whisky flavour in there, but there is definitely a whisky influence. I found it took a bit of getting used to, but like my experience with the CBTD sample of 1980’s Glenturret 12, once I found a flavour I could identify, I found that with a bit of patience I could pick out others. In the end it turned out to be such a pleasant experience that I had another pour!
It is unfortunate that I was not able to visit Meikles factory in time before I did this review, but I feel that I have done a good enough job of the review. It is worth mentioning that at the time of writing (late April 2020) that Meikles of Scotland are currently closed due to Coronavirus, with most of their staff either working at home or furloughed. This means it may be some time before I am able to visit, but I am not going to hold back in support of a local business, especially a whisky based one. While you may not see this in any of the shops that are open, you can still order online directly from the manufacturer, where a 70CL bottle is £22 and a 35CL is £16 and includes free shipping. However, if you see a bottle of Stags Breath, I would recommend that you buy it immediately. It is just as suitable as a digestif after a meal as it is for sitting in your favourite armchair and relaxing. You can visit and shop at the Meikles of Scotland website www.stagsbreath.co.uk
And as a final bit of trivia, scenes from the TV series ‘Outlander’ were filmed at the traditional Pre-Clearance Highland village at the Highland Folk Museum, situated at the north entrance of the village. Perhaps consider visiting and seeing the area for yourself once restrictions are eased. I can recommend staying at the Glen Hotel or The Balavil Hotel, where the food and welcome are great!
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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.
Monarch of the Glen – Scottish National Gallery / public domain
All Other Photos – Authors Own