Judging the colour of our whisky to avoid undue influence
Colour. It’s so important to us whisky drinkers. Or is it? I am asking this now as I’ve written a little article for release this weekend and it has got me thinking quite a bit. I don’t want to add more to the article for the fear of making it unwieldy and unreadable.
It must be important to us, because I have had several conversations with followers of this page and also those who I join on my Twitter social media feed over this subject. One of the followers of this page works at the Whisky Shop Dufftown, the curators of the Dufftown ‘Whisky Colours Festival’, and the fact the festival mentions colour so directly adds more credence that colour is very important to us as whisky geeks. I suppose those who just drink it don’t give it a second thought, but something has to influence you to buy that bottle in the first place.
The more observant amongst you may have noticed that I have been playing about a wee bit with the format of my blog posts, mostly in the details section of any tasting. Those with 20-20 vision and an acute attention to detail will have noticed the colour I allocate to samples now have a figure in brackets. This relates to a figure on a colour chart that I have started using to make a clear and consistent differentiation between samples, especially if I am sampling more than one in a single review. This is because it is a number assigned to a specific colour on the following colour chart.
The caveat with this is whether or not I have managed to guess the right colour, but it should ensure that we will have at least have a consistent pattern to my assessment of the colour.
What’s your favourite whisky colour? Does it influence you? I have to confess, I’ve been led astray by colour this month, but that is a matter for the next article.
I’ve recently been thinking about the things that make me and others buy whisky. I have to say I am pretty bad on buying bottles based on the spirit colour or the description. You see, I am guilty of buying the Glenmorangie Truffle Oak Reserve at the distillery (before I had a clue about whisky) because it had the word Truffle in it. Being a dedicated eating enthusiast, I could only think of Chocolate Truffles. I was to be disappointed. The whisky was bought to wet a baby’s head that sadly didn’t arrive. The bottles were hidden away and forgotten about. Glenmorangie have just done the same thing to me again with their release ‘A Tale Of Cake’. I’ve got a degree in the cake and pastry sciences bestowed on me by the University of Life and if you ever meet me, you’ll see not only did I graduate with full honours, I’ve got the Masters and PhD as well. At least when I bought the latest Glenmorangie release, I was not thinking I was getting Battenburg in a bottle.
We step forward into 2020 and the release of Fettercairn 16 year old, and this one is made with a Chocolate Malt. Of course, having a predilection for sweeties, you can tell that my ears would prick up at this. But of course I know what a chocolate malt is and I am not expecting a big slab of Galaxy or Dairy Milk. It is a malted barley that has been roasted in excess of 200 Deg. Centigrade, and is a technique used more often in brewing. Guinness is a well known user of chocolate malt and if you ever go visit Guinness in Dublin, the smell from the malt is out of this world.
Fettercairn is one of those distilleries that flies under the radar, and in my limited experience of Fettercairn, that is probably deservedly so. It is not a malt that I can honestly say I’ve had a lot of success with. The NSA Fasque was instantly forgettable and I believe Fior wasn’t that much better. The other thing going against it for me, is that I’ve not had a lot of luck with other Whyte and Mackay owned distilleries, bar Invergordon. Dalmore is the premium one out of the block, and I have had a few decent Dalmore, but they use colouring in so much of their range, I’m not impressed. The less said about Tamnavulin and Jura the better for now.
Anyway the Fettercairn distillery was founded in 1824, situated in the village of Fettercairn in the Kincardine area of Aberdeenshire. The local area that the distillery sits in is known as the Howe Of The Mearns, which is a very fertile farming area stretching up from Strathmore in the south ending in the north at the fishing port of Stonehaven. The area was where the famous Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon was raised and wrote about in his classic Scottish trilogy ‘A Scots Quair’. One of the books, Sunset Song was often compulsory reading in English Classes for pupils in the Aberdeen area and was made into a film a few years ago.
The distillery has a unique cooling feature on the Spirit still, which is a cooling ring that sprays cold water down the swan neck over the still. This allows the outside of the still to be cooler, and encourage reflux in the still to give the spirit a lighter style.
Fettercairn has been undergoing a bit of a re-brand. Recently they released a 12 and 28 year old into their core expressions. The 12 year old has been generally well received, but the 28 year old was marketed at £400. Its a bit of an ask for a distillery that doesn’t perhaps have a stellar reputation. Who will take the chance at that money not knowing if they are going to get a delicious whisky? Personally if trying to build a more upmarket brand, make sure the product is seen as upmarket, before charging upmarket prices.
However, before the Mr Grumpy of the whisky blogging world goes off on one again, let’s turn my attention to the offering today. It is the Chocolate Malt distilled 16 year old. It was originally for sale exclusively in the Whisky Shop which for me was a big turn off. I think the Whisky Shop are one of the worst for overpricing their goods. Certainly in the Inverness shop. Even online, some of their prices are way above their competitors. However, they do have lovely staff when I pop my head in, and bargains can be had. But that’s not enough recompense this time so, not wanting to splash out the £70ish for a bottle from a distillery I don’t really enjoy from a shop I don’t want to patronise, a glimmer of hope came in the form of a fellow blogger.
Enter Nick. Nick has a great blog called Whisky, Aye? Its full of all the great things you need in a whisky blog – witty banter, great whisky and also lots of pictures of his dog. And definitely less waffling. Perhaps I should copy him and add more pictures of my dog. His dog looks well behaved though, mine will hump anything that gets in his way. Anyhow, Nick offered me the chance to receive a sample, and 4 different quality drams arrived – I’ll review the other 3 in good time…
Cheers to Nick, we can now proceed with the review.
Fettercairn 16 (2020 release)
Region -Highland Age – 16years Strength – 46.4% Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type – Bourbon, Sherry, Port Colouring – Debatable. See below Chill Filtered – No Nose -malt, honey, ginger, raisins, chocolate, Sherry sweetness. Palate -Dark malt, with oak spiciness arriving, stout mixed with Port. Chocolate. Peppery, a hint of expresso. Finish – medium long, sour citrus, prunes, plums, tobacco.
I’ve heard that the Fettercairn 16 does not have colouring added, yet on an export bottle we can see the dreaded words in German that tell us this bottling does have added colour. It’s a pity, as it might not have needed it. Mind you Signet also has colour added, but then again, is rumoured to contain 30 year old whisky. In my opinion the spirit in Fettercairn 16 is pretty all much of the same age.
Well, I have to say that I was pleased to have been able to try this. It was indeed a good malt, with a nice depth of flavour. I felt it had a really good nose, a quite good palate, yet the finish was a bit insipid. The issue with this though is that I only had a 3cl sample, and as such couldn’t easily take a second opinion. However, based on every other whisky I’ve tried, I can usually tell if I will like it or not just with one nip. Did I like this? Yes I did. Would I buy one? No. The reason for not buying is this; supply is getting limited and I prefer another chocolate malt driven whisky, Glenmorangie Signet. While Signet is NAS, it is also a similar abv, slightly lower at 46%. It means I’m going to have to chase the bottle if I want it and I wouldn’t want it that badly. I can wait until the next batch.
Is it good value? Certainly if you can buy it at its original retail price or not far off of it, then yes, I’d say it is reasonably good value. Perhaps I might look at the 2021 release from Fettercairn. The distillery has a visitors centre, but perhaps I might wait until some more of this COVID malarkey is over.
A big thanks to Nick for his generosity for giving me a chance to taste this dram. You can read his blog by clicking here – Whisky, Aye?
After all the furore about Jim Murray, I thought it was time for something a bit lighter. I was flicking through YouTube after receiving a notification that well known Whisky v-Blogger Ralfy Mitchell has released another video. Great, so I pop to have a look.
I could not believe my eyes! Not more than a week when I reveal that I plan to compare new and old whiskies, Ralfy releases this v-blog.
Hahahaha. I had to laugh. As though Ralfy would even bother to read what I write. I’ll look at what he has to say, but my research will just concentrate on the drams I’ve selected.
I just couldn’t believe the coincidence.
Anyway, I hope it raises a small smile. We all need it in these hard COVID times.
How the mighty have fallen or may fall. Certainly there is a large fall from grace in the case of whisky writer Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. This tome has been released on an annual basis since 2003 and many look to it as a guide to what’s good to drink in the wide world of whisky. The 2021 release has become a bit controversial, thanks to fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin calling out some of what can be considered lewd or sexual comments. Apparently comments like this have been made throughout the past 25 years, but according to Becky this edition she managed to count 34 questionable sexual statements. She made a post on social media saying how she felt it was unacceptable and now was the time to call time on it.
Indeed, it seems this is the time to call time on questionable behaviour. This summer has seen protests about Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality in the United States though in the UK this has mutated to also question the reverence paid to people who were involved in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was followed by protests and vandalism throughout the UK, with the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol Harbour.
Lets look at some of Jim’s quotes in the whisky bible by looking at this thread of Becky’s Twitter Feed. Click on this linkBecky Paskin’s Initial Tweet to see the full thread.
While none of this is particularly dirty, there seems to be a general sexualisation of whisky, which to be honest I have to say is becoming more and more unacceptable as time goes on. It is juvenile humour at best and venturing into creepy old man territory at the other end of the scale. As a male, even I find it a bit distasteful. I don’t want to have images of a man in his mid sixties speaking about sex come into my mind when I am having a dram.
Jim himself, from what I have read on social media feeds almost seems dismissive in his defence of his comments, going as far to accuse the subject being pushed by those jealous of his writing and talent. But in my mind, this dismissal could well be Jim’s downfall.
Becky Paskin is not just another run of the mill whiskyphile or blogger such as myself. She was the editor of a great website scotchwhisky.com, a great resource for those researching whisky and industry news. She’s also a whisky journalist, consultant, presenter and currently is a co-founder of OurWhisky which aims to provide education about the industry while recognising the modern face of the drink. Becky is also a Keeper of the Quaich, so you can safely say that she would seem to have an excellent grasp of the industry. You can almost feel that Jim Murray’s accusation of jealousy may have been founded by the fact the person calling him out is a woman. Would have been any different if the whistle blower was male?
I don’t know either person, but to read what has been said by both of them, it would seem that Jim has become a dinosaur from a previous age. I think the fact that 50% of potential readers of his books would be female should give enough motivation to be careful in what he may be saying; many women wouldn’t be particularly happy in reading the various smutty comments that are in his latest publication. It may also have passed him by that a growing proportion of talent in the industry have XX chromosomes, with many distillers, blenders, brand ambassadors, distillery guides being of the fairer sex. I learnt something from this debacle that Penderyn Welsh Whisky is made by an all female distilling team. Just goes to show that what is between your legs doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you progress in the industry.
What is more enlightening is the amount of female responses to Becky’s post, applauding her stand and letting their own struggles being known. Jim’s response to saying in the previous 20 odd years that he had not received a single complaint. Dismissal like this does not excuse any ill considered comments. Most people will just read, move on and get on with their day, but when it is consistent and throughout a publication then one has to ask what is the mindset to the author, especially when it adds nothing to the primary content which in this case is whisky. Have we forgot that many people don’t report sexual crime because they don’t want the fuss but once others start, then they feel encouraged and enabled to speak about their experiences. It may be unfortunate that Jim might also be facing the wrath of people affected by the actions of others and not just what has been written in his publications. He isn’t the first person to make questionable comments offensive to women in the industry, but he’s certainly being made the poster boy for the whisky world equivalent of #MeToo.
It has been a challenging time trying to get Scotty’s drams restarted after the drama of my wee flooding. To be fair it’s pretty easy to get the blog back on keel, all I have to do is drink whisky and write about it, not exactly a hardship. However trying to find the time in doing so when looking after a four year old means this is more easily said than done. Once the wee one is in their bed, all I can think of is having a coffee and looking to see what is on TV. I just want to switch off and not have to review a whisky or write about it.
Looking over my boxes of miniatures, I can see that I have quite a few pairs of different whiskies, one older and one more recent. Back in the day when I started Scotty’s drams I thought about thinking about some preconceived ideas and challenging them, such as blends are inferior to single malts, and the best whisky is old whisky. Well, there is one idea that I have been thinking about for some time and that is whisky from a different era is better than the whisky we have now. This is relevant to me in some way, as one of the bottles that got damaged in my flood was an old bottle of Macallan from the 90’s I’ve tasted this 10 year old before and I have to say I feel having compared it to Double Oak, the 90’s Macallan trounces it.
Now there is several reasons for this to be, but is it the same across the whisky spectrum and can it be proved? With those several doubles of differing eras sitting in my study, this not only gives me the chance to perhaps try and determine if this theory is true, it also gives me the chance to clear out a few bottles relatively quickly.
I’m planning to do one of these comparisons a month minimum,with whisky from every Scottish region. I only lack a spirit of yesteryear from Campbeltown, with the mass majority being from Highlands and Speyside. Samples include Benromach, Glenfarclas, Clynelish, GlenDronach, Auchroisk, Glen Keith, Auchentoshan, Bruichladdich, Highland Park, Glengoyne, Glenrothes and Linkwood. As close as I can, I’ve managed to secure whisky of the same age statement or cask type. However the Benromach is an old style 12 year old with a new style 10 year old. That might not be comparing Apples and Oranges, but a bit like comparing a Ford Sierra with its replacement the Mondeo.
I’m not convinced I’ll get a definitive answer, but there is a definite direction of travel on the three pairs I’ve tasted so far. I’m not going to reveal what it is until I post the relevant reviews.
This week has seen a bottle kill in the collection, the infamous Beinn Dubh from the Speyside distillery. Despite what many may think about it, I quite like it. I’m not rushing out to buy a bottle in the near future as I’ve quite a few more on the go that need to be cracked open, but I’m glad I tried it and would buy another in time. The bottle definitely improved as it went down as oxidisation took effect. The other whisky that I have looked forward to killing is the Glen Keith distillery edition. My earlier review “Giving Keith a Kicking” was perhaps a wee bit unkind. I’ve tried it in the best of the worst single malts to include in a hot toddy and it still failed miserably. The winner in that wee experiment was Jura Journey believe it or not. Anyway, as part of an effort to move some bottles closer to being killed, I tried some Glen Keith again.
It was surprising. It still isn’t really my taste, but was a lot more palatable after being open for over 6 months. I have to say I enjoyed it. Therefore after finding an old style Glen Keith in my miniature pile, I’m quite happy to perhaps review this one once more. It goes to show you that sometimes you just need to be in the mood for second opinions, or some whiskies really need a bit of time to open up and to be given a second chance. However, unlike the Beinn Dubh, I will not be buying a second bottle. The Coop sold it for £20 for a reason!!
Ergo – always give something second chance. I have rarely disliked a whisky but always have gone back to make sure. I’m kind of pleased I did this time.
Anyway, hopefully I can get another few reviews done for you soon. I’ve 2 weeks of isolation coming up in the near future so I’ll have no excuse not to write something down before I go back offshore. There is a host of drams to have, some older, some recent and some newer distilleries. Amongst them are Highland Park, Glenury Royal, Kingsbarns, Tamdhu, Braeval and Allt-a-Bhanne. There may also be whisky that isn’t Scottish….. and as I type some other samples have arrived from a Scottish exile in Belfast. My friend Nick has sent me some Glenugie, Cask Strength Benrinnes and Edradour along with the chocolate malt from Fettercairn. These go into the sample pot as well and will be reviewed as soon as I can.
We’ve now reached the end of the insurance claim process and I’m at the point of payout. Now seems a good time to wrap up the procedure and the precautions and advice I have about my experience. There are links to the companies I mention in the article at the end. This is not a promotionalpiece but a summary of my experience of the whole process, and I feel it would be remiss of me not to share the details of the companies used and my feelings about the service provided. I’ve included some pictures of the damaged bottles and cartons.
With a quick email it was over just as quick as it started. My insurance underwriters are prepared to pay for the loss in value to my collection. 21 bottles worth just a shade under £6000 and now they assess there has been £1000 loss in value. Realistically this is the best situation I could be in as all the bottles are still drinkable and had they been written off by my insurer I would have maybe not got the chance to purchase the ones I wanted to taste. Now that decision is mine. I’m not so sure that the value now is worth what was determined it to be post flood, but that is the thing with auctions – it could well be more or I get the chance to crack open a bottle I otherwise might not have.
Looking back on the experience from the horror of the first call to inform me there has been a problem to where I am now, the experience has not been as bad as first feared and indeed has been a lot smoother than expected. Let’s look at the reasons for this, for if there is one thing I’ve discovered, planning ahead prevents or limits disasters.
Find a decent storage area or facility
I use a storage facility in Perth. It’s about 70 miles from my house but prevents wee accidents when I maybe fancy cracking into something that I have bought as an investment. Ask the facility about their flooding record, ask about flood prevention. Look at security and the condition of the building. Is it likely to suffer flooding from a watercourse? Is it in good repair – does the roof look likely to leak? It’s always better to get an internal storage unit as it is less impacted by the changes in temperature. Going for a first floor locker prevents accidents like mine. Be aware those close to a metal roof are more likely to suffer variations in temperature and could affect your seals.
Keeping the collection at home? Keep it in a darkened place so the whisky isn’t exposed to direct sunlight or variations in temperature.
If using a storage facility, make you are well insured. Out of around 130 storage units in my facility, only 27 had any sort of insurance. Close to 100 units were flooded (some of the external containers did not get affected), and many of the insured only took the basic level of insurance which was £1000. However, the value of the items damaged was a lot higher and people have been left out of pocket.
I knew my items have high value, so using the facility insurance provision was not economic. So I insured via a specialist broker, Bruce Stevenson insurance brokers. Not only was this a great product, the service provided by them has been exemplary. I felt really guilty having only started my policy in April to making a claim in August, but that’s what insurance is for. I’m impressed by the friendly and efficient service I received, especially from Alexandra Richards, the broker that dealt with my claim.
The process was easy – one phone call and e-mail started the ball rolling. All I had to do was access my locker, record the damage and provide the details to them. They sorted the rest. They arranged a loss adjuster to see the damage who assessed how much damage had been done. I already had an estimate by time my loss adjuster arrived, so was already ahead of the game. That is why it pays to know the value you paid for your bottles and an idea of what they are worth as time goes on.
The loss adjuster reports back to the insurance company about the damage, having taken advice from a valuation expert. Then it is just a case of waiting to see what the insurance company will do. Alistair Spence of Criterion Loss adjusters gave some good advice about my situation and was very reassuring about the whole process.
If you are storing at home, make sure your home insurance will cover you in the event of flood and fire. Just because you only paid £35 for a Speyburn Flora and Fauna in 1991, doesn’t mean that it is still worth that amount. It can be well into the £2000+. If that gets destroyed would your insurance cover you?
Indeed, those with large collections at home may find themselves seriously underinsured as most policies have a limit per item, and above that will require each individual high value item individually listed. Be aware, large collections in the home will be seen as a fire hazard, something pointed out to me by my home insurance company that uses a red telephone on wheels as its logo.
I now know a couple of whisky brokers, and was lucky enough to have one who valued my damaged items for a nominal figure acceptable to any tight Aberdonian. However it is important to have an idea of what your collection is worth. Companies like Rare Whisky 101 monitor the prices at auction of bottles, and will provide a valuation or you can use the Bottle Valuation Index service which you can use to track your high value bottles, but you need to buy credits to use this service. I believe other companies do valuations cheaper, but I’ve used RW101 for a few years now and find the service pretty good and accurate.
You cannot just keep your whisky collection in its carton and expect it to survive. Part of the reason my collection survived mostly intact was due to the fact I professionally packed it in Airsacs. The only bottles damaged were those not in Airsacs on the lower layer of boxes on the pallets. I’ve learnt a lesson from this and now will flat pack cartons and make sure any packing that could be damaged is now at a level that flooding can’t affect it. Of course; the roof could leak, but I’ve put PVC dust sheets over my boxes to limit the chance of damage.
I use silica gel in all Airsacs, as well as polystyrene nuggets. Don’t use the environmentally friendly ones, as they go to a nasty goo when wet. All my packing materials come from Macfarlane Packaging. Airsacs aren’t the cheapest solution, but the alternative isn’t worth thinking about. The Airsacs on the lower layer of the pallets gave rigidity to the sodden cardboard boxes, keeping more expensive whiskies high and dry. Had this not been the case, then we would have been looking at a high 5 figure loss. If you are collecting whisky and storing it, a £200 investment in storage solutions makes sense and preserves the condition and value of your bottles.
And Alexandra from Bruce Stevenson agrees with me. For any asset it is important that good risk management and protection is key, and hopefully my insurance company sees that I made the adequate provisions for the foreseen threats in choosing a unit with flood protection, not exposed to temperature variation and professionally packed. Nobody foreseen the flood coming up from the drains and overcoming the flood prevention measures. And that’s why we insure.
At home, most of us will want to display our bottles. They are our whisky babies, but we need to store them where light will not fade labels or liquid, away from sources of heat and cold, away from children’s hands that might not drink it but accidentally knock it over and break it. Just be careful. It is understandable that you want to display your pride and joys, but consider where carefully. I know many people who have a whisky cupboard in their homes. Consider one yourself.
I’ve considered all these things and still got caught out. Don’t think it can’t happen to you as it can. It’s not the events that you can forsee that catch you, but those you don’t. I’m just very grateful I have had a specialist insurance policy in place which has met each one of my expectations. For around £350 the piece of mind alone has been priceless. I may have been facing a loss over a hundred times the cost of my premium so it is a no-brainer.
And now with payment looming I now have the decision of what to do with the damaged bottles. Part of me says sell them and move on. Part of me says drink them. In the case of the 10 year old Macallan this will be happening as I know the value in that bottle, and it is a superb dram. I’m licking my lips already in anticipation and so should my friends as I will be sharing. Of course I am on the lookout for another one, but we will see what comes up. I think a new change of direction is needed. From every disaster comes new beginnings and that is the way the pragmatist in me is seeing it. There will always be new bottles to buy, perhaps with a new focus altogether. Keep an eye on the blog or my social media feeds to find out.
The one thing that bothers me about items like the Macallan 10 is that I paid £240 after fees for it. Auction prices are now £340 then fees on top of that. Although I’ve been compensated fairly, there is an emotional thing that won’t let go. I’d say that once you sell, write off or open a bottle, you need to detach yourself from it. You need to stop tracking it unless you plan to buy another. For me it’s almost like stalking an old lover to see what she’s up to, which is wrong and creepy. Move on to bigger and better things.
I have a couple of things I wish to say in conclusion. Firstly, to all those who wished me well after my disaster, thanks for your support. It could have been a lot worse, but it was very touching to have your support, even though I’ve never met most of the people on the www (world whisky web). I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through what I’ve just experienced. It’s a fact of life we never expect bad things to happen, something that could be summed up by the fact how few in the storage facility had adequate insurance or any insurance at all.
It’s also been good to have been helped and advised by others in the whisky industry, and a special shout out goes to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. The resultant whisky geek out gave me tons of food for thought.
Lastly, I’ve had great service from my insurance company, Bruce Stevenson Insurance Brokers. They’ve ensured what needed to happen did at the right time, good communication and always left me with the impression that my situation was important to them. Despite not being a customer of theirs for very long, I felt every bit as valued as a customer who has used them for years.
I apologise if it seems I’m over promoting this company, but it’s with good reason. Other insurance companies are available but I can only speak from my experience with Bruce Stevenson compared to the cost of others I’ve used in the past. Bruce Stevenson has been recommended to me by several people and that spoke volumes. It’s turned out to be a good call.
Insurance can seem like that unnecessary expense that could be dispensed of to buy another bottle, but don’t lose your kingdom for the want of a nail.
It’s better late than never. I didn’t plan to run out of reviews in the summer, but an extended trip offshore of 16 weeks meant that I would have to be going some to have that amount of back dated reviews. I fear that this may happen again in the future, so keep yourselves braced for a period of inactivity here – however just because I may be down, I am most certainly not out.
As you will know from previous articles, my storage locker in Perth got flooded the same day that I came home from my last offshore trip and I sustained a considerable amount of damage. As I write this, I am still none-the-wiser as to what the insurance settlement is likely to be. I had already ordered some whisky online while offshore, and the morning after the flooding I realised I could not pick this up in person, so asked the retailer to ship it to me. When I contacted them they said if I added one more thing to my basket, they would ship the whole lot to me with no extra charge. As I had not seen the damage at my locker, and fearing for my Glenfarclas bottles from BP Magnus Platform 25 and 30 year anniversaries, I decided to order another Glenfarclas – this one the 2005 14 year old that was destined to be released as part of the now cancelled 2020 Spirit of Speyside. The retailer mentioned he had an open bottle, and if there was still some left when I next called by, I would be able to get a sample.
They say bad fortune often happens in threes, and I already had been stuck offshore, flooded whisky and a few days later, my wife had an accident in the car when she hit a small deer, damaging the bumper that had only just been replaced in March from a previous accident. Spirits were low, but the day after the accident I receive an unexpected parcel – a sample of the 14 year old Glenfarclas. It was a certainly well timed boost to morale.
In all, within the whisky community (although I prefer to hover around the edges) I have not experienced such an outpouring of sympathy for my phlight with my storage unit. Even my insurers so far have been brilliant and I await the outcome of my claim. But time waits for nobody and it’s time to look and move forward with the blog and look to the future. So without further ado, let’s move onto the tasting.
Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 58.2% Colour – Brown Sherry Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Figs, rum and raisin ice cream, dark, berry fruits, blackberries, slight leathery nose. There is a note of dark roast coffee powder too. Palate – quite tame without any water considering the abv. A pretty smooth arrival with a gradual rise in heat through the development. Waxy mouthfeel, with dried fruit flavours as is typical with sherried whiskies. This has the Glenfarclas DNA all over it. A hint of stone fruit, perhaps cherries. Finish – quite mellow while neat with a medium to long finish. A slight sulphur note, but this was quite pleasant, a good meaty malt. Water intensified the spicy wooden character for me, and was slightly tannic, giving me bit of a dry mouth.
This bottling left a bit of a sour note. It is / was only available through 2 retailers – The Whisky Shop Dufftown and the Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour. One of these retailers had a bit of a situation where somebody buying a bottle complained about the dispatch and shipping only it was getting sent straight to an auctioneer. That is pretty sharp for a flipper – at least let it reach your hands. It’s only £150 and despite being limited, it’s not sold out so it’s a bit of a risk trying to flip so early. Thankfully, the two I saw at auction only realised £140. Accounting for fees, the flipper only made £123 – a £27 loss minimum as the shipping hasn’t been accounted for.
As an aside, I feel for special releases that specialist retailers and auctioneers could refuse to take such consignments, as this is something that often pushes limited whisky out of reach of the genuinely interested in the liquid. But that’s a conversation for a different day and seeing how specialist retailers have been battered by the effect CV-19 on the economy, who can blame them for taking a sale?
The other sour side was that I had a wee bit of a conversation with somebody on twitter who reckons this bottle at £150 is over priced, as you can buy the 25 year old at Costco for £99. In fact the guy’s post I felt was quite arrogant, suggesting anybody who knew anything about whisky would know the 25 year old is a superior dram. Well, that’s fine if you have a Costco card. Even if I did, by time I drive back and forth to my closest Costco, I’ve lost the savings in the price of diesel getting there.
Plus, the guy made the mistake of assuming I had bought the 2020 release and hadn’t tasted it. Well I had – and while I never proclaim to know everything, I know that the other mistake the guy was making was getting hung up on the idea older is always better. It isn’t. I’ve tasted the 25 also and in my opinion the 14 is better. The higher price reflects the fact the bottling is limited. The 25 year old is freely available. I personally think anybody who knows anything about whisky would also realise the 25 year old is only 43% while this is cask strength at 58.2% and a true whisky lover won’t shop for it in Costco but support their specialist retailers. Touché.
To complete the verbal tennis match, the 25 year old is also available at the same price on Amazon. That would save the young man wasting their time and fuel in driving to Costco, but we all know what I think about shopping for whisky on Amazon. Game, Set, Match.
Moving on, I did really enjoy this whisky. The high abv was very easy to drink neat with very distinct sherried notes. Adding water for me spoilt it as it accentuated the spiciest parts of the profile and killed the fruity notes I had been enjoying. I felt it matched the experience I had last year with a 1973 Family Cask, likely to have been about 40 years old. As I never saw the bottle, I didn’t know what year it had been bottled.
Whether or not it’s over priced, well that’s subjective as it all comes down to the taste and everybody will have an individual opinion. It’s certainly not a bottle for every day drinking, and while I can say you won’t be disappointed £150 is a bit much for many people to drink on a regular drinker. What auction prices do remains to be seen but I doubt that it will go up that much in value unless a few get drunk. Initial low auction values may encourage a few to get cracked open. It’s meant to be drunk really.
The last few bottles are still available from the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Whisky Shop Dufftown having sold out. It should be a good bottle to have in a collection as if bought at £150 or below, should it not go up in value then it’s still an affordable bottle to drink and really enjoy.
I’m grateful to Matteo for the kind gift. The milk of human kindness isn’t dairy – it’s definitely distilled!
It’s a small world that the whisky community is. I found this out while making my insurance claim. A whisky broker that I contacted to help value my collections possible drop in value due to flood damage already knew about my wee misfortune due to him also dealing with my insurance broker. There had been no disclosure of information, just a mention that my broker was dealing with a whisky flood claim and then me contacting them allowed him to put two and two together to get four.
After dealing with the issues in hand, we continued a whisky geek-out over the phone, and when discussing our collections the discussion came across selling the collection. It had been my intention to sell piecemeal, but with such a large collection it was suggested that I need to be careful with tax. My broker informed me that the HMRC are starting to pay more attention to whisky auction sales, and in particular whether people are turning over more bottles in such a way that they can be classed as traders. While I am aware of the issues of Capital Gains Tax (CGT), it was suggested that I research the badges of trade, as piecemeal selling can be seen by HMRC as acting as a trader and therefore exposed to different tax liability. The same goes for casks – if you have more than a handful of casks, you may be also classed a trader depending on your potential situation.
While these are not exhaustive, this could be used against you where you are selling bottles at auction on a regular basis, in particular high value bottles. If you are seen as a trader, then you could be facing a tax bill of hundreds or even thousands, as this tax could be applied at up to 45% depending on your other income. At best, you will have to pay Capital Gains Tax, as bottled whisky is not seen as a wasting asset. If you are a higher rate tax payer, capital gains tax is 20% on the profit made. If you are a basic rate tax payer, this is 10% up to the limits of the basic tax rate, and 20% above it.
Example – you have an income of £25,000. Basic tax rate is £50,000. You sell a collection of rare Macallan for a profit of £40,000. Your tax liability for the sale is £2500 for the portion of profit below £50,000 and £3000 for the £15,000 above the £50,000 threshold. Total tax bill is £5,500.
The reason I mention a rare set of Macallan is that recently a Scottish man who bought a bottle of Macallan 18 every year on his son’s birthday since his birth is to sell it for a reported £40,000. This was published in the newspapers, (see here https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/food-drink/man-scoop-40k-whisky-bottles-22580659 ) and I’ll be sure that the HMRC are watching this. I know the person brokering the sale, who is Mark Littler, so I know that Mark will be conducting the sale with absolute integrity. I don’t know the full details and am reticent to ask as Mark will have client confidentiality to observe. In cases like this, tax liability can be variable depending on if the bottles are seen as individual items or a set. As the gentleman paid about £5000 for the whisky, that is a taxable income of at least £35000. It’s worth remembering that it doesn’t matter if you give the whisky or money to your offspring as the law also includes the disposal of assets. Capital Gains Tax can be reviewed here https://www.gov.uk/capital-gains-tax/rates.
It brings home to me that I have this headache to contend with when I eventually sell my collection. The almost perfect Flora and Fauna collection which will almost certainly be worth more than £6,000 may have to be broken up to sell, as the chances of me making more than that in profit are high. Plus, selling an entire whisky collection at auction not only risks flooding the market, you just don’t know what prices you will get. I guess you can’t predict auctions or what the demand will be when you come to sell.
Don’t assume that you can hide in the shadows. I’ve heard on the grapevine from a separate source to the broker valuing my collection that heavy users of auction houses that live in the Speyside area have been visited by HMRC, and this has been corroborated by one or two other sources. While this remains not 100% confirmed and the gossip remains circumstantial, there is enough smoke to guarantee a smouldering fire. Auction houses due to the nature of their businesses and the large amounts of money being traded are more likely to be audited, simply on the potential for money laundering. Should a particular client use them consistently for large amounts of money or many trades, this will not go unnoticed. Bear in mind the nine badges of trade – one of the badges refers to frequency of transactions. Be careful.
Lastly, if you are determined to be a supplier of alcohol or trader you may need to be registered as an alcohol wholesaler, and apply for AWRS, which is the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme. Failure not to comply is subject to penalties. Details of AWRS are here. AWRS guidance
So what else do us whisky geeks have to fear from the authorities? It isn’t just collectors that can fall foul of the law, us whisky bloggers can too, in particular those with YouTube channels. Now, I’m not up to speed with YouTube apart from wasting time on it watching other whisky geeks, but I gather that you can make money depending on your channel subscribers. Plus, many whisky vLoggers and bloggers use Patreon to fund their channel and whiskies for reviews. One vBlogger I am aware of due to the amount of Patreon subscribers they have easily has an income of around £16000 a year after the 5% fees are considered. Just let that sink in. I know people in full time work don’t earn that much. As long as this is declared on the tax return, there won’t be any problem, but further gives more justification to the HMRC classing the income as trader income, particularly if the channel also has merchandise.
The next thing that bloggers can fall foul of is receiving free samples from distillers or retailers. That is essentially being paid to review, therefore regardless if you give it a good review or not, do it often enough and you can be termed as a de facto business. If not that, then it can be termed as an income, in the same way as business gifts in the corporate world.
As a fellow blogger, yes I’ve got business cards made to direct those interested to my site. But I see many vBloggers with coins, Glencairn glasses, glass toppers and other merch. I’ve had a handful of coffee mugs I’ve made up with my blog logo, but there is no financial transaction – these are given solely as gifts. Again, charging for products and having logo emblazoned merch will also help persuade the authorities you are operating as a business, if taken in consideration with other factors.
Neither do I accept free samples or invitations from distilleries (yup, I’ve had them), as unlike some others, I’m not into whoring myself out to corporate interests, regardless of size of distillery. That’s not where my whisky journey was to take me and I was never seeking that kind of attention. That’s because expectations and commitments can grow and I’m busy enough with my day job. I’ll accept tasters from various retailers or friends but I’m not expected to review. It’s genuinely just for me to taste. If I do review its because I don’t want to open a full bottle.
And that brings me nearly to the last way we can fall foul of the authorities. This one will not make me popular I fear, but is hard fact and I’d hate not to say something only for a fellow whisky geek to get caught out.
Sample swapping. Especially if you have a blog or YouTube channel you actively use. The long and short of it is that it is breaking the law. “Ya boo sucks!” I can hear, but I’ll explain the law in Scotland. It is broadly similar in England and Wales. The following is paraphrased from the Personal Licensing Hand Book 2nd Edition – this is the guide book for people that covers the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 for people training to obtain a personal license.
1/ it is illegal to sell or give away for free any alcohol from a premises without a Premises Licence or an Occasional licence. A person has to be a personal licence holder to apply for an Occasional licence.
2/ It is also illegal to sell or give away alcohol without a personal licence or a personal licence holder present.
3/ It is illegal to sell alcohol or provide alcohol without an age verification policy (Check 25).
In Scotland alcohol is strictly controlled (believe it or not!) and traders not carrying out the required procedures for the sale or provision of alcohol can face a fine of up to £20,000. If you have a blog, are supplying samples even if they are free, then you could be potentially in a lot of trouble should the authorities become aware of it. They usually come down hard on the offender.
You don’t just need to say you are following the procedures, you need to have it written down in an operating plan which you’d only have if you were a business, as the chances of you being able to run under an Occasional Licence are nil; these are designed for events that take place on non-licensed premises and are temporary. That is the catch that could see you in trouble on 2 fronts.
Potentially only way around this is to demonstrate you know anybody you’ve supplied samples to personally, and not just an online ‘friendship’. For instance, I only give samples to work colleagues who I can demonstrate quite easily that I know personally. And as a personal licence holder I’m not wanting to jeopardise it.
Whisky clubs that meet on licensed premises still need to meet licensing regulations. If you meet in your own homes and no charge is being made for attendance then licensing obligations do not apply. This can be termed as a personal gathering.
Just think about how you could be opening yourself up to prosecution online using social media by advertising the fact that you are swapping samples, especially those with your blog logos on them. It could be argued you meet a badge of trade if you also have merchandise, and you will almost certainly be falling foul of licensing law if not properly licensed. To have a logo on illegally supplied alcohol would be the final nail in the coffin.
I hate to be a killjoy, but with the HMRC starting to take more of an interest in online auctions, it may just be a matter of time before social media falls victim to the attention of the authorities. Returning to my opening sentence of the article, it is a small world within the whisky community, especially online social media community, and should one fall, the potential for others to go like dominoes is always there. And trust me; I have to deal quite a lot with the HMRC due tax issues regarding my work overseas and involvement with differing tax jurisdictions. They are like Pitbull Terriers when they want money and I’ve heard of colleagues being bankrupted by them.
Worse still, if you are caught sending out alcohol without a license, then that is dealt with by the local licensing board and that will involve the police and a potential criminal record. Quite a sobering thought.
Whisky has been regulated for centuries. From the days of the illicit stills, people trying to get one past the authorities has always happened. But in these days of internet communication the chances of getting caught could be a lot higher. And crucially easier for them – the burden of proof is on you.
Just remember the Clash song. They fought the law, and the law won.
It’s not often that I write an emotional piece when I think about my whisky journey, but if there ever was a time, this is probably the best time now that I’ve suffered a small whisky disaster. I more often think about this journey in where it has taken me, where it is yet to go and how long it may take. I guess that I never planned it and it will be hard to put an end to it, so really all that can be done is look to where you’ve been. The blog was a way of me moving away from the negativity surrounding the politics of the UK that had been dominating social media, a tidal wave that I had been getting caught up in and it was time to change direction. I’d been collecting whisky on an incremental basis since 2006, and it was time to make bigger inroads to the journey.
Writing the blog hasn’t always been easy. I work away from home for long periods of time and believe it or not the last thing on my mind when I get back is devouring large amounts of alcohol. I have a pre-school daughter which takes up a lot of my time. That’s why I may not be as up to date about whisky happenings, but I never intended to be. I’m just sharing my journey and knowledge, hoping that others can relate. And if this is a journey, then up until last week, the ride was smooth and getting smoother. The metaphorical road was a perfect piece of tarmacadam ridden over by a Rolls Royce with suspension so fine nothing was going to interrupt the partaking of a sneaky dram in the back seat while your chauffeur takes care of the driving. Then the journey changes, I run out of reviews, my storage locker gets flooded and before you know it, that smooth ride hides the fact that you are aquaplaning sideways across the carriageway to smash into a tree and erupt into a ball of flames.
Thats what my journey has felt like this past fortnight.
Aquaplaning is actually an effective metaphor, as mid August saw me return from a 16 week trip offshore to find Scotland being hit by extreme weather. I was parked up in Aberlour having a sandwich when I thought I saw the first bolt of lightning, only to be subjected to a deluge and lots of surface water on the roads. Can’t beat that experience when you haven’t driven in so long, in a strange car and the windscreen wipers are just smearing the remains of flies across the windscreen rather than moving any water. Little did I know that some parts of Scotland were going to be hit a lot worse and that included my storage unit in Perthshire.
It was a completely different climate the next day – a sunny day in upper Speyside with little memory of the thunder the day before. I was spending the afternoon constructing the behemoth of a trampoline my wife had bought for our daughter when I received a call on my phone informing me that my locker had been flooded. While the skies remained blue, there was dark clouds on my horizon.
I don’t know if you have ever suffered the loss of a treasured possession, but I had literally felt as though I’d been punched hard in the stomach. I knew that I had some of my bottles on shelving but the majority of the collection was in cardboard boxes sitting in pallets. I had no idea what to expect. My mind was racing through the list of bottles I may have lost and this is where the emotion kicks in. While I never intended drinking much of the bottles I had collected, I was running through bottles that I would hate to have lost, not just based on their value, but on their emotional value. Each bottle had a story. I remember the first bottles I bought that started my collection – 2 Glenmorangie Truffle Oak Reserve, purchased in 2006 during a visit to the distillery. I paid £150 each. They now auction about 3-4 times that value. Or even special bottles like my GlenDronach handfills – one of which was distilled on my 19th birthday and which I managed to handfill on my 46th birthday. My Flora and Fauna collections – even though not the greatest or the most expensive whisky, I’ve spent the time getting all the wooden boxes, nearly all the 1st editions (only 2 short now) and even have two Speyburn to complete the two sets. I’d have been horrified to lose these. As would my insurer I’d guess. Recent Flora and Fauna Speyburn auctions have seen a spike up to £2900 a bottle.
And this is the question it comes to; is whisky not just a commodity that requires monetary investment but also emotional investment? i think if you are solely buying it to drink, then perhaps not, but if you are collecting it for whatever reason then I suspect there has to be an emotional attachment. I knew this to be the case when I eventually was able to access the site to see for myself. The financial burden was covered, as I was insured, but how would the emotional burden be?
I’ll cut to the chase – most of my treasured bottles were safe. Thankfully everything on a shelf was high enough, and those bottles on a pallet were mostly in AirSacs, which not only provided water resistance and saving most of my bottles, but also gave rigidity that prevented the boxes on the top layers hitting the water too as the cardboard box on the bottom disintegrated. Then the truth dawns – what about the bottles I kept in their cardboard cartons and not AirSacs? What if they were on the pallets? Sadly, because I well mark boxes with their contents, I realised I had some pretty expensive bottles or pretty irreplaceable bottles on the bottom layer.
It’s easy to get caught up in gloom. The best thing to do is celebrate what has survived. The aforementioned Glenmorangie and GlenDronach were safe. The rarest of my Diageo Rare Malts had also survived. But then I was seeing the Glen Albyn 1975, Brora 1982, Cardhu 1973 come out of boxes that had been devastated. My Strathearn bottles from the inaugural bottling of the first cask – both had their presentation box and certificate destroyed. My small Macallan collection took a big hit. My 80’s/90’s Macallan bottle, along with the 1824 series Amber, Gold, Sienna and Ruby – gone, although the 1824 series is largely still obtainable at reasonable prices. Glenmorangie Swamp Oak – gone. In fact, most stuff with a carton that was on the bottom layer of boxes on the pallet – gone.
It’s definitely an emotional time when you consider that most of the collectable value is gone. All the hard work gone. It’s not even as though you can claim on insurance for the hard work put in sourcing these bottles. That is when you may feel the most low. This is when we know what our connection with our drams is. Whilst mine started out being financial, as it is intended to pass this collection over to my daughter or use it to fund her place at university, I am now well aware it has gone beyond this. Perhaps you will feel the same if you have a decent collection, a sense of pride.
What I can’t lose sight of are two facts – I could have lost the whole lot, and others lost more treasured possessions than me. It all comes down with a bump when during the same bad weather people had homes, businesses and cars flooded. Other people in the storage units beside me lost personal possession such as furniture, photos, books, clothing. mementoes; it may seem like clutter to others, but they cared so much about it that they paid to have it stored. All very sad. And while my own tale is sad enough, at least it is easier for me to move on.
And I need to point out that my recent article on insurance was not only well timed, but has been reinforced by what I have witnessed over the past couple of days. People throwing out possessions, some of which looked antique had no insurance. I’ve been informed that out of 130 ground floor units, only 27 had any sort of insurance, and most of them was only the very basic £1000 offered by the storage facility. This reinforces the need to make sure you and your whisky collection are adequately covered. It’s bad enough losing memories, but don’t let yourself be out of pocket.
The bottom line is don’t think it won’t happen to you. I did but had insurance anyway. You have to remember that while whisky isn’t life or death, it’s more important than that.
I’ve an appointment with the loss adjuster next week. We’ll soon see what will be written off and what will be salvageable. Hopefully, fingers crossed that the soaked labels have dried out. I’ll keep you informed.
It’s been a couple of months at least since I’ve reviewed a Flora and Fauna release. Since I’ve managed to bottle kill my full size Benrinnes Flora and Fauna, it was time to move onto the next one and I had a choice – Pittyvaich or Inchgower. It was a simple decision in the end as I’d already reviewed a Pittyvaich thus Inchgower it was.
Inchgower is one of those distilleries that has quite an anonymous life. Currently owned by Diageo, the distillery provides most of its output for blending, although independent bottlings are much more available. This malt is a constituent part of the Bells blend, but don’t let that count against our single malt experience.
The distillery sits just outside the Morayshire coastal town of Buckie and was founded in 1871 by Alexander Wilson. The Wilson family went bankrupt, leaving the Buckie Town Council to purchase the distillery in 1936. As far as I can tell this is the only example of a local authority in the U.K. owning a distillery. In 1938 the site was bought by Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd to provide malt whisky for its blends. Arthur Bell & Sons were later bought by Guinness and after various takeovers and mergers, the distillery came a part of the Diageo empire.
Inchgower isn’t a big distillery – it has 2 wash and 2 spirit stills, and only outputs 1.99 million litres annually. It has quite a short fermentation of 46 hours which should give a more nutty sort taste to the spirit. The distillery location isn’t that far away from the mouth of the River Spey, giving this Speyside whisky a coastal tang.
Inchgower unfortunately does not have a visitors centre, but the local area has some great scenery. The weather in coastal Morayshire experiences a local microclimate, something that was instrumental in setting up the nearby RAF bases at Kinloss and Lossiemouth as training bases. Buckie a fishing town and although there isn’t that much to do there, it is one end of the Speyside Way, a long distance trail that follows the River Spey, often utilising the former railway line that ran between Craigellachie and Aviemore. The Moray Coastal path also passes through the town, and it’s a short walk to the impressive Spey Bay Railway viaduct if you are in the area.
Let’s now take a wander to taste the whisky in question.
Region – Speyside; Age – 14 y.o; Strength – 43%; Colour– Pale Straw; Nose – Quite light and fresh. Malty, biscuity, straw, soft oak with a touch of brine there in for good measure. Vanilla, light toffee notes; Palate – Grapefruit, tannic, apple, ginger, grapes / white wine. Nutmeg. Vegetal in places, but this disappears with the addition of water. Lightly waxy in mouthfeel but not consistent – felt a bit light on occasion. ; Finish – Quite short with a nicer balance of fruit at the end to counteract the bitter tannins from the wood. Notes of brine at the end. Tempers nicely when water added.
Just because it is a component of Bells, don’t judge it by the same yardstick. I’ve been lucky and enjoyed this dram from the start, but samples given to friends have been a bit of a mixed bag. Some didn’t like it, some did. Although it is not that a complex malt, it can be quite light, and the vegetal note I found could put people off. This could be due to the sharply inclined Lyne arms between the still and condenser allowing the meatier parts of the spirit to leave the still. I added water and let it sit for 10 minutes and this took a lot of the less desirable notes away.
Being a coastal distillery, the brine is present, and coupled with a light waxiness this reminds me of another Diageo coastal distillery on the opposite side of the Moray Firth, Clynelish. That too was bottled as a part of the Flora and Fauna range and also as a 14 year old, but has been re-released as a stand alone bottle and the abv upped to 46%, which may give Inchgower a boost if they decide to do the same.
I enjoy the lightness of this dram; in the past I’ve had grassy notes from this which I didn’t get this time. I did get a straw note which although that’s dried grass, it isn’t the same. It leads me to ask myself what has changed – my sense of taste as I age or is it the whisky making process? Whiskies do change over time, so it’s a point worth considering.
Available at less than £50 a bottle, this isn’t an expensive dram, and is worth what I paid for it. There are bitter components in here that may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s not that bad. I’d suggest trying this alongside an independently produced bottle to get a decent comparison.
Inchgower isn’t that rare but it’s not one you will see in every whisky shop, but a specialist retailer should be able to get it for you. At 43%, chill filtered and a dose of colouring means you may find better value from an independent bottle, as these are much more likely to have a higher strength, be non-chill filtered and have no colouring added.
I do recommend this dram, but I acknowledge it may not be something everybody will love. The title is a play on the phrase if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile, and while you may get the Inch(gower) but you might not enjoy the full mile of this whisky journey. It shouldn’t stop you giving it a go. After all, I like it, and surely others do. Try it in a whisky bar if you see it is available or alternatively you can get 3cl miniatures from the Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt websites.