Whisky Myths Busted #3 – what is and isn’t a Speyside whisky.
In an effort to further cleanse my soul, we’ll start with a bit of a confession. I often confess on here, as it’s almost anonymous due to the fact I’m sadly not going to meet the vast majority of whoever reads this. However, as my readership slowly seems to go up and up, it can’t be a bad thing, can it? Perhaps people are just waiting to see what’s next. Sorry to disappoint the personality vultures, this time it isn’t salacious.
Confessing that I can be a bit of a pedant won’t come as a surprise for many, as some of you may already have guessed, but it’s not always the case. I haven’t been pedantic now for three weeks, 2 days, 17 hours, 22 minutes and 30 seconds. However there is one bit of pedantry that will not leave me alone; it’s the blurring of Speyside and Highland whisky regions, especially misidentifying Highland whisky as Speysides.
Those of you who have plenty of time to spend on whisky social media may be aware of a YouTube Channel called Aqvavitae. Run by Roy Duff, he runs a live stream mostly every week on his channel that is known as a v-Pub, where all sorts of people can drop in and listen to guests and get involved via live chat to discuss many various whisky topics. I often download the stream and listen to it in the car, as the fact I spend half the year at sea and the other half too busy to take part means I miss out. However, I do enjoy the quiz at the end (even if Menno is doing one of the impossible ones), and also the new(ish) section called “Is it a Speyside”.
The premise of ‘Is it a Speyside?’ is that a guest has to guess what Roy has in his glass. It’s always an available to buy core expression. The contestant then has 10 questions to find out what Roy is drinking. Sometimes they are against the clock. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I have managed once to be the winner of this competition in the chat, but it was a Tobermory 12 Roy had, definitely not a Speyside. The prize is a channel Sniper Coin, which many use to top their Glencairn glasses.
One thing that I have noticed that during the chat, many people when thinking of Speyside whiskies suggest whiskies that are often not even near Speyside. It isn’t limited to this particular situation, there are plenty of examples of people calling whiskies from Speyside on websites, even bottlers get it wrong – my bottle of Ardlair (unpeated Ardmore) is labelled as a Speyside by German independent bottler Liquid Sun. Recently I’ve seen websites or social media posts describe GlenDronach, Ardmore, Glenglassaugh and Royal Brackla as Speyside, and Macallan and Dalwhinnie being called Highland whiskies and not Speyside. It is time to clear up the confusion.
The Speyside Whisky Region was according to my research not legally recognised as a whisky producing area until the advent of the Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) 2009. Anything north of the Lowland area is classed as Highland, but the enclave of Speyside has been recognised due to the high density of distilleries in that area. The regulations are very clear on what is and isn’t a Speyside. Regulation 10.6c outlines the confines of what is classed as the Speyside whisky region, namely which are the 8 council wards of Morayshire Council, plus the Badenoch and Strathspey area of Highland Council.
It’s not practical to publish maps here, as I don’t want to fall foul of copyright, but you can find access to PDF maps of Morayshire and Badenoch and Strathspey by clicking on the area title below.
To make it easier, here are where the distilleries are located. (brackets denote silent distilleries with surviving buildings or bottlings)
Because prior to the creation of the Speyside whisky sub-region, all distilleries would have been known as Highland whiskies, or in its older, less definitive form, the Glenlivet suffix would be applied. Therefore the saying that all Speysiders are Highlanders yet all Highlanders aren’t Speysiders couldn’t be more true. Yet there are some Speyside distilleries do still describe themselves as Highland whiskies – Dalwhinnie, Glenfarclas Knockdhu (An Cnoc) and Macallan are four that spring to mind. While it is quite obvious that Macallan and Glenfarclas are in the heart of Speyside, Dalwhinnie is located in the southern part of Badenoch. It’s location at the start of a mountain pass makes you think that it could only be a Highland distillery, yet it is closer to the River Spey than many of the distilleries often thought to be quintessential Speyside.
Even Knockdhu / An Cnoc is just within the Keith and Cullen ward of Morayshire. The boundary kinks out east just to the north of the distillery. I have been in this area many times to use my preferred Honda dealer which is close by and is in Aberdeenshire, so I just assumed Knockdhu was too. Proves we can’t always be right. Better still, my inner pedant got some satisfaction, the mental equivalent of having a hobnob with a cup of coffee. Ahhhh!
Finally however, the SWR forbid the mentioning of two regions on a label, so distilleries in Speyside have to choose one or another. Just to mix it up, Aberlour once labelled itself as a Highland whisky, but now identifies as a Speyside on some bottlings. That’s ok, as long as it’s not both on the same label at the same time.
I hope this is useful, perhaps check outRoy’s channel on YouTube and take part in ‘Is It A Speyside?’ I’m sure he will be glad to welcome you, and now you are armed with some more knowledge, perhaps you can win ‘Is it a Speyside’!
Taste Review #106 – Arran Master Of Distilling 2 / Bere Barley 10
Thankfully this is the end.
Not of my blog, but thankfully it will be the last review in a while where I sample two whiskies at the same time. I find this pretty intensive, as I like to spend at least a couple of hours with each dram to try and understand them as best I can, given that the majority of time I use miniatures or sample sizes.
The two drams I bring to you today were given to me by a friend who told me that both he and his wife loved one of these drams and wanted to know what I thought. As a fellow countryman who hails from the east coast of Scotland, he’ll know that free will always be accepted. Take first, ask questions later.
I haven’t drunk a lot of Arran before, mainly because of my normal drinking habits take me to Speyside or Highlands, but not the islands. There are a few Arran miniatures that are sitting in my study waiting for review, but so far the time to taste them hasn’t been found. As I type this I feel that it is a shame, as the last Arran I reviewed, the now discontinued 14 year old was really nice. I was that impressed I made sure a few went into store so I can access that delicious spirit in the future.
The Arran distillery is a relatively young distillery, although it is starting to look much more grown up now we have so many new distilleries that have opened in the recent past, such as Ardnmurchan, Raasay, Daftmill, Dornoch, Eden Mill, Kingsbarns and there are a handful more in the process of not being far away from releasing their own spirit. Production started in 1995, so this means that the range is now able to stretch to 25 years old, bearing testimony that the distillery has most definitely come of age. By next year we may see the first three year old spirit being released at Lagg, the distillery at the south end of Arran that had to be built to enable the Isle Of Arran Distillers Ltd to have more capacity to concentrate on peated spirit. So far the main peated spirit at their main Lochranza facility has been the Machrie Moor release.
This release was bottled in honour of the master distiller at Arran, James MacTaggart, who had chosen the selection of Palo Cortado casks from Jerez, Spain. I have to say that I am more familiar with PX or Oloroso Sherried whiskies. Palo Cortado is a sherry type that starts maturation under a blanket of flor (yeast). When this does not remain intact, air comes into contact with the sherry, which starts to oxidise and form an Amontillado Sherry. This will give a nutty, savoury taste. However in the case of Palo Cortado, this doesn’t always happen and it becomes richer and darker like an Oloroso Sherry.
In the same shipment from my friend arrived another Arran whisky, the Bere Barley 10. This is a barley that in Britain is probably the oldest grain in continuous production. Bere is reckoned to have been brought to the British Isles by the Vikings, and is mainly cultivated in the North of Scotland, where the barley is able to grow in a short season on low pH soils. This is mostly in Caithness, Sutherland, Shetland and Orkney. This is a 6 row grain compared to the more common 2 row, but possibly due to its rapid growth and short season, it is not the most productive grain for the purposes of alcohol. However, in the 19th century, large amounts of Bere barley was used extensively by the Campbeltown distilleries. As strains of barley improved, it largely fell out of use. Nowadays, the only distillery releases that I can think of that use this Bere Barley are that of Springbank and Bruichladdich.
It is now time to move onto the whisky.
Arran Master of Distilling 2
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength -51.8% ABV Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – Palo Cortado Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Sweet. Nougat, Caramel, Floral (violets, rose water), Almond, hint of chocolate, porridge oats. A slight sour note of dry white wine. Palate – Medium body, sweet initially then a kick of alcohol. Peanut skin, orange zest, walnuts, almonds, red berries, slightly drying. Finish – Medium long. Cherry, chocolate powder, hint of must, possibly from an old book / old unvarnished wood furniture. A smattering of brine, slightly drying. With water, there was an increase in savoury note which reminded me of sautéed mushrooms.
Arran Bere Barley 10
Region – Highland Age – 10 year old Strength – 56.2% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Honey, Almonds, Vanilla, Peach, buttery bread / brioche, Floral notes, Lavender to the fore, mixing with the aforementioned honey, Coconut, Mango, Cardamom. Quite a lot going on in the nose! Palate -Cask Strength quite obvious here. Warming but not overheated alcohol arrival. Waxy mouthfeel. Quite floral, Pine, Honey, Sour Apple, Peppercorn. Bitterness, strong black tea. Finish – Short – Medium. Leafy – Spinach? Brine, more white peppercorn. Bay leaves, bitter citrus. Drying and fizzy.
As I said before I really liked the Arran 14, and although I hadn’t tasted much more Arran than that, I always had intended to try more, hence why I still have a selection of minis at home. I am glad that I kept that mindset, as the Master of Distilling 2 was a good dram for me. I always love a whisky with a cherry note to it, and the last time that I had that was the Wild Turkey Longbranch. My wife has since bought me a bottle, which I cannot wait to get cracked into. Whether or not I buy a Master of Distilling 2 remains to be seen, as although I like it, I’m at the point that I cannot really buy much more whisky in the vain hope I’m going to drink it within the next two years. I might still get a bottle to put into store, and see what happens.
The Bere Barley was quite good as well, but the strong leafy finish after the continual sweetness of MoD2 made my palate prefer the sweeter dram. I do have a sweet tooth! I found that both whiskies had a really pleasant nose, but only the 12 year old whisky really followed up with a pleasing palate and finish. Plus, despite being interested in whisky for many years, that is the first Palo Cortado casked whisky that I’ve knowingly had, and I liked it.
Master of Distilling 2 is available for around £75 if you look around the web. Bere Barley is about £36. Both not bad value for the experience given. I enjoyed the Bere barley 10 times more than Aberlour 12, and that cost £40!
Taste Review #105 – Robertsons Of Pitlochry Teaninich 12 and Tobermory 11
The letter T when I think of beverages has a big meaning for me, both reasons mean I have to be careful. Firstly, a big letter T in Scotland is synonymous with Tennents Lager. Which, if I was to be kind can easily be described as ‘Training’ Lager. That’s why many bars and pubs that stock this liquid have a large red T sign outside, pretty much as a learner driver has a red letter L on their vehicle in the UK.
The other reason I have to be concerned about the letter T is that while offshore over the years, many people in my trade play a special game, and in order not to lose, you have to be on your guard 100% of the time throughout the 12 hour shift. They will do anything to get you to say the ‘T’ sound. Usually it will involve getting you to spell a word that has T in it, say an acronym, or just saying something like ‘T-Shirt’. Because as soon as that letter comes out of your mouth, you can be sure that somebody is going to say “Cheers! Milk and no sugar please!” And thus it becomes your turn to get the teas for the other 5 in the room. If you aren’t alert this game gets onerous very quickly.
Thankfully in this review, we have two whiskies beginning with the letter T, one from a distillery I have reviewed before and one I have not. These are from the Tobermory and Teaninich distilleries. I unexpectedly obtained these two whiskies after reviewing another Robertsons of Pitlochry release, the epic Allt Dour. It seems on a small corner of social media I caused a little bit of a buying frenzy. Not one person I know to have bought it has had anything bad to say about it, many buying multiple bottles. Even I ended up buying three. Anyway, the proprietor of Robertson’s of Pitlochry, Ewan McIlwraith was grateful for the positive review. Understandably, 2020 was a horrific year for tourist towns, and footfall in Pitlochry dropped to near zero, and a little help in generating sales was very welcome.
To be honest, I do this with all the small whisky shops I frequent. The little guy needs help in these times, a lot more than the likes of Amazon, or whatever other online only retailer you use, but mostly Amazon gets my ire. Ewan had said that he would send some samples of his two latest bottlings. I was delighted to get a little recognition, but I don’t write reviews for this purpose; I do it to recommend truly good whisky. Those who have had an Allt Dour will back up my writing. Anyway, imagine my surprise when my two samples turn up. They came in 70cl size. I was flabbergasted at Ewan’s generosity. While he did not ask for a review, I felt that it would be a decent thing to do. Of course, I will not let the fact that I did not pay for these bottles cloud my judgement.
I’ve reviewed the history of the Tobermory distillery before in this Tobermory 12 review. It is an unpeated Highland Malt from the island of Mull. Teaninich is also an old distillery, having been founded in 1817 by Captain Hugh Munro. Teaninich has been in pretty much constant production since its formation, but probably with gaps owing to the World Wars in the 20th century. It was in the 1930s that the distillery came in the care of DCL, eventually becoming part of what now is known as Diageo. Nothing remains of the old distillery, with several rebuilding and refurbishing projects haven taken place over the years.
Teaninich is special, as it is one of two Scottish distilleries that do not use a mash tun, utilising a mash filter which ensures an ultra clear wort for the fermentation. Clear wort will give a less cereal based spirit, with less lipids resulting in a less oily mouthfeel. It is a distillery that almost exclusively produces malt for Diageo Blended Whiskies, but the only official release is the 10 year old Flora And Fauna. It is quite often seen as an independent bottle, with my most recent Teaninich being the Sherry finished 12 year old from James Eadie.
I’ve got a big anticipation of these malts and I am hoping that I get the same experience as I did with the Allt Dour, so it is time to look at the whisky.
Robertsons Of Pitlochry Teaninich 12 (cask 702603)
Region -Highland Age -12 years old Strength – 55.1% ABV Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – 1st Fill Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Creamy, Light Oak, slight vanilla, bit grassy, pineapple. Added water and the creaminess increased. Palate – Slightly oily mouthfeel, but still quite light. A pleasant sweet arrival, still creamy, caramel, sultanas, cinnamon, hint of brine. Easily drunk neat. Water reduces the alcohol and introduces a bit of peppery spice. Finish – Long, warming – very pleasant, even without water. The oily spirit coats the mouth. A peppery, slightly astringent with no bitterness. At the end I get a hint of salted caramel.
Robertsons of Pitlochry Tobermory 11 (cask 900161)
Region – Highland Age – 11 years old Strength – 61.3% ABV Colour – Burnished(1.1) Cask Type – 1st Fill Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite sweet. Sherry, caramel, dark sugar, honey, sultanas, raisins, creme caramel Palate – Sweet arrival, but rapidly builds into peppery spice. Rich, oily, a bit drying, caramel with a hint of Jaffa Cake Finish – Medium long, coconut, cocoa, raisins, peppery spice, Toffee.
Did I get an Allt Dour experience? Yes and no. Thankfully both whiskies were excellent, but I preferred one more than the other. The Teaninich was my preference, and that is solely because I was able to drink that one neat with no problem. That could have got me in trouble to be honest as I found it definitely reacted with my more-ish gland! Quite sweet, which for me is a bonus. There is a slightly oily mouthfeel, but this is more WD-40 rather than oil out of a V8 engine.
I was looking forward to the Tobermory, as I liked the 10 year old I tried earlier last year, and of course the 10 year old peated Tobermory (Ledaig) that I had as part of my old vs new series. However, it didn’t press my buttons in the same way, but this is solely due to personal preference. I found the spices a bit too strong for my liking initially, but adding water reined it in a bit. I did enjoy it, but I feel I need a bit more time with this whisky to get to understand it. I am really looking forward to trying it again after a trip offshore.
I have to say that both these whiskies give very little to complain about – Cask Strength, Natural Colour, Age Statement and Non-Chill Filtered. 1st Fill Sherry cask matured. Both tick all the boxes. Whatever one you pick, you’ll not be disappointed. To prove this point, when I return from my latest offshore trip, I’ll be sending some to my friends, so they can see the goodness for themselves and also to prove that I have not been positive due to the manner in which I obtained these bottles.
Click here for Robertson’s Of Pitlochry web page Are they good value? Teaninich is £65 and the Tobermory is £70. I would suggest for the spirit you are getting with these single cask, cask strength whisky bottles that they are indeed good value. With only 298 bottles of Teaninich and 324 of Tobermory available, these won’t hang about for ever. I’d recommend buying either one of these bottles, but if you buy both, £135 for two cask strength whiskies of this quality is a bargain. If you are feeling flush, the Allt Dour is still available and fits into this line up perfectly. Click here for Robertson’s Of Pitlochry website.
Yours in Spirits
Thanks to Ewan for these (generous) ‘samples’. I look forward to returning to the shop and hopefully get a chat.
If you are a regular follower of my blog, (and if you aren’t, then you should be!) you will know that over the past four months I’ve been doing taste tests of drams that are generations apart. The reason for doing this is to confirm or deny the saying that whisky was better in the olden days.
It is often the habit of people of previous generations that proclaim things were better in times gone by in their era. I used to scoff at them, but now as I approach a certain age, I can tell you that this may be the case. When I look back on tales of my own job, this is certainly the case. I remember the days when a ship would dock and there would be a herd of ‘Gangway Gazelles’ leaving the ship to head to the nearest bar. Times have changed now, and these things are frowned upon more and more, probably because they got tired of police arriving at boats, people just not turning up at the boat on time, or people just not turning up at all. It’s always an immediately sobering feeling waking up to see your ship sitting at anchor in the bay wondering how on earth you are going to get onboard. Only happened to me once…..
Whisky seems to have the same process. So many times you hear of people reminiscing about drams of yesteryear, the claim of how Macallan isn’t as good as it used to be, or even the qualities of discontinued drams in comparison to their replacement. Everybody has an opinion, but I decided it was time to maybe look a bit closer at this thought, to determine if it was a myth or if the various opinions had some traction. Thankfully, after a time of buying batches of miniature whiskies at auction to get one of the bottles contained within, I’d been left with quite a selection of older miniatures which had prompted me to investigate further and compare them to their contemporaries.
Let’s look at how I assessed the drams.
1/ I endeavoured as much as possible to compare like with like. That isn’t as easy as it sounds as core ranges change. Even, as in the case of Auchroisk, the age may be the same, but the Flora and Fauna is upped to 43% and is exclusively bourbon cask maturation, unlike the Singleton’s sherry cask finishing. In the case of the Benromach, there wasn’t a comparable 12 year old in the modern range, apart from a cask strength, so I used a 10 year old. As far as possible I used a contemporary dram if like for like wasn’t available.
2/ I never tasted blind. I know this may seem to invalidate my testing, but I don’t have coloured glasses, and besides, having seen the bottles before I tasted, it was often easy to see what one was the older or younger sample.
The other thing that made blind tasting pointless was the fact that I was using miniatures for a lot of my tastings. Due to the seal area / liquid volume ratio, plus the older drams suffered on occasion from old bottle effect, which made the older dram easy to identify. I mitigated this in most examples by letting the dram rest for 30 mins or adding water. It has to be said the usual taste was a musty, cardboard taste. I think that is common for older screw top seals, as a Glenturret 12 y.o sample I’ve had from a full sized 1980’s bottling was similarly affected. So if I was always able to easily identify the old or new bottlings by taste or smell, being tasted blind would make no difference.
3/ I’m fully aware that I cannot say that one is better than the other. That is because taste is subjective. However, my plan was if I could perhaps establish a pattern across the 43 samples I tried, there would be more grounds for coming to a conclusion whether whisky was better in the past or not
4/ I tried as hard as I could to get at least one whisky from each region, however Campbeltown and the Lowland regions have had tiny amount of distilleries for some time. This means it is harder to get old and new samples without purchasing full size bottles. This was going to lead to expense that I just could not justify. The reason I tested more Highland or Speyside malts is solely because samples were easier to obtain. Plus that’s where the majority of Scottish distilleries with visitor centres are located, thus more likely to have a 5cl release.
Cost has been a limiting factor. Some of the older minis were expensive. I had seen the older Aberlour 10 retail at £40 for 5cl. The Springbank I had to pay £40 for a batch of minis just for this one and another £60 for a full sized modern bottle so I could have one Campbeltown sample. The Highland Park 1980’s sample was £46 all in, but being 10cl, I’m going to be able to share that with a whisky friend who probably hasn’t tasted much, if any early Highland Park.
The 10 year old Macallan wasn’t cheap either. I had planned to use my 70cl bottle from the 1990’s that was damaged in a flood at my storage locker. It is still worth about £350 as a drinking bottle. In one way, I’m glad COVID restrictions stopped me retrieving it from the locker, as I’ve been able to get a 1980’s 10 year old sample instead. However, that was the same price as the Highland Park and only 5cl. So my whisky loving friends are going to have to wait a bit longer before they gets a sample of my damaged bottle.
So, no expense spared.
You can get links to each review by clicking on the distillery name which will open in a new page.
It can be seen that if you read each review that there were 14 wins for the older drams, 2 for the newer drams, three draws and one void. However it is not as simple to say that older drams are definitely better just looking at tally marks, as we have to take into account the subjective nature of taste. In the majority of times I picked the earlier era of whisky, this is due to the whisky in the older sample being more accessible, easier to drink, more pleasant notes or a better mouthfeel or finish. In the cases where it was hard to decide, it was often a gnat’s knee cap of difference, but a notable difference at least that I feel I’d be able to pick out on subsequent tasting.
Whisky and its distillation does change over time; it’s almost inescapable. There is little way of guaranteeing absolute continuity when staff come and go, changes in barley or yeast, changes in the time to ferment or distill, or even the temperature in the worm tubs can all have subtle differences. An example which you may not find likely but is 100% true occurred in the heat experienced during the summer of 2018. Dalwhinnie distillery had to stop production not because they had a lack of water, but they could not cool the spirit properly in the worm tubs due to the warmer water source, making the spirit character change too much. It makes me wonder how the spirit that was created just before they decided to stop will show through in bottling, though most likely it will end up in a blend.
One of the things I really noticed was that a couple of the newer drams had a very thin mouthfeel, or less intensity of flavour. The Glenlivet 12 totally seemed to lack a finish. I was able to communicate with a distiller who was able to give me a few pointers. Being honest, this is not limited to one distillery and it is unfair I suppose to name Glenlivet who have produced and continue to produce some great spirit. The answer confirmed a lot of my thoughts, but was put in a more succinct way. I’m going to add a bit more meat to the bones of what he told me so this is not quoted verbatim, but is also reflecting a situation that hasn’t exactly been a secret.
It has been no great surprise to hear that the distilleries have been facing a rapid demand for stocks, and as thus older stocks have been depleted. Aged whisky just cannot be produced on demand, so brands have had to make decisions on meeting that demand with stock available. A source in the industry once told me last year that a well known premium brand had a 12 year old whisky that once had an average age of 14-15 years old when you looked at the vatting. Nowadays its average age is 12 years old, and lacks the richness that it once had. Clue: – it is one of the distilleries that I tasted as part of this series. It isn’t limited to that brand either, as the distiller I spoke to while doing a review of one of these spirits said that this is common throughout the industry; a detail that has been mentioned to me by a few people in the industry. This may explain why so often the new era whiskies don’t have the same depth of character that older whiskies can provide. Distilleries just don’t have the same catalogue of aged barrels to pull from, and may preserve the older and higher quality stock for their more premium releases.
In my research, it was hinted that the quality of wood used has taken a backward step. When tasting whiskies of previous eras, most notably the sherry cask ones, the casks are not the same as before. Sherry ceased to be exported in casks in the early 1980’s meaning that source of casks was no longer available. Solera casks are not suitable for whisky production, as the Bodegas want as little wood influence as possible. Distilleries have been forced to season casks with sherry, and while you may get the taste, it is my belief that it isn’t as successful as having the real thing. Of course, some distilleries spend a lot of money getting their wood right, but some also may not concentrate on this to the same level.
The cask quality issue continues when it was mentioned to me was the general make up of casks in a vatting isn’t as good as it used to be. In order to perhaps lower production costs and increase the amount of whisky available, there are probably not as many first fill casks in the vatting of single malts. There are probably a lot more 2nd and 3rd fill casks getting used in any vatting. This may not be noticed in some whiskies, but most notably I noticed that the newer Aberlour and the Glenlivet I had tasted seem to have very thin bodies and next to no finish. The distiller I spoke to mentioned the fact less 1st fill casks being used will probably explain it. The wood has less to give, with less and less flavour components being imparted to the spirit. Indeed, I was recently shown a 9 year old 4th fill cask sample from a well known Speyside distillery, and to be honest it wasn’t much more than dirty dishwater in colour. One can assume next to no cask influence unless it is left for a couple of more decades at least.
It often leaves me wondering if production times have changed too, with fermentation and still times being made shorter to increase the production capacity where physical alterations are not possible or too expensive. With the boom in whisky sales showing little sign of slowing at the moment, the pressure is on distilleries to produce or lose market share. The more traditional distilleries also have the burden of having to supply produce for blends, which are in just as much, if not more demand than single malts.
A Personal Choice?
It is obvious if you look through the results of my reviews, that I do think there are good grounds for suggesting that whisky from previous eras are better in some cases. Of course it could be argued that this statement is dependent entirely on my own subjective point of view and taste, but that is why precisely why I deliberately tried as many whiskies as I could across each of the Scotch whisky regions. I also tried to pick some malts that I was unfamiliar with, so any bias could be ruled out. As alluded to in some of the reviews, I have always tried to find an identifiable flaw or difference that I could recognise in a blind test, in order to try and reduce the effect of simple preference. It’s not perfect but the best I could do in that circumstance.
I knew that bias would creep in. I had made my mind up that in the last comparison I did of Macallan 10 that the older Macallan would easily beat the newer dram, but I had to be honest and say that this just wasn’t the case at all. I would be telling lies if I said that one was much better than the other and doing a disservice to the quality control at Macallan. But I’ve heard from a friend who is involved in the industry that Macallan 10 was one of those whiskies that had an average age significantly higher than the age statement, so that made it expensive to produce. It was a good decision by Edrington to withdraw the age statement rather than continue with what may have been a much inferior product.
What mostly drew me to the older whiskies that I thought were better was just the depth of flavour, the length of finish, the mouth feel or just the fact that I was instantly drawn to it – that the whiskies were just so easily drinkable.
One thing that I noticed that in some cases the distiller had changed the ABV when producing the newer edition. Both Bruichladdich and Clynelish increased their core bottling to 46%, which removes the need for chill filtering. Auchroisk only upped their core to 43% in the Flora and Fauna bottling, but this also was supplemented by a change to exclusively bourbon maturation. There wasn’t a lot in the drams, but I felt the sherry finished Singleton had more character and mouthfeel than the Flora and Fauna dram. Interestingly enough, Auchentoshan had dropped their ABV to 40% from 43% but lengthened the maturation period. I personally think this was a backward step, as while I didn’t mind the 10 year old dram, I found the 12 year old was nowhere near as good and eventually was so undrinkable to me that it went down the sink.
There is one issue that we have to take into consideration was that the old bottles often suffered from the ‘old bottle effect’. I found that by leaving the drams to breathe for a while and adding a drop of water often mitigated this phenomenon but never eliminated it.
Drams that I liked or disliked
The one thing that my blog was designed to do was to encourage me to try different drams, and in this series it has forced me to drink a few whiskies that I wouldn’t normally drink. It is important to know what has gone in the past so we have a yard stick to judge the future. But is that really important? Because when it comes down to facts, all that matters is whether WE like it or not and definitely not as a result of others telling us we should like it.
The top drams that I tasted as a result of this series would definitely be –
Glenfarclas 10 (old)
Clynelish 14 Flora and Fauna
Glenrothes 8 (2007 – The Malt Cask Co.)
The drams I did not really enjoy
Auchentoshan 12 – so bad I couldn’t finish it
Aberlour 12 (New) – no finish whatsover
Glenlivet 12 (New) – poor mouthfeel and no finish.
The Final Caveat
Of course, this cannot be the final word. We have to keep an eye on what is happening in the whisky world. As I type this out, Glendronach have reportedly already removed the Non Chill Filtered Statement from their 15 year old bottling. Why they would need to do this when it is not necessary to chill filter a whisky at 46% I don’t know, unless they are thinking about lowering the ABV or are actually going to chill filter at 46% which will result in a change in flavour. It is a backward step, so this is why I maintain it is always good to keep an eye on the past so we can know that we indeed have tasted good whisky.
The final caveat is that we cannot stop here; we need to compare the whisky of the future to the whisky we have now to see if there is a progression. I think it is increasingly obvious that the production of whisky is in the hands of accountants as much as it is in the care of Master Blenders. We have to see that producers maintain or increase standards, or we risk going down the route that Auchentoshan went or that Glendronach seems to be heading. The internet has made information much more easier to obtain and share, with the result that today’s whisky enthusiast is much more informed and will not easily accept a reduction in standards.
Whoever wants to do the comparison of the next era of whisky against this era is welcome to do it – I’m done!
I’d like to thank everybody who has helped or encouraged me to complete this series. It has been an expensive labour of love, both financially, on time and emotionally. If you liked this article, can I ask that you share it, so it makes my work seem more worthwhile. And of course I will welcome all comments about this; it would be great if this generated some discussion in the community.
Taste Review #104 – Glen Garioch 15 old style bottling.
They say that time waits for no man and for me that is so true. Events always pass me by, as life for me often seems to move at the speed of continental drift as everything speeds past. This can have some very positive effects. Due to being fashion unconscious, I’ve found that I can use my wardrobe of walking gear, Levis and 8 hole Dr. Martens to drift in and out of fashion as it ebbs and flows around me. And I have both the black and cherry red variants so can mix it up a bit. Being a canny Aberdonian, this also has the effect of not wasting money on frivolous pursuits such as clothes and leaves more cash for whisky. However, this review isn’t a new release at all, but a bottling from the middle part of the first decade of this century. It is from my former local distillery, Glen Garioch in Oldmeldrum.
You may be surprised (or not as the case may be) to find out that this is a sample that I have had sitting in my wee kitchen display cabinet for over two years. I received it from a work colleague as an exchange for a wee dram of Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine; after all, wee yellow submarines are our trade. I’ve bought a handful of these bottles on his recommendation but have yet to open one. I’ve been itching to try it, but told my colleague I’d do it when I had time to really concentrate on it. Well, as is the case with offshore workers that have a child, that moment doesn’t come around too often. This poor sample was sitting on the shelf for longer than it should have and now that I have completed my course of antibiotics for an infected knee joint, this is my first dram of 2021. Publishing the review has been postponed due to my old vs new series, so it’s had a little longer to wait, but after 2 years in a cabinet, it’s hardly a problem, right?
I used to live a little more than 15 minutes drive away from here, but it was only in March of last year that I managed a visit to the distillery. It was worth it, although I didn’t take to the Founders Reserve sample given out.You can read my review here. There was nothing wrong with it other than it not being to my taste, and had several things going for it, not least the 48% bottling strength. But you can’t like everything that a distillery releases, though I am hoping that my colleague’s recommendation is a sound one. Let’s find out.
Glen Garioch 15 Year Old (2007 bottling)
Just for clarity, Garioch is pronounced Gear-ie and rhymes with dreary.
Region – Highland Age – 15y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Chestnut Oloroso (1.2) Cask Type – Not known. Suspect Bourbon with a sherry finish Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated but likely. Nose – Honey, slightly nutty, heather, caramel, quite sweet. Slight whiff of smoke suggesting peat, but that’s all it is; a suggestion. Palate – Sweetness all the way, with a heathery honey with that whiff of smoke in the background. There is more citrus appears when water added. The sourness increases and there is a mild lemon note occurring. It’s oily, and the legs on the glass are absolutely fantastic. Finish – Long, warming, sweet, with a slight citrus sourness building and a hint of wood spice. A bit more spice builds as time goes on as more is drunk. Smoke still there but continues to be subtle.
It’s a pity I left it so long. It’s a great easy going sipper. There is little complexity to this dram, but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes you just need something you can drink and isn’t challenging. To put it into the Doric language which is used all around the North East of Scotland, it’s a dram that gives you a ‘bosie’ (at’s a hug t’ aa iv youse ‘at cannae spik i Doric wye). Now I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the other dram, as I did say I might pass it on once I’ve done my review. Just not sure if being half full will rapidly change the dram due to dissipation, evaporation and oxidation.
And yet in that vein, I have no idea how long the bottle my sample was taken from was open, so it could be well ‘rested’ so to speak, but if it is, it has done the dram no harm.
You can pick one of these full sized bottles up at auction for a hammer price of between £55 – £70, plus fees. It’s not a bad price for an enjoyable whisky, but has been discontinued for some time now, so you may struggle to get it anywhere else than auction.
I’d recommend trying this if you see it going about. Maybe a bit on the expensive side for its age and abv, but a worthwhile experience.
What remains to be seen is if this standard of whisky returns to Glen Garioch. In mid March 2021, the owners of the distillery, Beam Suntory, announced a £6m refurbishment which would include a return to more traditional methods of distilling. The news that the malting floors were being reopened was a surprise, though a welcome one. Whether or not they will process their entire malt requirement is unclear though it can only be a good thing that this will be happening, whether it is a fraction or the entire amount. Exciting times are ahead and I’d mark this distillery as one to keep an eye on.
Yours In Spirits
Cheers to Ritchie Keith for the sample. Very enjoyable.
We’ve come to the last in my old vs. new reviews and I’ve saved what is one of the best known name in whisky until last. Macallan. This has been one of the hardest comparisons to be organised, as COVID got in the way of me reaching my old 1990’s bottle of 10 year old Macallan which was damaged in a flood. As I had consigned this to a drinking bottle it would have been perfect for this cause. Conveniently I had managed to pick up a 1990’s miniature at auction, as the 70cl Macallan 10 year olds are now reaching £400 at auction, and I am not paying that just to do a review.
The newer bottle was also procured at auction, and it is currently easy to purchase, despite being discontinued as an age statement. It is in a much different box, with the white Easter Elchies box being discontinued mid 2000’s. The range was rebranded slightly in 2004 with the introduction of a second 10 year old in the core selection with the addition of the Fine Oak edition, which introduced spirit also matured in American Bourbon casks. As to the Sherry Oak, sometimes when there is a rebrand, this is a chance to do a slight recipe tweak, so we’ll see if this is the case in this instance.
The 10 year old Sherry Oak was discontinued in 2013 and the 10 year old Fine Oak was discontinued in 2018. The youngest Sherry Oak is now the 12 year old.
With old and new bottles procured, it was then a case of finding time to taste them, Given I realised that this would be probably the closest comparison out of all the drams in this series, I wanted to give this time, so I could fully appreciate both drams. You can probably guess what happened next – at each attempt to get some adequate time to do any tasting, I never got my days chores finished in time or my daughter would decide that she didn’t want to settle in the evening. On one occasion I shot myself in the foot by having a strong curry, thus knocking my tastebuds out. This wasn’t boding well for getting the old versus new series completed.
But, as I am fond of quoting, John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” And indeed that is the case. It’s also quite appropriate to quote a member of the Beatles, as my feelings towards them are similar to Macallan – I feel both are overrated. I know that I will have lots of people shooting me down over this statement, either for the musical or whisky assumption or perhaps both, but I just don’t see the quality in Macallan when I can taste similar whisky (or better) for a lot less money. Glenallachie 15 is my preference to the Macallan 18 and it has the bonus of being much, much cheaper.
I’ve reviewed the Macallan old style before and have also visited the distillery. You can see my last review of the old style Macallan by clicking on this link. In this review, I had also the samples given by the distillery, the 12 year old double cask and the 15 year old triple cask which I didn’t review due to the small amounts, but the sherry cask 10 year old blasted both drams way out of the park. Since then it has been my intention to compare the old version of the 10 year old with a like for like modern equivalent, which has also been discontinued since 2013.
As a bit of a laugh, during my research for this review, I came across this on a website speaking about the history of Macallan. I am sure that you will spot the error straight away.
The miniature bottle I have was bottled in the 1990s and shows the Easter Elchies farmhouse. The 70cl bottle of the newer spirit was released around the mid 2000’s. This particular bottle was released pre 2010, before Macallan started using Hologram stickers to deter forgeries.
Macallan 10 (1990’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, raisins, dates, tobacco, butterscotch, apricot, slight funk from the bottle. Palate – All components in the nose were in the palate. Mouthfeel had a medium body, slightly oily. Finish – Medium – Toffee, dried fruits, slightly drying, gentle oak notes.
Macallan 10 (mid to late 2000’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, milk chocolate, marmalade, tobacco, raisins. Hint of acetone. Quite a light nose. Palate – thin mouthfeel, sweet on arrival, the raisins appear along with a bitter oak tannin Finish – medium / short The alcohol disappears quite quickly, leaving chocolate, raisins and a bitter note on departure.
Confession time – I seriously expected the old one to totally romp home on this one. So much so, I was worried that this preconception would affect my judgement. However, nothing could have prepared me for how close both these drams were. I have often poured scorn on Macallan in the past, which has to be said now was unfair and unjustified in this instance. The fact is that both drams tasted very similar is testament to their focus on quality. My surprise was compounded when I looked back to the review I wrote last year and found I nearly got exactly the same tasting notes.
So perhaps I should chastise myself a little bit and loosen the belt of cynicism that I have around brand promotion and give into the fact that 1990’s Macallan and 21st century Macallan of this bottling are not too much different. But before we give into back slapping and high fives, there were a few small details that need to be taken into account, as to my palate they were different.
The mouthfeel on the newer bottling was very slightly thinner. The overall experience was more bitter and sharp compared to the older expression. The older expression also had it’s issues, but the only one I could find that stood out was that there was a slight funk to the sample, which was definitely caused by the fact it was in a miniature bottle. Therefore I predict that this was caused by the seal. Had I been able to taste from my damaged 70cl bottle that is currently languishing in a store 70 miles away, the presence of a cork seal would have maybe improved the sample experience for the better.
I can definitely say the newer example has a slightly lighter mouthfeel as well as a shorter finish, but it isn’t a bad whisky in any sense of the word. I found it had more bitter oak in it, something I didn’t get in the miniature sample, nor the sample I had in my last review which had came from a 70cl bottle with a cork seal.
I spent a few minutes discussing this with one of my friends who is a bit of a Macallan fan. He correctly told me that the distillery will try as hard as possible to keep the same flavour profile, so there is unlikely to be a big difference in the recipe. What he did say is that he’d heard that the 10 year old age statement was retired due to it being so expensive to keep producing as there were more and more older barrels being needed to maintain the flavour profile, so it was axed and the 12 year old age statement continued from that point.
I’m going to enjoy the rest of this 10 yr old bottle; the miniature got finished in this review. The 70cl bottle was £120 at auction including fees. The miniature was £40 at auction so this hasn’t been the cheapest of reviews as well as not being the cheapest. But it needed to be done. Perhaps once I get access to my store, it will give me and my friends a chance to compare like for like with both drams having been sealed by a cork.
Was the older dram better? I have to say yes, but I think it is due more to my preference. £120 is expensive for a ten year old whisky yet the 10 year old releases in the white boxes that show the Easter Elchies farmhouse painting now regularly sell at auction for over £400 including fees. There must be a reason for that, and perhaps it is that others also agree with me that the older one is better. However I think that eventually when supply of the older dram tightens due to them being drunk, the price of the more recent bottling will rise in value.
My final opinion is that if you aren’t really studying the drams, it would be hard to tell the difference. You will get a good experience regardless of what expression of the Sherry Oak you try. The Fine Oak reportedly is not as good, and I’m not opening my bottle to find that at out – not just now anyway.
This is my final review in my old versus new whiskies. It’s now time for me to mull over some conclusions and I look forward to publishing them. I hope that you have enjoyed this series, please consider looking at the index of my tastings using the link below to let you see my other reviews of this series.
Meteorological Spring is here, and the Crocuses and Snowdrops have arrived and the daffodils are on the way. It hasn’t been the hardest of winters here in the southern part of the Speyside Whisky region and it was nice not to see the mess of my grass thanks to a month of snow and ice, but you can’t beat the sunny spring bulbs, the longer evenings and the warmer temperatures. Spring has sprung and the title of this article is taken from a song by one of my favourite bands, British Sea Power.
And I am also excited because it’s the penultimate review in which I compare old vs new whiskies and this time we take the only visit to the Campbeltown Region that I was able to obtain an older generation whisky for. To be totally honest, getting the new version wasn’t so easy either, as produce from this distillery does tend to disappear quite quickly. While I could get my hands on it reasonably easy over the internet, I found that many of the suppliers were taking the mickey with some of the delivery charges. With prices for the most recent bottling of the 15 year old Springbank online being over £70, some retailers were going to charge me over £20 to get it delivered to my house in southern Speyside.
Fortunately I just happened to check my friendly (sort of local) independent spirits retailer with only one actually having it in stock – the Speyside Whisky Shop. Not only that, at £63 for the bottle, he was cheaper than Amazon. Result. The older dram was sourced from auction as part of an auction lot. I have reviewed this bottle before in Review #53 – you can visit it by clicking on this link. Since that article will tell you all you need to know about Springbank, I’m just going to move onto the whisky.
Springbank (1990’s / Early 2000’s)
Region – Campbeltown Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour -Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Caramel, orchard fruit – pears, honey, slight malt. dried fruit Floral note, cut grass. Palate – Oily dram, great mouthfeel, the sweet hits right away, closely followed by spicy wood tannins, raisins, slight citrus sourness, creme brulee. Finish – Sherry notes, linger, chocolate, brine, vanilla, and a hint of wood spice.
Springbank 15 (2020)
Region – Campbeltown Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour -Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Toffee, almonds, worn leather, raisins, clootie dumpling, mushrooms. Palate – Oily, raisins, not quite as sweet and certainly more sharp. Bursts into a quick hit of wood spices, with ginger, pepper and nutmeg. Cherries and plum. A noticeable hint of smokey salt. Finish – medium dried fruit, brine, oak, creamy milk chocolate. Slight sulphur note.
With both drams being the same strength and age statement, this will make it easy to pass judgement without having to make allowances for differences. I am not familiar with Campeltown whiskies at all, so it makes a decent bit of sense to try at least one as I can approach this without any preconceptions.
Both drams were good. Let me tell you I could not find fault with either of them. However when it came to taste, there were one or two differences between the two. Of the two to drink, I have to say that I preferred the earlier era bottle. This is because there was more depth to the sweetness, the wood notes were bright but lower in intensity than the up to date version. There was a funk to the latest edition that wasn’t present in the older bottle. – while I have described it using worn leather and mushrooms, the savoury note was a little bit of a turn off for me. Given that I’ve enjoyed a few bottles in this series that have had an ‘old bottle effect’, this is a shame. Old bottle effect I have found usually subsides after being allowed to breathe or water added. In this case, the funk of the newer bottle didn’t disappear. Coupled with the hint of sulphur at the end, to me it’s an old dram which wins my preference.
Rebirth. The chance to start anew. And in this dram’s case it has had a couple more re-awakenings than Lazarus. As we are now into the top three of the drams to be compared to old vs new, I turn my head back to the GlenDronach distillery, which I last reviewed in July 2020. I have to tell you that if I was to call myself a fanboy of any distillery, GlenDronach would be there. Only I detest the term fanboy, makes me think that I should be devoid of body hair from the nose down and wearing latex underpants and little else. That is a sight you do not want to see. It’s just that I really appreciate the Glendronach 18 Allardice, which was the subject of my last review from this distillery. I do like a sherry bomb if I am not getting my head blown off by island peated whiskies, and GlenDronach fits into this very category very well, same as some GlenAllachie, Glenfarclas and Tamdhu, but we’ll skip over the Aberlour for now due to some fairly disappointing reviews of young age core range.
Glendronach distillery (let’s dispense with the Billy Walker signature capitalisation for a moment) has been operational since 1826, and was owned by Allied Distillers when it was mothballed in 1996. The older sample I have to try tonight is from that era, and was purchased from the Speyside Whisky Shop. By 2002, the distillery was reopened, while Allied Distillers eventually became part of Pernod Ricard. In 2008, the distillery was sold to a business consortium that included Billy Walker, who’d already bought the BenRiach Distillery in 2003 and would go on to buy the Glenglassaugh distillery in 2013. All three were sold to Brown Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels in 2016, and in 2017, Billy was involved in the purchase of Glenallachie distillery to work his magic there and spread some more seemingly random capitals into a brand name.
From what I could gather from the internet after my taste test that this 15 y.o dram was released in 1996, just before the distillery closed. It was the best seller in the limited range available at the time, although I do not know when it was discontinued. It wasn’t until 2009, under the watchful eye of Mr Walker, the GlenDronach 15 Revival was released, though by 2015 it had ground to a halt, in order to preserve older stocks. Re-introduced in 2018, this time by Rachael Barrie, I’d be hoping that stock management will ensure it will not have to have a hiatus again in the future, for this is a whisky that I’ve heard a lot of rave about, but never managed to wean myself off of the 18 yr old bottling. It’s time to find out if I can be persuaded to look beyond the Allardice offering.
Region – Highland Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Chesnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – PX and Oloroso Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sherry, Strawberry, Vanilla, canned peaches, citrus peel Honey Nut Cornflakes. After sitting for a while and after water added a more pronounced sour citrus (lemon peel) became apparent. Palate – Oily, coats the mouth. Spicy wood arrival, Slightly sweet, dried dark fruit, orange peel, gingernuts, milk chocolate Finish – medium – wood tannins, slightly astringent, raisins, apricots, milk chocolate truffle. Needed water to calm down the wood spice and bring out more of the flavours.
As much as these two drams may be similar in age, they do have enough differences to almost say that they are different whiskies. Looking at the two just in the bottle, we can see that the Revival bottling proudly states no colouring and no chill filtering. However the previous era bottle says nothing much apart from what it is legally obligated. So what do I think?
Let’s delve into cliches. The cliche about first impressions matter comes immediately into mind. When sampling the two whiskies neat, the older version was instantly drinkable and had so much more pleasant aroma. It would be remiss to write off the Revival at this point, as it was also presenting a decent nose, but yet had a slight sourness to it. And there I stick my hand back into the bag of cliches to find that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, I take a look at the cover of my Revival bottle to see the magic numbers of 46% written. So I’m not really comparing like for like, and by dropping the the ABV down a bit by adding some water, the playing field has been levelled somewhat. I am mindful as I write this that if somebody is playing cliche bingo, you may have a full house by the end of this review.
Because I was wanting to conduct as accurate a comparison as possible, I poured another new dram of 25ml and added 3.5ml of water, thus taking the sample down to 40%. This changed things a bit, the Revival has become more calm, the wood spice has subsided somewhat, and the flavours, although I didn’t find any more, came into a clearer focus. I also felt the mouthfeel change somewhat to be less viscous, even less than the undiluted 40% sample of yesteryear. The spices were still dominant for me, and I had to add even more water (1ml) to make it as pleasant as I felt the older sample was, then we have to acknowledge that we have taken the dram down to just under 39% abv.
And here is were we have to face an elephant in the room. And for a change it isn’t me making the trumping noises. There is a lot of noise made about alcoholic strength, and how more is better as you can dilute to how you like it. That is an undeniable fact. The other fact about having a stronger abv is the need to chill filter is removed, as the fatty esters that make a cold whisky go cloudy will remain in solution, and by not chill filtering, more of the goodness is retained within the spirit and transferred into the bottle for your drinking pleasure.
But let me suggest this, as we try to back the jumbo into the corner. Remember the earlier era sample was chill filtered, yet to me tasted better than the undiluted 46% Revival. In order to get the Revival to taste as pleasurable, I had to dilute it to a lower abv than the older sample, which left it with a thinner mouthfeel. Therefore, what sample is better? This is something that caused me a bit of consternation as it was obvious that it would look as though I am just expressing a personal preference. I reached out to one of my #Whisky Twitter colleagues Mick as part of the @Whiskychaps who review a lot of whiskies and asked his opinion. The advice was sound I feel, as he said that it is MY preference that matters whether or not the whisky was better. What do I get most enjoyment out of? He also made a very fair point that impressed me quite a bit when he pointed out that few, if any people who will read this will have tasted the pre-Billy Walker whisky and in my opinion that I can add probably even fewer can remember it. After all, it was in the times of Allied / Pernod Ricard ownership that this was distilled, pre 1996.
It is while thinking of this point that I can bring another strong argument to the table. I said in my exchange with Mick that I can compare the older dram to the 18 year old Allardice. It is an hour later after that exchange that I just thought of checking my notes for that review that I see a general similarity. It is worth remembering that some people are raving about the fact that the Glendronach 18 and 21 were using significantly older spirit than the age statement that was distilled not by Billy Walker, but by the former owners pre-1996. The Revival I have now is likely to be using spirit that was distilled entirely after the distillery re-opened in 2002. Remember that the initial Revival release was discontinued for 3 years, and the original revival was also using Allied distilled spirit. I think this forms a pattern that leads me to a definite conclusion. Perhaps I need to try the original Revival to be sure, but with auction prices being adventurous just for a quick taste, this is not a realistic option.
While I can honestly say that both whiskies are good whiskies, I’m not going to rush out to buy another GlenDronach Revival, but if I saw a pre Billy Walker era 15 on sale, I would snap it up. Controversial? Possibly, but what matters is taste, and I could enjoy the older dram straight off, the flavours seemed more balanced. While I have a lot of time for what Billy Walker and now Rachael Barrie produce, but I wonder now that the distillery is using spirit made since the re-opening, will the 18 and 21 head the same way going forward? I realise that this may not be a popular opinion, but we will see what happens. Will people start harking back to the Allardice and Parliament produced in the pre 2020 period in the same way they refer to the original Revival?
For me, this is an older spirit win. Thanks to Mick for raising some good points that helped me focus on what really mattered. I bought both drams from the Speyside Whisky Shop – thanks to Matteo for shipping to my ‘remote location’ as deemed by DHL. I paid £25 for the old miniature and £63 for the full sized bottle of the Revival.
This is truly a momentous occasion. It’s my 100th review, and its appropriate to mark this with a distillery that has a great reputation. It’s even better that this has happened during my series of old vs new, as I don’t get to taste just one whisky; I get to taste two!
I’ve reviewed a new Highland Park 12 before, this being the current offering which is called ‘Viking Honour’. I found to be acceptable and value for money. However the Highland Park distillery is one of those which often comes up in the whisky geek conversations that I have online where that it’s said that the previous era releases of this whisky are better. I can’t really speak with any authority on this, as Highland Park like the fellow other fellow Edrington stablemates Glenrothes and Macallan, are bottlings I don’t really purchase much, if ever. However I am in the fortunate position of finding an older Highland Park at auction. £46 for a 10cl bottle was a bit steep, but you can’t really walk into a shop to buy it.
What you can go and buy in many UK supermarkets is the latest incarnation of Highland Park. Its the youngest age statement in the Highland Park range and is often available for sub £30 if you look for offers. I felt that this wasn’t bad for its price point, but there is usually a bit of compromise involved in whiskies for this outlay. How does it match up to the older edition of the 12 year old Highland Park? It is time to move onto tasting and find out whether the newer one has kept up with the reported standards from previous eras.
Highland Park 12 y.o (1980’s)
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour -Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Ex-Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated, but did not have any Scotch mist after leaving in the fridge prior to the tasting. Nose – Raisins, Sherry, Honey, charred wood, apples, vanilla, fig rolls, salt laden air, a wisp of smoke. Palate – Entry is mild, slightly oily and sweet, moving towards figs, honeydew melon, dried currants, and a bit of sweet heathery smoke. Quite mild tannins. Finish – Medium. Honey, smoke, light brine and a building wood spice that doesn’t overpower anything else.
Highland Park 12 Viking Honour
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour -Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Ex-Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated, but did not have any Scotch mist after leaving in the fridge prior to the tasting. Nose – Honey, Slightly smokey, grapefruit, pine Palate – Entry is quite mild, weak and watery, Honey, heather, slightly floral which builds to a nutmeg, peppery wood spice, which becomes quite strong in comparison to other elements. Finish – medium short, wood spices, smoked wood, light sweet smoke. A burn of alcohol as it descends down the throat.
I’m not really wanting to beat around the bush here, but both drams were acceptable to my palate though one was a lot more refined than the other. There was noticeable differences between the drams. There is not any point in looking at the colour, as the colour does not determine taste and may just fool our minds into thinking the darker whisky was better. Highland Park does not add colour to their spirits. However both are chill filtered as far as I can see, though the distillery does not disclose on the packaging whether or not this happens. However as the fellow Edrington owned Macallan does chill filter their basic releases, I’ve no doubt that this is the case here.
There has to be a comparison made and to me the difference was a lot more than marginal. The older dram was smoother, more sweet, not so much sour and not so much wood spice. There was no overpowering flavours and the whole dram was one of harmony. And this is where the rub comes – tasting the newer Viking Honour beside a spirit at least a generation older shows that while many will accept the Viking Honour as a decent whisky, it is faded glory compared to that of the 1980’s dram. A strong citrus sour note, an increase in the wood spice and the rough end to the finish in the spirit burn as it goes down the throat is much more noticeable when compared to the old one.
In my previous review of Highland Park 12 (Honour) I said that it wasn’t bad and was probably good value. However when compared to the older generation 12, it is easily overpowered by its forebearer. Without a doubt, I’d have to say that the older dram is easily the better one and a lot tastier. If you ever get a chance to try an older edition Highland Park pre-Viking Honour, please do. You will not be disappointed.
The dark side. We all probably have one, or perhaps I should stop judging others based on my own experiences. This is the one time that I wished that I did a little bit of research before sampling these drams, as if I had, I would have learnt that one dram in the tasting tonight was in its initial incarnation before it joined the dark side and peat was added to the mix.
I feel it is important not to research too much beforehand as this is likely to influence the review I am about to give. I may look at the distillery history, as I quite often type this bit out as the whisky I want to review settles and has a wee breather in the glass. However it is not so long ago I wrote an article about making sure of what you are bidding on at auction, which included a tale of what happened when you failed to check and yet again I’ve ended up scoring a spectacular own goal. The two whiskies I was to compare to see if either the later or more recent expression was better has failed at the first hurdle – the two whiskies are completely different and cannot be compared, due to one being peated and one not.
For my faux pas to be explained, Ledaig is a whisky that is produced at the Tobermory Distillery on Mull. I’ve already reviewed one of their whiskies and quite liked it. But the distillery hasn’t always been known as Tobermory and it was the failure to see this rock of knowledge that saw my ship grounded.
The distillery which is the only one on the island was founded by John Sinclair in 1798 and named Ledaig. It had a patchy history, often with long periods silent, two of which were around 40 years in length. It wasn’t until 1979 that a Yorkshire based company, Kirkleavington Properties bought the distillery that it was named Tobermory. They didn’t have much success with whisky production, closing 3 years later, but they converted some of the buildings into accommodation and leased other bits for cheese storage. It all looked a bit dismal until 1993 when Burn Stewart took over, continuing with the Tobermory name.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the whisky we know as Ledaig was produced. It is a peated Tobermory, and it was my mistake to assume that whisky with Ledaig on the label would be peated. Before the 1979 rename, in 1972, a company formed of a Liverpudlian shipping company, Pedro Domecq and some business interests from Central America reopened the distillery. They weren’t successful either and the distillery went bust in 1975. Perhaps this is why a change of name which was also more pronounceable was carried out in its next period of production. Thankfully this was not before one of the drams I will be trying in this review was distilled. Still, a massive disappointment was experienced when I found out that it didn’t seem to be peated and was probably quite close to what Tobermory would be now. Oh well, my bad.
It is kind of pointless to debate whether this is a better dram than the 10 year old, as it is a completely different style before we even consider the age of the bottle, the lower abv and the greater age of the spirit. Therefore in this case before we even taste the whisky, I’m going to have to call this match null and void. I can give comparisons I suppose, but it was then I remembered that I have another sample of Ledaig in the house – a quick furrow about, and I find a 2008 bottling from Robert Graham’s Dancing Stag range. Not enough of a difference for an old vs new comparison, but still a worthwhile exercise to examine these drams now I’ve got them out.
Ah well. Worse things happen at sea I suppose. At least I now have three drams in front of me so time to get cracking.
Ledaig 1974 (Bottled 1992)
Region -Highland Age – 18y.o Strength – 43%abv Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not known Chill Filtered – Possibly Nose – Quite Light, slight malt, fruity, heather, window putty, a whiff of smoke, wood varnish. Palate – Quite light. Honey, peaches, grassy, buttery, vanilla, sweet gingery wood spice, a hint of brine. However, overall insipid. Finish – short / medium, slightly astringent, more wood spice, a hint of lemon citrus and brine.
Ledaig 10 y.o (OB)
Region -Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 46.3% abv Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known, likely Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Smokey peat, ashes, earthy, vanilla, honey, seaweed. Palate – Smokey, pepper, lemon, ash, brine. Slightly nutty – walnut. A hint of nail polish remover. Finish – medium, not particularly spicy, citrus, oranges, fresh tarmacadam being laid – the sort of sensation you get when your nostrils and throat get saturated with the smell of a road surface being laid.
Ledaig 8 y.o 2008
Region -Highland Age – 8 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Peat, smoke, overheated electronics, fudge, lemon, vanilla Palate – quite light smoke, black cracked pepper and sea salt, fudge, earthy, slight citrus. Finish – Long. Spicy, peppery oak spices, smoke, brine, celery sticks.
It is not the first time that my failure to prepare has got me into trouble. I should take my own advice more often. Even this week when going for a morning shower, I had forgot to take a bath towel with me and only realised the omission by time my shower was complete and I was soaking wet. Fortunately there was a hand towel handy, but it was like trying to dry an elephant with a facecloth. Making errors though needn’t be a bad thing, especially when tasting whisky as it just drags you onto new avenues, and at least its not as bad as discovering by accident that disinfectant bathroom wipes are not good for wiping your bum with.
However, if the older dram had been peated, I would have had to say that it would not have been the victor. It did have slightly less strength at 43%, but it also had an extra 8 years in a barrel. Not years well spent I think. To be slightly more considerate in my approach, it had been bottled in 1992, had signs of slight evaporation, so while I could pick out one or two notes, it was definitely a dram that had gone flat. I got tired of drinking it and although it was not repulsive to my palate, I had lost interest, so down the sink it went.
The peated Ledaig we are all probably more familiar with was a different kettle of fish. The flavours and aromas were well balanced, quite bright and punchy, yet not a knockout blow. I’d put this dram somewhere between Laphroaig 10 and Talisker 10. I managed to finish the lot without a single drop of water. Delicious.
The independently bottled Ledaig was not too bad but lacked the same depth of flavours and punch as the original bottling, despite being only 2 years younger and only 0.3% less in abv. I cannot help but think that keeping it in the cask any longer would not have done it any favours and I’d argue that this has been over diluted. It might be a cracking dram at cask strength, but in this guise it was a bit of a let down. Pity, as I bought it while in Glasgow while picking my wife up from the airport a couple of years ago, and bought one for my former Dalwhinnie tour guide neighbour as a thank you for looking after my canine equivalent of Jimmy Saville while I was away for the day. He said that he liked it, but that may have been politeness. At least his dog wasn’t under much threat of attack as it is a Newfoundland, and even Maksimus isn’t going to manage to ravish that. But like us with whisky perhaps he may have thought it worth a try.
You can still find the 8 year old Ledaig for sale from Robert Graham, but while it was an ok dram, it wasn’t as good as the original bottling. The price of £87.50 for an 8 year old spirit at 46% is a bit adventurous for the quality on offer here.
While I have already declared this as a null and void review in terms of the old versus the new, I can’t help but feel that the newer dram would have been the better of the two. I don’t wish to cast aspersions though it could be because the older dram was made during one of the two periods where the distillery was only open for 3 years, and they might have needed someone who knew what they were doing. I’ve heard the 1972 or 1973 are better but I’ll pass.