I am sure you can guess that I’m never likely to get mobbed at any event and certainly I am able to do my shopping without being mobbed by fans. God forbid that ever happens. I’m just quite happy plugging away at what I want to do, and living in an area with not a lot of people in it when we are outside normal tourist season suits me fine. To be honest, lockdowns haven’t really made a lot of difference to me during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not often doing anything that interesting if I am at home from my normal job. Indeed, part of me doesn’t want pandemic lockdown to end, as it means having to face more and more people.
I’m not as social as you may think.
The distillery from which the dram for this review hails from has a similar sort of circumstance. It just isn’t that well known at all. Firstly, there is no Glen Spey. The River Spey rises in streams that flow into Loch Spey, a small loch situated in the southern edge of the Monadhliath Mountains, just to the north of the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve.
Despite being so unknown, it may surprise you that Glen Spey, which is located in the Speyside village of Rothes is not a young distillery, having been built in 1878, around the same time as Glenrothes. It was initially named Mill Of Rothes distillery, but changed to Glen Spey in 1887 and the distillery was sold to the London gin makers W.A. Gilbey. This would be one of the three distilleries owned by Gilbey, the other two being Strathmill in Keith, and Knockando further to the south. Gilbey eventually merged with Justerini and Brookes, a London wine merchant. This formed International Distillers and Vinters, eventually becoming part of Diageo in 1997. Over 120 years of existence and only been sold once – remarkable for such an old distillery that is part of the big four distillers in Scotland.
While in the care of Gilbeys, this became the home of their blend made from the three distilleries they owned. The blend was known as Spey Royal, and was produced into the 1970’s. I actually own a bottle of this but I’ve got doubts over its provenance. Despite being reassured it is not a fake, there are a few things about it that mean I am going to just keep it as a talking piece.
Glen Spey was not one of the original Flora and Fauna releases. The range that started in 1991 originally only had 22 bottles, all of which had wooden boxes and 16 had white capsules to show they were 1st releases. Another Rothes distillery with a Flora & Fauna release – Speyburn. Due to the very short time it was in production, this is now the holy grail of collectors, now regularly seeing £2000+ hammer prices at auction. By 2001, a lot of the Flora and Fauna range had been discontinued due to Diageo selling or closing the distilleries. Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Dufftown, Clynelish, Craigellachie, Glendullan, Pittyvaich, Rosebank, Royal Brackla and Speyburn had been either sold or a new distillery expression created with Flora and Fauna being withdrawn. Mortlach would also follow. So in 2001 four new releases were introduced – Auchroisk Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill. The new four were not released with any packaging. Later on Glen Elgin would also be discontinued in favour of a distillery branded bottle.
So, despite its relative invisibility, does Glen Spey shout out its credentials? Only one way to find out.
Glen Spey 12 (Flora & Fauna)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 yrs old Strength – 43% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known, suspect bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Green, light, grassy, pineapple, light malt and barely perceptible smoke. Palate -Sweet, Light, slightly oily. Apple, sour lemon, nutmeg, slightly soapy Finish – short. earthy finish, bitter and soapy with a bit of aniseed right at the end. Gives a rough burn down the throat when swallowed.
Glen Spey is a gentle Speysider. Quite a pleasing nose, but that is for me where the pleasure ends. So many times I have been switched on by an aroma, but only to be let down by palate or finish. In this case both. While I for many years have championed the Flora and Fauna range, this is one that I haven’t tasted until now. Lets just say I won’t be tempted to open either of the full sized bottles I have. While this distillery may play a great part in Diageo blended whiskies, this example of it as a single malt is disappointing.
If you are tempted to buy this, make sure it is only to complete your Flora and Fauna collection. You can buy this for £43 online but you may be better spending your money on something a bit better. Speyburn 10 is also from Rothes and is not only tastier, but cheaper as well.
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.
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.
As the blogging behmoth of the old versus new project continues (note to self; don’t do anything like this again!), I find my attention turning to the Lowland region for the second time. As hard as I have tried to spread out the samples of whisky to ensure I am trying a variety of styles and regions, it has all depended on the availability of miniatures or older whisky. The Campeltown and Lowland Regions were the hardest, due to the low number of distilleries in these regions. For many years there has only been two distilleries in Campbeltown until the re-emergence of Glengyle (Kilkerran) in 2004, supposedly to stop the SWA discontinuing the Campeltown region. The Lowlands have been similar, with only three malt distilleries, Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie. In recent years there has been an explosion of Lowland malt distilleries – Ailsa Bay, Annandale, Borders, Clydeside, Daftmill, Eden Mill, Glasgow, Holyrood, Inchdarnie, Kingsbarns and Lindores Abbey, with Rosebank re-opening and several others in development. Of course, the other problem is that older stock to do an old vs new review is impossible to get from these distilleries as of yet – I’m going to leave that project to somebody else in the future.
Glenkinchie was the closest malt distillery to the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh, until the opening of the Holyrood distillery. It was founded in 1837, by borhters John and George Rate. It may have existed as the Milton distillery in 1825, but records are a bit unclear. Unfortunately they weren’t that successful and they were bankrupted in 1853. The distillery was then converted into a saw mill, but this would not be the end of whisky distilling on the site. In 1881 the distillery was reopened due to the success and popularity of blended whisky, with the distillery as it now exists largely in place by 1890.
In 1914, the distillery joined with Clydesdale, Grange, Rosebank and St Magdalene to form Scottish Malt Distillers which in turn by 1925 merged with Distillers Company Limited (DCL) which has since evolved to become Diageo. The distillery did not shut down due to the restrictions on the use of barley in the Second World War, and eventually closed its on-site malting in 1968. The maltings were converted into a whisky museum which includes a scale model of a working distillery made for the 1925 British Empire Exhibition.
Glenkinchie was launched as a single malt with the arrival of the UDV Classic Malts in 1988. (UDV were formed by the amalgamation of DCL and Arthur Bell & Sons in 1987.) This was a series supposed to showcase different styles of Scotch Malt Whisky, but does not have a Campbeltown example, so has two Highland Malts (Oban and Dalwhinnie) as well as Lagavulin, Talisker, Cragganmore and Glenkinchie. Kind of pointless, as Dalwhinnie is also a Speyside, being closer to the River Spey than some of the traditional Speysiders like Glenlivet. Of course the saying goes that all Speyside whiskies are Highlanders although not all Highlanders are Speysiders. Glenkinchie was selected as a Classic Malt ahead of Rosebank, which became a part of the Flora and Fauna series in 1991 instead, eventually being mothballed by UDV in 1993.
Lowland malts are smooth, and were often triple distilled, but Glenkinchie is only distilled twice. It does however have the largest wash still in Scotland, with a charge of around 21,000 litres. It also has descending lyne arms from the top of the still, leading to an iron worm tub. This limits copper contact during distillation and can give a meatier, sulphurous profile. However the final result is light and fragrant.
The older sample is a 10 yr old at 43%. I obtained it as part of a miniature bundle at auction when I was wanting something else in the bundle. It has since been discontinued and replaced by a 12 year old. The newer whisky, which is also at 43%. It is a 20cl bottle which I bought at Cardhu in October 2019.
Glenkinchie 10 (old)
Region – Lowland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Light Malt, honeycomb, gingerbread. Smells greasy like a used chip wrapper paper. Hints of Brasso / Duraglit Palate – More malt, digestive biscuits, honey, vanilla, walnut. Develops into spicy oak, orange peels. Finish – Medium / Long. Peppery, white pepper oak spice, more peel, becomes slightly astringent with a hint of honey. There is also on taking another sip a hint of smoke and peat, star anise. Adding water gave me a burst of peppermint in the finish and an increase of the oak spices.
Glenkinchie 12 (new)
Region – Lowland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring -Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey Nut Cornflakes, malt, fruity – apple pie with sultanas and a hint of cinnamon. Light citrus such as a lemon cheesecake. Palate – Medium body. Quite sweet, vanilla, honey, malt biscuits, sultanas, grassy notes, peppery wood spice. Finish – Medium. Builds to bitterness as the finish continues, wood spice is peppery / gingery and slightly drying. a very faint whiff of smoke.
I’m going to have to be quite clinical about this as I was shocked as to how close the two drams were, yet both did give slightly different experiences.
Let me start out by saying I enjoyed both drams. Both were very pleasant and I would have no hesitation in not only drinking them again, but I’d also recommend both drams. Not anything that will set the world on fire, but both engaging and are a pleasant drink neat. The good thing is that Diageo have not played about with the abv, keeping the 12 year old, which was a replacement for the 10 year old at 43%. The colours were identical and it is clear that colouring has been used in these drams. There was no sign of Scotch mist when I added some chilled water, so I am assuming some sort of Chill Filtration has taken place.
The problem I have in deciding is that while the 12 year old is more smooth and lacks the bite of the 10 year old, it is easier to drink. On the other side of the equation, there was slightly more flavour that was discernible with the 10 year old. This leads it to be a decision solely based on personal opinion. However I felt there was also a better mouthfeel on the 10 year old. The 12 year old seems to be a little thinner on the palate. I could go into reasons why I think technically that the 10 is the ‘better’ whisky but I’d be talking total mince as it would still only be my opinion.
In football terms this would be a score draw – both drams score equally well and it is not possible to say that the older whisky is better than the newer whisky, despite my doubts. I’m just going to drink and enjoy.
Whisky history. It’s something that has gone through my mind a fair bit when I’ve been reviewing the old vs new drams. In fact it has been something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while. What sparked this mini confession was looking at the older bottle that I’m away to consume tonight. The label was in good condition, the fill level was good and it struck me that this was an almost immaculate bottle of at least 41 years of age. I wished that I was in as good a condition at 41! However, like me, the bottle couldn’t be preserved any longer and was away to meet its destiny. The end of its journey had been reached and had to be opened for the purposes of this review. And while sad as it was to destroy this history after reaching that age without a scratch, it was opened with the mantra ‘its made to be drunk’ running through my mind. After all, it was only a Glenlivet.
This thought of whisky should be destined to be drunk has been going through my mind more and more of late due to the rush on the newest Daftmill, Ardnamurchan and by the end of this week, the inaugural Torabhaig. I don’t mind the frenzy for new bottles. It’s understandable to a point, that perhaps people want to the the first to taste it, to have one for collecting or worse, to flip. As a collector myself, I’m not immune to criticism in this case, but it has saddened me to see Ardbeg ‘Arrrrrrrdbeg’ go on sale for over £100 more than the RRP. That is little more than gouging. A collector will know this and move on, knowing the value isn’t really there and wait for prices to subside, but it takes advantage of those who really want to drink it and forces them to pay through the nose. The distillery doesn’t care as they’ve sold out, but it is potentially damaging to their image. It’s a subject that I am determined to look into in the near future.
Anyway, from what I’ve heard, a source revealed that in his opinion Arrrrrrrdbeg tastes not too different to the 10 year old. I’ll save my money and buy Laphroaig or Octomore instead.
So, thinking of whisky history, It’s been a bit of a while since I last looked at Glenlivet. The Captains Reserve was the last bottle I looked at in 2019. You can read a little about the distillery history and what I thought about it here. Despite its massive output, Glenlivet is a distillery that I rarely look at. Perhaps because I feel their massive output is just ‘meh’. Not that I feel there is anything wrong with it, but my attention gets grabbed elsewhere. Perhaps it is just the ubiquitous nature of the brand that puts me off. I feel the same way about Glenfiddich, Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker. Not that there is anything wrong with these brands either, I just don’t seem able to engage with them, plus wherever I seem to travel in the world with my work, at least one of these is always obtainable.
The Glenlivet 12 year old was discontinued a few years back, and was replaced by the Founders reserve. This appears to have been a lamented decision, as the Founders Reserve just hasn’t appeared to have been as well received, most reviews I have seen in the passing seem to prefer the 12. Perhaps this makes this age statement a prime candidate for old vs new. Besides, it’s not really enough to write a distillery off just because I don’t pay attention to their product. It is time now to put that to bed, and try what is one of the most popular of the Glenlivet age statements.
Glenlivet 12 (Old 1970’s bottling)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 70 Proof / 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Light honey, vanilla, apple, slight leather, milk chocolate Palate – Quite sugary sweet on the arrival, with alcohol burn slowly arriving, golden syrup on toast, chocolate raisins, slightly heathery, creamy vanilla Finish – short to medium. spicy ginger as the last of the alcohol burn goes, chocolate bananas, custard, almonds. Adding 2ml of water only smoothed the spirit out, and has made for me the finish last that little bit longer with less of a gingery kick.
Glenlivet 12 (new / Double Oak)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – American and European Oak Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Creamy toffee, slight hint of bitter citrus – grapefruit or lemon, lightly nutty smell at the end, possibly almonds Palate – Creamy, buttery, toffee, apple, vanilla. Finish – Super short. Blink and you miss it. If I was forced to say something that it is drying, my mouth is left as dry as Mother Theresa’s sandals. Very quick burst of wood spice then nothing but a light hit of creamy vanilla. Adding 2ml of water has increased the spiciness and reduced the dryness slightly. There is a bitter citrus note that builds then fades away. However, at least this has lengthened the experience at the end. But in truth, I took a bigger sip this time.
This has been a bit of an eye-opener, mainly because I never had expected to get such a pristine miniature in an auction. There was very little old bottle effect in the older sample and I have to be honest that so far out of all the older bottles that I have tried so far in this series, this has to be one of the best, if not the best. It is certainly up there with the Glenfarclas 10 and Clynelish Flora and Fauna that I have tried at the start. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that the whisky that I am tasting is not the premium sips, but it is still a valid exercise to compare old to new to assess any differences.
Turning my head sadly to the newer Glenlivet, I have to say that nose wise it was fine, palate wise a bit light to my tastes but still an acceptable whisky, although I found it a bit boring, but my other eye was opened when I sampled it a few times and was getting pretty much zero finish. My palate went dry and it was almost like I hadn’t just tasted a whisky. Ok, perhaps zero was a little cruel, and I did get more of a finish once I added a bit of water, but even then, it wasn’t very exciting. Perhaps something I might put into a hot toddy or a cocktail.
I was a bit concerned that I was missing something, so I took it upon myself to trouble somebody in the industry as to what actually is responsible for providing the finish. It was as though there were oils or something missing, my thoughts were the chill filtration had perhaps stripped the newer spirit of the taste. So, I messaged one of the distillers I follow on Twitter, and he graciously answered my plea for answers. I feel that he put my thoughts into a more articulate way, and suggested that in the 70’s there would have been a greater range of ages available to make up a vatting, and it is entirely likely that there was more 1st fill casks used. The more modern version is probably made of product a lot closer to the 12 year old mark, possibly with less first fill casks, meaning the wood has a bit less to give in producing not only the nose and palate, but also the finish.
I’m a bit reticent in naming who helped me lest what I write causes a bit of fallout, but I hope I have interpreted your answer correctly, if not then you can give me a proper hazing on Twitter and I’ll go and sit on the naughty step knowing I must try harder.
Both drams were balanced, but the older one was definitely moreish. To conclude my reviewing session I finished the newer one so I could spend more time with the older dram. The newer dram was pleasant enough, certainly more enjoyable than the Aberlour 12 I recently tried but it just wasn’t really engaging for me, and the length of finish when neat was extremely disappointing. I’d recommend it as training whisky. The older dram was definitely the winner here.
In the last review I tasted two drams from Aberlour in which the earlier expression won the head to head. I now turn my attention to the two 12 year old samples that I have in my store. One was a sample from Matteo at The Speyside Whisky Shop of an early – mid 80’s Aberlour 12 he had in store for customers. In a recent auction win, I found that I have another old Aberlour, this one probably from the late 80’s – 1990’s. I really don’t know and am just going by what I can research on the internet. I’m not expecting a big difference, but they were samples to be cleared and could also help us find out if the extra two years in the cask made any difference.
I didn’t go into the history of Aberlour distillery much in my last review, and I won’t really go into too much depth now either, but here is a quick overview. It’s not really a large distillery, situated at the southern end of the village, and sits beside the Lour burn. Aberlour is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name Obar Lobhair, which basically translates as ‘Mouth of the Lour’. The formal version of the village name is Charleston of Aberlour. It got its name from the current village founder Charles Grant of Elchies (we’ll be hearing of that location again before the end of the series) who named it after his son.
Aberlour was formerly a stop on the Speyside railway line, passenger services ending in 1965, and freight continuing til 1968 when the Beeching axe finally fell. A very limited freight service did continue from Dufftown until November 1971, and I am led to believe it was to a coal merchants in Aberlour who supplied the local distilleries. There are a handful of distilleries nearby, Craigellachie and Macallan to the north of the village, and Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Imperial (replaced by Dalmunach) and Glenfarclas not too far to the south. And of course the Aberlour distillery itself.
James Fleming was the man who started the Aberlour distillery in 1879, with distillation taking place in 1880. Fleming was previously involved with Dailuaine distillery, close to the village of Carron, so had distilling experience. A man of many talents he was also a banker, Chairman of the School Board, County Councillor and even the Town Provost – the Scottish Equivalent of a Mayor. The distillery was sold in 1892, and James Fleming died in 1895 at the age of 65. But by that time he had really made his mark on the town through his philanthropy. He gifted the town its first meeting place in 1889 – the Fleming Hall. His legacy extended to the building of the local Cottage Hospital in 1900, and a suspension bridge over the Spey to Knockando Parish in 1902. All of these gifts are still fully operational over 100 years later. He is buried in the cemetery directly opposite the distillery entrance.
The distillery since 1974 has been owned by Chivas Brothers, now part of the Pernod Ricard drinks giant. I visited the Aberlour distillery in Oct 2019 when I finally got fed up of continually driving past when travelling between Aberdeen and home. It’s a good tour, mine being led by Nicola Topp, a young lady who’s family had an extensive history in the distillery. The tour was fantastic, and I’m happy to hear that Nicola has now moved to be involved in the production side at the Dalmunach distillery.
Compared to some of its near neighbours, Aberlour isn’t a large distillery. It has two wash stills and two Spirit Stills, and only 6 wash backs. In September 2020, Moray Council approved plans to almost completely rebuild the Aberlour distillery in phases, which can be seen by clicking HERE in an article that was published in the regional newspaper, the Press And Journal.
Aberlour 12 (Early 80s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, citrus, orange peel. Slight hint of dark fruit, quite sugary sweet, almost like candy. Palate – Quite tame on arrival. Not overbearing, no great spirit rush. Gentler than the nose would suggest. Creamy caramel, apple, bitter orange. Sweet candy note. Finish – medium long, spicy honey, nice gentle warming, hints of coffee, chocolate and raisin. Slight floral note found when a small sip taken and rolled around in the mouth. (Due to being only a 25ml sample, I did not add water)
Aberlour 12 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, Toffee, Quite a dark fruit sort of flavour, ripe plums raisins, definitely a sherry cask has been used. Fresh pipe tobacco, slight smoke. Palate – Oops. No real alcohol present, no buzz at all. Oh dear. It does give a nice sugary feeling at on the tongue, kind of like candy floss. A slightly bitter citrus (orange) is there as is the toffee and honey with a hint of dark fruit but oh so muted. Finish – Medium. Burst of peppery and cinnamon spice when the spirit does decide to appear, then goes into pineapple, coffee, then back into bitter wood notes, slightly drying. This gets shortened and the spicy burst goes with the addition of water, although there does have a slight caramel note left lingering.
Well, a wee bit of a disaster really. I can see why this is classed as a beginners single malt, as for me there is not really a lot going on here. Of course we can use the argument that these were older bottles, but yet to be honest for the first time in this series, I didn’t notice any of the usual tell-tale signs of old bottle effect, or having been exposed to the waxed cardboard seal of a screw top. Both drams were pretty even if it had to be said but the older expression was definitely the most consistent one.
What really surprised me was the newer one’s palate was just not really there. I had to do some research to see if I was missing something. I’ve seen descriptions such as ‘Full Bodied’, ‘Rich’, ‘Intense’. I have to wonder if they were drinking the same whisky as I was, or if perhaps 40% is perhaps a little too strong for them. Because if I have to be honest, on the younger expression, the palate is as flat and smooth as a dolphins bum. It’s like the beard on a 13 year old – barely there. I could go on with the metaphors. With the absence of a palate and a shorter finish, I thought it was another clear win for the older expression. However, I decided to do something that I hadn’t done yet, and that was bring on some of the big guns.
You see, sitting in my study as a present for somebody I haven’t yet met since I came home on Christmas Eve was a bottle of the brand new, up to date double cask Aberlour 12. I’m not really a fan of opening 70cl bottles when I have so many open already, but I thought that in the interests of research I should get that seal off and try. Besides it only cost me £30 in the Co-op, so not exactly a big loss. I’m sure I will see it on special again, and if I’m lucky, when I go back in the next couple of days it still might be at the lower price.
So – tasting #3 for the Aberlour 12 year old.
Aberlour 12 (2020)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite Fruity. Strong note of Moray Cup (explanation later), orange fondant, mint, honey, almond. Strawberry jelly cubes prior to melting. Palate – Quiet, a bit more oily than the previous two, wood notes pretty non- existent with a hint of bitterness at the end. Slight taste of almond, perhaps the red fruits and bitter orange. Perhaps a hint of ginger in subsequent sips. Finish – medium / short. Slight wood spice and alcohol burn as swallowed and I get reminded of Cointreau, bitter citrus. Nutty at the end. Disappeared quickly.
Conclusions (Part 2)
Well. I am glad I did not give that as a gift. The person would have thought I had hated them. You know, the colour and the nose excited me. I mean, Moray Cup…… For those who aren’t in the know because they have never lived in God’s Country (The Scottish North East) is a now defunct soft drink that was fruit flavoured, produced by Sangs of Banff. To look at it, you just knew it was artificially coloured, and a look at the range of E numbers in the ingredients list would confirm it. Such as it was, the label also had the warning to be careful in giving to young children. I am sure that a litre of that would give them AHAD so badly that they could be mistaken for a Springer Spaniel in a tennis ball and bone factory. Quite why it had two Caribbean gentlemen on the label I don’t know as Banff is normally as sunny and pleasant as a Siberian Gulag. Anyway, such is my lament for this drink I’ve gone and spouted off a load of rubbish, but those in the know would never bother with Irn Bru to cure a hangover – a bottle of Moray cup and and couple of rowies and away you go.
Sadly the palate was maybe slightly more prevalent than the early 1990’s bottling. But if I was to be honest, it wasn’t really there either, so that rules out any question that the older bottling had evaporated. It was almost perhaps as flat and smooth as before, but perhaps this dolphin has pimples on his bottom.
In summary, I was erring onto the inconclusive, but let’s look at plain facts. Its a basic 40% abv dram produced in massive volumes. You can’t expect it to be competing with some of the more exclusive brands or higher abv drams. I’m definitely not going to say these drams are rubbish – they are not, and will be a good bet for anybody starting on their whisky journey. Or even as an easy drinker, though I prefer other Aberlour expressions. A’Bunadh is a good start. However, in analysing the three whiskies had just now, taste is really where it is at, and despite the great nose, the lack of a defined palate and short to medium finish rules out the two younger expressions. Old expression wins by a gnat’s hair. Of course this is just my personal opinion. I’m going to enjoy the rest of the 12 year old as a wee nightcap and maybe stick to Aberlour’s more premium expressions which are very delicious in the future.
Oh, and I checked the price at the local Co-op this morning – back up to £40. I think I’ll pass.
Ever bitten off more than you can chew? I certainly have. Whilst it seemed like a good idea to compare old and new versions of whisky to see if we did have it better back in the day, I’m now faced with a massive backlog of drams. It’s becoming pretty daunting having to face constant dramming to enable me to complete this series before I head off to work again.
Such is the demand on my time, I have had to make the difficult decision to ramp up my publishing to 2 reviews a week. That’s up to 4 whisky reviews. It’s not just the case of sitting with an easy sipper; to review you aren’t just drinking the liquid, but constantly thinking and analysing what is in your glass.
Region – Lowland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Cask Type – Not Known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Rich Toffee, Honey, Heather. Quite fresh considering the age of the bottle Palate – quite a light mouthfeel, not oily but more like syrup from canned fruit. Citrus, slightly floral too. Peppery Finish – medium short. Peppery and malty at the end.
Auchentoshan 12 (2018)
Region – Lowland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Cask Type – 10 years Bourbon / 2 years oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Malty. Smells as though something has gone off, vegetal note, nutty, toasted bread. Caramac bars. A whiff of smoke.Palate – quite oaky and agressive. Definite taste of smoke, perhaps char from the cask, as I believe this to be unpeated. Mixed spice, honey, a slight sourness such as passion fruit. Finish – medium/short. Bit citrusy and sour with a slight whiff of TCP. Pretty insipid.
I have to say that I wonder why Auchentoshan decided to move from a 43% age statement at 10 years old to a 12 year old at 40%. It is without a doubt one of the more backward things a company could have done, especially in the age where consumers are more discerning. Both drams were chill filtered, both appear to have colouring added. While the 10 year old is from an era where these things are acceptable, whisky drinkers are wanting more nowadays.
Both drams lacked any complexity and adding water did nothing to them for me. After an hour with the 12 year old after adding water I found to be drinkable. I’m no expert, but I feel that the use of a re-racking for 2 years in Oloroso casks may be as a result of the use of tired, worn out wood. The char in the 12 year old was particularly noticeable to the point I almost thought it was peated. I didn’t get a lot, if any of the sherried barrels. More evidence of worn out wood.
Why they don’t bottle at 46%, natural colour and non chill filtered astounds me. Being triple distilled, you’d expect a smooth dram, but this wasn’t. One thinks the more diluted product at bottling and poor wood means that the distillery are attempting to maximise profits. The assumed re-racking of this offers little benefit. No matter how much you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. However, I’m not saying it this whisky is rubbish because I didn’t like it.
The ten year old, whilst lacking in complexity was a pleasant, though underwhelming experience and I much preferred this one. Adding water to this made it more relaxed and easy to drink, though I didn’t get any extra tastes from it. The experience was similar to my last review of a 1990’s Auchentoshan, which i did enjoy though this older edition was better.
It’s a shame, as I’ve always been put off slightly by the amount of non age statement whisky Auchentoshan have released. While I am sure they are all competent whiskies, I’m reluctant to try it if this what an age stated whisky is like. I guess I’ve just not had the right nip from this Clydeside distillery yet.
Taste Review #86- Benromach 12 (Old) vs Benromach 10(New)
We have finally come to the first sampling of two malts from the same distillery that are not comparing apples with apples. This was a little bit harder to find an older edition versus the newer edition as there just wasn’t a lot of easily available older Benromach available. However, this shouldn’t impact our whisky research much. And what if it does? Well, at least I will have the opportunity to re-do the experiment; I mean, I’ll have to drink more whisky. Not exactly a hardship.
The Benromach distillery is located in the Morayshire town of Forres, not too far away from the railway station. It is classified as a Speyside whisky, and is a borderline coastal distillery, as it is not that far away from the sea which is 3 miles distant, however the shores of Findhorn Bay, are less than 2 miles away, so the warehousing on site will be exposed to the coastal air.
Benromach was founded in 1898, and started producing whisky in 1900. By 1953 it had come under DCL ownership. Unfortunately, the distillery did not survive the downturn of the 1980’s and was closed in 1983. The distillery was cannibalised for spares until 1993 when Whisky Merchants Gordon & Macphail bought the site from Diageo in 1993. Due to the incomplete nature of the distilling equipment, G&M were obliged to start from scratch, effectively building a new distillery within the old one. By 1998 the distillery was once again starting to produce whisky again.
The older Benromach I acquired when I bought a job lot of miniatures from a person clearing their late father’s estate. While I sold most of them, I did keep a few, this being one of them as I own a full sized bottle which I haven’t opened. I did want to see if it would be worth it. Let’s see if it was, and at the same time compare it to a contemporary bottle from modern day Benromach.
Benromach 12 (old style)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 years old Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Not known. Bourbon with Sherry finish possibly Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -light smoke. melon, malt, honey, vanilla, tobacco ash, musty carpet, red apple peel. Lemon rind. Water accents the sweet. Palate -Oily, damp straw, malt, sour citrus, grapefruit, resin. Honey Finish – Medium – short. Mild honey sweetness with a hint of malt and peppery wood spices, returning to a lemony sour must.
Benromach 10 (2018 bottling)
Region – Speyside Age – 10 years old Strength – 43% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Lemon curd. Creamy, vanilla, peach, apples. A hint of smoke and barley. Palate -Light smoked peat. Sweeter than the nose, honey, apple, raspberry. A note of salty liquorice. Finish – Medium. Tropical fruit peaches, apricots, more smoke and a light brine.
What is good about these two releases is that although both have been released by Gordon & Macphail, only one has spirit actually distilled by them. The 12 year old was released in the 1990’s and therefore contains whisky that had been distilled by the previous owners, DCL (of course who became Diageo). And it goes without saying that the 10 year old was wholly the product of the current owners.
The other disparity between these two drams is that I am led to believe (and haven’t had it confirmed) that when Benromach was rebuilt in the 1990’s that the stills had to be rebuilt, so while the distillery may be in the same buildings, and was a near copy of the original, some things will be different and this may show in the finished product,
What I experienced were two quite different drams. Of course, there is more than just the distillery equipment that can make the difference, I have to wonder it things like fermentation time, where the cut was being made and whether or not barley and yeast varieties were all the same, so realistically it is hard to compare the two.
The other thing is that the older Benromach had that peculiar musty character in some of the notes. I initially wondered if this was the result of old bottle effect but this is similar to what I have experienced in the past with other old drams, in particular the 12 year old Glenturret. I decided not to put the rest of the bottle in my infinity bottle (not that it would have fitted anyway) but left it for 3 days to see if more air contact with the whisky would have done anything. It certainly did. The arrival was very sweet in a short honeyed burst, but soon the musty note returned.
The newer style was much more accessible, with a slightly higher ABV helping to give a crisp, clear punch to the dram. There was more sweetness to the dram, with smoke being noticeable, although it was a compliment to the other aromas and tastes, keeping well in balance.
You would think that the 12 year old whisky would be better than the 10, but it is hard to judge for me in my limited experience to decide whether this is the result of the distilling process or the age of the bottle. I’m tending to believe the age of the bottle is playing its part. However I have to say that with all things considered I believe the newer dram to be the better one of this pair.
Since I bought the newer dram, Benromach has undergone a rebrand. Whether or not the recipe has changed I do not know. The new labelling doesn’t appeal to me at all, looking a bit too Soviet for my liking, though looking back the typeface is similar to the 12 year old. I have to say the new BenRiach re-brand is very similar in its lack of appeal to me. However, this shouldn’t distract us from the whisky.
My old 12 year old bottle of Benromach in store is safe. While it was interesting to taste a dram from yesteryear, I don’t think I will be opening that one any time soon.