Examining the Bere Master

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.


Master Of Distilling 2

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.


Bere Barley (right)

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.


Arran Bere Barley 10

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.


Master Of Distilling 2

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.


Arran Bere Barley 10

Conclusions

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!

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Barley Photo – Public Domain / Xianmin.Chang@orkney.uhi.ac.uk

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Playing the Fool

Taste Review #81 North British 30 y.o (Dramfool)

Do you ever get hung up on something that you want but can’t get? One of the downsides of whisky blogging is that sometimes you taste a sample of something and it just drives you to want more of that thing. In this case it was That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Invergordon Single Grain whisky. Batch 15 at 42 years old was the oldest whisky that I’ve reviewed so far, although there are two older Invergordon samples waiting in the wings plus another 4 stretching between 9 and 25 years old, hopefully enough to slake my new found thirst for this distillery.

Try as I might, a bottle of aged Invergordon kept eluding me. At auction, each new sale seemed to see the prices going higher and higher, leaving me wondering if it was really worth the chasing. Common sense me said it wasn’t but the devil on my opposite shoulder told me the whisky-nomics were all ok and I should press on to achieve my aim. Of course, the devil on your back was never going to leave it like that and he also suggested I could look at other aged grain whisky.


Dramfool 30 year old North British Single Grain whisky

Thankfully, the common sense took over and I began to look at other distilleries. It was while I was perusing the website of The Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour that a 30 year old bottling from the North British Distillery appeared, bottled by Dramfool, a company started by Bruce Farquhar in 2015. I’d seen Dramfool produce before but didn’t know much about them, though I’d been recommended their whiskies before by Matteo the shop manager.

I knew even less about the North British distillery, other than it was a grain distillery in Edinburgh. However a little research on the internet reveals that it is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland, according to its website it is capable of producing 70 million litres of grain alcohol a year. Now thats a lot of spirit! Lets not forget that the distillation of grain alcohol has a different process from malt whisky, the former not relying on the batch process of the latter, but utilising the continuous distillation method of a Coffey Still.

The distillery was founded in 1885 by Andrew Usher, a pioneer of blended whisky when it became legal for single malt and grain to be blended together. The distillery opened in 1887 and has been going ever since. Its grain product forms the backbone of many blends. The current owners of the distillery are Diageo and the Edrington Group, owners of The Macallan and Highland Park. There isn’t really a lot to say about the distillery apart from there are occasional original bottlings available, but mostly any output as single grain seems to be the forte of the independent bottlers.

Details

North British 30 year Old (Dramfool Bottling 30th release)


The NB 30 year old dram

Region – Lowland Age – 30 Years Strength – 48.2% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type -Refill Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose -Solvent; polished wood, candy floss, pineapple, vanilla Palate – the character of the nose carries over into the palate with the addition of chocolate sponge, walnuts. Slight lemon note. Finish – medium to long. Solvent continues with hints of coconut, wood spices. 


Colour – definitely looks like a bourbon casked whisky

Conclusions

This was my first ever go at a single grain from the North British distillery. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It had a lot of the notes that I remember from my TBWC Invergordon. The devil on my shoulder was right, it is right and proper to chase aged grain whisky. While this might not be of the same age as the Invergordon whisky, I don’t think that matters. The taste and ease that this whisky was able to be drunk, even neat made me very happy with my selection. Even happier as I bought two….

Furthermore, now I have another independent bottler to keep an eye on. This is exciting and I cannot wait to see further releases, in particular single grain.

This bottle cost me £90 from the Speyside Whisky Shop. It is now sold out and isn’t available on the Dramfool website either. Was it good value? Yes, I believe it was. It’s not a distillery you see a lot of releases from, it was cask strength and 30 years old. NC and NCF means that it has a perfect spirit presentation. If I had only bought one bottle I would have been watching the auctions for another but I have one in store just waiting for the day I crack it open or sell it.

I would say if you see this bottle for under £120 and you fancy trying aged grain whisky, this is a good start.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own