And now there are two

Taste Review #61 – Talisker 10 and Talisker Skye

Last week I did something on Scotty’s drams that I hadn’t done in some time, and that was review two whiskies in the same article. So pleased was I with the result, I decided to do the same again this week, as I still have a shelf of a kitchen cabinet absolutely ‘stappit fu’ (that’s the Doric dialect for stuffed full) with miniatures. In an attempt to clear things out, I am going for it again.

Once again, this review of two minatures from the Talisker distillery were part of a three bottle set of which I have already reviewed the Talisker Dark Storm. It was a present from my wife, and reminds me of our last visit there in 2013. I’ve actually been there twice, and am quite familiar with the spirit that the distillery produces. For years Talisker was the only whisky distillery on Skye, and this is proudly proclaimed on the bottles I have before me. However there nothing worse in an age where things are changing so rapidly that what is fact and gospel one minute becomes outdated the next. There is another whisky distillery on Skye at Torabhaig which started producing in 2017, so hopefully soon we will be seeing spirit from there. When will we see Diageo update the Talisker labelling will remain to be seen.

The Talisker Distillery has existed since 1830’s, but wasn’t always a success on account of its remote location – even in today’s times it is still a pretty remote location. It wasn’t until it was taken over by Roderick Kemp and Alexander Allen in 1880 that things started to turn around. Kemp sold his share in 1892 to purchase the Macallan distillery, and in 1895 Allen died and it passed onto his business partner Thomas Mackenzie who was already involved in the Dailuaine distillery on Speyside. It was three years later when Talisker, Dailuaine and Imperial were merged into a single company. Mackenzie himself died in 1916, and control of the distillery was eventually gained by DCL which eventually evolved into the modern day drinks giant Diageo. It is a very important single malt for them, and by 1998 it became part of the Classic Malts selection.

The distillery has a visitors centre, which is very similar to other Diageo visitors centres, but I can recommend the tour very much. It is a beautiful journey to the Isle of Skye, travelling up from Glasgow on the A82, then cutting away from the Great Glen on the A87 all the way to the Isle of Skye, passing the Five Sisters of Kintail, Loch Duich and Eilean Donan Castle (Highlander Movie) and then over the Skye Bridge. The journey across Skye on a good day is little short of breathtaking when you get the view of the Cuillin Hills. Well worth the journey.

It is now time to continue with our whisky journey and proceed with the tastings.

Region

Highland

Talisker 10

Strength – 45.8%. Colour – Amber. Nose – Smoke, Slight Peat, Brine, Citrus, Seaweed, a shell fish note too. A caramel toffee note appears after adding water with a light vanilla in the background. Palate – Not as agressive as the nose may suggest. Quite a full body with a very pleasant mouth feel. It coats the mouth very satisfactorily. Smoke, light peat. Malted cereal, sweet and peppery. Finish – Medium – long. Quite spicy and peppery with an explosion of oak spices and a nice sweet peppery note continuing.

Talisker Skye

Strength – 45.8%. Colour – Amber. Nose – Smoke and light peat. Less than the 10year old. Stewed orchard fruits, toffee, a hint of liquorice allsorts. Palate -Not as full a body as the 10 year old. A good bit lighter, but still lightly oily. Smoke and peat levels are much more subdued here compared to the 10 year old, yet is still unmistakably a Talisker. The brine is more noticeable due to the lower smoke levels and there. Finish– Much shorter than the 10 year old and not as much spice, but still the smokey sweet peppery finish.

Conclusions

There is a reason that Talisker is important to Diageo. It is such a pleasant drink to have. Yes, it may be a mass produced whisky but that is something that should be disregarded as we should be judging on our experience alone. It has been some time since I have tasted Talisker 10, especially since I took a shine to Laphroaig 10, but I would say if you are wanting to experiment with peaty whiskies, I’d start with some Highland Park 12 then move onto Talisker 10. It has such a lovely mouth feel, and what is really beneficial to the drinker is the smoke and peat aren’t too strong. The underlying sweetness rescues you from any residual phenolics so you don’t feel as though you are drinking a bottle of TCP.

Talisker Distillery alongside Loch Hariport

Moving onto the Skye – it is a little brother to the 10 year old. Much more approachable and if you are a bit of a peat and smoke virgin, then this would probably be better than simply leaping into the 10 year old. The mouthfeel is still familiar, but has less body, and for my palate a bit less satisfying, but I prefer the more heavier peated whiskies when we have moved into the peated styles.

Thinking back to my previous review of Talisker Storm, I remember that being quite aromatic in the smoke and peat departments, with a long finish which became quite tedious in the end. Plus the aroma was as such I could smell the glass of whisky from the other side of the room. It was an average whisky, but I wouldn’t rush to recommend it. However, these two that I have reviewed above I can recommend, as they are very easy to drink and not overpowering in any sense, but still give a quality drinking experience. Of course, there will be plenty of other whiskies that may be challenging, but if you are just looking for an easy going experience with medium smoke and peat, then these two will hit the spot.

However, there are down sides to the equation. Both of these whiskies have colour added, which makes me sad, as I’d like to see a difference between the two to help me realise without tasting that these two are different spirits. Only one of the spirits tasted this time have an age statement, and this was the better of the two with the fuller mouth feel. Whether this is coincidence and the NAS Talisker has a majority of younger whisky which gives a lighter feel is just a guess, but I don’t think its far off the mark.

We have to end on a positive though, and after how good it tastes, we then have to think of how much it costs. While I cannot comment on the cost of the three miniature set at the time as it was a kind gift from my wife to reminisce of our time on Skye, you can pick these up at a whisky retailer for around £16 mark. The full size bottles of each bottle can be picked up for around £43 (10 y.o) and £45 for Skye. As Diageo are moving away from 5CL miniatures at their visitor centres, the 10 year old can also be bought in 20CL size for around £16. To be honest, I think these prices represent good value, and if I fancied a change from Laphroaig, Talisker would be where I’d go to.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

Talisker Distillery – Shutterstock

All Other Photos – Authors Own

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Double Trouble

Taste Review #60 – Balvenie Doublewood 12 & 17

It may come as no surprise to some of you that I may eventually find myself in a wee bit of trouble regarding whisky and it is so that this has eventually come to pass. During the lockdown and a short period of illness, I decided that it was time to clear out my study for it was starting to look a little bit like there had been a World War 2 bombing raid. There are a few bottles of whisky in there to go into storage, and the special bottles that are yet to be opened for review, but most of all there is my stash of miniatures that I have purchased so I can do my usual taste reviews. These miniatures are what is causing my problems, for I have found out that I don’t have the odd one or two, I’ve got about 80.

Now, 80 miniatures is not a lot, especially for those of us who collect them, but it was never my intention to collect miniatures though I have to admit I do have one or two of sentimental value that I will be keeping. 80 miniatures is a lot of reviews, and that doesn’t even count the whiskies that I have in full size bottles to be tasted either. It leads me to the problem that I have to overcome somehow and this I am going to do by cheating a little bit and do a vertical tasting. Fortunately I have a few distilleries in my miniature box where I have more than one vintage, so a vertical tasting is probably the most efficient way of dealing with things.

Within my stash of miniatures, I have the remains of 2 gift boxes, one was actually a gift from my wife, but the other one was bought from Wood Winters in Inverness, and was from the Balvenie distillery. The set originally contained the 12 and 17 year old Doublewood whiskies and also the 14 year old Caribbean Cask Balvenie which I reviewed last year. I think enough time has gone by and I can now review the other two, and start cutting down on the number of bottles in my collection

It is said that while the city of Rome was built on Seven Hills, Dufftown was built on Seven Stills built in the late 19th Century – These were Mortlach, Dufftown, Glendullan, Convalmore, Parkmore, Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The distillery of Pittyvaich was built within the Dufftown distillery complex in 1974 and Kininvie was built within the Balvenie site in 1990. Parkmore distilery closed in 1930 due to water quality problems, Convalmore succumbed in 1985 during a turbulent time for the whisky industry and Pittyvaich closed in 1993 when it’s output for blends was no longer required.

Balvenie is a distillery that still retains a malting floor, although this does not provide all the malt required for production. The stills utilise shell and tube condensers instead of the traditional wooden worm tubs. It is also a malt that you will not see as an independent bottle – owners William Grant and Sons (who have owned Balvenie since its construction in 1892) ‘teaspoon’ their casks that they sell on to ensure that it cannot be sold as Balvenie (or Glenfiddich for that matter) in order to preserve their market share. Balvenie has a small amount, reportedly 1% of Glenfiddich added to it, and is known as Burnside. Vice versa, Glenfiddich has 1% Balvenie added to it and is known as Wardside. Both Glenfiddich and Balvenie are present in the blend ‘Monkey Shoulder’ along with Kininvie, and nowadays Ailsa Bay may also be part of the mix.

Balvenie has a visitors centre nowadays, but it is very hard to get a tour, which often need to be booked months in advance – I’ve tried and failed! It is reported to be an excellent tour and it is one that I really want to visit, having already been to the Glenfiddich distillery some years ago. It is also on the pricey side (£50) but is limited to 8 people and is reported to be one of the best tours that you can get in a distillery.


Balvenie Doublewood 12 & 17

The two whiskies that I am going to taste for you are from the Doublewood range, and have been matured in refill American Oak barrels and Hogsheads that have contained bourbon They have then been finished in 1st fill European Oak Oloroso Sherry casks, then married in an oak tun for another 3-4 months to allow individual barrels to marry together. Wood finishing was a process that was developed by Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart in 1982 and is now a very popular process throughout the industry. The 17 year old has just been given an extra 5 years maturation.

All this typing is making me thirsty, so it is time for me to get cracking on with the tasting.


Region

Speyside

Balvenie Doublewood 12

Strength – 43%. Colour – Honey Gold. Nose -Sweet. Stewed Fruit. Raspberry Jam. Brioche bread. Elements of citrus. Digestive biscuits Palate – Medium body, Note of astringency. Vanilla, honey, walnuts moves to a bitter finish. Finish – medium, drying. Tannic with a sour note. For me water smooths the astringency a bit, but increased the sour notes.

Balvenie 12 year old Doublewood

Balvenie Doublewood 17

Strength – 43%. Colour – Old Gold. Nose – Quite sweet on the initial nose. Candy, Icing sugar, Apple peel, a light aroma of freshly cut wood. Raisins. Palate – Quite a light body, Spicy – polished wood, vanilla, dried fruit. Finish– Medium, spicy, cinnamon, slightly drying.

Balvenie 17 Doublewood

Conclusions

In all honesty I wasn’t really expecting that much having the 12 year old. I have had this before, and it didn’t float my boat, and the only reason for buying this set was to try the Caribbean Cask without committing to buying a full bottle. I think this was the wise choice.

As is usual, I always do my taste tests without doing any research into tasting notes, but do compare afterwards, as I want to see if I was far off the mark. I was surprised to see so many other people saying that this was a sweet whisky, but I only got the sweetness in the nose, but not the palate and certainly not the finish. In the case of the 12 year old, adding water only increased the sourness for me. In all I was quite disappointed.


Both drams side by side

The 17 year old was different. Between the two I felt that this was the lighter whisky. Perhaps being in the wood mellowed it a bit. I didn’t find the wood quite so strong here, and the nose was less fruity but had a much more pleasant sweetness. I felt that this dram did not need water, although I was pushed towards adding water to the 12 year old spirit. I definitely feel that the extra 5 years in the cask has made the spirit mellow out somewhat into a much more pleasurable experience.

While people speak of complexities in these drams, I didn’t get that. For me the sourness of the 12 year old drowned out any subtle flavours for me, and the mouthfeel on the 17 year old was just a bit too light for my preference. But this doesn’t mean to say it’s a bad whisky, as plenty of other people rate Balvenie as a brand, but not everybody can like everything.

The one thing that I noticed is that my miniatures were both at 43% whereas a full sized bottle of the 12 year old doublewood is only 40%. Both these drams appear to have been chill filtered and both have the addition of E150a colouring. I was a little disappointed in the latter – the alarm bells were ringing when I placed the drams side by side and they were the same colour, despite the 5 year age difference.

The 12 year old can be found in your local friendly whisky retailer for around £39 and the 17 year old is around the £110 mark. I would suggest that I do not find this a price I would pay for the 17 year old, although while I did not enjoy it, the 12 year old is more reasonably priced. I would however suggest to seek out miniatures of these drams before you pay such sums of money to see if you will like it or not, as had I paid for full bottles I would currently be disappointed. Your taste experience may be different to mine, but in this case I will be trying something else from the Balvenie warehouse in the future.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

All content and photos are subject to copyright and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

A Coat of Many Colours

Why Artificial Colouring Is Used In Whisky And Shouldn’t Be

Whisky is a drink of the senses. And while it is predominantly a matter for the sense of smell and taste, there is one highly important sense that cannot be discounted, and many do, and that is our sense of sight.

While the consumer may think that ultimately sight isn’t important, it is my firm opinion that it is, and we may pick a whisky consciously or unconsciously partly based on the colour of the spirit. We shop with our eyes and seeing a nice darker colour in our whisky is like a visual Pavlov’s dog experiment. I’m salivating just thinking of a darker whisky now, and if I was to taste such a coloured whisky, there is a chance that I’d probably taste sherry notes, even if none were there, but that was a different scientific experiment.

So where does the natural colour come from?

The new make spirit that comes out of the stills is clear – it looks like a glass of water, but take a swig of it, and you’ll soon wish it was water! Sitting at potentially just below 70% alcohol, it’s not the most pleasant thing to have in big mouthfuls. The spirit actually gets its colour from the cask.


Clearic – spirit straight from the still


The new make spirit is gauged and taken down to around 63.5% abv. This is so it doesn’t destroy the barrel or evaporate too quickly. What colour the barrel gives will depend on different factors – namely

– the type of wood (European or American oak normally)

– how the barrel was charred

– what the barrel held previously.

– the size of the barrel

– how long the spirit stays in the barrel

– the age of the barrel

Before I go any further, I’ll just remind you all that I am no expert, and I may have missed a couple of factors but I definitely have the main ones. If you see I’ve missed one, let me know.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper.

1/ The type of oak. All Scotch whisky has to be matured in an oak barrel. No ifs or buts. If it hasn’t, it cannot be called Scotch whisky. American oak is often used due to the availability of bourbon casks. The wood is denser, and therefore interacts with the spirit less. European oak is used, often as the result of using ex-sherry, port or wine casks.

2/ How the barrel is charred. All whisky barrels get toasted. This is done to help shape the barrels, and will also start breaking down the chemical components of the wood. Wine and Sherry casks are only toasted when they are made for the original fill. This will prevent the liquid tasting sappy. By law, bourbon casks have to have a char applied, which means subjecting the inside of the barrel to a flame to char the wood. This further alters the chemical components of the wood but also opens up the wood to have a greater surface area. This has a big impact on flavour, but with more wood interaction will also have an effect on colour. For an interesting article on char please look at this article at Difford’s guide. This will give you more information.

A virgin oak cask means it has not held any other liquid prior to being filled with new make spirit, but will still have been toasted at least.

3/ What the barrel held previously. Bourbon whisky barrels tend to give a lighter colour, where sherry and port casks give a much darker, richer colour. Other spirits like cognac casks also give a nice deep amber.

4/ The size of the barrel. The smaller the barrel, the more wood contact there is. This is a technique for maturing whisky that little bit faster. It will also help develop colour too


Different cask sizes at Glenfarclas. Note the small quarter cask.


5/ How long the whisky stays in the barrel. The longer a spirit is in the barrel, the more interaction with the wood, therefore more opportunity to develop colour.

6/ The age of the barrel. A barrel can’t be used infinitely. Eventually all the goodness in the wood will be gone, and all it will be good for is converting into fire wood (and boy does it burn!) or something artsy-fartsy like furniture, tea light holders or a whisky glass stand. When I was at Glenfarclas distillery, they said they only fill casks a maximum of 4 times, with the final fill having a deep char. Of course, this will depend on the age of the barrel, but I was informed a barrel rarely sees more than 60 years use.

While sticking on the subject of barrels, it is worth pointing out a couple of further conditions that will affect your whisky colour


Natural colour, sherry butt matured. Both from same cask. One 26 year old, one 27 years old. Hand filled on its (and my) birthday


7/ The finishing. The spirit may be transferred from the barrel used for the bulk of the maturation into another barrel for finishing. For example, a whisky may spend 10 years in a bourbon barrel, but get finished for a final period in a different cask to give colour and a different flavour profile. Finishing can be used to correct casks of whisky that haven’t made the expected quality.

8/ Cask Marriage. Unless it is a single cask whisky (one cask only), all other whisky is blended. Single Malt is the produce of one distillery only, but may contain several different ages of whisky and barrel types to achieve a flavour profile. This is called the marrying of the casks. If you mix cask types, this could also affect colour. Because each cask is unique, to achieve a flavour profile, the recipe between bottling batches may vary, and therefore the colour may also differ between batches.


The youngest one is on the right @ 9 y.o. The 17 y.o is still lighter than the 15 y.o. Caramel perhaps or just the cask type?


For Blends (product of more than one distillery and often containing grain whisky) this will be the same issue, as you will be tweaking the recipe to achieve a consistent product across thousands of bottles.

So what is colouring?

Batch variation does mean there could be slight differences in colour. This is corrected by the addition of spirit Caramel colouring, which is known as E150a. Spirit Caramel colouring is made through heating carbohydrates in the presence of acids, alkalis and salts. This is really some type of sugar and other agents being reduced in a pan. The result is a water soluble solution, which will be used to influence the colour of the whisky.

75% of all caramel colouring is used in the soft drink industry for Cola style drinks.

So why is colouring added?

To be honest, in my opinion I really don’t know why. There is no need, as it is simply a cosmetic issue, and like chill filtration, those adding colour see it as no problem, but that’s not strictly the truth.

Colouring is added to ensure a consistent product across multiple batches. Producers want to eliminate the chance of people thinking there is a defective batch due to differing colour, and the impression of inconsistent whisky.

There is also a more sinister reason colour maybe added. Remember that whisky is a drink for the senses? Well, a three year old whisky that has been put into a second fill cask may not develop much colour and will be what Scottish people describe pale items as “peelie-wallie”. With increasing number of Non Age Statements using younger whiskies, caramel can be deployed to make the whisky look older. To me this is a total deception. I’m not that worried about young whisky looking pale, but I’d rather know rather than caramel being added. I would expect young whisky to look paler, but by adding colouring it’s hiding something.


Wolfburn Morven. Young whisky but not disguised. Natural colour and non chill filtered. 46%. NAS means a score of 3/4


It may also be added to give the impression of a certain type of cask, such as a red wine or sherry cask. This is also misleading and therefore a bit naughty.

One instance where it is quite obvious colouring has been added is black whiskies – the two that spring to mind are Loch Dubh from the Mannochmore distillery or the Beinn Dubh from the Speyside distillery. Both can be termed gimmick whiskies, and Loch Dubh does not have a good reputation. Beinn Dubh isn’t too bad; certainly I enjoy it, but I am under no illusions that there isn’t caramel in there.

How can you tell if colouring has been added?

By eyes alone, you can’t. You can tell by looking at the label – if it says that the spirit is at natural colour, then it is additive free. If the label has the German words ‘mit farbstoff’ or the Danish ‘justeret med karamel’ (with colorant / adjusted with Caramel) then you know colouring is present. There is no way a company will add E150a just for exports to these two countries. If the label says nothing about colouring, it’s probably got E150a in it.

Single cask products shouldn’t be coloured, as there is no need for them to have batch consistency.

Apart from the obvious visual effect, caramel colouring is reported to have a smell of burnt sugar and a bitter aftertaste. I am thinking that the cask influences and the alcohol will go a long way to masking that. However some palates are more sensitive than others and I guess not everybody will taste it. However in the case of the Beinn Dubh, I definitely initially tasted a sour, almost vinegar note for a split second. This is most likely the colouring.

Only a year between them. The younger one is darker. Guess it had the dye applied.


In a limited defence of colouring, it can be said that the concentration of colouring they put in does not alter the taste, but that might not be true for everybody. Plus I’ve had a few coloured and chill filtered whiskies that were still very good, but you wonder what could have been without tampering.

So we have to ask again, why are we adding something that can alter the taste and smell?

Personally, I don’t think we should. In this day and age, where the consumer is starting to question more about provenance of their food and drink, is it right that we add things to a whisky to colour it, and in some cases remove taste by chill filtering, just in the name of visual appearance? Do people really worry that each glass just looks the same?

What really gets on my nerve is a quote from Dr Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach for Diageo in an article on scotchwhisky.com, published 8 Feb 2016. He says –

‘A tiny and unrepresentative and self-consciously elitist group of vocal critics are apt to signal their “expert” credentials by claiming obsessively that spirit caramel affects the taste of the final whisky in the bottle.

I’m not surprised with that comment, but rather more dismayed. For somebody in charge of outreach, he’s obviously not savvy to marketing, as that is one way of alienating people more likely to be loyal to a brand than people who change their brands because the colour isn’t right or consistent. While I am no expert, I am a consumer, and Diageo are fairly well guilty of adding colour to their whiskies. Yes, maybe the E150a may not always be tasted, but does it really need to be there? Only the whisky enthusiast is going to be analysing the colour in his Glencairn – they will understand why the colour varies. The average Joe is just going to be putting it down his neck as fast as he can or will be putting it in a cocktail. Haven’t they realised you can only assess a dram by your eyes when looking at it on a shelf – coloured whiskies maybe fooling us into thinking we are getting an older whisky. Plus the discerning buyer is going to be looking for evidence of colouring and chill filtration. Lastly, Dr. Morgan’s quote shows in 2016 where Diageo’s focus will be, and it isn’t for geeks. It’s for mass production, the meeting a market demand and by adding colouring, bottlers are ringing that visual Pavlov’s bell.

Can we negate the need for colouring?

There is a simple way of getting around the colour issue – if you are that bothered about colour, just sell the whisky in coloured glass bottles. I’m quite sure Glenfarclas mentioned this during my tour for their older releases, as the vatting before bottling can have many different cask ages in them, meaning an inconsistent colour for their higher end whiskies.


Green Glass. Colour disguised. Job done.


The other simple way is education. Tell people that due to whisky being a natural product, there will be variation in colour. Print it on the rear label, do whatever it takes to reduce the need to colour your spirit.

Conclusion

So you now know what colour is, why it is used and how it can be misused. Personally I think it has no place in the whisky industry, as it is essentially a deception. Consumers should be looking for transparency in their purchases, not some idea of what some guy in a massive corporation thinks your drink should look like. There is no guide as to what whiskies will have colour in them, but I’d suggest the cheaper ones, ones under 46% or those with a massive market are all likely to have some colour in them unless otherwise stated.

If not in a hurry, do a bit of research. While it may be true younger whiskies may not have a lot of colour in them, older whiskies can be the same. It depends on the cask, and how the spirit has interacted with it. I’ve heard of a 40 year old Cameronbridge whisky being quite pale, yet the flavour being outstanding. This can show colour can be an influence on what we expect to taste, therefore colouring could influence buying choices. Sometimes you need to be brave and take a chance.

In summary- Remember although colouring doesn’t have to mean bad whisky, we know taste is where it counts. Ditch the dye and seek out the labels that say natural colour. Move forward into the broad, sunlight uplands of whisky enlightenment and know you are not falling into the abyss of the dark(er whisky) age of colourants, made more sinister by the lights of the perverted science that is artificially presented whisky. For this will be our finest hour.

(Goodness knows how long I’ve waited to paraphrase my favourite Churchill speech!)

Next week – we summarise the points of the past 4 articles and reach our definite conclusions on how not to pick a dud whisky.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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


Photo credits

All Photos – Authors own