The Belly Button Superstore

Opinions are like belly buttons; we all have them.

This article is brought to you whilst I am currently in Inverness. The missus is out shopping for a party frock for her Christmas staff night out, and I’ve been told to go and amuse myself. While we were walking down the High Street, my better half indicated it would be better for me to do my own thing, sort of indicating in the direction of the Whisky Shop. Big mistake on a few counts.

Why? Sending me to a whisky shop means I am probably buy more bottles and also the Whisky Shop in Inverness is horrifically over priced. I remember the day I was looking for a 20CL Clynelish 14 and they were charging £29. This was available anywhere else at the time for £16. One of the hazards of shopping in a tourist town. Even now, the WS online price is £22 and a quick online search shows The Whisky Exchange selling the same item for £12.95.

Don’t get me wrong, customer service at the Whisky Shop is excellent, and they have passionate and knowledgeable staff. But I shop on price, and it seems that in Inverness prices aren’t set locally.

The other reason it was a mistake is that I am going to wonder into a whisky shop and bore some poor sales assistant with my whisky waffle, and today it was the turn of Jack at Wood Winters whisky and wine shop in Church Street to be the ‘victim’. This is my favourite local whisky shop (they are a wee bit closer than the Speyside ones!) and although it has a smaller selection than my other favourite shops, it still has a good selection of high quality wines & spirits. I know hee-haw about wine because I think there should be only four types – white, red, pink and distilled (😉).

To be honest, I was just in for a peruse, but once into full whisky waffle mode, we ( or should that be more ‘I’) ended up speaking about the Allt’a Bhainne distillery, and how I’d bought a single cask bottle from Strathisla the previous day, but was saddened to see a decent review site totally slate their recent single malt release with a 2/10 score. Although it wasn’t a whisky to set the world on fire, it was a decent pour, and at least one of the people who read my review (see here) bought it and enjoyed it.


Allt’a Bhainne distillery. Brutal architecture gives rise to brutal opinions

Yes, it was a bargain whisky, not too expensive, plus a whisky that is rarely, if ever, gets seen as an official bottle, rather it is normally released as an independent bottling. Unfortunately, because the reviewer had plenty of experience of these releases, he concentrated on the negative issues about the whisky. Of course there was plenty of marketing about it, and yes, it wasn’t a spectacular whisky, but it wasn’t unpleasant, and indeed I got a nice surprise. It was good to see the review has comments that picked up on the fact that 2/10 wasn’t fair. I bought mine at £22, and to be honest I’ve had bottles double that price be doubly disappointing. A quick look at other retail websites seem to suggest the vast majority of people who are reviewing their purchase seem to favour this dram.

Indeed, peated Speyside isn’t that unusual. Benriach does a decent one with the 10 year old Curiositas, which does have a natural presentation, whereas the 40% AAB doesn’t.


Allt’a Bhainne. One £22, the other considerably more.

It now comes to the obvious point that taste is a very subjective matter. Yes, the more refined palate may pick up more nuances that others might not, especially if you are lucky enough to be able to sample a large range of quality spirits, though it’s worth bearing in mind that not everybody has the same experience.

I did want to title this article as Opinions are like bum holes, but that’s even a bit too crass for me, as the blog is slowly picking up more views (keep sharing folks!) but it is true; we all have our opinions. Not all of these opinions are universal to everybody else. As much as I dig at Famous Grouse, it isn’t a bad blend. It may not be a quality one, but we don’t always need to be drinking premium spirits, especially if our wallets don’t allow it. My criticism of Jura Journey comes from a standpoint that it is not a young distillery, has some very very experienced people behind it, and has produced some lovely produce – Journey is just such a massive disappointment and obviously young whisky and marketing. They should have known better. But, if you like it, kudos to you, and I hope you will challenge me on it.

I will not name the reviewer or site I saw the poor Allt’a Bhainne review on, but one has to ask is their opinion valid, and should it influence us? All opinions are valid, as one man’s meat is is another man’s murder, but we should take one opinion on its own with a pinch of salt. The truth is you have to try for yourself. If you are looking to elevate yourself to find quality spirits, I would suggest that you won’t find them in a bottle of whisky costing £22, but what you may find is good value, which the reviewer seemed to miss.

Should another opinion influence you? No. As a person who is writing about the whiskies he tries, I am not really trying to totally influence you, but rather guide you and hopefully give you a bit of an amusing spiel at the same time. But to listen to one opinion in isolation does not tell the whole story.

What is partially annoys me is the Allt’a Bhainne seems to have a bit of a bad rap, but I think it is slightly unfair. It’s as though the brutal 1975 architecture of a distillery designed to be operated by one man inspires brutal comments. Some of these experts I think have their heads in a place that is pretty physically impossible to achieve, as they have been focused on different level of whisky. They can have their opinion, but sometimes they are written in a way that would be looking down on anybody that disagrees. While I will probably be wrong, it certainly doesn’t feel like that.

Similarly, I feel tasting notes are also only an opinion. Not everybody has olfactory nerves that detect aromas in the same way which can influence the flavours you also experience. Distillery tasting notes will always be guided by the type of cask used for maturation and what the master distiller can detect and was aiming for. Add in marketing spin and voila! For anybody else it is open season. Let your nose and palate guide you. And your wallet. Use tasting notes as a guide only, for the world is your oyster and don’t let anybody rain on your whisky parade.

In conclusion, look at reviews and tasting notes, but make sure at some point you get into the action and try for yourself as you may get a surprise. Just remember, the right dram is the one you are enjoying.

Do you agree or disagree? I’d be interested in your thoughts.

Slainte!

Scotty

– thanks to Jack for his great service and for selling me a Kilkerran 12 and GlenAllachie 12. And I hope I didn’t bore you.

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

Distillery Photo – Ingo Wölbern (Wikipedia / public domain)

Other photos – authors own.

Brace yourselves…..


Why you shouldn’t fall for marketing.

After an elongated trip to 64 degrees north (that’s level with the southern edge of Iceland) which involved long periods of being cold out on deck of a ship, there is no doubt winter is now here in North West Europe. Now safely in my warm house, it’s -5c outside and I’m convinced I’m not moving from bed today. So, seeing that I now have proper internet and time on my hands, I’ve been catching up on the whisky auction action that I was unable to see while at work.

Now winter is here in Strathspey and Badenoch, it seems fully appropriate to now talk about the collection I have been most asked about since starting Scotty’s Drams. This has been the ‘Game of Thrones’ series, released by Diageo in collaboration with HBO. I can’t say too much about the series, as I am one of the few people in my circle of friends and colleagues who haven’t seen it. I’ve watched the first three episodes, and to me it’s all cack.

The question invariably turns to ‘is it worth collecting?’ For me it has to be a no, as I already have bottles from the distilleries in question. For the record, the GoT bottlings are :-

  • Dalwhinnie Winters Frost, 43% – House Stark
  • Singleton of Glendullan Select, 40% – House Tully
  • Cardhu Gold Reserve, 40% – House of Targaryen
  • Clynelish Reserve, 51.2% – House of Tyrell
  • Royal Lochnagar, 12 y.o, 40% – House of Baratheon
  • Lagavulin 9 y.o, 46% – House of Lannister
  • Talisker Select Reserve, 45.8% – House of Greyjoy
  • Oban Bay Reserve, 43% – The Nights Watch

There was also three Blends released:-

  • Johnnie Walker, 41.7% – White Walker
  • Johnnie Walker, 40.2% – Song Of Ice
  • Johnnie Walker, 40.8% – Song Of Fire

There is now also a 12th bottle in the series which is supposed to be the last one, but we will see. This gets released at the end of November 2019.

  • Mortlach 15, 46% – The Six Kingdoms

So is it worth collecting?

An article from October 2018 seems to think so.

Game Of Thrones Collection “is Coming”

However we have to read between the lines a little bit. This person certainly writes as though it’s a promotional piece. So of course they will say the whisky is good. But the drams were picked in New York and if they are only seeing Royal Lochnagar for the first time, then it’s also worth bearing in mind that maybe the lack of availability means the writer has not experienced the full depth of what good Scotch is.

Let’s just look at the selection. Only three in the complete range have age statements. You can bet your bottom dollar that the rest of them have a good proportion of young whisky in them. Lack of age doesn’t necessarily make it a bad whisky, but depends on how much is in there. The price point indicates you aren’t getting a lot of the old stuff. Indeed, the original 8 bottles cost £390-ish, and this will be available on Amazon at the end of November 2019 at a slightly lower price of £380.75.

(amazon.co.uk)

If you add the Mortlach (£120) and the three Johnnie Walkers (about another £100) you could be in to the collection for £620-ish depending on where you buy at retail. Again, we have to look at the detail. You can buy 16 year old Mortlach at 43% for £80. But perhaps there is more quality whisky been added to the vatting.

So, if it’s good for collecting, let’s take a look at recent auction prices.

Scotch Whisky Auctions – Nov 2019

Whisky Auctioneer – Nov 2019

Just Whisky Auctions Oct 2019

Whiskyhammer Auctions Oct 2019

Do you see the pattern? The complete sets are now selling for less than retail. Even the individual bottles are the same. How many were fooled when they saw pictures like the one below?


Whisky Auctioneer Jan 2019

  • Remember the laws of supply and demand take over when things are first released. And if demand is high, prices are fuelled by the impatient, gullible and the flippers. This is not unique to GoT whisky, but everything. Nearly always, the price drops back after the initial demand has been met. The exception is the whiskies that are truly limited. Even Macallan Genesis, sold for over £4000 a bottle at one point, has dropped to a new auction low of £1400 this month. The follow up of Easter Elchies Black 2018 now struggles to make much over retail price, some struggling to make even that. Factor in auction fees and you have a loss on your hands. And that is where GoT whisky is heading. I might be wrong, but here are my reasons
  • The whisky isn’t rare. Tens of thousands were produced.
  • The whisky isn’t special. Each distillery in the selection makes far better produce in other bottlings
  • The market for it is limited. The person it is aimed at is the fans of the show. Each one will probably have it. Some collectors may also purchase it, but when they see falling prices, may offload. There may well be a residual demand, but not enough to raise prices in the short to medium term (15-20+ years)
  • Fans that buy it may not store it correctly. yup, those fans may well keep it on its side. Something I recently saw on a Macallan Appreciation site, somebody had kept a 25 year old bottle on its side, destroying the cork. Should have been worth £2000. Net value now = £0. Poor storage affects price. Sometimes dramatically.

  • Conclusion

    And this brings us to the point. Anything that is bonded to a TV show is a gimmick. The drinks company know that people will buy it. They can shift a whole heap of whisky, especially the stuff that isn’t likely to make it into their standard or premium brands and make a killing. Certainly, I have spoken to a few people in the industry and they agree. Whisky takes time to mature. With high demand, the stocks of aged whisky are diminishing, and how can you make maximum money out of young whisky? No Age Statement, TV tie-in, added to the younger demographic watching this show of whisky drinking age and boom. The lower prices have guaranteed it will sell quickly – that much I will agree with the Forbes article mentioned earlier.


    Don’t get caught out by marketing.

    Indeed, if you would like any more proof that it was just all about the marketing, the first paragraph of the next article sums it up for me

    Diageo Releases Final Game of Thrones Whisky

    You see, Diageo doesn’t care about the secondary market. It sells product for drinking. If people will choose to collect it, that’s even better, as they may sell multiple sets to individuals. I know of people who have bought cases of each bottle. What happens to the secondary price doesn’t worry Diageo, as long as they manage to sell it first.

    Don’t feel down if you have bought a set. I may be wrong, and at the end of the day, you’ll have at least 9 whiskies that will be worth drinking. Might not set the world on fire, but at the price paid, for drinking value that’s a decent price. Give the Johnny Walker a miss. I’ve heard it’s not great.

    I have been tempted in the past to buy a set, and if the prices drop much more, I still might, but only to drink. But see where we are in 20 years. You may be happy to prove me wrong.

    Slainte Mhath

    Scotty


    This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or by liking or sharing this article by clicking on icons below.

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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 listed by picture.

    Got Nuthin’ But Time….

    what to do when things are quiet

    Unfortunately for some, life does tend to place obstacles in the way of being able to enjoy a good dram. For me, that major obstacle is my work. As I write this, I’m currently in Kristiansund, Norway getting ready for another phase of an offshore project. This has meant whisky activities have been somewhat curtailed.

    That does not mean I have not been busy.

    At the moment, there is a handful of online auctions occurring, and if you fancy a 26 year old GlenDronach with a signed box from the most powerful tangerine skinned golf course owner in the world (his day job is running the USA) then perhaps take a look at this page on whiskyauctioneer.com. This might help my reviews improve as I will be able to buy more whisky.

    But other than shopping in the online bazaars, what can a whisky enthusiast do to while away those quiet hours with not much to do?

    As we are slowly approaching the end of the year, you can maybe consider what whisky goals you have for the next 12 months. This is what I am doing. There is so much to experience in this whisky-world, and now I am coming close to achieving the completion of a major collecting policy, I want to consider more the drinking side of it. I may even consider membership of the SMWS.

    In quiet times, there is the space to research about whiskies you want to try, for those of us with limited budgets or those who have more disposable income and want to push the boat out wisely.

    I am also looking forward to trying new whiskies, some of which I have had for some time, and would like to share with some of you in some way.

    Continuing on the looking forward theme, I’m looking into attending a whisky festival, probably Spirit of Speyside next year if work and family permit. Attending these events can also be tied into a family holiday if your spouse is sympathetic to your hobby. Speyside is a great place to vacation, as long as you can deal with inclement weather.

    Of course, you could always recommend my blog and or Facebook page to your whisky drinking friends. Just saying….. 😉

    For my last look forward, and plus a look back, I’m thinking of what I can do to move Scotty’s Drams forward a bit. I’m limited in the I.T technologies, and prefer to keep the blog fairly basic, as we then concentrate on the important stuff of whisky. And perhaps whiskey too in the future. There is no shame in my looking back, as I am looking back to all the amazing people and contacts I’ve made since starting my whisky journey, from people in the street, on the train, retailers, fellow bloggers (in particular I really like www.barleymania.com – cheers Tobi, I manage to not to copy but am inspired by your samples!) and also people at work. During this trip offshore, I’ve already spoken to more than one person who has an interest in whisky, and that my readers, is another contact way beyond work.

    To paraphrase a couple of quotes and merge into one –

    “There are no strangers in whisky. Just friends you haven’t met yet.”

    Have you made any new whisky friends or contacts?

    And there we will leave it for this week. Sorry for the lack of pictures, but the internet is spectacularly crap here and I thought I’d have a break.

    Next week’s review is a double header; not just one whisky but two from the village of Dufftown. I’ll give kudos to those of you who guess which ones.

    Slainte Mhath!

    Scotty

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    photo credits

    Nae photos this time 😉

    Excess All Areas….

    When too much is not enough

    Just a short article this week, and probably won’t be a very popular one amongst alcohol enthusiasts, but it is one that needs to be said. After all, a pendulum has to swing both ways.

    It was after I had purchased the bottle of Haig Club in order to do the taste review of a single grain whisky (and a cheap one at that), I noticed the price in the supermarket was £22 for 1 litre but £25 for 70CL. This is a bargain, and shouldn’t be argued with, but as a personal licence holder, I know pricing like this is actually against the recommended guidelines in Scotland which are set down for ‘on sales’ in licenced premises. However it is allowed in off-licence sales as long as it is above the minimum price per unit. It is seem as bad craic in the regulatory world to actively encourage a person to drink or buy more than they normally would, and could fall in the bracket of irresponsible promotion.

    George regretted his second Famous Grouse

    It got me thinking about our attitudes to alcohol. While I have no qualms about anybody who reads the dribble I write on my blog having a problem with alcohol – we are all grown ups after all, for some they have no control. It is when one or two isn’t enough, and you rely on alcohol to relax.

    I’m not wanting to preach what you should and shouldn’t do with regards to drinking – that is up to you to decide, but over consumption of alcohol has well documented negative effects on a person’s health. It doesn’t stop there, as excessive over consumption also affects those around you like your family and friends. This is why I try to emphasise quality alcohol over the quantity of alcohol consumed. After all, so we not want to experience the finer things in life?

    So, how much is too much?

    The amount of alcohol that is safe to consume according to the UK government has changed over the years. The Royal College of Physicians recommended these limits as a guide.

    Low Health Risk – Women up to 14 units, men up to 21 units

    Increased Health Risk – Women 14 – 35 units, men 21 – 49 units

    High Health Risk – Women over 35, men over 49

    The problem was with these guidelines was that people tended to save them for the weekend and drink them in one or two consecutive days. As a student I seem to remember doing something similar, but this is known binge drinking and is now recognised as quite harmful to health.

    Current recommendations are for women 2-3 units a day and men 3-4 units a day, with 2 or three alcohol free days a day. The current NHS guidelines are 14 units per week for both men and women (Aug 2019).

    But what is a unit? How do we calculate the amounts we are drinking?

    To calculate the units of alcohol there is very simple calculation.

    % abv x ml / 1000.

    Therefore a 40% whisky nip of 25ml can be calculated

    40 x 25 = 1000

    1000 / 1000 = 1 unit.

    This will highlight why we need to be careful with cask strength whiskies. A 63% whisky would have a unit value of almost 1.6 units. Bear in mind these are measured amounts that are standard in the UK. It could also be 35ml, which makes our 63% pour have a value of 2.2 units. Plus, how many people actually measure their pours at home?? I do, having a 25ml and 50ml jigger. I’m not being tight, I’ll happily pour more, but it gives me and my guests an idea of how much they are drinking and can pace accordingly.

    Pours in other countries can be a standard 40ml, so remember this while abroad.

    There are further dangers of mixing your drinks. How many of us may have a glass or two of wine with a meal? One small 125ml glass of 12% wine is 1.5 units. How many of us have the big glass(es)? Add a couple of aperitif whiskies after and your 14 unit weekly budget is reached and beached with hardly any effort.

    Driving isn’t the perfect mixer for your drink

    There is also the issue of drink driving. Don’t even assume that there is a safe limit or time for you to start driving after a drink. Just leave the car at home, or be a responsible adult and have a drink free day. The average healthy adult can metabolise 1 unit of alcohol an hour, from the point you stop drinking but this can vary from person to person. If you have your 14 units of alcohol in one day, don’t think of driving the next day. And if you plan enjoying yourself in Scotland, then the drink drive limit is nearly half that of the rest of the UK. Take a public transport, get the wife to drive you to work or just pull a sickie.

    It’s easy for me to preach. I work in a job I have to go without booze for weeks at a time, but who doesn’t enjoy a drink after work? Truth is that living with a toddler and in a rural area where I rely on being able to drive, I need to be careful, or life gets difficult.

    I’m going to leave it to you to decide what is right for you, but put the gut rot down and let’s continue to concentrate on quality over quantity.

    Don’t become a muppet with drink

    If you feel you want to know more about this subject, please visit the independent Drinkaware website. It is full of helpful information. Click here to visit the site. This link will appear at the bottom of all my blog posts from now on.

    Keep informed. Keep safe. Keep Enjoying – responsibly.

    Now I’ve done my bit of public responsibility, we can now look towards the next taste review. And don’t worry. I’ll still alert you to the drinks bargains I see.


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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.

    Better Dramming Through Chemistry?

    Will age statements soon be in hours?

    It has been a fairly vexatious fortnight for Scotty’s Drams. During a quiet moment at work, I was reading an article about an American company who can make a whisky in not years, but age it in a matter of 24 hours.

    The timer for ‘aged’ whisky

    I’m not kidding. Click here for the link to the article. Not only that, but another Facebook page (Great Drams) wrote an article about it, so I’ve delayed mine in an effort not to be seen as a plagiarist.

    With regards to not having to waste* time ageing whisky, I’m sure this would be good for the bean counters and the shareholders, but is never going to be good for the consumer. Here’s why.

    1/ Although natural ingredients are used to flavour the whisky instead of ageing in a barrel, this should never be. In my opinion, there should only be 3 ingredients. Water, Yeast, Malted Barley. And E150a if absolutely necessary.

    Glenfiddich 24. Is that years or hours?

    2/ Making a whisky in this way means you are taking away any character. The stills, the barley and yeast strain mean nothing. Even the cask influence is now obsolete.

    3/ To me a good whisky is made by a great distillery coupled with a great master blender. For instance, Glenallachie has certainly taken a forward bound with the arrival of Billy Walker. His 12 y.o core expression is fantastic. That’s the skill we want and not just somebody in a white coat.

    Things went awry in the Famous Grouse Lab

    4/ Where is the soul in the liquid? I like the idea that my dram has been slumbering in a cask for however many years. It has taken on the character of the place it was matured, hopefully in a dunnage warehouse. For a coastal whisky, I want a brine influence and I’m wanting it from the cask, not because somebody has added some salt to the vat.

    5/ What about Single Casks? That would be pointless, as you can just cook up a recipe for your whisky. I like the variation of single casks, as well as the influence of the wood, depending on the cask type.

    Would we even need wooden barrels any more?

    Why would we do this??

    Obviously this is down to cost. If a product doesn’t need to be matured, then the need to hold something in a warehouse for 10, 20 or however many years is gone. Going down this route is only for financial benefit of the producer and not the consumer.

    Without wanting to go down a political path, this is one of only one threat to Scotch whisky from the US. There is already talk about the US insisting that the minimum age for Scotch New Make Spirit to be called whisky being changed to 2 years instead of 3. Of course, in the light of Brexit, the UK is likely to cave into demands in order to get a trade deal. It needs the revenue of a trade deal. Tax revenue on almost £5bn industry, this will make whisky a commodity that the UK treasury will not want to affect the export of. Especially to its largest export market, and certainly won’t want to see any tariffs added, which will be devastating to the UK Treasury and the Scottish Whisky Industry.

    But how would the refusal of artificially aged whisky equally affect the export market and tax revenue if the markets for Scotch reject it? It is a double edged sword.

    Scottish whisky is sold on not only its quality and taste, it’s also partially the tradition, the legend, and the perceived quality. Take this away by taking away the maturation period would put a big nail into the heart of the industry. What distillery would sully its brand so after decades or centuries?

    The Distillery of the future?

    Fortunately, the Scotch Whisky Association doesn’t expect the status of Scotch Whisky to change, but in uncertain times, we just don’t know. The other plus point is that it won’t catch on if people don’t buy it. Hopefully the people who regularly read my articles want to drink quality and not quantity, and aren’t afraid to pay a little bit for it. May it stay that way my friends. You will have a much more fulfilling whisky journey because of it.

    Can there be a worse whisky than Grouse after all??

    Slainte Mhath

    *its never a waste of time to carefully age a great dram.


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