It gives me great pleasure to write this review. Because contained within this review is the very whisky that actually germinated the seed that was to grow into the blog that you are reading. It was in January 2019 in a hotel in Krakow, totally disillusioned about the current state of affairs in the UK, fed up of hearing political sniping on social media and wondering whether I could do something constructive with my whisky hobby that I decided to start a blog. I had no idea what I really wanted to do and knew I’d probably end up doing what everybody else does, but at least I’d have a creative outlet, something I have lacked ever since I have moved to the Speyside Region. I used to be into photography, but sadly due to personal events and work I have just not been able to make the time to do it and at least I can write a blog offshore.
It has taken far too long to get to this dram, especially given its relevence to the blog, but some good things have to wait. And when I looked into my collection of miniatures and found that I have an older version of this whisky, I just knew that it had to be the first of the drams that I used to compare old and new whisky. For the pre-amble into this series, please click on thelink here….
Clynelish is a distillery that was formed out of an absolute tragedy. It was created at a time when landowners in the Highlands wanted to get rid of the tenant crofters that didn’t really make the estates much income and replace them with hill sheep farming. These were known as the Highland Clearances and were a dark stain on Scottish history. Many of the evictions where quite brutal with people getting burned out of their homes, if not to persuade them to leave then to ensure that they wouldn’t come back. Some of the most brutal evictions took place on the land owned by the Duke (and Countess) of Sutherland. It is easy to say that this happened a long time ago, but such is the depth of feeling that for many years there has been a campaign to demolish the statue of the Duke that stands on Ben Bhraggie and overlooks the area around Golspie and Brora. ‘The Mannie’ as it is often is known has had a protest against him a lot longer than Black Lives Matter. I doubt the statue will come down, and I think it should stay as a reminder to the horrific treatment of those who lost their homes, possessions and were separated from friends and family as many were forced to seek new lives in Canada, America and Australia. Just to dig the knife in, some of the land owners even charged those they were evicting for their transport overseas.
The Duke was responsible for building a railway from Golspie, close to his family seat of Dunrobin Castle which eventually terminated in Helmsdale. He also founded a few businesses in Brora; a coal mine, a brick and tile works and lastly a distillery. These were staffed by farmers who had been cleared off the land by the aforementioned clearances. They were paid in a currency that was redeemable in the local shops, also owned by the Duke which meant he received all the profit. It may be easy to understand why he wasn’t popular amongst the locals!
The morning I decided to write this article I was under the influence. Not just tiddly, mildly intoxicated or minging. I was outright paralytic, smashed out of my skull and totally incapable of thought. Not bad going for it not even being 9am. Before you think badly of me, and wonder how could I think of an article when not in full control of my bodily functions, I would like to point out that I was not under the influence of alcohol, at least not directly. However something got me so distracted that I couldn’t think of anything else and it was all based on one of my senses. Sight.
We should know our 5 senses – sight, smell, sound taste and touch, but how many of them do we use when choosing a whisky? We cannot tell whether or not a whisky is any good without at least smelling or tasting it, so why had I let one of my other senses nearly override my common sense?
I’ll hasten to add it was not my fault. I’m in the true sense of a shirker blaming somebody else; perhaps I should be a politician. I received a mail shot last week from Hard To Find Whiskies which detailed the offerings they had from James Eadie, an independent whisky bottler. This email must have been targeted at me directly for not only must they know the one James Eadie bottle I have had been opened that week, they also must have guessed my primary weakness when assessing bottles to buy.
The specific bottle in question is from the Teaninich distillery in Alness, a stones throw away from Dalmore on the Cromarty Firth. It was 12 year old, so had an acceptable amount of age, but what grasped me was the colour. It was almost as dark as the infamous Beinn Dubh black whisky. Only being a James Eadie whisky, we know it will be natural colour, cask strength and non-chill filtered. Despite being tempted I decided to resist as the amount of bottles in the ‘awaiting tasting’ is getting ridiculous.
However, it was the colour that intrigued me. Diageo owned Teaninich is one of those distilleries that there are few official releases, the main one being the 10 year old Flora and Fauna bottling, of which I have a couple for collecting and one in store for eventual ‘tasting’. Teaninich is unique amongst Scottish distilleries, as it does not use a mash tun, but rather has a mash filter which enables it to get an ultra-clear wort, and helps provide grassy, malty spirit that is desirable for blending. I suspect the casks used are bourbon, given the light colour and flavour profile of Teaninich. So, seeing such a dark Teaninich played on my mind. I wanted to taste that sweet nectar, having been finished in a 1st fill Oloroso Sherry cask which is another of my weaknesses.
My last James Eadie bottle was Madeira finished, which while not giving it a such a dark appearance, gave it a sort of pinkish hue in the glass and I have to say that I was entranced by it. Fortunately it turned out to be a decent whisky and there is probably no doubt that this whisky will be good as well, but we actually have no clue. So what is it that drives us to buy whisky based on colour?
I guess that we associate a darker colour with a particular kind of cask, with darker colours being predominately from wine or fortified wine styles of maturation or finishing. I have to admit that I am guilty of this as I do like the deep fruity tones of something like a GlenDronach 18 Allardice or something from the Glenfarclas distillery, or dare I say it, Macallan? Even thinking of Macallan with the Edition series where attention was paid to the colour, I must say it took all my effort not to break into my Edition 5, as the colour had alerted by brain to something tasty may lie beyond the cork. But this is where we have to be careful as not all colours are true. Many whiskies use E150a in various amounts to achieve consistency and depending on how honest the bottler wants to be, our mind can be tricked by what our eyes are seeing.
To this end, recently Glencairn Crystal Studio released a set of coloured Glencairn whisky glasses, so the person doing the tasting cannot be influenced by colour. And it’s a good idea, as one of the things we may mistakenly do is assume that a darker colour has either been in a cask longer or in a cask of a certain type, which could mislead our brain into misconceptions. To this end, taste, mouthfeel and aroma should be our only guides to the quality of a whisky.
So, what about this Teaninich? Everywhere I look it has sold out, so it looks as though I will have to give up. I am looking on the secondary market where I feel I have more of a chance, but let’s just see. There will be other whiskies, perhaps very similar to this, and bottle chasing can often lead to overpaying. I guess I have to find that other misplaced sense. Common Sense.
It’s been a couple of months at least since I’ve reviewed a Flora and Fauna release. Since I’ve managed to bottle kill my full size Benrinnes Flora and Fauna, it was time to move onto the next one and I had a choice – Pittyvaich or Inchgower. It was a simple decision in the end as I’d already reviewed a Pittyvaich thus Inchgower it was.
Inchgower is one of those distilleries that has quite an anonymous life. Currently owned by Diageo, the distillery provides most of its output for blending, although independent bottlings are much more available. This malt is a constituent part of the Bells blend, but don’t let that count against our single malt experience.
The distillery sits just outside the Morayshire coastal town of Buckie and was founded in 1871 by Alexander Wilson. The Wilson family went bankrupt, leaving the Buckie Town Council to purchase the distillery in 1936. As far as I can tell this is the only example of a local authority in the U.K. owning a distillery. In 1938 the site was bought by Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd to provide malt whisky for its blends. Arthur Bell & Sons were later bought by Guinness and after various takeovers and mergers, the distillery came a part of the Diageo empire.
Inchgower isn’t a big distillery – it has 2 wash and 2 spirit stills, and only outputs 1.99 million litres annually. It has quite a short fermentation of 46 hours which should give a more nutty sort taste to the spirit. The distillery location isn’t that far away from the mouth of the River Spey, giving this Speyside whisky a coastal tang.
Inchgower unfortunately does not have a visitors centre, but the local area has some great scenery. The weather in coastal Morayshire experiences a local microclimate, something that was instrumental in setting up the nearby RAF bases at Kinloss and Lossiemouth as training bases. Buckie a fishing town and although there isn’t that much to do there, it is one end of the Speyside Way, a long distance trail that follows the River Spey, often utilising the former railway line that ran between Craigellachie and Aviemore. The Moray Coastal path also passes through the town, and it’s a short walk to the impressive Spey Bay Railway viaduct if you are in the area.
Let’s now take a wander to taste the whisky in question.
Region – Speyside; Age – 14 y.o; Strength – 43%; Colour– Pale Straw; Nose – Quite light and fresh. Malty, biscuity, straw, soft oak with a touch of brine there in for good measure. Vanilla, light toffee notes; Palate – Grapefruit, tannic, apple, ginger, grapes / white wine. Nutmeg. Vegetal in places, but this disappears with the addition of water. Lightly waxy in mouthfeel but not consistent – felt a bit light on occasion. ; Finish – Quite short with a nicer balance of fruit at the end to counteract the bitter tannins from the wood. Notes of brine at the end. Tempers nicely when water added.
Just because it is a component of Bells, don’t judge it by the same yardstick. I’ve been lucky and enjoyed this dram from the start, but samples given to friends have been a bit of a mixed bag. Some didn’t like it, some did. Although it is not that a complex malt, it can be quite light, and the vegetal note I found could put people off. This could be due to the sharply inclined Lyne arms between the still and condenser allowing the meatier parts of the spirit to leave the still. I added water and let it sit for 10 minutes and this took a lot of the less desirable notes away.
Being a coastal distillery, the brine is present, and coupled with a light waxiness this reminds me of another Diageo coastal distillery on the opposite side of the Moray Firth, Clynelish. That too was bottled as a part of the Flora and Fauna range and also as a 14 year old, but has been re-released as a stand alone bottle and the abv upped to 46%, which may give Inchgower a boost if they decide to do the same.
I enjoy the lightness of this dram; in the past I’ve had grassy notes from this which I didn’t get this time. I did get a straw note which although that’s dried grass, it isn’t the same. It leads me to ask myself what has changed – my sense of taste as I age or is it the whisky making process? Whiskies do change over time, so it’s a point worth considering.
Available at less than £50 a bottle, this isn’t an expensive dram, and is worth what I paid for it. There are bitter components in here that may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s not that bad. I’d suggest trying this alongside an independently produced bottle to get a decent comparison.
Inchgower isn’t that rare but it’s not one you will see in every whisky shop, but a specialist retailer should be able to get it for you. At 43%, chill filtered and a dose of colouring means you may find better value from an independent bottle, as these are much more likely to have a higher strength, be non-chill filtered and have no colouring added.
I do recommend this dram, but I acknowledge it may not be something everybody will love. The title is a play on the phrase if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile, and while you may get the Inch(gower) but you might not enjoy the full mile of this whisky journey. It shouldn’t stop you giving it a go. After all, I like it, and surely others do. Try it in a whisky bar if you see it is available or alternatively you can get 3cl miniatures from the Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt websites.
As has been mentioned in the past when I’ve been writing about whisky, especially those I collect, I tend to steer away from Independent bottlings. These are because I feel that these may not be as worth as much when I come to sell. In the past I’ve even seen them as inferior, which is not the case at all. This meant that I mistakenly did not give them much attention but recent experiences in my whisky journey over the past year have come to educate me that this is a gross error on my part.
One of the great things about this whisky community is that you are often able to experience different whiskies thanks to sample swapping or a generous gift from a fellow enthusiast. In this case for this weeks double review we have to thank Tobi of Barleymania.com (another great blog – perhaps even better than mine hahahah!). After a conversation with him online about how much I enjoy Benrinnes, Tobi sent me a sample of the Douglas Laing’s Old Particular 16 year old Benrinnes. It didn’t end there. Tobi also sent the Dailuaine which has been bottled by Grindlays that I am also writing about today. This was sent as an apology for not sending the Benrinnes quicker! If you are reading this Tobi, I am very grateful and I will return the generosity with another independent Benrinnes soon but be assured I move with the speed approaching that of continental drift.
Both today’s whiskies are from Speyside, and are relatively close to each other, just to the south of Aberlour. Benrinnes sits on the lower slopes of the hill that holds the same name, whereas Dailuaine is closer to the Spey and the village of Carron. Benrinnes is the older of the two distilleries with the original being built in 1826, and rebuilt in 1829 after being destroyed in a flood. Going through a handful of owners, by 1925 it came into the possession of DCL who later morphed into the current owner Diageo.
Opened in 1851, close neighbour Dailuaine had the privilege of being connected to the Speyside Railway, even having its own railway halt and small locomotive (known as a puggie) for shuttling its freight to the goods yard at Carron Railway station and Imperial Distillery. The locomotive still survives at the Aberfeldy distillery, and the engine shed still survives at Dailuaine, although the Speyside line closed in 1968, and all other traces of the puggie branch line have gone.
Dailuaine was also the first distillery to have a pagoda style roof over the kiln, more correctly known as a Doig Ventilator, which was designed by the architect of many distilleries Charles Doig. It was installed in 1884 but sadly was lost when the distillery burnt down in 1917.
Dailuaine has one or two things in common to Benrinnes. In 1925 it was also bought by DCL, later to become part of Diageo. Both distilleries were part of the Flora and Fauna releases in 1991, and continue to be so. How long this will continue is anybody’s guess. Benrinnes is quite common as an independent bottle but Dailuaine not so common, mostly being used to provide filler for blends.
Both whiskies have a meaty, heavy style similar to Mortlach, especially those releases that have been matured in a Sherry cask. But what will these independent releases be like?
Dailuaine 19 (Grindlays)
Region – Speyside Strength – 57% . Colour – Ripe Corn Nose – Malt, sawdust, nuts, honey, vanilla. Palate – waxy mouthfeel, slightly drying. Not such a big hit when considering it is cask strength. Honey, orange. Water intensified the spice and made the honey more apparent Finish – Medium. Spice notes, honey and a slight tannic dryness of tea. The addition of water intensified the spiciness
Ex Bourbon Cask, Natural Colour, Non-Chillfiltered.
Benrinnes 16 (Douglas Laing Old Particular)
Region – Speyside Strength – 56% Colour – Deep Gold Nose – Deep Creamy fudge, vanilla. Ginger nuts, caramelised sugar, apple crumble Palate – Oily mouthfeel, but not overly heavy. Gives a nice coating. As with any sherry casked whisky there are an abundance of fruity flavours, but also nuts in there too. Raisins, Blackberries, Hazlenut, Cocoa, leather, figs. Cinnamon, Finish – Whoaaa There – wasn’t expecting this. Oak spices, I get a tobacco note / dry wood. Dark chocolate. Warm, medium – long and more-ish.
Ex SherryButt, Natural Colour, non chill filtered.
Both drams were fantastic. I spent a whole evening with these whiskies, allowing a respectable amount of time between them. I have to say that on an initial blind tasting that I preferred the Benrinnes, but this is not a surprise. For me it had a pleasant smoothness coupled with the rich fruit flavours.
Both are still available online if you look, despite being limited edition. The Grindlays Dailuaine can be found at Tyndrum Whisky for £94. The Benrinnes is a bit harder to get as I could not find any source online other than auctions – quite a feat considering it was only bottled last year. Keep an eye open for it – you will not regret buying this.
Lastly, thanks go again to Tobi. You can visit his blog by clicking on this linkBarleymania.com
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
This blog has already been responsible for the disclosing some secrets. Most notably it has been my short lived career as a flipper and hypocrite, not to mention the confession that seems to have flown well under the radar about one of my go-to blends that features the image of a well known bird. But let’s move on from me and move onto the whisky I’ll be reviewing this week which also has a dark secret, with the emphasis on dark.
The Mannochmore distillery was opened in 1971 by DCL on the same site as Glenlossie. These distilleries sit within a small pocket of distilleries that straddle the A941 Elgin to Craigellachie road which also includes BenRiach, Longmorn and Glen Elgin distilleries. It uses the same water source as Glenlossie, the Bardon Burn, although Mannochmore is by far the larger producer, capable of producing 4.5 million litres of spirit a year, compared to the much older Glenlossie’s 2.8 million litres.
Mannochmore is one of those distilleries that isn’t that well represented by its current owners, Diageo. There are very few official releases available, mostly limited to Manager Dram bottles or the occasional Diageo Special release – another thing in common with Glenlossie. Indeed, the only official release for both distilleries is the Flora and Fauna bottling and I am away to review the 12 year old Mannochmore for you now. However, a quick look online reveals that Mannochmore is easily available from many independent bottlers.
But before we go any further, we have to move onto that dark secret I mentioned. In 1996, Diageo released a whisky that was controversial to say the least. I don’t know how many of you have heard of a whisky called Loch Dhu, but this was a whisky that was dark beyond belief, marketed as a ‘Black Whisky. It was clearly beyond doubt that this was the result of some heavy use of artificial colouring. The result was a Marmite style whisky, which means like the yeast based spread it was something you either loved or hated. Unfortunately for Loch Dhu, most people hated it and the bottling was soon withdrawn. It is becoming a bit of a collectors item, but I am convinced that most people won’t be drinking it.
Speaking of drinking, it is time to move onto the whisky I have chosen for this week’s review. Hopefully this one is going to taste a lot better than Loch Dhu is reported to be.
12 years old
Slight whiff of alcohol, Buttery, honey, floral notes, straw, toffee
Oily mouthfeel, but not too heavy. A quick burst of wood spices, then quite creamy and sweet. Ginger, Vanilla and Lemon.
Medium Sweet, spiced wood, continues a ginger theme with added pepper. Slightly astringent, creamy lemon zest at the end.
If you are looking for a complex whisky, then this is not it. However it is quite a decent dram but I soon found out that it is not one to set the world on fire. I can tell you that it has most likely been chill filtered and the chances of it having colouring within are quite high, but the pale colour would seem to suggest that this is probably a minimum amount. But then again, Flora and Fauna whiskies were never intended to be world beater premium whisky, and for all the short comings this whisky has, it was a very pleasant pour.
The spicy wood notes are quite pleasant and controlled, and do not hide a floral nose nor the creamy vanilla and floral notes in the palate.
This whisky is one I have a couple of bottles of as part of my Flora and Fauna collections. It was one of the 17 out of the original 22 that were also produced with a white cap to denote the 1st Edition. This however was a dram from one of the sample bottles that were available on The Whisky Exchange for around £5, but I can’t remember as I have had this sample for some time.
A full sized bottle should cost you about £50, but its availability may not be the greatest. Your specialist spirit shop should be able to source this if they don’t already stock it, or you can find it online easily enough. Based on paying £50 for a 43% whisky that is only 12 years old with colouring and chill filtered, it may not represent the best value. Although it is a pleasant sipper, I don’t think I can tell you it is an interesting enough dram to be good value at that price. At some point you might just have to take a chance and take the plunge to try it. I can assure you that if a purchase of this bottle is made, you will probably enjoy it if you are not seeking a challenging complex drink. There is no doubt in my mind that you will not have an extreme reaction that you may have had in drinking the Loch Dhu black whisky, so if you do see it, why not take a chance and try it?
Regular readers of my whisky blog would have seen me mention the Flora and Fauna range of whiskies. In fact I refer back to it quite often, but there is good reason to, as it is a range of whiskies that is almost unique.
The range was started in 1991 by DCL, which later became United Distillers, a company formed by the merger of DCL and Arthur Bell, both owed by Guinness. Guinness merged with Grand Metropolitan in 1997 and became known as Diageo. In 1998 United Distillers merged with International Distillers Vinters, and in 2001 became known as Diageo Scotland. Of course, in this tale, there was much dodgy dealings, as there was share trading fraud to enable Guinness to take over DCL, which saw 4 men going to prison.
To make the next bit of history easier to understand, we’ll just refer the distiller as Diageo.
During the 1980’s, scores of distilleries were mothballed, some never to re-open again. Diageo closed 11 distilleries in 1983 alone. But come the 90’s things were starting to change, and single malts became more prominent. What was noticed was that although brown spirits, including blended whisky was declining, single malts were starting to perform strongly. This led to the formation of the Classic Malts, a series that still exists today, but is expanded. The original Classic Malts were Glenkinchie, Lagavulin, Talisker, Oban, Cragganmore and Dalwhinnie. These used to sit behind bars on a small plinth, and this brought the concept of regionality of single malts, and their different styles.
There was a problem however – most of the distilleries Diageo now owned didn’t have their own bottling. If you were lucky, you may have seen an independent release, but for the overwhelming majority of whiskies, their output went straight into blended whiskies. This is something that continues, as 90% of malt production is for blends. This meant there was a niche available to showcase the malt distilleries in the Diageo portfolio, and this saw the start of a range from distilleries very few knew about, some of which perhaps still are only in the knowledge of whisky buffs.
The range started out with 22 whiskies, which weren’t mass marketed, but only sold at their visitor centres or limited distribution. Initially these were – Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Benrinnes, Bladnoch, Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Craigellachie, Dailuaine, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenlossie, Inchgower, Linkwood, Mannochmore, Mortlach, Pittyvaich, Rosebank, Royal Brackla, Speyburn and Teaninich. All of these were initially released with a wooden box, but this eventually changed to a carton in some cases, and nothing at all in others. All were bottled at 43% abv.
This was unheard of in the industry, but in one fell swoop, each Diageo malt whisky distillery had a bottling which its workers could taste and show off to their friends and family. The communities around the distilleries could sample some of the produce. People became aware of individual distillery characters. It was certainly a step forward.
The range never originally had a name. Flora and Fauna was actually coined by Michael Jackson (The late whisky writer and not the musical child abuser) who noted that each bottle in the range had a picture of either a plant or animal which could be found near to the distillery in question. It has stuck, even to the point that people within Diageo still refer as this as Flora and Fauna.
In 1997, there were 9 of the range released as cask strength bottles. These were Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Blair Athol, Caol Ila, Clynelish, Dailuaine, Linkwood, Mortlach and Rosebank. These were numbered bottles and some are now extremely rare.
Fast forward to 2001. By this time, Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla and Speyburn distilleries had been sold. In fact, the story goes that Speyburn only produced a single run of Flora and Fauna whisky, and this is why it is the rarest of the lot. Pittyvaich was closed and demolished in 1993, and in the same year Rosebank ceased production. Bottlings continued until the stock ran out, apart from Speyburn and Balmenach, where the stock was part of the sale. 4 more malts were added to the range – Auchroisk, Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill. These never had boxes or cartons.
Over time, some of the remaining bottlings in the series were discontinued in favour of a proper distillery release. Caol Ila, Clynelish, Glen Elgin, Dufftown, Mortlach and Glendullan now have their own distinct brand. Of the remaining 11 that are produced, Flora and Fauna is the only official release, with the exception of occasional Manager Drams or Special Releases. Only Blair Athol has a visitor centre and the remaining releases remain obscure distilleries in their own right.
While this is a great range, it isn’t without its drawbacks. At 43%, although is isn’t stated, you can bet your bottom dollar, each one of these whiskies has been chill filtered, the process which sees the impurities removed from the spirit that makes it go temporarily cloudy when water or ice is added. Unfortunately I believe this also removes the full depth of flavour.
The other downside is the likelihood that E150a (caramel colouring) has been added. This is to give colour consistency, but when one looks at the Dailuaine and Benrinnes, it has to be wondered if it has been added to emphasise the sherried casks used for maturation.
What else should be know about Flora and Fauna? Although 11 bottles are still supported by Diageo, it remains to be seen how long it will last in its current format. Benrinnes was originally distilled using a partial triple distillation up to 2007. As this is a 15 year old whisky, I’d suggest that we may see the Benrinnes discontinued in 2022, or at least a change in flavour. I do hope it continues, as Benrinnes is one of my favourites in the range. I’ve also tasted independent releases of Benrinnes, and it’s absolutely fantastic.
Another problem with this range is its availability. It is harder to find unless you visit a Diageo distillery, or a specialist whisky shop. Dailuaine is getting harder to find, which is also a great whisky – its my second favourite whisky in the range, but its a close neighbour of Benrinnes.
Dailuaine was the first distillery to have the pagoda style roof on the kiln roof (correctly known as a Doig Ventilator, named after the architect Charles C, Doig).
As a small batch release, and not aggressively marketed, it isn’t always easy to get a hold of, but if you see one, try it. It almost has the status of a cult whisky collection, and certainly has a great visual appeal with the understated labels. Even the wooden boxes look good, and they are something you don’t see often on releases unless you pay for a premium malt. It is easy to see how this was ditched in favour of the cardboard box, then onto nothing at all.
The collection is highly collectable, but you need to be careful, as bottles start to get harder to get, the price will go up. All of the currently available bottles currently retail in the UK at under £65, with the majority of them under £50. The Dailuaine is the most expensive one, but remember it is the oldest one available at 16 year old.
If you go for a collection, try to remember my previous advice on collecting a series – if you can’t complete it, the price will be affected. The Royal Brackla, Craigellachie, Aultmore, Aberfeldy and Rosebank often trade above £250 a bottle. If they have the wooden box, expect to pay more. 16 of the bottles in the range have a cream / white capsule, and this denotes a first edition, which will increase the price more. Some of the rarer white caps trade between £300 – £800.
And here it gets complicated. If you choose to go for the white caps, you may end up with a secondary collection. I’ve 14 of the 16 white caps available, and when I get a white cap bottle, the black cap gets moved to my secondary collection. My secondary collection also includes a few white caps I picked up at a good price, although I am missing a Rosebank to have the 26 bottles in my secondary collection. Certainly this takes up a large portion of my storage unit.
The Speyburn is the holy grail, and will cost on average between £1000 and £1800. At the time of writing in Sept 2019, the Speyburn set a new Flora and Fauna record by breaking the £2000 barrier, being sold at a Whisky Hammer auction for £2050. Some lucky punter has just paid after auction fees £2300 for a bottle that cost less than £40 on release.
******** Important note ********
If you have a box that has bottle with a label on the back that includes the UK duty paid image, then that bottle is not original to the box, and is from a later batch. This is not correct for collectors and could affect price.
A white cap bottle should have a wooden box with it, but depending on the bottle, this will not vary price too much.
And what for the future? I have contacted Diageo, asking if the Benrinnes F&F will be discontinued, whether the rumours of Dailuaine being discontinued are true, and what the future of the Flora and Fauna range is likely to be. Diageo were very good in their communication, but sadly declined to make any comment, as any information would be commercially sensitive. I can understand this, though reading between the lines, you can sort of imagine it may be coming to an end. The collection has been on the go for almost thirty years, and that alone is a quite an accolade. Very few brands nowadays last as long unchanged in the world of single malts. I suppose the whisky that is still available in the shops now will probably be slightly different to those first released, but it has been a great run although the end is probably a matter of time. And then this is where the prices will increase further.
In the meantime, although the remaining whiskies aren’t the best whiskies in the world, they are still a good dram, despite only being 43%, coloured and chill filtered. As I say so often, get them while you can, and certainly if you don’t want to collect them, certainly try the 11 that are still available in the shops. Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Auchroisk and Inchgower would be my go-to in the range, with Strathmill and Blair Athol next. I’ll review them as I get a chance, as I have a few samples left.
This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or liking sharing this article by clicking on icons below.
If you prefer not to use Facebook, follow the WordPress blog by clicking on the link below which will deliver any blog posts to your inbox, including reviews, distillery visits, whisky news and advice.
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.