Finding The Ugly Duckling

Taste Review #90 – Glengoyne 10 Old vs New

Once upon a time….. yeah, that’s not how this story is going to turn out I’m afraid. No Hans Christian Andersen here, this is strictly adult story territory here. The emblem of Glengoyne is a Swan, so whether or not one of these whiskies graduates from an ugly duckling to a graceful swan remains to be seen. I tend to like happy endings here at Scotty’s Drams.


Two ten year olds. At least 30 years between bottling.

I’ve reviewed Glengoyne 10 before and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. However it didn’t stop me buying an 18 year old 70cl bottle when the range had a facelift and it was going cheap on Amazon. Of course I know what I’ve said about shopping on Amazon for whisky, but this was a rare occurrence. I still buy the majority of my spirits from independents. But would this time be any different? Would I notice a difference in taste?

Glengoyne is a Highland distillery (only just) as the dividing boundary is on the road outside. The stills are in the Highland Region and the warehouses are in the Lowland region. It is currently owned by Ian Macleod Distillers, who also own Tamdhu. They have owned the distillery since 2003, when they bought it from Edrington. The spirit made here is completely unpeated.

As this is a comparison review, I’m not going to say too much about the distillery history, but concentrate on the whisky. The two bottles I have are both 10 years old and both at 40% abv. The older one has suffered a little evaporation it seems despite having quite a tight seal. This was bottled in the 1980’s so we can forgive a little bit. The modern version was bought in 2020, just before the rebrand. Let’s see what one gives the best dram experience.

Glengoyne 10 (old)

Region -Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Sherry, possibly Bourbon in the marriage Colouring – Not known but suspect Yes Chill FilteredNose – Toffee, Raisins, Vanilla, quite fruity, slight cereal note. Green apple. Palate – Toffee and vanilla continue, with the raisin note decreased slightly. Leather, slight liquorice notes, and a hint of nut. Soft oak with a waxy mouthfeel. Nut and oak increase with water. Finish – medium. Sweet with soft oak spiciness, chocolate, mocha and butterscotch. Adding water increases spices at the end. There is also a slight interaction from the bottle.


Old style from 1980’s. When music was great.

Glengoyne 10 y.o (new)

Region – Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – 30% Sherry, 70% Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Toffee, Green Apple, Honey, Lemon, a hint of cereal. Quite crisp Palate – Apples, grass, waxy mouthfeel but not a heavy wax. Almost indistinguishable oak note, faint white pepper. Finish – short. Ginger. Lemon, Apple. Adding water to this dram made little difference to N,P & F.


The new kid on the block. Since replaced by a newer kid.

Conclusions

Some fairly damning opinions here. I will hold back from saying that they are ‘facts’ as this is just my experience.

The manufacturer has been quite open about how the new bottling is put together. This should be applauded when many distilleries say nothing about the make up of their whiskies. This one was Sherry cask (15% European Oak and 15% American Oak) and 70% refill bourbon casks. To be frank, I struggled to taste much of the sherry effect in this dram.


Side By Side

Let’s contrast this to the 1980’s version. Despite the obvious effects of age, this dram in the nose alone screamed “I’ve been in a Sherry Cask”. I do believe there has been a touch of bourbon cask involvement, I can’t tell you if the spirit has been re-racked or married with bourbon cask. Whatever it is, the oak notes are a lot more pronounced, where in comparison the new version the oak notes were almost missing in action.

My main thought is whether or not this whisky has fallen foul of poorer quality casks or more reliance on bourbon maturation. The modern 10 isn’t a bad whisky and although I haven’t enjoyed it particularly over the past two reviews, that is just my personal taste. Too many people enjoy Glengoyne for me not to accept it is a decent brand, and perhaps that I’ll enjoy something a wee bit older. I’ve an 18 y.o miniature for that purpose.

You can buy the old style Glengoyne at auction for around £80. Bit pricey for a drinking 10 year old but I’ve tasted a lot worse and paid a lot more for it. Be aware it’s a screw top, so the seal may not be perfect and the waxed cardboard will have an effect if it has been incorrectly stored. The modern Glengoyne retails around the £30 mark.

Despite being from an old bottle and slightly evaporated, the old style Glengoyne wins hands down, mostly due to having a superior nose and palate.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

3 Drams From The Village With 3 Glens

Taste Review #89 – Glenrothes 8 Old vs New.

Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.

anon

When you are asked to think of where the powerhouse of the Speyside whisky industry, Dufftown is an obvious choice. There has been 9 distilleries founded in Dufftown. From the short lived Pittyvaich and Parkmore, through to Glenfiddich, Dufftown, Convalmore, Glendullan, Mortlach, Balvenie and Kininvie. What other village can be thought of as a centre of whisky production? While there is a pocket of distilleries to the south of Aberlour – Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhaine, Dailuaine and Dalmunach, but they aren’t in a village. You have to look further north to the Speyside village of Rothes, which once was home to 4 distilleries with one on the outskirts.

Rothes is a small village in Moray, some ten miles south of Elgin. It has a population of around 1400 people. It has 4 operational distilleries, three of which have the prefix ‘Glen’ – Glen Grant, Glen Spey and the distillery I will focus on today, Glenrothes. Of course, we can’t forget Speyburn on the north side of the village. There was another distillery, Caperdonich which closed in May 2002, and was demolished in 2011. The site was taken over by Forsyths, the company responsible for many a malt distillery still and equipment. Almost like a whisky circle of life.

The Glenrothes Distillery started operation in 1879 before the large boom that was to come around 15 years later. The initial investors, all of whom owned the Macallan distillery at the time. James Stewart had obtained the lease of Macallan and rebuilt the distillery in 1868, only selling it to Roderick Kemp in 1892. James Stewart eventually split from the group building Glenrothes, who continued with the plan to build the distillery.

In 1884 it changes its name to Glenrothes-Glenlivet, which was a cheeky way of riding on the coat tails of the original Glenlivet distillery, such was its renown. Rothes is nowhere near Glenlivet, but that didn’t stop them or others from this practice. By 1887 they merged with the owners of Bunnahabhain distillery to form Highland Distillers. This in turn became part of Edrington, the current owners of the distillery. However for 7 years the brand was owned by Berry Bros. (2010- 2017), and it is one of these vintages we will be trying today.


Anybody up for a threesome? Drams I mean! The three candidates for this review.

In fact, the distillery in the village with three ‘Glens’ has supplied us with three drams and a bit of drama. First up is an old style Glenrothes bottled by Gordon & Macphail. It is an 8 year old spirit at 70 Proof. This is 40% ABV. The requirement to have the strength in percent originated in 1980, but this bottle does not have the volume on it. I estimate this bottle to be from the 1970’s.

Whisky 2 is at the other end of the scale. It is an independent bottling from the Malt Whisky Co. also at 8 years old, distilled in 2007. This is the other end of the scale at 64.1%.

Lastly for a sense of balance, I’ve got a 1998 Glenrothes, bottled in 2012, so will be approximately 14 years old at 43%. I’m hoping that this will indicate if the newer whisky is any better, taking into account the maturation age difference.

While I am not directly comparing like for like, it is a good excuse to open an old bottle and a new bottle and thus experience a little whisky history.

Glenrothes 8 y.o est. 1970’s

Region – Speyside Age – 8y.o Strength – 70 proof (40%) Colour -Mahogany (1.6) Cask Typenot known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – not known. Nose – Solventy. Malt, Citrus, dried fruit, red apple peel, weetabix, chocolate Palate – Oily mouthfeel. Highly doubt this has been chill filtered. Malty, honey, slightly floral, hint of lemon. Spicy, nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon Finish – medium long. Spicy notes continue, honey and light sulphur towards the end. 2ml of water accentuated the spice and shortened the finish with slightly less sulphur.


Glenrothes 8 y.o, estimated from 1970’s

Glenrothes 8 y.o 2007

Region -Speyside Age – 8 y.o Strength – 64.1% Colour – chestnut Oloroso (Cask Typenot known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Like a Sherry laden trifle. I’m no Sherry expert but that’s what it reminded me of. Chocolate, Coffee, Raisins, Butterscotch Angel Delight. Palate – Chocolate, cinnamon buns, raisins, a hint of tobacco, caramel. Very spirit forward, not a lot of wood influence at all. A bit of a bite from the spirit on the tongue. Water added a cereal note, like eating cornflakes dry from the packet. Finish – the chocolate butterscotch combo continues into a short and relatively disappointing finish. However adding water shortens the sweet portion and increases the spicy blast at the end. Chilli chocolate springs to mind. After falling asleep in my armchair and waking up with half a nip left, there was a more balanced and less fiery finish, with the flavours returning to coffee and chocolate.


Glenrothes 8 y.o. At 64.1% this is the version for grownups.

Glenrothes 1998

Region – Speyside Age – vintage, approx 8 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type -not known ColouringNo. Chill Filtered – Not known Nose – Milky Tea, slightly sweet, butterscotch, vanilla, apricot. Palate – honey, fudge, the cinnamon, nutmeg, peppery spices dominate, slightly oily mouthfeel which turns dry. Water allowed a cereal note followed by caramel to show through Finish – medium. Spices carry over and fade into honey again with a hint of liquorice. A hint of plantain too. Sweetness increases and spices decreased when water added


A more modern Glenrothes.

Conclusions

It’s impossible to directly compare all these drams directly and I’m not going to try. However there can be a slight comparison between the 1998 vintage and the 1970’s bottle, despite the difference in age. With a massive difference in abv, there is no way I can use the 2007 sample as a comparison, other than a taste of a spirit from the same distillery.

Initially I didn’t expect much from the older dram. There was considerable contamination on the seal, some evaporation and a tell tale old bottle smell. Once poured into the glass, there was a sign of sediment. Now, this is likely to have been from the cap, so I went through the procedure I use if cork has accidentally gone into the spirit. I filter the spirit using a coffee filter paper, funnel and clean glass. I meant to put the glass into the wash but absent-mindedly put the 2007 dram into the dirty glass. Repeat of process and a clean glass required.


Cap contamination on the G&M 8 year old

I’d read somewhere that Glenrothes can take an while to open up in the glass, so I gave the 8 year old 30 mins, there was a reduction in old bottle aroma, and I was genuinely surprised by how tasty it was. Nothing spectacular by any means, but it has a bit of bite.

The closest competitor in this line up was the 1998 / 14 year old. It however didn’t have the same bite, and while it had more complexity, I felt it a little bit insipid in comparison. However it’s a 10cl bottle and I have more opportunity to get to know this bottle.


Contamination being removed -again.

The 8 year old from 2007 was fantastic. It had an instantly impressive nose, an equally impressive palate, although I felt the finish a little bit disappointing. However if this was available, I’d easily buy a bottle. In fact in a conversation with a fellow WhiskyTwitterite, I asked if it was better to have loved and lost or never loved at all, as if I’d never tasted this, I wouldn’t have the regret of not being able to buy more.

To be honest, despite old bottle effect, the older dram wins, as it was the one I felt more comfortable with, but if we allowed the 2007 to be considered, it would be the winner.

It’s a narrow win for the older bottle.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

A tale of 10 year old laddies.

Taste Review #87 – Bruichladdich 10 old Vs new

Mmmm, I really struggled with a title for this review. Nothing really seemed to be quite right, and in the end I settled something that to the more delicate of minds isn’t just ‘not quite right’ but more to the fact it’s ‘very wrong’. Initially I had thought of the Rolf Harris song ‘Two Little Boys’, but then given his history was probably an inappropriate choice. With the term ‘Laddie’ being an affectionate and non-predatory nickname for Bruichladdich whiskies, you can see I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever I put resulted in sounding like I had a lifetime membership of the Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville fan clubs, but I can assure you here that the 10 year olds we are speaking about are definitely whisky.


Two little boys…. I meant ‘laddies!

Bruichladdich isn’t a new distillery. Situated by the shores of Loch Indaal on the west coast of Islay, Bruichladdich has always been a bit of an oddball amongst the Islay distilleries, mainly because of the unpeated nature of its spirit. Peat is used in the distillery for the medium peat Port Charlotte and heavily peated Octomore bottlings, but not for the core Bruichladdich releases. The distillery was built in 1881 by it’s owners the Harvey Brothers. Their ownership came to an end in 1937, and by 1954 it came in to the hands of Distillers Company Ltd, a forerunner of Diageo. However, their ownership was short, and it was offloaded to AB Grant, who also owned the Bladnoch Distillery.

Bruichladdich changed hands again in 1968 when it was bought by Invergordon Distillers, who in turn in 1993 became under Whyte and Mackay. By 1995 Bruichladdich was deemed surplus to requirements and was closed in 1996. In late 2000 it was bought by a private consortium who included Mark Reynier. Coming from a wine background, Mark had also founded the independent whisky bottler Murray McDavid along with 2 others, so perhaps buying a defunct distillery on Islay was the next logical step.

When it was set up, Bruichladdich was a modern distillery, having been purpose built rather than developed from farm steadings. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) the distillery had seen very little in modernisation throughout the years. It had been used as a blend fodder factory for much of its prior ownership. Much of the original equipment is still in place, including an open top mash tun, one of a few still in existence. When the distillery was bought, between Jan and May 2001, the distillery equipment was dismantled and given an overhaul then reassembled. It still seems to this day that Bruichladdich is like a working museum, but who can argue with the quality of the liquid?

With a background in wine, you can be sure that Mark was familiar with the concept of ‘terroir’, which is how the local environment, microclimate and soil can all influence the crop of grapes that make wine. Mark had decided to apply this to whisky at Bruichladdich, and has since gone on to apply this to the new distillery he is now involved in at Waterford, Ireland. We will be discussing this at a later date, as that is a minefield of opinions on its own!

The other thing that needed doing at Bruichladdich was an improvement of its wood policy. Much of the existing spirit was re-racked, and a bottling plant was also constructed. However it was in the days of when the distillery had little money that they bought equipment from the Inverleven distillery which was being demolished. Of course, it was also around the time of the Iraqi Supergun, weapons of mass destruction so sailing a barge of distillery equipment past the Holy Loch, where the UK nuclear deterrent was based was always going to result in attention being paid. This came in the form of the US Threat Reduction agency notifying the distillery that one of their webcams was out, so Big Brother was definitely watching! It gave rise to a 19 year old bottling called Whisky Of Mass Distinction (get it?) This was joined by WMD II with the discovery of a Royal Navy ROV, but you can read that story here in my previous review of this whisky.

Mark sold the distillery to Remy Cointreau in 2012, so what direction it will take now will remain to be seen, bearing in mind what gets distilled usually isn’t released for 8-10 years. It doesn’t seem to be much has changed.


Plenty of breathing time as I type my tale of Bruichladdich!

As much as I hate the term ‘fanboy’, I have to tell you that I own more Bruichladdich than any other distillery. This ranges from the first 10 year old whisky to be released by the distillery, my bottles being signed by the distiller Jim McEwan through to the latest release, Octomore 11. I like their whisky, especially the heavily peated stuff, which tends to be quite young though this still works. I’ve never come across miniatures of Bruichladdich very often, but a recent acquisition of around 50 miniatures, most of which went back to auction saw 4 Bruichladdich minis – 2x 10, 15 and 17 year olds. I sold all but one of the 10’s so I could taste it at some point. The older style Bruichladdich came from a bulk buy of miniatures so I could get the one I wanted; in this case it was a Glenury Royal. But with my project of comparing old with new, I have something that I can taste and review to see if older was better.

Details

Bruichladdich 10 (old)

Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 40% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – not known Colouring – possibly but on account of colour not likely Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Solvent. Honey, vanilla, malt, green orchard fruit like a peeled Granny Smith apple, grassy. Palate– quite pleasant and unassuming. Honey flavour continues from the nose and is quite dominating, but wood spices start to take over with a sparkling dryness. No brine note that I would have expected from a coastal distillery. A slight cardboard note though. Apple tart without the cinnamon Finish – Relatively short and uninspired. The palate continues with a mild toffee note which quickly fades. You have to hunt for a brine note but it’s there.


The older of the two

Bruichladdich 10 (modern)

Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – bit more solventy, can detect a brine note mixing with the honey. There is definitely a malty, almost readybrek background. Creamy fruit dessert. Palate – definitely more sweet on the arrival, with more presence of wood spices. Ginger, Apple, citrus (lime?) can taste a green Rowntree’s fruit pastille. Slightly floral as well. A strong brine character. Finish – the finish is much more expressive. There is a creamy exotic fruit to it – Pineapple tart.


The more recent (though still discontinued) Bruichladdich 10

Conclusions

The more modern bottling was a different kettle of fish. It had some similar characteristics in the nose, but was more forward – possibly the result of the higher ABV. The older sample did make me think that the wood policy at Bruichladdich wasn’t the best. There was just no excitement there at all. It turned out I was right in my assessment as I am writing the conclusions the day after the tasting. I purposely don’t do any or much research prior to tasting, as I don’t want my notes to be influenced by what I have read.

I have to say without a doubt that in this case, older was definitely not better, and the newer sample was much more drinkable, much more fresh and much more aromatic, even though it looked as though the newer bottling looked as though it was the one that had suffered from a small bit of evaporation.

Without a doubt, had the older sample been my first taste of Bruichladdich, I’d have probably not given the distillery much of a thought. While not a bad whisky, it lacked any punch. Of course I only have an idea of the age of the bottle, but the spirit definitely comes from the 90’s. The clue is in the label – the Bruichladdich Distillery Company was founded in July 2000, which would possibly mean this is spirit made from the previous owners. The fact it’s a little bit boring, yet with no major flaws indicates it is not from the new regime.

While writing these notes, I did think about what I could do with the leftovers. With one at 40% and the other at 46%, I decided to make my own Bruichladdich single malt at 43% by mixing the two together. It was still drinkable, but the older spirit definitely held the newer one back. You can now see that the policy of re-racking wasn’t desirable, it was probably necessary.

The older style dram in a full size bottle can still be picked up at auction relatively cheaply. The newer version is similar, with a hammer price of around £50. It was also discontinued a few years back, so perhaps in due course a newer 10 year old expression may re-emerge, though nowadays the Classic Laddie bottling is probably the closest you will get nowadays.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Battle of The Benromach

Taste Review #86- Benromach 12 (Old) vs Benromach 10(New)

We have finally come to the first sampling of two malts from the same distillery that are not comparing apples with apples. This was a little bit harder to find an older edition versus the newer edition as there just wasn’t a lot of easily available older Benromach available. However, this shouldn’t impact our whisky research much. And what if it does? Well, at least I will have the opportunity to re-do the experiment; I mean, I’ll have to drink more whisky. Not exactly a hardship.

The Benromach distillery is located in the Morayshire town of Forres, not too far away from the railway station. It is classified as a Speyside whisky, and is a borderline coastal distillery, as it is not that far away from the sea which is 3 miles distant, however the shores of Findhorn Bay, are less than 2 miles away, so the warehousing on site will be exposed to the coastal air.

Benromach was founded in 1898, and started producing whisky in 1900. By 1953 it had come under DCL ownership. Unfortunately, the distillery did not survive the downturn of the 1980’s and was closed in 1983. The distillery was cannibalised for spares until 1993 when Whisky Merchants Gordon & Macphail bought the site from Diageo in 1993. Due to the incomplete nature of the distilling equipment, G&M were obliged to start from scratch, effectively building a new distillery within the old one. By 1998 the distillery was once again starting to produce whisky again.


Old Style packaging

The older Benromach I acquired when I bought a job lot of miniatures from a person clearing their late father’s estate. While I sold most of them, I did keep a few, this being one of them as I own a full sized bottle which I haven’t opened. I did want to see if it would be worth it. Let’s see if it was, and at the same time compare it to a contemporary bottle from modern day Benromach.

Details

Benromach 12 (old style)


Benromach 12 Dram

Region – Speyside Age – 12 years old Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Not known. Bourbon with Sherry finish possibly Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -light smoke. melon, malt, honey, vanilla, tobacco ash, musty carpet, red apple peel. Lemon rind. Water accents the sweet. Palate -Oily, damp straw, malt, sour citrus, grapefruit, resin. Honey Finish – Medium – short. Mild honey sweetness with a hint of malt and peppery wood spices, returning to a lemony sour must.

Drams side by side

Benromach 10 (2018 bottling)


Benromach 10 Dram

Region – Speyside Age – 10 years old Strength – 43% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Lemon curd. Creamy, vanilla, peach, apples. A hint of smoke and barley. Palate -Light smoked peat. Sweeter than the nose, honey, apple, raspberry. A note of salty liquorice. Finish – Medium. Tropical fruit peaches, apricots, more smoke and a light brine.

Conclusions

What is good about these two releases is that although both have been released by Gordon & Macphail, only one has spirit actually distilled by them. The 12 year old was released in the 1990’s and therefore contains whisky that had been distilled by the previous owners, DCL (of course who became Diageo). And it goes without saying that the 10 year old was wholly the product of the current owners.

The other disparity between these two drams is that I am led to believe (and haven’t had it confirmed) that when Benromach was rebuilt in the 1990’s that the stills had to be rebuilt, so while the distillery may be in the same buildings, and was a near copy of the original, some things will be different and this may show in the finished product,

What I experienced were two quite different drams. Of course, there is more than just the distillery equipment that can make the difference, I have to wonder it things like fermentation time, where the cut was being made and whether or not barley and yeast varieties were all the same, so realistically it is hard to compare the two.

The other thing is that the older Benromach had that peculiar musty character in some of the notes. I initially wondered if this was the result of old bottle effect but this is similar to what I have experienced in the past with other old drams, in particular the 12 year old Glenturret. I decided not to put the rest of the bottle in my infinity bottle (not that it would have fitted anyway) but left it for 3 days to see if more air contact with the whisky would have done anything. It certainly did. The arrival was very sweet in a short honeyed burst, but soon the musty note returned.

The newer style was much more accessible, with a slightly higher ABV helping to give a crisp, clear punch to the dram. There was more sweetness to the dram, with smoke being noticeable, although it was a compliment to the other aromas and tastes, keeping well in balance.

You would think that the 12 year old whisky would be better than the 10, but it is hard to judge for me in my limited experience to decide whether this is the result of the distilling process or the age of the bottle. I’m tending to believe the age of the bottle is playing its part. However I have to say that with all things considered I believe the newer dram to be the better one of this pair.

Since I bought the newer dram, Benromach has undergone a rebrand. Whether or not the recipe has changed I do not know. The new labelling doesn’t appeal to me at all, looking a bit too Soviet for my liking, though looking back the typeface is similar to the 12 year old. I have to say the new BenRiach re-brand is very similar in its lack of appeal to me. However, this shouldn’t distract us from the whisky.

My old 12 year old bottle of Benromach in store is safe. While it was interesting to taste a dram from yesteryear, I don’t think I will be opening that one any time soon.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Care In The Community

Are we playing the right part?

You can’t be controversial all the time, or at least I’d like to think so. In the almost 2 years that I’ve been writing my blog I’ve attempted to put a metaphorical fox into a few chicken coops and am still living to tell the tale. Perhaps that is the benefit of being an under the radar blogger. My last article targeted a Malt-Official submission that fell short on journalistic standard, and to my pleasant surprise was received well by those who read it. Since then I’ve been musing about the existence of the ‘whisky community’ that seems to have been generated within social media, and whether or not we always act appropriately within it.

The whisky community we are in is a wide church, including everybody from occasional drinkers who have a few drams a week, to the whisky über-geek. There’s the bottle chasers, collectors or those standing on the sidelines just observing. Nestling in amongst us are those directly involved in whisky production which nicely completes the mix.

On the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page and Twitter Feed I asked the question ‘ What does ‘Whisky Community’ mean to you? I got a couple of responses on each page but received a few more private messages. It turns out that most answers were similar and to me they seemed more to focus towards the online aspect of the community. By a large margin, the main aspect was that people see it as a way to learn and share knowledge. In second place was friendship and sharing of drams. A couple of people said they use the whisky community as a source of entertainment. I can vouch for this, as I do too when working offshore. But there was a more worrying tone to two replies, which inferred that the respondents felt that some people needed to get off their pedestals, with one going as far to say that some need to practice what they preach.

One DM even went as far to question what it would be like if we were together physically when having our debates? I’d like to think there wouldn’t be a fight, but often I wonder. I’m probably as guilty on occasion on getting a bit overheated when something presses my buttons. Does the online experience make us braver or is it that we inadvertently feel freed of our social norms? With so many different levels of experience, like any community we live in there is bound to be the occasional clash from time to time. Certainly on Twitter where interaction is a lot easier than other social media (or so I find), we’ve seen one or two negative incidents which maybe made more traction than they should’ve. The ability of an instant response and the slipping of the clutch between brain and keyboard can often show a glimpse of what can be below the outer fabric of our community. Fortunately it is rare and I feel the general pulse is positive.

However, it doesn’t take much to start something off. From producers making incendiary tweets when responding to comments about their product, to the battlegrounds created when people take sides over the latest issue of the moment, it does seem as though our social media behaviour mimics that of a real life situation.

2020 has been a year in which behaviour and respect for others has perhaps been stirred within our consciousness. For me, as a newcomer to ‘WhiskyTwitter’, the first I saw questionable behaviour was the debacle over Terroir and the subsequent fall-out over differences of opinion, fuelled by an incendiary and unnecessary article attacking a bloggers opinion. It was certainly a very polarised experience with some people adding their opinions as though only they were right and nobody else was. People who contribute online using social media or their own websites have to remember the impact their writing can have within their readership. Even if they apologise after a lapse of judgement, the damage can already be done. I for one was put off of a certain Irish distillery’s products if that was what terroir supporters were going to be like. However in the interests of fairness, the instigator has posted an apology. I suppose in any community you’ve got to forgive and forget to be able to move on. We’ve all made mistakes I’m sure, with public ones often being the hardest to correct.

If we become a community, we need to ask if what we are contributing adds to the health of our clan. If it isn’t a positive change, then maybe consider not publishing it. Free speech is a right, but exercising our rights do not negate our responsibilities to others.


Looks like somebody questioned terroir at Waterford again….

Can anybody fail to remember the next notable issue – the stance against some of the more lurid and often sexist comments in the 2020 Whisky Bible? This has been going on for a few years, but once Becky Paskin finally called the author out on it, it has been like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering size and pace. From there on in, the floodgates had been opened and many people within the whisky community have finally seemed to recognise that there is no place for sexism in the Whisky Community and it was time for things to change and not before time.

We’ll skip over the recent Malt article I blogged about a few weeks ago I previously mentioned. Click on the link if you want to be reminded. In more recent times I wish to draw upon two tweets to highlight the potential highs and lows of our community.

First was a tweet by @MaltMentalist who asked people if there was a whisky or an experience that had put you off a brand. I was shocked by the amount of people who told stories of distillery representatives or brand ambassadors at whisky events who’s behaviour had put them off. It was also sadly unsurprising about the amount of ladies who had been disrespected, which does reinforce the point that the whisky world still has a sexism issue. I’ve since learned of other examples of how fellow enthusiasts can equally be dismissive of the fairer sex being involved in our hobby. Attitudes like this do not help shake of the image of whisky being an old man’s drink. A stuffy, sexist and insular old man at that.

When we think of people perpetuating these sorts of behaviours, what are they really trying to achieve? It does nothing positive for anybody, least of all them. Surely a true whisky community builds each other up, regardless of gender, backgrounds or knowledge? The fact that people who consider themselves connected to the industry are sometimes responsible for this behaviour should start ringing alarm bells and be highlighted. That’s the only way to effect positive change.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin. My next tweet will remain anonymous as I don’t want to draw attention to anybody, but the people involved will recognise themselves. Somebody asked on Whisky Twitter “What is grist?”. I’ve become so accustomed to the high level of knowledge amongst the Twitterati that I was really surprised to see this question in public. I was half expecting a flurry of antagonistic replies, but this did not materialise. Instead a basic answer was given in which the replier asked for confirmation that he got the answer right. This is a complete contrast within the whisky community compared to the examples given in @MaltMentalist’s tweet. And to me, that is what our social media based whisky community should and must be about. Just because you drink a lot of whisky doesn’t mean you have to know how it’s made to offer an opinion, but it helps greatly. It was good to see someone reply and not talk somebody down in a way that I’ve seen many others do on different forums.


Like barrel staves, our community becomes more effective by staying together

It is easy to forget when you live in Speyside, or even Scotland that not everybody has access to a whisky distillery to see the whole process. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in one. Sometimes I go as I’ve never been. Sometimes I want a particular photograph. Other times I want a bit of extra knowledge and sometimes I just want to be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the distillery to satisfy my senses. These are just my experiences. Many may have only been once to a distillery, some never. So let’s get three things straight –

1/ Lack of knowledge does not preclude you from being a valued member of the whisky community, as long as you have respect for others and are ready to learn. There’s a lot of knowledge and assistance out there. Just use it wisely.

2/ As a ‘community’ we have the responsibility to help along others who maybe don’t have the same experience and knowledge. If we fail to do so, then we have a dysfunctional community.

3/ Your idea of what is good content on social media may differ from others. A community is full of people happy doing their own thing.

Pointlessly antagonistic articles like the Masterclass one that was pulished serve no purpose in building a whisky community, and smack of elitism and isolate people. It just diminishes the effect of the article which did have some valid points. Nobody likes feeling a fool and shooting people down in public will only result in many people not wanting to ask for vital knowledge for fear of looking stupid. And in my industry, making people feel stupid by having a superior attitude is the quick way to get kissed in the Glasgow style.

Factions and cliques will always exist. That’s no different to any ‘real life’ community. But we can’t act as though we are only connected each other by Ethernet cable from our router. In my opinion, while the vast majority of people do, we need to be behaving better than we would within a physical community. All said and done, it isn’t whisky that should be the focus, but the people. We all do our own thing that makes us happy. If people like it, great. If not, then move on and let people do theirs as long as they aren’t hurting anybody.


Care In The (Whisky) Community – Betty looked forward to her daily clearic

If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be about how important ‘communities’ are, and we need to care about them more by being aware of how we and others act within them. I’ll hazard a guess that we’ve all relied on the social fabric the whisky fraternity provides more than we think over the past 9 months. It’s been a fantastic time where people have risen to the challenges of isolation with online tastings and the use of the internet to cement friendships built over the shared love of a spirit.

As we move into 2021, it is perhaps time that we take a moment to think about how we can continue to add something positive to the circle of whisky lovers around the world. We all have our part if we want to be true community members. There is so much positivity in our movement that we should be proud of and build on. Goodness knows we all need it.

Wishing you all a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year. Here’s hoping it never gets as bad as 2020.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

Nuclear explosion – stolen from Google

Care In The Community – stolen from Google

Barrel – authors own.

A Fraudulent Passport

Taste Review #84 – Passport Blended Whisky

They say nobody makes a bad whisky. I can agree with that with taste being subjective. But in the last review I post for 2020, this agreement been challenged severely for I think I have found the exception. Of course you may like this whisky and I encourage you to try, but while my review may be entertaining, I’d heavily recommend you don’t.

This is a bottle that I managed to get in a group of whisky miniatures that I purchased at auction. It holds absolutely no value to me as a collector, though as a reviewer I thought it would be interesting to do a quick tasting to see if we can learn something from this old blend.

Passport Scotch was first blended in 1965 by Seagrams, which has morphed through the passage of time and big money takeovers to be part of Pernod Ricard, so you can imagine that there will be a good amount of their own products from their vast selection of blend fodder distilleries.

Incidentally, that’s what triggered my interest in this particular blend was the fact that I’m led to believe that there is a good level of Glen Keith whisky in the recipe. Now, as you may recall I didn’t think much of the Glen Keith distillers edition, although I have to confess that I need to perhaps review that again. As the bottle has oxidised a bit, the malt within has had a slight improvement. Maybe a blend made with this whisky will be ok, but I have my reservations.


Passport Blended Scotch. Slight evaporation from bottle

The Passport Scotch does have its own website, and from the information I could glean from the internet it was the 2nd most popular blended whisky in Brazil. However that is probably because it is shipped in bulk from Scotland and diluted in Brazil to the required 40%. So technically, while this is allowed to happen for blended spirit, it isn’t as Scottish as single malt.

I’m going to skip straight to the whisky now.

Details

Passport Blended Scotch


The Dram

Region – Blend Age – NAS Strength -40% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – n/a Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -grain, citrus, straw, damp cardboard, vanilla Palate -Sharp and burning arrival. grain, biscuits, honey, vanilla, green apple, smoke, an overtone of bitter oak. Finish – short, sharp with bitterness, intertwined with a hint of sweetness in the background, smoke and vanilla 


From above. I think somebody has replaced the whisky with wee-wee.

Conclusions

Well, thank God for small mercies. The finish being short meant I could get beyond this whisky quickly. I’m going to be quite brutal, but this was to coin a Scottish term – ‘Shite.’ This was an abomination that made me think that the one of the distilleries in the blend got their feints receiver and spirit receiver mixed up. I actually wondered if this was going to make me blind. This has to be brake fluid masquerading as Scottish Whisky. If you tried to use a real passport of the same quality, you’d soon be taken aside at customs for a wee chat with the guys who are getting ready to put on the elbow-length rubber gloves prior to a body cavity check. That experience would probably be preferable to drinking this.

This is a whisky that was never meant to be sipped, not even with water. I think a mixer of ginger ale, cola, sulphuric acid or arsenic would be appropriate to make this taste better. There is a good reason that this is a budget blend, however I’d need payment to drink this again.

What is really surprising that during my research, I found that Ralfy reviewed this on his vBlog YouTube channel. And he appeared to like it and give it a basic score of 81/100. See his review #514 to see it for yourself. As much I respect Ralfy’s experience and knowledge, given my experience I really wonder if he had magic mushrooms instead of teabags in the pot for his breakfast beverage. Of course, there could be batch variations, perhaps Ralfy had a cold or maybe my bottle had a severe case of old bottle effect, but if I was to give it a score, getting above 30 would be a challenge.

While this is a generic blended whisky that seems to have a lot of grain spirit in it, this reinforces why I am cautious to these generic blends that turn up in auction lots where I am bidding on the lot for one bottle. This is why I usually send these types of bottles back to auction. I don’t think there is a lot of Glen Keith in this, as despite me not taking to the Distillers Edition, it was nowhere as bad as this. Ah well, every day is a school day.

Let me tell you this. It is definitely this is a Passport you wouldn’t be unhappy to lose. Scotty’s Drams score? Drain cleaner.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Top Of The Drops

What floated my boat in 2020.

Well it’s come to the end of the year almost and it goes without saying that all of us are pretty much looking back on a year that never happened. The coronavirus has changed so much in our lives, very little of it good. I hope you have all managed to cling on and will look towards 2021 as being a better year.

The one thing for me that did change is that I reviewed about 45 drams for my blog, and as I am often asked what I have as my favourite, I think I should do a quick review. After all, that’s what everybody else seems to do, and why should I be any different?


A decent whisky, despite being quite young. Didn’t make the top five, but would buy again. Gets into the top 5 of attractive bottles though.

Firstly, I could not pick an absolute favourite. That was too hard. Secondly, it had to be obtainable so if you want to try it, you can without breaking the bank. So that whittles out Yellow Submarine, which while still easy enough to get, it is only available on the secondary market at silly prices. Same goes for most of the silent distilleries I reviewed.

So without much more pomp and ceremony, my picks for 2020 were in no particular order

  • Glenallachie 15 – £65
  • Glendronach 18 – £97
  • Speyburn 10 – £25 if on offer. Around £30 otherwise
  • Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve – £45
  • Glenglassaugh Revival – £38

I picked all of these as despite them not being the best whisky in the world, after each dram I instantly wanted another. Only the GlenDronach is getting pricey at about £100 a bottle.


A good value dram and a pleasant surprise

For the drams that are not easily available or limited edition, I would pick

  • Macallan 10 y.o – £400+ at auction including fees
  • Glenfarclas 2005 14 y.o Cask 2588 – released at £150
  • TWBC Invergordon 42 Batch 15 – £180+ at auction including fees
  • Allt Dour 8 – Robertson’s of Pitlochry – £55 (still available at time of writing!)
  • North British 30 Single Grain (Dramfool) – £95 on release.

Allt Dour. My review is responsible for at least 10 sales.

Just goes to show you that you do not have to spend much for a decent dram, plus it is important that you aren’t a dram snob. Never thought I’d enjoy the Glenlivet or Speyburn so much.

In all fairness, if rarity or lack of accessibility wasn’t an issue, the Allt Dour would win top spot, with the Invergordon following closely behind. But because these drams have limited availability it’s hard to recommend them as overall winners. The Allt Dour at the time of writing is still available from Robertson’s of Pitlochry, but I’d be quick in getting one before they all go. I’ve bought a second one already.

We’ll skip over the worst whisky. It’s the last review of the year. Pay attention as I do vent my spleen quite extensively. That will be published on 30th December. Remember that you may well like what I don’t, and half of what I write in my very infrequent negative reviews is meant for entertainment

Cheers to Scotty’s Drams for the recommendations.” While i enjoyed Haig Clubman, it didn’t make the top 5.

Turning the tables somewhat but what was your dram of the year? Did you buy and actually open a Macallan? Have you gone crazy for the latest wave of inaugural bottlings? Drop me a line and let me know your favourites. If I can, I might even try to review them.

Lastly, thanks for all your support. It’s good to know so many people read what I write. The best thing you can do for me is encourage your whisky loving friends to like or follow one of the social media streams I use (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even this WordPress blog). It will only encourage me to publish more, assuming that’s what you want!

Wishing you all the very best for the New Year. May your 2021 be much improved over this year past. Stay safe, keep looking forward and get ready for year 3 of Scotty’s Drams.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Except – Haig Club / David Beckham – c/o Diageo.

No Class in The Master.

The importance of not trying to be important.

Whisky blogging. It’s a total minefield. Whether your writing style is lacking, your opinion misguided, your patter is miserable or all three, there will always be somebody to bring you down with a bump. But regardless of your style, there can be some good points to remember while whisky blogging.

One of my fellow whisky bloggers IM’d me an article from another site (click link). I wished he hadn’t as my previous article had been a rant on why Black Friday is a bad for small retailers and I wasn’t wanting to spend energy on another emotional essay. However, something in the article felt wrong to me. The coin had been put in the slot and the rant button was pressed again for another go.


That button gets pressed far too much!

I’ve been following this site for some time now, but since an event in Jan 2020 which some of the Whisky Twitterati know as ‘Terroir Gate’ where there was a highly questionable article which attacked a fellow blogger who had the courage to question the relevance of Barley Terroir. I’ve had the website on Twitter mute since then. I’m sure they won’t miss me, but it was surely adventurous to challenge a farmer about growing barley. I’m sure the man has forgotten more about crop growing than they know.

The article on which I wish to comment concerns a writer who had the misfortune to have attended a disappointing virtual tasting. For one reason or another the event had come to be tagged a ‘Masterclass’, which ended up in disappointment for the reviewer, who went on to list some admittedly valid points. Despite the valid points, the rant didn’t sit well with me. Indeed, the whole page made me want to put on a tin helmet and go over the trench. I’ll admit to perhaps not following my own advice, but in this case, it is with good cause.


Advice Piece # 1. Don’t put people down publicly when trying to make yourself look good.

The whisky community is supposed to be friendly, isn’t it? Well, while the tasting was disappointing according to details provided in the article, anybody who knew about that event will be able to identify the host and the see the very public criticism of him. Pretty bad craic to run the event down then patronise the host afterwards. To write how “they might make a master one day if they keep on learning” does give the impression of the author looking down on this individual. It certainly seems to be a standard editorial policy for this site on a few occasions. The author seems to have forgotten even Masters can still learn daily.

Has the writer heard of the principle of “praising publicly, criticising privately?’ It’s a standard requirement in my industry, where failing to do so and humiliating a colleague in front of their peers not only sees the offender being ostracised, but also at risk of losing their teeth in a Glasgow style kiss. After all, the host himself didn’t call it a Masterclass, but regardless, I would say there is an onus on anybody attending these events virtually or in person to perhaps take such labels with a pinch of salt, unless you know the host, their experience and the drams involved. Quickly looking at these drams would suggest that these weren’t anything I’d associate with a Masterclass as I can get them straight off a supermarket shelf here in Scotland.

It’s a good point that you should be able to assume anybody with a Masterclass title connected would have an associated qualification – and I agree that it should, though there is still no guarantee of quality being present. The industry does lack regulation in many areas, but without casting aspersions on these titles just because some parade their being a Keeper of the Quaich or having a WSET qualification like a bull strutting his stuff in a field of cows, it still is sadly no guarantee of quality.

I’ve worked with some highly ‘qualified’ people in my industry that seem to have more degrees than a compass. While working in West Africa, we asked a guy to make the teas for the crew came back and every single tea or coffee was cold. As he’d never made tea or coffee before, he didn’t know you had to boil the kettle.

On the same ship, another guy couldn’t get the kettle under the tap of the small hand basin we had in our washroom. So rather than filling it with a cup like everybody else, he put the kettle into the toilet bowl and flushed. 10/10 for ingenuity, 0/10 for application – toilets on a ship often flush with filtered seawater.

The point is that you can still have a qualification but not be exposed to all aspects of the industry. Nobody knows everything. Doesn’t necessarily make you a w*nker. That leads nicely onto point 2.


Even John Knox knew nobody enjoys being talked down to.


Advice Piece # 2 – No Profanity

I’ve been in an engineering trade since I left school. Being a tradesman and Scottish means that swearing often comes naturally. The F bomb is not a big deal at all. The word w*nker hardly registers on the scale. But was there really a need to use it on a whisky review?

Does the author think are people w*nkers because they don’t know everything? We were all enthusiastic amateurs at one time, possibly overly so. Perhaps it would be better in the article not to be so rude but suggest that it’s better not to pretend what you know and when caught out, a simple admission should suffice coupled with a resolve to find out?

It’s not a crime to not know, especially when the host didn’t put himself in the Masterclass slot. As people with more experience, we should always build up and encourage in the whisky community rather than knock down those with less knowledge. Unless you want to look like a twat.

Advice Piece # 3 – Keep the Negativity levels low or non-existent.

I once spoke to somebody in the whisky industry about writing articles and one of the things I told them was that I felt that despite the amount of people in the industry and who follow it, it is a small world. Especially in Speyside where there are quite a few people involved in the production side. We discussed the website in question for this article and I mentioned the levels of negativity that often come out. The person just smiled, so I know I’m not alone in my thoughts.

While you should never be afraid of criticising a product or something that deserves it, there are ways and means of doing so. If you want a rant, at least make it entertaining. A regularly negative drone just gets boring. Far from challenging the industry or individuals, you’ll just start getting ignored. If you don’t like something, say it’s not for you, Don’t judge others for liking it and don’t constantly bang on about it.

I’ve never lived more than 15 miles from a Single Malt distillery. I can see one from my house. It has had its (fair) criticisms over the years, but nobody intentionally makes a poor whisky. You never know who will see what you write, and certainly running down a business in a small local community is definitely bad craic, regardless of who owns it. You only end up closing more doors than opening new ones.


The Whisky Police were finding it hard to put in yet another condescending comment. But they managed.


Advice Piece # 4 – Don’t be hypocritical or at least admit it when you are.

Hypocrisy. We all do it from time to time. And I am aware in what I’m writing I’m not following any of my own advice apart from this one. It’s ok to be hypocritical as long as you acknowledge it. Sometimes the situation changes and you must go back on your word. Don’t worry about it, just be open. I’ve had to be when I got caught out in the past with Macallan Folio 5 being released in far larger numbers than before, and I was forced to flip it. And I don’t hide how much I hate flippers. Thankfully I wasn’t very good at it, making a profit after fees of £37.50, so that sweetened a bitter pill, and being open about it preserved my integrity.

Going by the tone of the article I was sent, it is extremely hypocritical to slate somebody for having an ego when obviously displaying one yourself. I don’t think I need to add more to that.

Plus, being funded to maintain your independence? However you do it, this has potential to undermine your independence, something this site seems to hold dear. Patreon use for recovering expenses is fair enough, but you can get unlimited hosting and bandwidth for under £300 a year. But unless it’s a job (I’m assuming it is), should you not keep a hobby self funding? That’s the only way to preserve total independence. I’m not suggesting any thing is improper by using Patreon, but if you are funded by donation, that’s because people like what you publish. Human nature being as it is, if people are going to pay you for what you publish, the likelihood of you continuing to put out the same kind of content continues. Hence the egotist ranting often seen on the site perhaps?

I certainly don’t expect others to pay for my hobby or whisky, unlike many Patreon funded Whisky pages.

Advice Point # 5. Have a clear point to the end.

Often when this site publishes a rant, it doesn’t always have a clear point all the way to the end. They seem to have the maxim of “why use one word when several will do?”. Some of their contributors seem to have swallowed a Thesaurus. But what gets me is in some cases, the bones of the article don’t always seem to support the review at the end. In my mind, the worst example was the review of The Lakes Distillery release of The One, The write-up before had nothing at all to do with the whisky being reviewed, and was just an ill-judged irrelevant rant. Had I been the owner of the Lakes Distillery I would have been furious that my product was tied into this negative publicity.

The day they published ‘No Masterclass’ it must have been a slow news day for the team, as even though the reviews were relevant, it still seemed to be tacked on. The reviews just seemed like an easy way to get more negativity in. Personally, I’d think it better to keep a rant away from products, unless the rant is to do with the product in question. You don’t want to necessarily bite the hand that feeds you. Far from challenging producers, you will just encourage them to ignore you while you feed your sycophants. And this will mean things are unlikely to change for some.

As the site and people involved will invariably see this, what will be interesting to see is if I am subjected to a similar treatment that the other party in Terroir Gate received. Of course, they have a right of reply, but how it is done may be interesting and will certainly show their professionalism when it comes to responding criticism.

Unlike some, I’ve never felt the need to fly a kite with regards to my experience in the whisky world. I’ve been collecting since 2006, but that doesn’t make me an expert. Neither does living in a region heavily connected to the Scotch Industry, though I can say I probably know enough. But like tasting a whisky, our opinions on the same subject can differ. After all, some people think Bells is tasty, but that doesn’t mean they should be shot down for it. However, for this particular website in question, in their ‘About’ section, when they say difference of opinion is OK, do they really mean it, or are we dissenters “the poor little lambs’ condescendingly alluded to ?

It isn’t always Masterclass. Not always classy. As for the w*nkers, I’ll let you decide. But if you want a serious review site, Matt ‘The Dramble’ is a better bet in my humble opinion.


Yours in Humiliation, Hypocrisy, Negativity, Swearing and always in Spirits,

Scotty


Photo Credits

Keyboard – Authors Own

All Other Images – Shutterstock

Playing the Fool

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

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

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


Dramfool 30 year old North British Single Grain whisky

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

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

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

Details

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


The NB 30 year old dram

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


Colour – definitely looks like a bourbon casked whisky

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Insane In The Membrane?

How Black Friday Causes Specialist Suffering.

I have to apologise from the very start of this article. Of course that is not like me at all, no Sir-ee! Mainly because the title of this article is from the a song on the Cypress Hill Album ‘Black Sunday’. Ok, wrong day I suppose for what I had in mind for this article. And while it is NOT like me, I actually own this album and listen to it on a rare occasion and enjoy it. You can’t listen to shoegaze all the time (apparently). What is at least accurate to some degree in my opinion is the topic today does have a slight whiff of insanity about it, although probably of a type we may not be aware of and suffer from in varying degrees. It’s about how we allow ourselves to become blind to the obvious.


The pin is out of the grenade. Time to get heads down. Incoming!

Once again my conscience has been pricked to write an article in defence of a body of people that have been undera silent attack for quite some time and since March 2020 this has been intensified. Unfortunately it is whisky drinkers that seem to be the people who allow it to happen, albeit not doing the attacking themselves. Given how friendly the whisky community is, I’m surprised that there seems to be little promotion and concern to people that are vital to our hobby, passion, or more to the point – obsession.

Independent whisky shops have had a tough time of it for some time now. This is something I raised on my blog Facebook page back in March of this year, going as far to break my anonymity and release a couple of videos. Use the Facebook links below to navigate to the page if you want to see the videos. In most cases these smaller retailers cannot compete with online retailers such as Amazon and don’t have the collective buying power of chains like The Whisky Shop, Oddbins or Majestic to name one or two. And you can forget any hope of being able to complete with any of the supermarkets.

What triggered this was the amount of people who seemed to be upset that there seemed to be not very many Black Friday deals on Amazon this year. I’m not having a go – in full disclosure I’ve bought booze from Amazon when I’ve seen a bargain, but usually it is when I cannot get a bottle anywhere else at that time. An Old Pultney 17 was my first bottle that I did this with just after it was discontinued and latterly when Glengoyne 18 was slashed to £70, though that was just before the change of packaging and it was bought for stash. Maybe for later of course…


Some independent retailers like a laugh on Amazon. Only £80 – £120 including fees at auction.

In a quick moment of research, certainly here in the UK are a myriad of places that do online only retailing. Drink Supermarket, Master Of Malt, Drinks Direct, 31 Dover, and Spirit Store are just a handful and I’d be sure that this would be replicated overseas where specialist whisky retailers may be thin on the ground. Even Whisky Exchange which does have a couple of shops probably makes the vast majority of its profits from online trading.

Look. I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad about seeking a bargain. It’s been a tough year for everybody with many people locked down for long periods of time; people losing their freedom, contact with family and friends, their jobs; people possibly losing a lot more. And I can hardly hold the moral high ground as I have made the occasional purchases from some of these retailers, especially Master Of Malt as the Drinks By The Dram give me a chance to taste older or more expensive whiskies without having to cough up for a full bottle. However let’s look at this from a slightly different perspective.

While online shopping may be very convenient and cheap (as an Aberdonian I can assure you this is very close to my heart!), let’s look at some very plain to see facts that often get ignored and I see no evidence to the contrary that we seem to be suffering selective blindness to these issues. Amazon does not need your money. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s do not need your booze money. Let’s face it, despite the fun of #WhiskySanta, a company giving away £250,000 of drink does not need your booze money. However the hypocrite in me is very happy to promote the company by making my #WhiskySanta wishes. If they are generous enough to ‘pay’ quarter of a million quid for over a month of free social media advertising I’m taking my chance. You can bet your bottom dollar that an independent retailer of Whisk(e)y would probably wet themselves if they thought they could make £250,000 of profit, let alone be able to afford to give it away. And they certainly do need your custom.


A Facebook post by a local retailer. If you live close to Inverurie, Aberdeenshire I’m told it’s a great place for the ‘over the shoulder Boulder holders’. It’s not just whisky retailers that struggle against Amazon.

Speaking of local experience here in the Highlands, I can think of at least 4 local-ish (50 miles away still counts as local!) independent whisky retailers that have suffered the double whammy COVID has delivered. Not only were they forced to close their businesses when COVID first took hold, the businesses concerned were also in tourist areas, so once they’ve been allowed to open, there’s a lack of the normal crowds to sell to. I’m thinking of shops in Aberlour, Dufftown, Tomintoul, Pitlochry, Tyndrum, Inverary and Skye to name a few. The cancellation of the Spirit Of Speyside festival this year hit our region hard and without the same footfall, the whisky retailers in the area have had to rely on online sales to generate income. It doesn’t mean independent whisky retailers in large towns and cities aren’t suffering too – at least they have more chance of local footfall than one in the middle of the Cairngorms.


A brilliant Discovery from an independent shop and bottler in the tourist area of Highland Perthshire.

The majority of independent retailers have not got the same profit margins to reduce stock prices and remain viable. Some are forced to deal with wholesalers as they cannot buy directly with the distilleries or bottlers, further reducing competitiveness with online only businesses. To be fair to Amazon, there is plenty of independent traders use Amazon market place, but this is still not perfect as this still involves selling fees that further reduce margins. And therein could be the reason that there wasn’t so many Black Friday deals – perhaps the majority of them in the past have been supplied not from Amazon but small traders. They certainly cannot afford to be giving massive discounts at the moment.


Independents have greater overheads that the online only businesses don’t. And unlike Amazon they don’t have methods of avoiding a fair tax bill

The greatest benefit to dealing directly with an independent trader is that you’ll receive something that you’ll never get online – by buying over the phone or in person you’ll receive a personal service. Think about this when you next shop with an independent whisky retailer. They can tell you what is new. They usually have a great knowledge of the whiskies they sell. If you can visit one, you may get to try before you buy; something that has often seen me buy more than expecting to. You can build a relationship where the retailer may be privy to information that maybe of interest to you and they may tell you first, or at least keep a hard to find bottle back for you. At least one Whisky Twitterer has said he enjoys this type of situation and I have also found myself in this pleasant position too.


Never has a Twitter sponsored advert been so appropriate on the day of publishing.

This whole subject brings me back to a similar situation in a different retail environment; music. As I alluded to at the start of this article, I’m heavily into music, especially indie / shoegaze / post rock. There used to be a shop in Aberdeen called One-Up, of which I was a very regular customer. I always used them as the chances of finding something new, exciting and possibly undiscovered was high. But the ultimate draw was the service. The staff were excellent and one in particular, the well known shoegazer in local circles, Yogi Duncan used to recommend bands and albums to me so I could listen to it before making a decision. This was music I’d never have heard otherwise and would not be likely to see the suggestion on iTunes. You just don’t get that specialist service online and are at the mercy of an algorithm to suggest what you might like in the futureW. Just because some tracking cookie sees I’ve bought one album, doesn’t mean I’ll like the whole genre though it’s certainly cheaper to take a risk on a £10 CD than a £70 bottle of whisky.

It came to pass that CD buying fell out of fashion. People turned to downloads and with large overheads compared to online sales and a desire of one of the business partners to retire meant on the 18th of January 2013, One-Up closed for good. Since that store has gone, I’ve gradually fallen out of buying music. Perhaps it’s my age having an influence as well, but in the past 2 years I’ve found myself downloading more and more; my once proud music CD collection all but stagnated. For me nearly 8 years on, I and many others from the North East of Scotland still mourn the loss of One-Up


Gone yet not forgotten. And sorely missed by many. Thanks for the memories Yogi.

Regardless of my feeling, while digital retailing doesn’t mean we’ll fall out of love with whisky (goodness no!) it does mean we risk slowly falling out of touch with a more intimate way of connecting with the industry. If we only see what is advertised on line or by who we follow on social media, to me it just becomes a cacophony of marketing noise and other people’s opinion. The lack of personal contact within the whisky retail industry really means to me we are all perhaps following around on each other’s coat tails and are at the mercy of anonymous algorithms and advertising budgets which pigeon-hole us and see us getting targeted into purchasing blandness.

Let’s be clear however, as there is more we can do. It isn’t just spending our hard earned cash at independent whisky retailers that helps. Many of us on social media have our own blogs. Why not give one of the independent retailers a shout out on your blog? Review a bottle bought from them. Better still, if they bottle their own or have exclusive bottles to their shop, review one. I recently did, and the email that I received from the owner was one of pure gratitude. Not just because I genuinely enjoyed the whisky he had bottled, but because as an independent retailer in an area highly dependent on tourism it had been a tough year and he was over the moon to see his products promoted in such a way. 


It’s understandable we all have a budget but try to spend wisely whilst maximising your whisky purchasing power and remember the small guys

My blog is tiny and insignificant. However due to my review of his whisky, I know of 7 confirmed bottle sales as a direct result of what I said. Maybe only 1.13% of the bottling run, but that is sales that put money into a local business and a local economy; not into the bottomless pockets of CEO’s who don’t care a jot about whisky but just want your cash. If you don’t spend your whisky money at Amazon or get a Black Friday deal from an online only retailer, they aren’t that likely to go bust. Of course not everybody has the funds to avoid being frugal when it comes to whisky purchases, this year especially. The Mr Grumpy in me understands the situation and there is nothing wrong with that. Note: I’ve seen some whisky cheaper in an independent shop than on Amazon. Some retailers do promotions on free shipping if spending over a threshold amount. Shop wisely.


For Goodness Sakes! He’s gone off on one again. Don’t worry. Almost finished.

2020 has a lot of negative things to look back on. Don’t let it be the beginning of the end for a friendly independent whisky shop. Perhaps make an effort to reduce or let go of our building dependence on cheap online only sales. Once lockdown is finished, be sure to pop into one of the independent spirit retailers close to you. They’ll thank you for it. 

Feedback is welcome on this subject. My aim isn’t to offend but highlight the smaller businesses that struggling on an already uneven playing field. What’s your opinion?

Postscript

After One Up closed, Yogi Duncan was working in an Oddbins in Aberdeen. He could have become my shoegaze, wine and whisky guru, but sadly I left Aberdeen the same year as the lights went out at One Up forever. Then the nearest independent music shop was Imperial Records in Inverness, but sadly this closed the following year in 2014. Another store with a stunning customer service lost to the digital shopping paradigm, a service made more special due to the owner Mark and I having some great conversations based on initially realising a shared love of the music of Galaxie 500.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

One Up, Allt Dour; – Authors Own

Old Pulteney 17 – Amazon

Katsize Lingerie – Facebook.

All others – Shutterstock