Respecting Our Elders?

Whisky Myths Examined – Whisky of a Different Era Tastes Better – Or Does it?

This week coming sees the start of an occasional series in which I start to turn my attention onto one thing that has been niggling me a wee bit. Each person has their own opinion on this matter and I am no different, yet I feel with a building collection of miniatures that I need to get rid of, it is time to investigate this potential myth a little bit closer. Do whiskies of a different era taste any better?

This is a subject that could open a whole new carton of worms, as everybody will be adamant in their own belief whether or not this will be the case. I’m sort of already convinced I know the answer, and I believe the myth is true but this is based on my experience of the old style Macallan versus the newer releases. I’ve also been tasting more whiskies from a different era on account of purchasing a few whiskies from Cheaper By The Dram, the company that enables you to be able to drink whisky from the bottles of a different era that would otherwise be unobtainable due to high auction or retail values.

Let’s be up front. This series will not be strictly scientific. As far as possible I have chosen to compare whiskies from individual distilleries with the same age statement and cask types. However in some cases there has been a need to compare a 12 year old from the 90’s to a 10 year old of the up to date version; but I have checked they use the same cask types. I’ve made sure that I’m not just comparing varying batches; there will be at least a 10 year gap between the releases to help assess if there is a significant difference between the two.


Same age and distillery. Different era. What one is better?

As far as possible I have tried to get at least one sample from every region and to vary the styles a little. I feel I don’t have to keep you in suspense and I can reveal the distilleries I am reviewing in a list below. The list may get added to if I am able to source other samples but as of the end of September I currently held pairs of whiskies of differing eras of

Springbank, Glendronach, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Macallan, Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan, Clynelish, Auchroisk, Highland Park, Glengoyne and Glen Keith.

My aim is to do 2 comparison reviews a month, so I can continue to review contemporary whiskies, but this will depend very much on my work schedule. However if I have no article for a weekend, a whisky challenge may be in its place.

I’m pretty excited about this. My first review will be released this following Wednesday, it’s already written and I can’t wait to share this with you. Of course, I’d love to hear your views on this matter or responses to my review, on any of the social media platforms I use – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even a comment directly on the blog. Maybe you have whisky you could do this with as well? I’d be interested to hear your experiences in the matter.

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

Time To Get Naked!

Taste Review #33 – Naked Grouse

The review that I said I’d never do. I never thought I’d review Famous Grouse. And technically I’m not – this is Naked Grouse, a blended whisky with no age statement. While I always try to bring you information about quality, I’ve never associated Famous Grouse with quality. That’s not to say I feel that it’s a bad dram although I mostly use it for hot toddies. Plus, it beats Bells hands down and it remains a very popular drink.

However, a discussion on what whiskies I liked whilst at the Ballindalloch Distillery with Davie, one of the operators with a long history at Macallan, resulted in him telling me that given the whiskies I liked, if I didn’t like Naked Grouse, he’d give me cost of my bottle back.

Challenge accepted!

The main difference between Famous Grouse and Naked Grouse is that this spirit has been finished in first fill sherry casks, to impart that wee bit of sweet influence. And of course it adds to the colour, which is the reason there is not a label on the front of the bottle, but an embossed Grouse.

My bottle


The Naked Grouse I am sampling today is an older version of the blend, which contains grain spirit, but in 2017 it was re-branded by owners Edrington to be a blended malt whisky, mostly centred around the Glenturret, Macallan and Highland Park malts.

The Dram


Region

Blend

Age

No Age Stated

Strength

40% a.b.v

Colour

Deep Amber

Nose

Smooth, a wee bit oily, cherry, creme brûlée, toasted multigrain bread.

Palate

Like the nose, this was quite smooth, sherry notes, vanilla, toffee, dried fruit – sultanas or raisins.

Finish

I got a medium drying finish, with a light burst of smoke at the end. Light oak and spice too.

Conclusion

Not really what I expected. Yes, there is a faint recall back to the original Famous Grouse; for me, it was a recognisable taste, and had this been a blind taste test, I would have picked Famous Grouse, but wondered why it was different.

This is a lot sweeter than the original Famous Grouse blend to my palate, and I would say this Is more tasty than the original. While maybe not a premium whisky, this is definitely a step up and certainly a blend for the malt drinkers. Since my bottle is pre 2017, I have the older recipe which included a bit of grain spirit, but since 2017, this has changed to be a blended malt. If it is anything like my bottle, then it will be great.

I’ve included a picture of the modern bottle, so you can get a proper idea of the colour. I do suspect that there has been colouring added, but perhaps not. The whole reason of why the bottle has no label at the front is so you can see the colour. I don’t know if I could be so proud of a whisky with E150a in it.

Modern Bottle (thebottleclub.com)


Question is, would I recommend? Whilst I likely won’t buy another bottle, I’m not going to avoid it should I see it in a bar with poor malt selection. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this dram and I have to say I liked my pour. For the price of a retail bottle (£27 in Asda) it’s good value, but I am simply not interested to drink blend on a regular basis.

I paid £21.28 for my bottle at auction, including all the fees. Don’t worry Davie, your wallet is safe!

Slainte Mhath!


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


photo credits

– authors own unless otherwise credited

Taking the “Dog” out…

It’s time for walkies!

Taste Review #10 – Copper Dog.

So far, my taste reviews have only covered single malts, but there is more to whisky than just single malts. And as I have written in my blog in the past, it is foolish to dismiss blends without trying them. I’m not going to review the likes of Famous Grouse, even though I have a wee bit of a liking for it – a recent cold saw me use some in a toddy for medicinal purposes, but I do feel it will be interesting to review the more modern offerings, and with this I offer you Copper Dog.

Like it’s Speyside Blended Contemporary, Monkey Shoulder, the name Copper Dog comes from something in whisky making folklore*. A Copper Dog is a thin copper flask with a chain. They were* for the distillery workers to liberate some illicit whisky from barrels in store. The flask was then hung from the trouser belt by the chain. The name Copper Dog was given as it was always on a lead, it stayed by your side and was a man’s best friend*

This particular blend was developed by master blender Stuart Morrison for the Copper Dog Bar in the Craigellachie Hotel – within sight of Craigellachie Distillery and the River Spey. The whisky bar in the hotel has around 500 whiskies, and this could make a great whisky based trio, with another impressive whisky bar across the road (Highlander Inn). You’re also within a 5 minute drive of the Macallan Distillery.

Two Copper Dogs together

The whisky is made from 8 Speyside Malts, although I have no idea which ones. I am led to believe one is a 15 y.o Knockando, but that is not confirmed. Regardless, let’s go onto the tasting.

(*) This assumes that it is indeed a practice confined to folklore and that distillery workers would never think of liberating free whiskies or walk about with flasks down their trousers. Of course, you never know! 😉

Age

Copper Dog has no age statement

Strength

40% a.b.v

Colour

Golden Hay

Nose

Fruit. Apples, grapes, almost like white wine, cereal notes

Palate

Spicy apple, cinnamon, citrus peel. Vanilla

Finish

Long finish, sponge cake, malt, nuts, honey.

Copper Dog Dram

Conclusion

This whisky is very smooth and is easily drunk neat. No real strong flavours and alcohol burn, this would be the dog that lies by your feet at a fire side, rather than the hound that enjoys a good bit of leg humping and defecating on the neighbours lawn. Perfect for beginners in whisky. The whisky was actually created with drinking neat, or with cocktails and mixers in mind. I’d suggest if you want to maybe be the dog who enjoys cocking their legs on the odd piece of furniture, then adding a bit of ice and ginger ale will make for a very refreshing drink.

Would I recommend? Yes. Would I buy again? Yes, but I prefer Monkey Shoulder, which I will eventually also review.

Slainte Mhath!

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Blends or Bust?

Whisky Myths Smashed #2

Blends are poorer quality than Malts

While continuing on my iconoclastic mission to rid the world of whisky misconceptions, I have a confession or two. While I do not have a priest on hand to take note of my misdemeanours, I’m typing this in my ship’s bunk with the curtain drawn which is almost as good as any confessional box.

Whilst not the most serious of errors to make, it is one view that I shared that may misguide others in their personal whisky journeys and may have taken them away from the enlightenment of a truly good dram. The skeleton has rattled in the closet long enough. 

Dewars, a Blended Scotch whisky that has a good drop of Aberfeldy in it.

How many of us have turned our noses up at the offer of a blended whisky? Do we see it as the gut rot of the seasoned alcoholic who will take anything that’s cheap, or the drink of somebody who knows next to nothing about whisky. I have to hold my hand up and say that I’m the sort of person who used to think both of those things. I’d snigger at the people drowning it in water, suffocating it with ice and obliterating it with a mixer. In my mind, a blend was for getting blitzed cheaply, for people who knew nothing about whisky / didn’t care, or for ‘medicinal’ purposes in a hot toddy. It was almost like I had a hipster attitude long before the phrase was coined, although now being in my 40’s, fashion unconscious plus completely unable to grow a beard precludes me from ever being called a hipster.

Well, forgive me Father as I knew not what I was doing and have sinned. 

It is a complete myth that Blended Whisky is a poorer quality product. While there may be blends in the market place that would be an equal to industrial strength paint stripper, there are many that are not.

Famous Grouse – a dark secret lies within. Read on to find out.

Blended whisky became a popular alternative to single malts, as by the early 19th century, single malt whisky was still wildly inconsistent in quality. Grain whisky was smoother, and the invention of the Coffey Still allowed continuous distillation of grain whisky, which is quicker than the pot still method of making it in batches.

The practice of blending Scotch Malt with grain whisky was prohibited until 1860, and Andrew Usher of Edinburgh soon took advantage. By mixing different brands and types of whisky, it was easier to obtain a smoother, more drinkable product. Blended whisky became very popular and was being shipped all over the world. Possibly the most famous blended whisky in the world – Johnnie Walker, was produced in Kilmarnock, and the new railways appearing over the country made it easy to deliver his produce to Glasgow. John Walker had been blending malts and grains seperately in his grocery business for years, but had no brand as such because the blends were bespoke at customer request. However it was his son, Alexander Walker that was the main force behind the brand With Glasgow being a major port, this allowed Walker to export across the world via the Clyde.

Johnnie Walker whisky was ahead of the game in a couple of more ways- the square bottles allowed better packing to reduce breakage in transit, plus more bottles could be fitted in a crate. The diagonal label allowed more writing on the label than would be able to placed on a horizontal label. It is still currently the most popular blended whisky brand in the world with 21.7% of the global market in 2017. Ballintines came second with 8.1%. 

Even Blends can have age statements

Blended whisky took off, especially in the 1880’s when the Phylloxera plague decimated the vineyards of France, putting a halt on wine and cognac production, allowing whisky to take its place. Believe it or not, to illustrate how popular whisky is in France, over the past three years, France is by far the largest market for Scotch Blended whisky, and second only the USA for single malt*. Hopefully this will not change with the impact of Brexit. 

So in the tail end of the 19th century, many distilleries were getting built to capitalise on the rapid growth of blends and the sudden increased demand from the continent. Disaster hit in 1899 with the collapse of the blending company called Pattinson Ltd (of Leith, Edinburgh). This company was a major bottler and blender of Scotch whisky. All of a sudden the distilleries had nobody to sell their whisky to. Many people who had invested in whisky as a way to make money lots their fortunes and in plenty of cases affected the investment in the new distilleries. A swathe of distilleries were closed, some only a couple of years old, never to open again. The industry was slow to rebuild, but there was a further two blows to come within 30 years – First World War and Prohibition in the US. The Great Depression then the Second World War also limited sales. After the Second World War, restrictions in place to secure cereal crops for food limited the amount of grain for whisky. It didn’t matter, as a war weary world didn’t have much money for such luxuries anyway.  

Things started picking up in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s after wartime austerity had disappeared and people were becoming more affluent. It wasn’t until the late 1980’s to early 1990’s that Single Malts started re-emerging as premium brands, which helped create brand snobbery and the down the nose peering at blend drinkers. 

Let’s get down to brass tacks. There is only two blended whiskies I know exactly what malts are in them – Monkey Shoulder and Collectivim XXVIII (A Diageo special release in 2017 which contains whisky from each of their 28 Scottish malt distilleries.)

Monkey Shoulder – Only three malts within, but bags of taste. And a silly name.

Diageo owned Johnnie Walker has 5 core ranges – Red, Black, Green, Gold (Reserve) and Blue. This is in the range of expensiveness but Blue contains the oldest whiskies in the range and is a decent dram. Some of the whisky in JW is around 30 years old, with the Red still containing a majority of whisky around the 10 year old mark. Ballintines is to become a premium blend of Pernod Ricard. Dewars (Bacardi) has a good range of blended editions. Compass Box are an independent bottler and have some very unusual releases. This isn’t an exhaustive list, and there are plenty of other premium blends. At the other end of the scale are Famous Grouse, Bells, Black Bottle along with a complete myriad of other blends. 

Are they all rubbish? No, definitely not. I am so glad I had my epiphany about blended whisky as I would have been missing out. Think about it –  there might be some very respectable whiskies in these blends, and it is worth bearing in mind that as 90% of Scotch whisky is sold as a blend, that’s a lot of good whiskies. Personally, I find that despite a low bottling strength, I prefer modern blends like Monkey Shoulder and Copper Dog, both made with whisky cocktails in mind, but equally delicious with nothing but the glass they are served in. My maxim at Scotty’s Drams, as with many other whisky bloggers is that the perfect whisky is the one you like and enjoy drinking in whatever style. However, I still hanker after the notion that the only use for an ice blade isn’t for breaking up ice to place in your drink; it’s for burying in the head of those who think it’s acceptable to place it in a decent single malt. Perhaps I should insert a LOL at the end of that to soften the sentiment, but I’m not sure it would work.

Ice for your 60 year old Macallan? Grrrr!

However, that isn’t my worst confession. For this I have to plunge into the deepest, darkest recess of my soul to bring it to the surface. Given the tasty whisky I have and have tried, it’s almost impossible for this cathartic release to come out, but now may be the time to lay it to rest. 

I rather like Famous Grouse. 

There. Said it. And as my sanity is questioned and my soul screams like a million banshees out on the spree in Aberdeen’s Union Street, I’ll just sign off here.

Slainte Mhath!

*2017 Figures