A Coat of Many Colours

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

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

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

So where does the natural colour come from?

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


Clearic – spirit straight from the still

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

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

– how the barrel was charred

– what the barrel held previously.

– the size of the barrel

– how long the spirit stays in the barrel

– the age of the barrel

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

Let’s dig a little bit deeper.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

So what is colouring?

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

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

So why is colouring added?

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

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

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


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

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

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

How can you tell if colouring has been added?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can we negate the need for colouring?

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


Green Glass. Colour disguised. Job done.

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


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


Photo credits

All Photos – Authors own

Another Dram From Angus

Taste Review #39 – Glencadam 10

This week’s review also comes from a random selection, and it’s a ten year old whisky from Glencadam. I did wonder if I should re-select the dram, as that is now the 4th 10 year old whisky I’ve reviewed in a row. I’m concerned that it is starting to seem I’ve had more 10 year olds than Jimmy Savile….


Did somebody mention 10 year olds?

Still, I decided it would be maybe good to continue with this taste test as Glencadam is owned by the same owners as the 10 year old from Tomintoul three weeks ago, so I thought despite the change in whisky region, let’s have a look to see if there are many differences.

The Glencadam distillery has been owned by Angus Dundee, a Scottish Independent distiller, since 2003. Glencadam sits in the region of Angus, which extends from just north of the city of Dundee up to the border with Aberdeenshire. It is bounded by the North Sea to the East and the Cairngorm Mountains in the West. It was founded in 1825, 2 years after the Excise Act was passed, and has been generally in operation since, being mothballed during both world wars and in 2000 when owned by Allied Domeq.


Glencadam Distillery

Glencadam is the last distillery in the Angus region; North Port, only a couple of hundred metres away in Brechin closed in 1983. Lochside in Montrose was closed forever in 1992, and Glen Esk (aka Hillside) distillery closed in 1985. The distillery sits on the north side of the town of Brechin (pronounces Bree-chin) with the ch being the silent sound as in Loch, not Lock. However if you pronounce it as Breekin, few will notice and less will care.

****Geek Fact**** Famous celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay mispronounced Brechin as ‘Breckin’ on on his road trip program. However, all of Scotland noticed and proceeded to take him to task. He’s Scottish? My ar*e!! See here for newspaper article and video!

Anyway, there’s not a lot to be said for Brechin, so we will move on. There isn’t a visitor centre at Glencadam at the time of writing, although one was approved for construction by the local council in May 2019, utilising existing buildings. Until that opens then if you are in the area, Fettercairn distillery is not too far away.


The bottle

Region

Highland

Age

10 years old

Strength

46% abv

Colour

Light straw

Nose

Quite light. Estery, fruity, floral, a touch of barley and vanilla. Light spices. I also got a touch of coconut after 20 minutes.

Palate

Fruity on arrival. Pleasant mouthfeel. Toffee, vanilla, creamy popcorn, light oaky sort of taste.

Finish

Medium. Oak spiciness continues. Barley notes. Fades out to a slight salinity. A wee bit of creamy custard in the background.

The Dram

Conclusion

I’ve seen plenty of people saying that this is a not a well known distillery, and their whiskies are lost in amongst the noise made by others promoting their brands. I have to agree, this is not a brand I am too familiar with.

I wouldn’t have guessed that this dram is 46% by its mouthfeel and taste. That’s how smooth it is. There are no over powering flavours and to be honest, I feel a lack of depth, but perhaps that is being unfair, as there is nothing really wrong with this whisky. Personally I don’t feel a strong connection to this whisky, as there aren’t any flavours in there that grab me, but that is just my palate.

There is an unusual fact about the two stills at Glencadam, and that is the Lyne arms that carry the evaporated spirit to the condensers from the stills are actually angled up rather than the usual downward slope. This increases reflux and copper contact, and makes a much lighter, floral spirit. Plus let’s not forget at 10 years old, this is still a relatively young whisky, and there are older expressions from this distillery that may be worth having.

This is a malt that has a lot in common with last week’s Tomintoul in the level of flavour, but this dram holds a bit more integrity with natural colour, a decent ABV that allows you to play with the strength by adding water, and non-chill filtered. For that it scores 4/4.

If you want a relatively uncomplicated, smooth taste at a slightly higher ABV, this one is a winner. My miniature cost me £6.05 at the Whisky Shop Dufftown. A full size bottle is around £36, and this I feel is good value, and I can recommend this malt. Though would I buy another? No. Based on this would I try more of the range? Definitely yes. And that brings me to a very convenient truth as I’ve just discovered the 15 year old in my sample box.

Certainly this distillery deserves to be better known

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


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


Photo credits

Distillery – Angus Dundee. Used under fair use.

Jimmy Savile – Daily Record, used under fair use.

Other photos – authors own.

Almost Antique Auchentoshan

Taste Review #38 – Auchentoshan 10

When getting ready to pick a dram, it was a blind pick into the box of miniatures to have a taste of, and it was an old Auchentoshan that came out. It was part of my auction bulk buys – a hoovering up of the cheap selections of miniatures at the end of an auction by seeing what had not been bid on.

Today’s miniature is somewhat of a relic, but I include these tastings, as I feel they are still relevant. They show the distillery character and from them and tasting what the distillery does now, we can see how the distillery is moving forward. However this whisky is no unicorn, and you can still find the 90’s style packaging bottles on occasion at auction. While not an antique itself, and certainly of little value, this is a small delve into the past of a popular and under represented distillery.


My dram

Auchentoshan is on the North West side of Glasgow. When you think of Glasgow, you think of Taggart, ship building, knife crime, Rab C Nesbitt, Irn Bru, and incoherent alcoholics. But that’s the Glasgow of imagination. It’s a vibrant city, which is well worth a visit, even if the local dialect can be hard to understand if you aren’t Scottish. And sometimes if you are…. 😉. Stereotypes can be funny, but while Glasgow may have its fair share, it’s a great place with friendly people. I’ve had a fair few nights out in the city and never had any trouble.

Scottish place names can always be tricky to pronounce, as what is written is not how it is said. Glasgow has a couple – try saying Milgavie? Auchentoshan is pronounced “Ock-en-tosh-an” and this is directly from the distillery website, followed by quite a good slogan – Hard to pronounce, easy to to drink – we’ll find out later!

According to the distillery website, the Auchentoshan distillery was originally set up in 1817 on the banks of the River Clyde, and known as the Duntocher distillery. I’m not sure if it is still on the original site as Duntocher is north of the current distillery on the other side of the A82 Glasgow – Inverness road. It was 1834 before the distillery was taken over and renamed to Auchentoshan. Perhaps artistic license has been used as ‘by the side of the road’ isn’t as marketable as one the banks of a river’ when it comes to whisky.

The distillery was in close proximity to the many ship yards on the River Clyde, and during the Second World War, these weee targeted by the Luftwaffe. The A82 road was disguised as the river with the use of lights. It must have worked to a degree and large warehouses must have made an attractive target, for the distillery was bombed and three warehouses were destroyed during the war. There is a fanciful tale that the distillery pond was created by an exploding bomb, but this is pure fiction – a quick look on an old map reveals it was there even before the First World War!


A more up to date bottling with 2 more years on the clock

The unusual aspect of Auchentoshan is that it is currently the only Scottish distillery that fully triple distills all its production, having only three stills – Wash, Intermediate and Spirit stills. This is in common with Irish Whiskey, and as Auchentoshan was founded by people of Irish heritage, this will probably explain why this occurs. Other distilleries do triple distill, Springbank being one of them, but this is not across all of their range. The re-emerging Rosebank distillery in Falkirk will also be a distillery that will fully triple distill, and it expected to open in 2020.

The triple distillation helps further purify the spirit, and the new make strength is around 81%. I guess you wouldn’t be drinking too much of that Clearic!

Another very unusual aspect to Auchentoshan is that it is one of the only (if not the only) whisky that is only used as a single malt, although casks are sold to independent bottlers.

Auchentoshan does have a visitors centre, so pop on in if you are ever in the area. It certainly is a unique distillery. Let’s see how the spirit matches up.


Full Size Bottling

Region

Lowland

Age

10 years old

Strength

40% a.b.v

Colour

Warm gold

Nose

Warm, malty, sweet, floral, honey, banana, caramel.

Palate

A bit of spirit buzz on the arrival, wee bit on the harsh side, but not overly so. Similar experiences in taste as on the nose, but a wee bit fruitier, orchard fruit – pear.

Finish

Short to medium with a malty fruity sensation.


No Half Measures!

Conclusion

I was expecting not to be disappointed in this tasting, but I wasn’t. I had already partially set my expectations low given the age of the bottle and the 40% abv. Given the slightly lower level in the bottle, it is obvious that the seal had been a wee bit more porous than it should have been. The plus point for me was the aspect of the triple distillation which gives a smoother, more delicate spirit, and on this count it was definitely present. For a spirit that had been in the bottle for probably for about 20-30 years, and had probably oxidised a bit, I must say it was a very pleasant experience.

I don’t think there was much complexity there. All the flavours and aromas were all there on show. It didn’t change that much with water added and it was a very relaxing dram to sip.

Of course, this is a dram that has been discontinued, so you will only be able to pick this up in auctions. But why not try their current range? The current core range has recently been repackaged and consists of three bottlings – American Oak, 12 year old and Three Wood, along with 18 and 21 y.o in their aged range.


New style packaging


It’s been some time since I’ve had some Auchentoshan but on this experience I won’t be leaving it so long until next time. As mentioned previously, my sample was as the result of my bargain hunting at auction, so I can’t give a price for it. But the American Oak whisky can be had as low as £20 on offer at Tesco, but expect to pay around £30 elsewhere. The 12 year old whisky can be had for about £35 – £40. Very recently the packaging has been rebranded, so keep a lookout for deals that are getting rid of older stock.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

I need to apologise if people have seen this article published multiple times. WordPress on my phone hiccuped and wouldn’t publish properly….

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


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


Photo credits

2019 Auchentoshan bottle – Tesco.com

1990’s Auchentoshan bottle – whiskybase.com

Images used under fair use and not intended to promote any sales, but for education purposes.

all other photos authors own.

Measuring The Muscles

B is for Bottling Strength


Whisky often needs a bit of muscle

It’s time to continue with our analysis of how we come to find the gems on the shelves of our whisky retailers. My last article mentioned the age statement and what it means for us whisky buyers. Now we turn our attention to the strength of our alcohol.

In Europe, we measure our alcohol by the percentage alcohol by volume (ABV). This is a test that measures the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in an alcoholic beverage and is expressed as a percentage. The US still also use the proof method which is double the ABV.

Why does strength matter?

Around 70% of a whiskies taste will be developed by the cask, but that means around a third of it will be spirit driven. The less spirit, there is a corresponding loss of taste. However it would be foolish to say that maximum spirit means more taste, as you then will just be obliterating your taste buds with alcohol, therefore there is a sweet spot to achieve in a bottling.

To give you an idea of the alcohol strength in the malt whisky process, here is a rough guide;

After mashing (Wort) 0%

After fermentation (Wash) 8-12%

After first distillation (Low Wines) 16-22%

After second distillation (Spirit) 68% – 75%

What happens after distillation will vary. As far as I know, some distilleries will proof the whisky while vatting prior to loading into casks. This means that they will dilute the spirit slightly before casking. This is because a higher strength means more evaporation, faster ageing and possibly making a poorer spirit. The spirit will effectively ‘eat’ the cask. Want to know what I mean? Try putting a bottle of whisky on its side for a while and see how long the cork lasts. (Please don’t, Trust me)

By the end of the maturation period, the whisky will have dropped in volume and alcoholic strength. It is now ready for bottling, after being mechanically filtered to remove sediment left over from the cask. And here is why strength matters. If we bottle it at cask strength, we are getting the full flavour of what came out of the cask.

Why would you want to dilute Cask Strength?

The truth is that cask strength varies and can be quite strong. I have a cask strength whisky at 70%, and some as low as 50%. Even at 40%, whisky is still a strong spirit, therefore to bring out the flavours more, the whisky will be re-proofed and brought down to a more drinker friendly alcohol volume. But by doing this, they are reducing the amount of spirit in our dram.


Not full strength but still very tasty.

There are two other reasons a distillery may do this – more water = less spirit in a bottle, so a batch of spirit that is diluted will make more bottles = more profit. The next reason is to hit a price point. Spirit made in the UK is taxed when it is bottled. At the time of writing (Nov 2019) this tax is £28.74 per litre of pure alcohol. Now it is geek time and we need to get our maths head on.

For one litre of 40% whisky tax alone is:-

28.74 x 0.40 = £11.50.

For a 70cl bottle = 11.5 x 0.7 = £8.04

Compare this to a cask strength whisky of 62%

For 1 litre = £17.81

For 70 cl = £12.47

That’s a massive increase of duty close to £4.50. Add the cost of bottling and production, and it becomes a bit clearer on why the distilleries will dilute during bottling to hit a price point or to increase the output from a vatting.


The distiller will be counting the pennies

So, does this really make a difference to our dram?

Yes and no. Some whiskies do actually need to be watered down to allow the whiskies to open up, to help release aromas and flavours. And each of us have our own palates and tolerance to alcohol, and therefore the abv sweet point for any whisky will be different for all of us. Roy from Aqvavitae.com did say in his original presentation that once you really get into whisky and start trying stronger spirits, that the softer abv’s will leave you wanting something more. This doesn’t mean that you will desert whiskies of below 46% (this is a magic number for more than one reason; it’ll be clear in the next article), but means with a cask strength you have the choice to add as much water as you want, drop by drop, until you find where you want to drink it.


This one wears the trousers. Water advised. Octomore Quadruple distilled, 10 y.o. 162ppm

I have to agree with Roy. I do like whiskies of all strengths, but get more from the cask strength. I used to doubt this, but my epiphany came this year when visiting the Oban distillery. We were given a 9 year old cask sample of 58.1% straight from the cask, then an Oban 14 at 43%. The cask strength knocked the 14 year old sample out of the water and I would happily buy it, but not so the 14 year old. A pleasant enough whisky, but boring compared to the stronger sample.

This wasn’t a one off. One of my favourite whiskies is Benrinnes 15 Flora and Fauna. When visiting Robertson’s Of Pitlochry, I had a sample of their own independent bottling of a 9 year old Benrinnes cask strength. On that one sampling I immediately bought a bottle, it was great! Pity I didn’t buy two, as the one I have is in storage.

One benefit of a higher ABV is you avoid whiskies that have been chill filtered, but that is a subject for the next article.

Summary

In our quest to select bottles that might be worth trying, ABV is a good way to calculate the value of a bottle. More percentage will mean more cost, especially with older releases, but you are more likely to get more engagement with a bottle of a higher percentage.

Don’t write off the less potent whiskies. Older drams will have less ABV due to evaporation. Some spirits just don’t taste good at higher strengths, and these are things the bottler will have taken into account. Let your palate be your guide. At least a cask strength whisky will give you the flexibility to experiment with the point you are happy with the ABV.

My final point will be not to judge on only one or two drams. Evaluate over the life of the bottle in your drinks cabinet. After the cork has been removed and oxygen gets into your bottle, a process starts that allows the whisky to develop. Think of it as a meaningful relationship rather than a one night hook up.

Slainte Mhath

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love.


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


Photo Credits

The Hitman Hart – John Cenation. Used under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Penny Jar – Shutterstock (under licence)

Whisky bottles – All authors own.

Easy as A, B, C, D

How to determine what is worthwhile to purchase.

How do you pick your whisky? Do you pick a cheap or known brand after staring at the bottles on the shelves in Tesco, desperately trying to make a boring trip for the bread and bog roll that little bit more exciting? Or are you like a kid in a candy store when in a specialist whisky retailer, wildly trying to guess what is good and wanting to buy it all? I’m both, and will often take a punt based on recommendations or knowledge of the distillery.

But based on a couple of questions asked by a follower of this page why age and abv makes a difference, I have decided to write some more words of advice. The concept I am going to follow is from a fellow whisky blogger, Roy at Aqvavitae.com who has done a useful guide on this, and its the concept of A, B, C, D. While I expand on this, anything I write here is my own words and thoughts and not plagiarism. This is because what we are going to discuss is common to all whisky fanatics, and some duplication is inevitable. Certainly Roy’s system is a very useful one.

The A, B, C, D’s of whisky in choosing a bottle are

A = Age Statement

B = Bottling Strength

C = Chill Filtration

D = Dye

In essence, you can read the label on the bottle, and by applying the ABCD principle, it will assist you in sorting the whisky wheat from the chaff.

In the first section, this week we will look at the age statement.

What is an age statement?

The age statement is the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. Under the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009, a spirit has to be matured for at least 3 years in an oak cask as part of the rules to be called Scottish Whisky.


12 years old proudly displayed

In order to produce a range of whisky of thousands of bottles, casks of various ages and types will be ‘married’ together to make up a consistent flavour profile, and is repeatable across the batches. This blending is still a single malt, as it is the produce of one distillery only.

The age statement is the youngest whisky in the recipe, regardless of the volume that whisky in the mix.

A single cask whisky will normally always have an age or vintage attached to it, as it is the produce of one cask only.

Why is age important?

Age is important as it tells us the youngest whisky in our mix. It is a benchmark of value. Although I would imagine that the bulk of a whisky bottle will contain liquid of the age stated, I also know that there will be older whisky in there. But we won’t know the proportions of the mix, unless we have inside knowledge. So the age statement gives us a benchmark to a minimum value.

Is there an alternative to the age statement?

Yes. Some whiskies have a year on them, also known as a vintage. This is the year that all the whisky in the bottle was distilled. This doesn’t always tell us the age, unless the bottle says when it was distilled and bottled. Some do also carry a stated age. This is sometimes the case with single cask bottlings. Otherwise to tell how old the spirit is, you will have to know when that bottling was released to have an idea of the age.


Vintage and Age Statements together

What is a Non Age Statement? (NAS)

A whisky that has no vintage or age on it is known as a Non Age Statement. They will just have an edition name such as Talisker Storm, Macallan Genesis, Ardmore Legacy, Glenmorangie Signet.


No Age Statement on this single grain

Why use a Non Age Statement?

NAS whisky is produced mainly because of one fact. Due to the rise in popularity of whisky, there is now a shortage of aged whiskies for the drinks companies to make their blends, or to make up the single malt recipes. So they have to use younger spirit.

The problem is, due to the SWA regulations about stating an age, even if there is a drop of young whisky in a bottle that otherwise has an average age of 12 years, if it has a younger whisky in the vatting, that is the age in the bottle, regardless of the average age.

And here is the issue that the manufacturer is trying to overcome – what would you reach for on the shelf? Would it be a whisky that is largely 12 year old spirit that has to be labelled as 3 year old due to a tiny proportion of young whisky in the mix, or a bottle that has a minimum of 12 year old whisky in it? Pretty much the same drams, but the perception is people will go for the older labelled whisky.

The other things that companies may use younger stock for is to perhaps aim for a price point or to stretch out a range. The young whisky in my mind is used as a filler spirit.

Essentially the whisky companies are trying to avoid stating the fact they are using young spirit.

Is using NAS an issue?

While the companies are trying to avoid consumers knowing the fact they are using young spirit, this shouldn’t be a problem, as young whisky doesn’t mean poor quality all the time. But younger whisky is cheaper, and if you put a young age on the bottle, the manufacturer will maybe struggle to charge the price for the older whisky that is in the mix. Of course price is a good guide as to what is in an NAS whisky, but the problem is this :- you don’t know the proportion of cheap whisky in it. Young whisky also has less cask influence and is more spirit led. If the new make is poor, the young whisky will be awful as the cask hasn’t had time to condition the spirit into something palatable.

If it is a cheap bottle, there is the clue, yet Macallan regularly sell NAS for hundreds of pounds, but you have no guarantee of what’s in there. Again the price is the guide, but there is no guarantee of the value you are getting unless you drink it to find out.

How many of us would be able to tell the proportions of the age by taste? The more experienced can, but I personally think it’s madness to pay hundreds on NAS whisky. This is more an issue if buying on the secondary market – a £500 bottle probably contains £250 of whisky. Pay more on the secondary market as a collector or drinker then you are paying for hype, packaging and are possibly caught in the cycle of supply and demand.

Therefore only an age statement sets the benchmark of what we can expect in the bottle.

Another YouTube vBlogger, Ralf Mitchell (ralfy.com) refuses to review NAS whisky. This is a man who certainly knows his fine spirits. He’s reviewed 3 year old drams though, and given positive feedback, which is a sign young spirit isn’t unnecessarily bad, but he does push that the age statement is the sign of a measurable quality.

Yes, my whisky friends, he is not wrong. I often wonder what the age statement on Jura Journey would be…. Point proven.

So young or NAS whisky is rubbish then?

No. Not by any means. I’ve had some cracking drams that were under 8 years old (See my Octomore Review – only 5 years old), and I’ve had disappointing drams at 12 years old in the past. For a review in the next month or so, I sampled a Glenlivet NAS, and I kept wanting to have another. It wasn’t even an expensive one, but had an unusual finishing. You’ll have to wait and see what it was. The age statement is no absolute guarantee that you are going to enjoy yourself when you have a nip.

Personally, I’ll give kudos to a distillery that are confident enough in their product to be up front about the age, regardless of how young it is. The simple fact is you will eventually have to taste to find out.

Read reviews before you buy. Try in a whisky bar. Or just take the plunge and buy a bottle. It is up to you if you want to risk the cost, as you are then relying on your knowledge of the brand and are at the mercy of marketing. But one way of looking at it is that a decent bottle is usually only 27 more nips away….. However, the vast majority of Single Malt NAS whiskies are very good. You just don’t fully know the value. Age is only a guide.


NAS but there’s 30 year old whisky in here. Not crap.

I have tasted many NAS statement whiskies, and in many cases have been satisfied with what I’ve had, but in common with Roy from Aqvavitae, I’ve found something lacking. In some cases they just feel engineered, tinkered with, or something just not right. Or, they taste exactly what you’d expect from a young whisky, raw, rough around the edges, bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the distillery is bad – it just might need a couple more years maturation. As an example, see my review of Kilchoman Machir Bay. It is a young whisky as it isn’t an old distillery, but this has the making of a great whisky and I do look forward to trying other expressions in the future.


NAS can hide poorer whiskies

One has to take their hat off to distilleries that start up and don’t use NAS statements to get the money coming in. That’s why I can’t wait for Ballindalloch to eventually release bottles. They are waiting until it’s ready. Being a small distillery, supply will be limited, so perhaps the price may be higher, but it will be worth it.


Summary

A vintage or age statement is a benchmark to help us evaluate the quality and value of a whisky. To be fair, some age stated whiskies can still be disappointing, but at least you have a clue as to what you are buying with a stated age. Don’t be afraid to try NAS bottles – there are rewards to be had. I’ve tried Laphroig Select, Dalmore King Alexander III, Allt-a-Bhainne and enjoyed them all. Perhaps not as good as their age statement equivalent. Remember that an age statement is only one method of looking for a good whisky. If you taste it, your palate should be your guide and there is no issue if you prefer an NAS expression. Each to their own, and drinking pleasure is what whisky is all about.

But, when comparing whiskies on a shelf, there are other clues to look for on a bottle – the next one being bottling strength.

Slainte Mhath

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love.


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


Photo Credits

All authors own.

Gently Does It…..

Taste Review #36 – Tomintoul 10

The Tomintoul Distillery sits about 4 miles outside the village of Tomintoul, which is the highest village in the Highlands. It is close to the River Avon (pronounced a’an), which flows from Loch Avon, nestled behind the Cairngorm mountain. One might think all that lovely, fresh mountain water is what goes into the whisky, but it isn’t; the water comes from springs on Cairn Ballantruan, just behind the distillery.


Tomintoul Distillery.

The distillery isn’t an old one and was founded in 1964. It was taken over by London based Angus Dundee in 2000 and this core range 10 year old was released in 2002. Other ages in the core range are 14, 16, 21 and 33 year old, and these are matured in ex Bourbon casks made with American White Oak. The 12 year old is limited and is finished in Oloroso casks or Port casks . There are releases that are a mixture of peated and unpeated malts, known as ‘Peated Tang’ available in 15 year old or NAS. The distillery also releases Old Ballantruan, which is a peated malt at 50% abv.


The ‘Gentle Dram’ so the label says.

Angus Dundee also own the Glencadam distillery in Brechin, which is another miniature that I have to taste.

Tomintoul sits in close proximity to Glenlivet, so while currently it isn’t possible to visit the Tomintoul Distillery, there are other nearby options.

The A939 road goes through Tomintoul, and it links Speyside to Royal Deeside. It is usually the first road in Scotland closed by snow, normally on the Cockbridge – Tomintoul section. The same road takes you over the Lecht, which has a ski centre at the road’s summit of 2090 ft above sea level, which is one of the highest roads in the UK. If you want to achieve the highest, take the A93 route to Perthshire from Royal Deeside through Glenshee. This is 2199 ft above sea level at the Cairnwell Pass and also has a ski centre. It is also a quick way to last weeks review of the Ballechin malt made by Edradour distillery in Pitlochry.

Enough of the tourist advice and onto the whisky! Let’s see what the dram with the logo strap line of “the gentle dram” does for us.


Dram and Bottle

Region

Speyside

Age

10 years Old

Strength

40% a.b.v

Colour

Gold

Nose

Initial sour smell off the bottle. Quickly dispersed to one of barley, butterscotch and coffee beans

Palate

Smooth mouthfeel, very light. Sweet, creamy, toffee notes. Honeycomb, toasted barley.

Finish

Short. Too short. Honey and malted cereal, chocolate at the extreme end.


Close up after more whisky added and a bit of cold water. Clear, so clearly chill filtered.

Conclusion

For me this was a completely flat dram. No excitement at all to start with. Perhaps I was expecting too much, because all said and done this was a pretty uncomplicated malt. And while I am writing this, perhaps that this should be celebrated.

While this might not set the world on fire for me, it is actually a very accessible malt for those starting out in a whisky journey. It certainly would be great at the start of a whisky flight.

It’s age or abv might be the issue. I got the flavours, but just not enough. I craved more. Even upping it to 43% might be better, and a couple of years more in the cask. While this malt isn’t for me, based on the uncomplicated flavours got, I would definitely be interested in trying the older malts from this distillery.

Would I give this a thumbs up? For the price point, it has probably been diluted to 40%. It has been chill filtered and there is colour added. But for a dram that costs about £30 for a 70cl bottle, that’s not bad value.

My miniature cost me about £6.50 from The Whisky Cellar at Inverness Airport.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


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


Photo credits

Distillery Photo – Ann Harrison (Under Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0

Other photos – authors own.

The Belly Button Superstore

Opinions are like belly buttons; we all have them.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slainte!

Scotty

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

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


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


Photo credits

Distillery Photo – Ingo Wölbern (Wikipedia / public domain)

Other photos – authors own.

A vision of a distillery lost

Taste Review #35 – Ballechin 10 y.o

It has been a near miss for this review. I nearly didn’t get it ready on time. As regular readers will realise, due to my job, I’ve usually got a few reviews in hand so I can still post weekly content. Well, with the excitement of a recent whisky tasting, the collection of some barrel lids for my wife’s hotel plus the high drama of the latest Bruichladdich Octomore release a couple of days ago, I’ve not managed to drink any whisky to review. These are hard times indeed my friends.

I’ve delved into the box of miniatures at random to see what will come up first, and it’s this cheeky little Ballechin. Ever heard of it? No, I hadn’t heard of it either until I became aware of it sitting on the shelves in my usual specialist whisky shops.


The bottle and tube

A quick bit of investigative work reveals that this is actually a product of the Edradour Distillery, one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries which sits just outside the Perthshire village of Pitlochry. The Ballechin brand represents their peated whiskies, and is named after the former Ballechin distillery, which was located just south of Pitlochry on the A827 road between Ballinluig and Aberfeldy. This was a farm distillery and was founded by a group of farmers in 1810, but closed by 1927. It had at one point been recognised as having a peaty style of whisky, but as no stocks remain, we will never know. There are a few small buildings left, but this was a small distillery and what is left is little more than a few derelict farm buildings.

Pitlochry is a small bustling town, with a second distillery present (Blair Athol). There are plenty of things to do in the area from outdoor pursuits such as walking, visit the Hydro Electric Dam and fish ladder to allow salmon to migrate along the River Tummel, bypassing the dam. Local scenery is fantastic, and you aren’t that far away for a trip up into the lower reaches of Speyside.

Right, since I’ve been writing this, my dram has been breathing in the glass, so let’s get cracking with the tasting.

Region

Highland

Age

10 years old

Strength

46% a.b.v

Colour

Light honey

Nose

Sweet smoke, slightly medicinal, apples, cut grass.

Palate

Smooth, light dram. Light peat, slightly tannic oak notes. A bit spicier with the addition of some water.

Finish

Surprisingly short considering it’s a peated whisky. Ash, peat, slightly fruity. With water I noticed more spice and heat.


The Dram


Conclusion

Aye, well not bad! Quite a smooth mouthfeel, the peat wasn’t over powering at all. It was an enjoyable dram without the addition of anything extra, although things livened up with a bit of water.

Let’s look at what this whisky gets right and wrong by taking a close look at the label.


Spot the error

First let’s start with the good things. This is a dram at 46%, natural colour and non-chill filtered. Top marks there. So what was incorrect? Well, this is just a matter of opinion as it states the whisky was heavily peated; I’d disagree. Apparently the malt was peated to 50ppm, which is an approximate Ardbeg levels. I’m a fan of peatier, smokier whisky, but this is just my palate. If you want a starter peaty whisky, this would maybe not what I’d start with, but would suggest the BenRiach Curiositas 10 instead. Don’t let my opinion stop you trying this, it is a worthwhile buy.

My miniature cost £7.80 from the Whisky Shop Dufftown. Click on the link to see all their bargains. Shopping around can see this bottle sell for between £45 and £52.

Until next time…

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


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


Photo credits

all photos authors own.

Brace yourselves…..


Why you shouldn’t fall for marketing.

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

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

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

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

There was also three Blends released:-

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

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

  • Mortlach 15, 46% – The Six Kingdoms

So is it worth collecting?

An article from October 2018 seems to think so.

Game Of Thrones Collection “is Coming”

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

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

(amazon.co.uk)

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

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

Scotch Whisky Auctions – Nov 2019

Whisky Auctioneer – Nov 2019

Just Whisky Auctions Oct 2019

Whiskyhammer Auctions Oct 2019

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


Whisky Auctioneer Jan 2019

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

  • Conclusion

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


    Don’t get caught out by marketing.

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

    Diageo Releases Final Game of Thrones Whisky

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

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

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

    Slainte Mhath

    Scotty


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    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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    photo credits

    – authors own unless otherwise credited