Hope Is Important.

Taste Review #145 – Auchroisk 9 y.o (Murray McDavid)

Have you ever tasted a whisky, then realised that you’ll never get it again? I have, quite a few times, although the wise amongst us will know that while whiskies are pretty much unique, the chances of getting something very similar is quite high. Well, I had that moment last year when I was stuck in London for 10 days in September last year. I took the opportunity to meet a fellow whisky enthusiast in Milroys of Soho, and I had a great time, as any whisky enthusiast would in a specialist whisky bar. Of course I wrote a blog about it, but the great regret was one of the whiskies I had was one I’d likely never get again. A search of the internet the morning after made it clear that I’d be more likely to find a mouthful of hens teeth in a pile of unicorn turds than find this whisky. Therefore I’d have to find an alternative.

They say that time stands still for no man, and that’s precisely what happened. Before long we were into March 2022, and I had all but given up hope of finding this whisky unless I was fortunate at auction. In desolation I paid a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop, where I was invited to smell a sample of a whisky and to guess what it was. And to my surprise, I smelt all the key notes of the whisky I was mourning. When I was informed that this was to be their bottling for the Spirit Of Speyside Festival in May, I immediately intimated that I would love to buy at least a bottle.

Auchroisk 9 y.o.

Fast forward to the end of May when I was finally able to purchase it, unusually for me I was straight into the bottle. Was it the same as the whisky I yearned for? No. But it was darned close. Having a wee bit more abv, a decade less maturation and a different sherry cask finish meant it would never be the same but it was enough to cheer me up enough to realise that I could probably now relax and end my search for the whisky I was never likely to find.

I’m quite comfortable in admitting that I probably don’t have the best of palates, especially due to sinus problems brought on by having my nose broken (also known as talking when I should have been listening), though I can taste enough and still I’m able to learn and educate my palate by tasting many whiskies like everybody else. It’s easy to observe that many people in the whisky orientated social media drink quite a spread of whisky, which will develop their palates too, but how well will it develop their memory?

As you can see, this bottle has been raced through, but there has been a few samples shared.

Due to my employment patterns interrupting my enjoyment of whisky, coupled with the fact that once home I don’t want to spend every evening with alcohol when I do have time to drink results in the fact I may lack the practical tasting experience of others. However there are a handful of whiskies that I do remember the profiles pretty well, despite some of them only being sample size. I just can’t picture me remembering every single whisky I have ever tasted. While I might recall the general distillery profile, the exact taste I won’t. Hardly surprising, for I am the person who walks into a room then wonders why they went there in the first place. I joke that it’s not so much Alzheimer’s but more ‘auld timers’ that caused it. However, in spite of the variety of whiskies as I have managed over the years (mostly pre-fatherhood), I have to admit that I’m starting to see many as pretty much of a muchness, where only the truly standout whiskies for me stand a chance of being remembered. Am I alone in this?

Plenty of others are able to consume at will and search for the whisky-de-jour, but will they remember much more than the approximate profiles of those gone by in the past, other than an obvious distillery style? The restless cynic in me means that I personally doubt it. While the mind is a wonderful thing, I prefer to think unless it’s a dram they really identify with, in all honesty most people will only remember general profiles, unless they work in the industry and this have a vested interest in having such recall. That’s just my opinion, and of course everybody has a different whisky journey behind and before them. We can refer back to tasting notes, but I am of a mind that we can’t really always rely on them unless it’s a dram you have spent a lot of time with. Tasting notes can often represent that snapshot in time you had that bottle, which if you only got one or two, may not be a long time depending on how quickly you drank it. Our taste buds change over time too, so that whisky you tasted once then coveted could well be a disappointment if you have it again.

Food for thought? I’ll have probably forgotten this by time I publish this anyway, so don’t be afraid to remind me.

Anyway, this Auchroisk that was bottled for the Speyside Whisky Shop is my little aide-memoir to that early autumn evening in Soho.

Auchroisk 9y.o

Region – Speyside Age – 9 y.o Strength – 55.3% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Oloroso Hogsheads Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dark fruit. Dates, figs, toffee, dark chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Palate – creamy mouthfeel, with a prominent toffee and coffee note. Develops into a sticky toffee pudding taste with sultana and dates. The spirit starts to make an appearance with peppery heat appearing. Finish – The peppery heat dissolves back into a spiced fruit loaf with a hint of nutmeg. Medium long finish.

Perfect tone for the colour slave that I am.

Conclusions

A cracker of a whisky. Extremely enjoyable but unfortunately after a few glasses I have to concede that it just wasn’t the same as my memory remembered from last year. Close, but not close enough. The purchase price of £62-ish was good enough value for this dram.

Unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to buy this one, unless you are lucky to get one at auction, though I think I’m safe to assume that everybody that bought this bought it to consume. I managed to get two bottles and while I told myself one would be stored, I think I’ll be opening that one too. After all, the main takeaways from this article will be:-

1/Chasing whisky is part madness – there will always be another whisky which is close to what you seek.

2/ Does rare really matter? While there are some genuinely rare whiskies based on availability of stock, it seems that some whiskies are artificially made rare through the choices of the bottler to limit releases by only partially bottling a cask. If for example an IB releases a 12 year old “Glenbollox” finished in an Octave, then while it may only yield around 70 bottles, then there is still the rest of the Hogshead somewhere in the trade to be released with another finish. And unless it’s a unique cask and a rare vintage; it’s not really genuinely rare to the drinker – there will be other whiskies that taste similar that won’t have the same premiums, be they genuine or manufactured attached to them.

You’ll just have to find it.

And lastly, being totally contrary to my points above, did I really give up the search for that mythical whisky? No, not really. While I believe it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, my OCD decided not to let go. After all, sometimes you never find something, but it finds you.

To be continued…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

A Speyside State Of Mind

This year I managed the change to GMT from BST well. I happened to be awake and while everybody else in the house slept, I decided to manually adjust the clocks that needed it. I hope that my wife was impressed, but in reality I missed the one in my daughters bedroom but I’m sure we will manage for a couple of days.

This article isn’t going to be the easiest to read, but to be honest won’t be the easiest to write, as I am going to attempt to write it in one go without modifying a draft. While I try to base everything I write on this page about whisky, there are somethings that need discussed whether or not we drink whisky or not. So bear with me and pour a dram, then read.

The Friday before the clocks changed, I had the privilege of driving through a very autumnal Speyside. The A95 whisky road has some spectacular views on its winding path from Aviemore to Craigellachie, where it branches off towards Keith, away from the River Spey. If you have any sense, you can continue north from Craigellachie towards Elgin and still get entertained by a riot of colour as the trees begin to give into the approaching winter and prepare to shed their leaves. If you haven’t driven it yet, I recommend you do, as I’ve been treated to some really spectacular sights. Just keep out of my f***ing way and pull into the side of the road if you see anything you want to photo, as I’ve enough to contend with given the amount of whisky HGV traffic I can’t overtake, let alone a dawdling tourist.

Winter is coming. View from the A95 towards Cairngorm, Bynack More and Broomhill Railway Station, current terminus of Strathspey Steam Railway.

The Spey valley does give some amazing sights and while I have not been able to catch them as effectively as I have hoped to have, you’ll have to make do with the description of driving just after the start of dawn, heading from Aviemore to Grantown on Spey, with the mist just sitting over the River Spey and the first vestiges of pink light rising in the east. As you head north, you’ll pass the Cairn Distillery, Tormore and Ballindalloch at the road side. Descending from Tormore, you get your first good view of Ben Rinnes looking over the lower valley of the River Avon. A couple of steep climbs and it takes you to Glenfarclas, and the start of another descent towards Aberlour.

Benrinnes from above Cragganmore looking across Lower Avon Valley.

It is on this road you can get almost a drivers whisky heaven. At dawn, if you strike your timing right, looking towards Ben Aigan further down the Spey Valley, you can often see the steam rising from Dalmunach, Dailuaine, Aberlour, Macallan and Craigellachie distilleries as they start a mash. Sometimes on this stretch of road you can smell mash. Look right as you drive towards Aberlour and you may see similar from Benrinnes and Glenallachie distilleries. It’s even better on a crisp, frosty day. Winter has its advantages, even if it is for those whisky geeks who know that Daftmill will be producing again once the harvest has been gathered.

River Avon at Ballindalloch/ Ballindalloch Castle gate house.

But winter also has its drawbacks. Daylight savings time doesn’t suit all, and suddenly our afternoons get cut short in the rapidly approaching darkness. The arrival of autumn also lets us know that the year is coming to an end and we think back of what has happened over the year. I’ve had a busy year with work, family illness and a persistent cold, but one thing I can’t get totally out of my head was the suicide of a distant acquaintance, and these thoughts motivated me to write this.

Benrinnes from Dufftown / Huntly road. There’s a multitude of distilleries on the other side.

I don’t want to name the guy, as I do not want to cause his family any more distress should they read this, but I knew this guy since at least the mid 90’s. I remember him from the youth groups in the Aberdeen suburb we both grew up in, although I was some 8 years older. This guy always seemed happy to help, participate and just get on with things. He was a talented guy, but once I moved away from that Aberdeen suburb, my contact with him dwindled. It wasn’t until I saw mutal friends on facebook post requests for information on his whereabouts that I thought about this guy again. People drift apart as we move and life takes us in different directions. When the tragic news of the discovery of his body was announced, it hit me hard a little bit, as you never think that the person you had in your mind would do such a thing. But that theory doesn’t hold water. Just mention the name of Robin Williams and we know that the shadow of depression can fall on any one of us, yet we never know when or even how we will react. I’ve been in that situation where I was depressed enough to seek professional help and was under the care of a psychiatrist for nearly a year, but for some even that’s not enough.

View from the A95 just past Glenfarclas looking down towards Marypark. Steam coming from Cragganmore.

So why I am I mentioning this topic on a whisky blog? Well, while the changes of the season are quite noticeable and often beautiful, for some they won’t be so spectacular as they dread the long nights of the months ahead. Some people may seek solace in drink and this is not the best course of action. This weekend, Catherine, The Princess of Wales stated that nobody chooses to be an addict. Despite my long ago past experience of depression, it’s easy to see how people can seek crutches to help them through the day, and alcohol is an easily available and legal drug. We eventually get used to the effect it has, and we then need to take more to get more effect.

Social media often offers the anonymity where we can interact with people yet not show our true selves. People don’t want to admit weakness and just want to belong, appear normal and yet not manage what is dragging them down. While the majority of us won’t have this issue, you never know who will. Who would have guessed Robin Williams would be as sad as to kill himself?

You don’t have to be as miserable as this bugger to suffer from depression or other mental illnesses. Just noticed the rapid advancement of grey hair. Clippers here we come!

If nothing else, its worth remembering behind every winter comes a spring. Few things we do in our lives is truly permanent, and everything can also take a turn for the better if you feel you need to make a positive change. One of my fellow bloggers recently posted an article entitled “It’s Good To Talk” and while this sort of talk may be different, it still holds true. Nobody needs struggle. Everybody has a burden they will find hard to bear at some point in their lives, so you are not unique if you are struggling. It’s OK not to be OK.

Don’t be like my acquaintance. A guy who hadn’t even reached middle age and left behind a young family. Talk to somebody, even me if it has to be but I’d recommend professionals like the samaritans who may be able to point you to the right direction to resolve your issues. Their website can be found at samaritans.org or phone 116 123.

Tormore.

For those of us not struggling, be aware that some are. Be ready to be that post that someone may need to lean on. Tough times are coming for many this winter with the cost of living rising rapidly. Keep an eye out for people; keep in touch with those you know.

We’ve seen many examples of people talking about the ‘Dram Fam’. Let’s make sure we are just that for those who may need us.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Is It Really A Speyside?

Whisky Myths Busted #3 – what is and isn’t a Speyside whisky.

In an effort to further cleanse my soul, we’ll start with a bit of a confession. I often confess on here, as it’s almost anonymous due to the fact I’m sadly not going to meet the vast majority of whoever reads this. However, as my readership slowly seems to go up and up, it can’t be a bad thing, can it? Perhaps people are just waiting to see what’s next. Sorry to disappoint the personality vultures, this time it isn’t salacious.

Confessing that I can be a bit of a pedant won’t come as a surprise for many, as some of you may already have guessed, but it’s not always the case. I haven’t been pedantic now for three weeks, 2 days, 17 hours, 22 minutes and 30 seconds. However there is one bit of pedantry that will not leave me alone; it’s the blurring of Speyside and Highland whisky regions, especially misidentifying Highland whisky as Speysides.

Those of you who have plenty of time to spend on whisky social media may be aware of a YouTube Channel called Aqvavitae. Run by Roy Duff, he runs a live stream mostly every week on his channel that is known as a v-Pub, where all sorts of people can drop in and listen to guests and get involved via live chat to discuss many various whisky topics. I often download the stream and listen to it in the car, as the fact I spend half the year at sea and the other half too busy to take part means I miss out. However, I do enjoy the quiz at the end (even if Menno is doing one of the impossible ones), and also the new(ish) section called “Is it a Speyside”.

The premise of ‘Is it a Speyside?’ is that a guest has to guess what Roy has in his glass. It’s always an available to buy core expression. The contestant then has 10 questions to find out what Roy is drinking. Sometimes they are against the clock. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but I have managed once to be the winner of this competition in the chat, but it was a Tobermory 12 Roy had, definitely not a Speyside. The prize is a channel Sniper Coin, which many use to top their Glencairn glasses.


Is it a Speyside?

One thing that I have noticed that during the chat, many people when thinking of Speyside whiskies suggest whiskies that are often not even near Speyside. It isn’t limited to this particular situation, there are plenty of examples of people calling whiskies from Speyside on websites, even bottlers get it wrong – my bottle of Ardlair (unpeated Ardmore) is labelled as a Speyside by German independent bottler Liquid Sun. Recently I’ve seen websites or social media posts describe GlenDronach, Ardmore, Glenglassaugh and Royal Brackla as Speyside, and Macallan and Dalwhinnie being called Highland whiskies and not Speyside. It is time to clear up the confusion.


Liquid Sun. Inaccurate Label.

The Speyside Whisky Region was according to my research not legally recognised as a whisky producing area until the advent of the Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) 2009. Anything north of the Lowland area is classed as Highland, but the enclave of Speyside has been recognised due to the high density of distilleries in that area. The regulations are very clear on what is and isn’t a Speyside. Regulation 10.6c outlines the confines of what is classed as the Speyside whisky region, namely which are the 8 council wards of Morayshire Council, plus the Badenoch and Strathspey area of Highland Council.


Is it a Speyside?

It’s not practical to publish maps here, as I don’t want to fall foul of copyright, but you can find access to PDF maps of Morayshire and Badenoch and Strathspey by clicking on the area title below.

To make it easier, here are where the distilleries are located. (brackets denote silent distilleries with surviving buildings or bottlings)

Speyside Glenlivet (Ward 1)

Aberlour, Allt a Bhainne, Auchroisk, Ballindalloch, Balvenie, Benrinnes, Braeval, (Caperdonich), Cardhu, (Convalmore), Cragganmore, Craigellachie, Dailuaine, Dalmunach, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, Glentauchers, Glen Grant, Glen Spey, (Imperial), Kininvie, Knockando, Macallan, Mortlach, (Parkmore), (Pittyvaich), Speyburn, Tamdhu, Tamnavulin, Tomintoul, (Towiemore).

Keith And Cullen (Ward 2)

Aultmore, Glen Keith, Knockdhu / An Cnoc, Strathisla, Strathmill

Buckie (Ward 3)

Inchgower


Is it a Speyside?

Fochabers Lhanbryde (Ward 4)

Benriach, (Coleburn), Glenlossie, Glen Elgin, Longmorn, Mannochmore.

Heldon And Laich (Ward 5)

Miltonduff, Roseisle

Elgin City North (Ward 6)

No distilleries

Elgin City South (Ward 7)

Linkwood, Glen Moray

Forres (Ward 8)

Benromach, (Dallas Dhu), Dunphail (Bimber, currently in planning application), Glenburgie

Badenoch And Strathspey

Balmenach, Cairn Distillery (under construction), Dalwhinnie, Speyside, (Speyside – Kingussie)


So why the Confusion?

Because prior to the creation of the Speyside whisky sub-region, all distilleries would have been known as Highland whiskies, or in its older, less definitive form, the Glenlivet suffix would be applied. Therefore the saying that all Speysiders are Highlanders yet all Highlanders aren’t Speysiders couldn’t be more true. Yet there are some Speyside distilleries do still describe themselves as Highland whiskies – Dalwhinnie, Glenfarclas Knockdhu (An Cnoc) and Macallan are four that spring to mind. While it is quite obvious that Macallan and Glenfarclas are in the heart of Speyside, Dalwhinnie is located in the southern part of Badenoch. It’s location at the start of a mountain pass makes you think that it could only be a Highland distillery, yet it is closer to the River Spey than many of the distilleries often thought to be quintessential Speyside.


Is it a Speyside?

Even Knockdhu / An Cnoc is just within the Keith and Cullen ward of Morayshire. The boundary kinks out east just to the north of the distillery. I have been in this area many times to use my preferred Honda dealer which is close by and is in Aberdeenshire, so I just assumed Knockdhu was too. Proves we can’t always be right. Better still, my inner pedant got some satisfaction, the mental equivalent of having a hobnob with a cup of coffee. Ahhhh!


Finally however, the SWR forbid the mentioning of two regions on a label, so distilleries in Speyside have to choose one or another. Just to mix it up, Aberlour once labelled itself as a Highland whisky, but now identifies as a Speyside on some bottlings. That’s ok, as long as it’s not both on the same label at the same time.

Aberlour. A region chameleon

I hope this is useful, perhaps check out Roy’s channel on YouTube and take part in ‘Is It A Speyside?’ I’m sure he will be glad to welcome you, and now you are armed with some more knowledge, perhaps you can win ‘Is it a Speyside’!

Your 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

Glenglassaugh Distillery – J Thomas (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Dalwhinnie Distillery – eatnorth.co.uk

Aberlour bottles – Twitter /@robertfifoot

Tellytubby Land – dailymail.co.uk

Royal Brackla Distillery – nairnbairn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own