Well it’s come to the end of the year almost and it goes without saying that all of us are pretty much looking back on a year that never happened. The coronavirus has changed so much in our lives, very little of it good. I hope you have all managed to cling on and will look towards 2021 as being a better year.
The one thing for me that did change is that I reviewed about 45 drams for my blog, and as I am often asked what I have as my favourite, I think I should do a quick review. After all, that’s what everybody else seems to do, and why should I be any different?
Firstly, I could not pick an absolute favourite. That was too hard. Secondly, it had to be obtainable so if you want to try it, you can without breaking the bank. So that whittles out Yellow Submarine, which while still easy enough to get, it is only available on the secondary market at silly prices. Same goes for most of the silent distilleries I reviewed.
So without much more pomp and ceremony, my picks for 2020 were in no particular order
Glenallachie 15 – £65
Glendronach 18 – £97
Speyburn 10 – £25 if on offer. Around £30 otherwise
Glenlivet Captain’s Reserve – £45
Glenglassaugh Revival – £38
I picked all of these as despite them not being the best whisky in the world, after each dram I instantly wanted another. Only the GlenDronach is getting pricey at about £100 a bottle.
For the drams that are not easily available or limited edition, I would pick
Macallan 10 y.o – £400+ at auction including fees
Glenfarclas 2005 14 y.o Cask 2588 – released at £150
TWBC Invergordon 42 Batch 15 – £180+ at auction including fees
Allt Dour 8 – Robertson’s of Pitlochry – £55 (still available at time of writing!)
North British 30 Single Grain (Dramfool) – £95 on release.
Just goes to show you that you do not have to spend much for a decent dram, plus it is important that you aren’t a dram snob. Never thought I’d enjoy the Glenlivet or Speyburn so much.
In all fairness, if rarity or lack of accessibility wasn’t an issue, the Allt Dour would win top spot, with the Invergordon following closely behind. But because these drams have limited availability it’s hard to recommend them as overall winners. The Allt Dour at the time of writing is still available from Robertson’s of Pitlochry, but I’d be quick in getting one before they all go. I’ve bought a second one already.
We’ll skip over the worst whisky. It’s the last review of the year. Pay attention as I do vent my spleen quite extensively. That will be published on 30th December. Remember that you may well like what I don’t, and half of what I write in my very infrequent negative reviews is meant for entertainment
Turning the tables somewhat but what was your dram of the year? Did you buy and actually open a Macallan? Have you gone crazy for the latest wave of inaugural bottlings? Drop me a line and let me know your favourites. If I can, I might even try to review them.
Lastly, thanks for all your support. It’s good to know so many people read what I write. The best thing you can do for me is encourage your whisky loving friends to like or follow one of the social media streams I use (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even this WordPress blog). It will only encourage me to publish more, assuming that’s what you want!
Wishing you all the very best for the New Year. May your 2021 be much improved over this year past. Stay safe, keep looking forward and get ready for year 3 of Scotty’s Drams.
No. I am not trying to get down with the kids. I am definitely not a cool person. But today’s review will be a refreshing piece of nostalgia, and we are going to be looking at whisky that many being produced today need to learn from. There may be a bit of Macallan bashing, but this is purely incidental, certainly not intentional and could be equally aimed at many other distilleries.
How many of us remember a time when whisky was good? Hasn’t it always been good? Can it get any better? With Single Malt Whisky having exploded over the past couple of decades, the choice has never been better. However with this taste review, I want to put a concept to you. I want each of you who reads this to think about it to yourselves. And if you can be bothered, I’d appreciate feed back, either in the form of a comment below the article, through facebook, instagram, e-mail or even twitter. If your only means of communicating with me is carrier pigeon, then by all means send it, however I can’t promise that my dog won’t eat it. So if you are General Melchitt and your pigeon is called Speckled George, definitely don’t send it. (Fans of Blackadder Goes Forth will get the reference!)
I’m going to put to you the concept that some whisky is not better than it used to be. I would say it is demonstrably not worse per se, but definitely not as good as it used to be. I would say this has happened and continues to happen due to the large amounts of different editions through different age statements, non-age statements, cask finishing and the lack of decent aged stock available. This is something that all distilleries will suffer from. Each one is trying to obtain, keep or improve its market share.
For a while, I have felt that this applied to Macallan. This is not because I want to rebel against Macallan, as everybody seems to like them and I don’t want to rebel like a stroppy teenager. It’sbecause I feel the focus has moved. While I still believe that they do still make quality whisky, I feel that quality is definitely subdued. This was highlighted to me during a visit to their distillery in October last year.
The building itself is a marvel. You will have never seen a distillery like it, and I doubt if we will ever see one again, certainly not in the near future. Outside it looks more like an extension of Tellytubby land, but inside you can see the architectural masterpiece it is. The tour is good value too, albeit it seems very corporate, although now thinking about it, this is not a mistake. This is deliberate.
The Macallan archive is a wonderful masterpiece, with hundreds of bottles on the soaring shelves. But it is here we start to make our comparisons. One of my bugbears with Macallan is the amount of NAS they are releasing. To look across the way, we see the shop, where many of the products there have no age statements. But as I said before, some of what I am saying about Macallan can be applied to many distilleries, as aged stocks run low.
Macallan has been known as a distillery that exclusively used sherry casks, and one of the six pillars of Macallan is the quality of their casks. However, since 2004, they have been releasing whisky that has been made not just in sherry casks, but now uses Bourbon casks. Not that I have a problem with this as such, as this doesn’t make a bad whisky. However, it just isn’t as good as what has gone before from Macallan in my opinion.
The tour I took at Macallan also gave us a sample of 12 year old Double Cask which is matured in American and European Oak, and the 15 year old Triple Cask which is also matured in a Bourbon cask. This, as far as I know isn’t the result of re-racking but a mixture of casks in the vatting prior to bottling. I never got a chance to try them at the distillery, as I was driving – and of course we all know drinking and driving is definitely not cool. So I got them to take home.
This fact was something that excited me, as I had a sample of a 10 year old Macallan from the 80’s or 90’s which I had been given by Matteo at the Speyside Whisky Shop, and I really wanted to write a review that compared all three, but the samples from the whisky tour just didn’t give me enough to write an objective review. However, although both drams were quite pleasant there was something that was very obvious to my palate. The old style whisky blasted the other two into outer space. Just no comparison.
Here are my tasting notes for the older whisky.
40 % abv
Proper sherry nose. Dates, plums, raisins, tobacco note, hot chocolate powder. More of a toffee note appears when water added.
Instant, intense sweet hit on the arrival, with pretty much every note in the nose also on the palate.
Medium to long, gently fades away. Slightly drying in the finish, toffee, dried fruits and a hint of spicy wood.
What I write now may be paraphrased from another article that I have written elsewhere about Macallan, but I’ll try and keep to the appropriate portions here.
I am indebted to Sorren at ocdwhisky.com for an article he wrote about whisky blogging. One of the things he said was that no whisky manufacturer deliberately makes a bad whisky. I know I might have had a bit of a rant over Jura Journey and Glen Keith, but Sorren is right. It’s just tastes are different, and you can’t like everything. However, that doesn’t mean that distilleries can get away with reduced quality whisky.
Of course, with a shortage of aged stocks, plus a decline in sherry drinkers has probably meant that sourcing quality casks has become harder and certainly more expensive for Scotch whisky producers. I would contend that Macallan has safeguarded the premium casks for their more expensive whiskies, which can cost thousand of pounds. However, they aren’t going to be doing that exclusive for whisky that is in the sub £100 bracket if they can get away with it. Use of Bourbon casks reduces the demand for sherry casks. This is something Macallan has been releasing since 2004. So, my concept I am trying to get you to think about is that have Macallan (or other producers) slowly weaned us off the premium whisky and onto something that is still good, but not as good?
I certainly feel this way, as the old-skool sample that I had was absolutely fantastic, and I almost regret giving my brother-in-law a small sample of the small sample I received. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t have shared, but my brother in law is a good bloke and he very much appreciated his share. Is it a case of what we used to get as a standard 10 year old is now the quality standard for the 18 year old or above? I may have to take the plunge and buy a more expensive bottle to find out, or chum up my more generous Macallan drinking friends.
This is why I feel that with Scotty’s drams it is good to use the samples of older whisky, in particular my bargain basement miniature buying at auction is actually a valid exercise. The ten year old Macallan in the picture above is auctioning for around £300. The 12 year old I’ve seen as high as £450. A smaller sample is good for reminding us what has gone before and gives us a point of reference.
Sorry for the double publishing – there was an error generated that caused the link to display incorrect information. It won’t happen again. Actually it probably will, but I will still be sorry.
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We come to Friday once more, and I am looking for a thought to provide you all with this week. It has been quite a week for me with a lot of stress. A couple of weeks ago, my car was involved in a minor collision and this was the week it was going in for repair. I’m lucky enough to have an insurance company that are quite generous when it comes to providing a hire car when mine is off the road, so I was lucky enough to be given a Toyota Aygo.
Lucky? No. These small cars are really only good for the city. I have driven an Aygo over one hundred miles from Aberdeen to home over twisty country roads and let me tell you that it wasn’t fun. Given we have had really bad weather and have a good blanket of snow, I opted to pay a little bit extra and get something bigger. I was given a Vauxhall Insignia which was a lovely car to drive but a bit longer than I realised. When backing the car in front of my garage, the sensors must have been covered in dirt from the slush on the roads, and the net result was that I backed the car into the garage door. Conclusions – car not a mark; the garage door seemingly a write off.
Of course, the weather was bad with snow and heavy winds, and the garage roller door was out of the guides on one side so I got plenty of fun with some hammers, spanners and pry-bars to get the door back into the guides. I didn’t care at that point if the door would ever open again, as long as I could get it wind and watertight once more. But I knew eventually that I had to make a hard decision – do I leave the door as is, for I don’t use it that often, or do I pay for a replacement? After paying a 4 figure sum just before Christmas for a new oil tank, I wasn’t really wanting to take the hit of a new electric door. I knew that the choice of doing nothing could become very inconvenient. Sadly, it was realistic to say that a new door was the only option and I had a £1500 bill staring me in the face. It was unexpected that when my local friendly garage door supplier turned up a couple of days later that he didn’t give me a quote. Thankfully he was able to repair the door in such a way it will survive another couple of years given the amount of use it gets. All ends well. I still haven’t had the dram to celebrate the avoidance of financial disaster!
So what has this got to do with whisky? Well, last Friday my package from Macallan turned up, the recently balloted Folio 5 which is part of the Archival Series. Costing £260 including postage, I entered the ballot without knowing too much about the whisky I was hoping to win. However, this is not that uncommon with Macallan releases nowadays. But, given the fact that previous Folio releases have been about 2000 units and usually keep at a price well above the purchase, then I thought it would be a safe bet.
Well, after the ballot was concluded, with my whisky contacts and on various forums, I noticed that quite a lot of people had actually won a bottle in the ballot. Far too many for my liking. Research suggested that Macallan had done the dirty and possibly released 20,000 units. This is a bit of a kick in the teeth, as it would mean 18,000 people will never be able to collect the full collection, and the value of the other four editions is now going to smash through the roof as those who do wish to collect the full series will be forced to pay for a much rarer whisky. This can only get worse as future editions are released (there are still 19 releases to go).
Of course, caveat emptor should be the phrase first and foremost in mind, but I feel in whisky terms I have metaphorically smashed the car into the garage door and have a tough decision to make in terms of what to do with this whisky. It may serve me well to give you another metaphor that would sum up my feelings adequately, I felt like the pigeon who didn’t notice there was glass in the french windows, and is now lying stunned on the patio waiting for the neighbours cat to get me.
To be honest, I bought it with the intention of not collecting the full set, but keeping it back to sell at a later date when the price settled. I had no intention of flipping it, as you should know by now my views on flipping. In the back of my mind, my thoughts were that if there was only 2000 made, I might be able to swap it for a Folio 4, which has the music of James Scott Skinner on it (I used to play the fiddle, so it was relevant). But now I am stuck with a bottle that I feel doesn’t fit my collection policies, won’t necessarily increase in value and I’ve no interest in drinking. And £260 isn’t a small amount of cash to splurge for no return.
And now I have to face the difficult decision – do I flip it, do I keep it and hope for the best, do I sell it to somebody that didn’t get one at a price that covers my costs, or do I drink it? I’ve opened more expensive bottles but I’m just not interested in Macallan. I’ve drunk too many insipid drams in recent times to be opening an NAS that cost so much. It should be nice to be in the position that I am to own such an item, but the responsibility of what to do with it hangs like the Sword of Damocles above my head, pretty much like it did with the garage door.
I’ll be honest with you, I am really tempted to flip it. I feel really let down by Macallan’s marketing practices, and I have since removed myself from their marketing data base. This has been the final straw that has broken this donkey’s back. I have had deep misgivings about the brand for some time, and this is one of the articles I have been trying to write for some time, but haven’t managed to articulate my thoughts in such a way that is readable. It seems I am not the only one, and have seen quite a few articles saying similar things. I also have written a diatribe against flippers, but again, the article is just too rough to be released without offending people. The possibility of being a hypocrite also fills me with dread.
So what’s it to be? To flip or not to flip. #sipdontflip – as in last week’s review? Or sit tight and take the loss in the meantime and hope it gets better? Let me know your opinions, either by commenting on Facebook, or below this article.