Hiding in plain sight. Thats often what I think when I essentially ransack my study or bedroom looking for something that is sitting innocently on a shelf in full view when I am doing my mental calculations as to where I last saw it. Before I left for my last offshore trip I couldn’t find my head torch. I always have a dirty one for work, yet also carry a clean one if I am going to be staying in a hotel or have one in my cabin. Should there be a fire, you never know when you will need help. After wasting a day and a half looking for it and realising that I could have left it in a hotel in Borneo, I was only able to start to end the mental anguish by ordering a new one. And 6 hours after ordering, I found the old one tangled up in the lanyards of my memory sticks. I shook my head, as I tipped that bag out twice. It’s never easy being me sometimes.
The dram that I am going to review just now is the similar, although I haven’t had to waste a whole day looking for it. Sitting on the shelves of whisky retailers and even sitting on the shelves of my local Tesco Extra from time to time, Finlaggan was another of those whiskies I kept clear of because I did not know what distillery it was from and I’ve plenty of other drams to keep going on with. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the Whisky Shop Duffown, plus in their 5cl range, but I decided against it. “I’ll stick to what I know of” I kept saying to myself.
It was a trip into Inverness to a kilt makers of all places that also had a range of tourist souvenirs that prompted me to look in by. It was actually a recommendation of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill across the road, which incidentally also have a good range of miniatures. I know what I said about going into the touristy places in my Loch Lomond review, but it was in the EWM that I found a 16 year old Glentauchers G&M miniature for £7. You just need to be careful but bargains can be had.
Finlaggan is an anonymous Islay Single Malt which is released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, formed by Brian Crook in 1992. Brian was a former director from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Finlaggan was one of its launch brands, which were updated in 2014. Currently the core range is Finlaggan Old Reserve at 40%, Eilean Mor at 46% and a cask strength one at 58%.
As the whisky distillery is anonymous, the brand is named after Finlaggan Castle, which sits on an island in Loch Finlaggan, Islay. There isn’t really a lot to write about it, so I’ll just proceed with the tasting.
Finlaggan Old Reserve
Region -Islay Age – NAS Strength -40% ABV Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Peat, hard cheddar, iodine, toasted wholemeal bread, citrus. Palate – Light mouthfeel, brine, lemon, peat, nutmeg. Finish – medium short. Peat, brine, sweet. Strong wood spices going down the throat, but a small splash of water brings it into control. Drying in the end
I don’t like judging things on first tastes, but my first taste of this to be honest was not positive. Not too bad a nose, a calm palate with spice building and the insanity breaks out once swallowed. Hot spices and a weak peat, the sweetness turning to dryness. It became more balanced with a splash of water.
I like peaty whisky, so it’s not that I don’t like peat. In my opinion this is a young Caol Ila. I’ll base that thought on that it is the closest distillery to Loch Finlaggan and it is probably the distillery most likely to have the capacity to keep up with demand for the independent sales. It doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as other Caol Ila’s I’ve had and that’s being kind. I hate to admit this, but I couldn’t finish it and sadly had to dispose of it down the sink. You can’t like everything unfortunately.
It may be cheap, but I’ll be leaving this one on the shelf though in my opinion it’s best left in a dungeon, never to escape. I’ll be continuing to hunt for something more tasty. However if I see a mini of one of the other drams, I’d love to try for a second go, but this dram was definitely not for me.
*** There will be a following article about this review in the very near future. Be sure to catch it ***
It was often relayed to me by my parents that nothing in life comes easy. However, in this case they were most certainly wrong. This has been one of the easiest review titles that I have ever created. Since I have decided to review this whisky, every time I think of it the song ‘Loch Lomond’ has come into my head. As a Scotsman of a certain era, it is a right of passage to sing the Runrig version at the end of a wedding or just at some point in the proceedings. Some clubs I’ve been in also play it at the end of the night. We can’t forget either the twee Scottish soap opera that was filmed in Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond. Lunchtimes were usually the time to see Take The High Road, which later moved to an evening slot.
The programme was drama based, and as in every drama, there is usually some sort of mystery. Often there is a character that isn’t who they seem. This is the case with Loch Lomond distillery. The first part of the mystery is that Loch Lomond is the preferred whisky of Captain Haddock, the best friend of Tin Tin, an investigative reporter created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé. Often these characters get into adventures trying to solve various mysteries. Tin Tin was created around 1929, which pre-dates Loch Lomond distillery by some 35 years. This brings us on to our mystery now – Loch Lomond Distillery was founded in 1964. So why do the bottles carry the year 1814?
This is a mystery that we may need Tin Tin to solve, as when I looked up Loch Lomond on the internet and in various publications, it seems that there was a variety of information out there and not all of it correct, which contributed to me getting a bit waylaid in my search for facts. What was worrying was that some of the sources were normally creditable and supported by well known people in the whisky industry. It is time for the truth to be told about Loch Lomond distillery.
To kick off my investigations, when you look at any full-sized bottle of Loch Lomond whisky – it gives the year of 1814. Why is this the case when the distillery was opened in 1965? Well, it turns out the initial Loch Lomond distillery was opened in 1814, further up Loch Lomond in the village of Tarbert. There are no records to when the distillery closed, so the link is only the name. However, it was the owners of Littlemill Distillery who opened the Loch Lomond distillery and that whisky heritage goes back to 1772 with the founding of Littlemill. The owner of Littlemill, Duncan Thomas and an American company called Barton Brands formed a partnership to build Loch Lomond in 1964. By 1984 the distillery was closed before it was eventually being taken over by Alexander Bulloch / Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouses. In 2014 it was taken over by Loch Lomond Group, In 2019, the Loch Lomond Group was sold to Hillhouse Capital.
Loch Lomond is a shapeshifter of a distillery, with three different types of stills, making it possible to distill both grain and malt whiskies. This has led to a lot of confusion, as many websites claim that the distillery has Lomond stills. This is not true. Master Blender Michael Henry explains “Lomond Stills were never used at Loch Lomond. They were only ever used at Hiram & Walker distlleries.” The first Lomond still was developed at Innerleven distillery. As the distillery was close to Loch Lomond, they took on the loch’s name. The development of this style of still was some 9 years before the creation of the Loch Lomond distillery in Alexandria. Lomond stills were only ever used in Inverleven, Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Scapa. Only one is currently in use as a wash still at Scapa, with one more being used at Bruichladdich to create the Botanist Gin.
The straight necked stills were first used at Littlemill in the 1950s by Duncan Thomas, so were also used in Loch Lomond. There are some significant differences between the straight neck still and the Lomond still; size being the most obvious one. A Lomond still is short and fat, whereas the straight neck stills are taller and thinner. The next important difference is that the rectifier plates inside a Lomond still are moveable, to control the reflux within the still, which will make big differences in the spirit. The plates inside the straight necked stills are fixed.
There are definite advantages to using a straight neck still with the rectifier plates and still head cooling. A straight neck still is more efficient and can produce whisky up to 90% when using the still head cooling. Taking a cut between 90% and 80% which will give a strength at 85% at the spirit receiver. If still head cooling is not on, then a much wider cut is taken from between 90% and 55% giving a spirit at 65% at the receiver. By having the flexibility of the straight necked stills, coupled with clear wort, long fermentations and specific yeast varieties ensure that Loch Lomond are able to capture the fruity nature of the spirit. And that is something that Loch Lomond are aiming for – to capture the fruity essence into their whisky in a definitive distillery character.
The distillery also has continuous stills for producing grain whisky and the more traditional pot stills. In total they have one set of swan necked stills, three sets of straight necked stills and 3 continuous stills, each with 2 columns. The smaller of the sets is used for malted barley wash, and the larger continuous stills are used for wheat wash.
Why so many stills? It was the intention of the previous owners to be able to be self sufficient in whisky when making blends. Loch Lomond has over the years made many brands such as Inchmoan, Inchfad, Croftenga, Inchmurrin, Craiglodge, Old Rhosdhu, Glen Douglas, and Glen Garry. While many of these brands have fallen by the wayside, it has been instrumental in creating perhaps a false impression of the distillery and has made it harder to discuss distillery character. Whisky enthusiasts were confused and most other whisky drinkers didn’t get it at all, asking where the Inchmurrin distillery was.
I asked Michael why he thought it so hard to discuss distillery character, with Loch Lomond in mind. I got quite a comprehensive answer. “While single malt has been establishing itself against blends, distillers have mostly talked about wood and flavour, as it is easier to explain why a whisky takes on a sherry character if it has been matured in a sherry cask. It is a lot harder to discuss why a whisky has a fruitier character because a different yeast was used for a longer fermentation time with a different shape of pot still.” And I have to agree. As a whisky geek who has a limited understanding of chemistry, I am starting to study more about fermentation and the chemical processes that convert sugary water into whisky. None of it is dinner table style conversation, but it is much easier to skim over the whisky tastes by discussing casks. There is definitely a romantic story that can be built on that rather than discussing esters, phenols, yeasts and how long the fermentation takes.
It’s not to say that wood does not play a part in the formation of Loch Lomond whiskies. Michael told me that Loch Lomond buy 10,000 bourbon casks a year, all of which see the attention of their on site cooperage for inspection, repair and re-charr / de-charr of casks. The distillery has a 2 or three fill policy per char. A cask may see two de-charr / re-charr before that cask is scrapped. Their American wood policy is important to them, to give them a honey / caramel sweetness to compliment the fruity new make.
One other thing that Loch Lomond have started to do is experiment with yeast strains. I could write more about it here, but the Malt Review site had their own interview with Michael in which he goes into much more detail about this subject, and to save space and any plagiarism, you can link to the article here.
With all this information being shared, I asked Michael why he thought that there was so much misinformation about the distillery. The answer was pretty conclusive, and that was that the previous owners simply did not engage with the public. Essentially they had a high volume / low margin production policy. Nearly all their stock went into bulk blends, and there was no marketing as there was no brand to market. With little engagement and no background to any releases, people have made their best guesses. This easily perpetuates and I found quite a few reputable sites and vLogs with incorrect information.
There are no visitor facilities at Loch Lomond distillery, which makes it harder for the distillery to get its message out. The majority of the spirit produced at Loch Lomond is matured on site, which can amount to 300,000 casks. This makes it quite a hazardous site in terms of fire and explosion control, which is subject to tight regulation. In my interpretation of the distillery, it was never set up to be a site for visitors, and is essentially an industrial site. To take groups of people around would necessitate stopping operations, which is less than ideal. “This can create some suspicion as people think we have something to hide, when it is down to safety reasons that we have not been able to work out to an acceptable level,” says Michael.
As we come to the end of my investigations into Loch Lomond distillery, I feel that all my doubts about the distillery have been cleared up. There is a lot of work to do for Michael, who has said that the main role of his presence on Twitter is to engage with people so he can end the confusion over the various aspects of the Loch Lomond Distillery caused in part by the legacy of the former owners.
The range has been trimmed, which will make it easier for those drinking Loch Lomond to see the distillery character. The latest offerings has seen the Islands Collection brought into the Loch Lomond range. Inchmoan being the peaty offering of the two and using spirit from the straight neck still as well as the swan neck stills. The Inchmurrin is more lighter and floral, using spirit only from the straight neck stills.
Single Grain. 46% Non-chill filtered, natural colour; Unpeated NAS, Peated NAS. Both single grains are 100% malted barley.
I’ve not tasted Loch Lomond before, because I was one of those confused by the distillery and I never really gave it a chance. But when I was browsing through the miniatures of the Aviemore Gift Company, I saw the 18 year old sitting there, and I could hear the voices in my head telling me to take it off the shelf and buy it. I only wished I had a bit of situational awareness, as here I was in a gift shop in a tourist area away to buy whisky. £10.55 for a 5cl bottle… I really should have known better. Don’t worry, by telling this story and making this error means you don’t have to. But it’s an 18 year old from a distillery that plenty of people rate despite misconceptions, so it can’t all be bad, can it?
Let us find out.
Loch Lomond 18
Region – Highland Age – 18 years old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Russet (1.3) Cask Type – American Oak – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Strawberry Jam, Apple jolly ranchers, marzipan / almond, raisin, peat, hard toffee. Palate -Rich, like that hard toffee I am thinking of in the nose, very gentle on the palate, no real burn, light wood spices, slight apple, date sponge, hint of chocolate and smoke. Finish – medium. Woody spices really take off when drunk neat. ginger, white pepper, nutmeg, a woody metallic taste, Granny Smith apple bitterness, finished off with blackcurrant at the end. Leaves a slight sourness in the mouth and a very slight hint of sulphur.
With water, the spices in the palate wake up for an instant white pepper delivery, but the overall spice heat is tempered and brought into more balance in the finish. I found it much more drinkable.
When Michael first contacted me, his initial message said that he felt that my misconceptions about the brand had probably affected my ability to connect with the whisky. Now I have been able to understand more about the whisky, I have to agree with him. There will always be tendency to veer off to the negative when there is something you aren’t sure of. Being an Aberdonian, negativity is something that can perhaps too easy to attain. However, I still feel that this hasn’t affected my actual tasting notes, as if the truth be known, I was wanting to be proved wrong about some of the naysayers about this distillery. And having paid as much as I have for the sample, I was wanting value for money. Thats also a very Aberdonian trait.
The nose was appealing, and the finish had its good points, but it just didn’t totally float my boat. The palate was rich, but I felt it lacked something, almost a calm before a storm. The finish while taken neat was way out of balance for me. A sudden hit from the wood spices and a metallic presence made me think I had sucked a piece of oak with a nail buried in it. If I was to look into why this was the case, I can perhaps only explain it away by suggesting there may have been some interplay between the cap and the spirit? Will make sure I go for a corked bottle next time.
I have only altered my tasting notes slightly in response to the contact with Michael; not to change my opinion, but to alter facts. The distillery uses only ex bourbon casks in the core range, so I have had to remove the part about a possible sherry influence. Also, Michael explained that while the 18 year old is non chill filtered, they do add colouring due to the lighter colour produced by the bourbon casks. I know some people get bent out of shape about this, but I’m not going to. While I prefer a natural presentation, I’m not worried about a bit of colour, as it is flavour that matters. As long as I can’t taste the colouring, its good. I’m learning to not drink whisky with my eyes. Besides, most of the core range is under £40, the 18 year old is under £80, so it is not as though I am paying premium prices for a non-natural presentation. I would say this represents good value.
With water, this whisky was perfectly competent, and the spices reined in. As you can see, I did experience some fruity notes from the whisky – predominately apple ones for me. It’s been some time since I’ve had an apple Jolly Rancher! While I did not take to this release this time, now I know more I’d be happy to try another whisky from their range. From the descriptions, the Inchmurrin is likely to be the candidate, but that will be some time in the future. I think that taking the time to investigate Loch Lomond whiskies by yourself could be very worth while.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Michael for the help he has given to ensure an accurate article has been written. In disclosure, no incentive or samples have been given or expected and the content solely reflects a partial but accurate overview of what is being achieved at Loch Lomond, as well as an honest whisky review.
Times are hard, and I have to economise. After the potentially financially crippling Old vs New Series, the cost of which will be revealed in another article, I can no longer afford a decent article title. So this is it. If your name is Tam or Thomas, I’m not specifically saying hello to you, although you are welcome to join me, but just shortening the name of our next dram – Tamdhu.
Tamdhu sits in the parish of Knockando, not too far away from the Knockando distillery, and right beside the railway station for the parish. The Speyside line was instrumental in the genesis of many Speyside distilleries, such as Dailuaine, Imperial, Knockando, Tamdhu, Cragganmore and Balmenach, not to mention other distilleries within easy reach. Dr Beeching did the area a disservice by cutting this and the Boat Of Garten to Forres line, as it means I have to sit behind so many lorries on the A95 carrying casks, malt, yeast and waste products.
The original Knockando station was known as Dalbeallie, named after a farm in the area, was built after the distillery was constructed in 1899, long after the 1863 opening of the line. This name has enjoyed a resurgence as a special edition in commemoration of the railway in the Tamdhu story. The name changed to Knockando in May 1905, to avoid confusion with Dalbeattie Railway Station in Dumfries And Galloway. A similar problem existed further south in Strathspey when Abernethy Railway Station was renamed Nethybridge. Imagine landing up in the Highlands when you expected to be in north Fife!
The Knockando station goods yard was where the distillery used to take in its sherry casks. I’ve heard unconfirmed stories that they used to be unloaded in ships in Lossiemouth harbour, then taken on the railway to Elgin, then down to Knockando via Craigellachie railway station. Sadly the station closed in October 1965. The station and it’s signal box have survived, thanks to the distillery renovating them, and it is hoped that they will form the basis of a visitors centre in the future. Whisky and railway geeks unite!
The distillery has been owned for the majority of its life by Highland Distillers, later to become Edrington. They already had a sherry monster distillery in the form of Macallan, and I wonder if that was the reason that little known Tamdhu was chosen to be mothballed. Thankfully it wasn’t mothballed for long with Ian Macleod Distillers purchasing it in 2011, opening it again in 2012. The first release was the 10 year old with a more Victorian look to the bottle, now synonymous with the distillery.
Much is made of its former owners’ dedication to quality, but Tamdhu has just the same passion for their wooden casks. Using imported American Oak or native European Oak from Galicia in North Western Spain, their wood is dried then filled with Oloroso Sherry from the Vasyma Bodega in Jerez. The casks sit for 6 years, slowly absorbing the sherry into the wood fibres, ready to play its part in the maturation of whisky. And it isn’t just the cheap sherry that goes on to be used to make sherry vinegar – this far exceeds the 2 year minimum maturation that cheaper sherries may experience.
The dram I am going to try for this review was released as a 15 year old in 2019 as a limited annual release, with about 24000 bottles being produced. I have had this dram before, but I wasn’t in a place I could take notes to review. That’s a casual way of saying I was in the right physical place (a bar) not in the bodily correct place (on the way to being tipsy.) I do remember enjoying it, so I have purchased a nip so I can sample again to relay my experiences.
Region – Speyside Age – 15 yrs old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Oloroso Sherry (American + European Oak) Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Classic Sherry aroma, but not too powerful, balanced. Raisins, sherry, red apple peel, mint choc chip ice cream Palate – Raisins, honey, then the wood spices hit with pepper and ginger. A light alcohol tingle, drying, dark chocolate. Finish – medium. chocolate orange, biscuity, slightly bitter but not in an unpleasant way.
Tamdhu is always the sherried whisky I mention first if people are wanting a recommendation of a sherried whisky that isn’t Macallan, followed quickly by Glenfarclas and GlenDronach. I’ve never really had a bad dram from these distilleries, with the exception of an experience I had with a Glenfarclas 15 mini. I really do wonder why Edrington gave up this distillery when they were just on the cusp of a whisky boom. Perhaps they wanted more money to finance the Tellytubby land distillery they’ve made up in Craigellachie. Yes, I know that the building is impressive, but while the Macallan does make good whisky, they aren’t the only ones. Others do to, and they make it cheaper.
With the investment in good casks showing at Tamdhu, I really rate this distillery, even though on the global stage it is still a bit of a sleeper. Definitely one to watch and I cannot wait to see what will be replacing the 15 year old. With GlenDronach possibly edging towards the start of Chill Filtration on the 15 year old, if this does come to pass, I will certainly be looking at changing where I spend my money. If they do turn the old railway station into a visitors centre, I cannot wait to visit the distillery.
Tamdhu can be found in a 10 year old expression, which has been discontinued with the 12 year old replacing it. There are other limited editions as well as regular Batch releases of cask strength spirit.
The 15 year old costs around £82 in specialist whisky shops, and I’d say for that price, the quality you are getting from your dram is well worth it.
There is always somebody who wants to go one better. We all know that person. When you’ve been to Tenerife for your holidays, then they have gone to Elevenerife. They have the guitar amplifier that goes all the way to 11. You know the sort. They are really annoying to work with, as you end up feeling that you can’t say a thing without some sort of oneupmanship or some sort of belittling comment.
How annoying is it when somebody claims to be one better, yet only this time they aren’t trying to belittle you, their claim is actually true? As Winston Churchill said “I find humble pie to be a most edifying diet”, yet some people seem to have gone on hunger strike.
If you have the pleasure of visiting Dalwhinnie distillery, nestled on the northern reaches of Drumochter Pass, given the remote and desolate landscape around you, it is hard to conceive that there could be a distillery higher above sea level than this in the UK. But there is. And nobody in Dalwhinnie speaks about it. For if you were to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, but travel a bit further south, and you will come to a small settlement called Braes of Glenlivet. Travel through the hamlet and on your right will be the 1970’s distillery called Braeval. Despite the green farmland around you, believe it or not, if you stand beside the still house with a hand held GPS, you will find that you are 2 metres higher than Dalwhinnie. Of course, this could be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the satellites available and who our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are bombing, so lets not offend anybody any further and allow Dalwhinnie to not lose any face by saying they are the highest distillery with a visitors centre.
The Braes of Glenlivet was built in 1973, constructed for Seagram, a Canadian based distiller. The distillery was one of the first to be built as a fully automated distillery, requiring only one operative. It was also one of the first to be built as entirely open plan. There is a rumour that the first mash took place before the roof was put on so the incoming Canadian chairman could be impressed, but that’s likely to be a part of distillery folk lore that each distillery has its own tale. The other thing that is a bit fake about the distillery is the pagoda roof. Due to the age and automation of the distillery, there has never been any malting taking place on site, but it does help it’s brutal 1970’s architecture blend in with the local area.
If you think that the architecture is bad, then look a bit further north to its sister distillery in the shadow of Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhainne. It also was constructed by Seagram, opening in 1975, and bought by Chivas in 2001. Allt-a-Bhainne was eventually given a single malt release in 2018, which while I thought it was ok, wasn’t going to set the world on fire, despite all of the marketing cliches that accompanied its release.
The distillery changed its name to Braeval in 1994, to avoid any confusion with its much more famous neighbour in the glen. Not that there would be much confusion, as Braeval as a single malt is quite hard to get a hold of. As far as I know there has never been an official bottling, other than the Distillery Reserve bottles released by Pernod Ricard who took over the distillery in 2000. The distillery was mothballed a year later, not resuming production until 2008.
If you want to taste a Braeval, then your best bet is going to be through an independent bottler, and for this we have to be thankful that Douglas Laing has done just that with their Old Particular brand. Given the hot mess of the Allt-a-Bhainne release, I’d dread to think of what PR would do with Braeval. So it comes to be that I ordered some time ago a 3CL sample from Master Of Malt in order to make up a tasting set. I’d never tasted Braeval before but thought the time had come to set this right.
Old Particular Braeval 18 (Douglas Laing cask 11205)
Region – Speyside Age – 18 yr old Strength – 48.4% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite light, Honey, apple, walnuts, spices, a hint of malt. Palate – oily, apple continues, honey, slightly sweet. Finish – medium/long. Warm and drying, sweet. Apple peel, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, a hint of raisin. Water smoothed things out a bit, but shortened the finish.
Not a bad first venture. Definitely very pleasant to drink, and despite it’s slightly higher ABV, the spirit doesn’t seem very forward; there isn’t any great spirit arrival here, it is all gently warming, with a surprising dryness that thankfully doesn’t cause your mouth to pucker. There is a bit more of a spirit burn as it goes down your throat, but burn is a bad word to use here – heat and warmth is probably the best description. This is a malt you could seek out and enjoy if it wasn’t just for one catch – it’s discontinued.
By all means you could look around at auction to see if it turns up, but you’d be better off keeping an eye on what independent bottlers are releasing. If you can find a Braeval from a sherry cask with the same sort of age, I’d definitely recommend it.
It has been noticed that perhaps I have a tendency towards the negative.
I’m sure that if you are a regular reader then this will come as no surprise. Being Aberdonian it could be argued that this is a genetic trait, and that’s a hard argument to disagree with. As an example there is an apocryphal story of two Aberdonians talking about their holidays. One is showing the other their holiday snaps. The Aberdonian viewing the snaps sees them all, thinks for a minute and points to one of the photos and says “that’s the worst one.” Every silver lining has a cloud.
But don’t think we’re all gloomy all of the time. It is worth remembering no matter how dour the day is, the sun still rises behind the clouds. Inside I’m a ray of sunshine, though at the moment I’ve got every reason to feel less than delighted. Without revealing too much which could land me in bother, I’m currently sailing in what has been described as a ‘High Risk’ or ‘War-Like’ zone. Research a region called Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and you’ll get the picture, so any bit of good news will easily brighten my mood, even for a short while.
It was one of my fellow crew members on board that supplied the reason (plus some of the material for this article). One of the purposes for starting this blog was because of people at work knowing about my whisky geekery and them wanting to ask questions. Unfortunately I don’t often have the time to continually talk about whisky while at work, though I have the occasional burst. One of the contractors who regularly returns to this ship had mentioned that he had a few older bottles of whisky and was showing me the pictures. I was asked if they were worth anything. It’s often the case in these situations that normally there will be a handful of 1970’s Johnnie Walker Red bottles or some Bells, but the first bottle was a 1980’s Bowmore 12. While there also were a couple of 1980’s blends, my eyes were opened when a 1990’s Macallan 10 y.o popped up. Then a Highland Park 12 in the 1980’s dumpy bottling. I was fully paying attention when a Port Ellen 21 appeared in the photos. There’s a few 1980’s single malts also which may raise a few pounds, yet there are more whisky bottles to be photographed.
You can bet your bottom dollar it was a great feeling to be able to give my colleague the good news. If they chose to sell, they would get a tidy sum for the whisky they may never drink, or alternatively they would have quite an impressive small scale whisky collection to start with. But despite this, thoughts of an overcast nature were gathering on the horizon. I remembered how I started collecting whisky and wondered what I would do differently now. Unlike my colleague, I started from ground zero.
My first collectable bottles were two Glenmorangie 1993 Truffle Oak Reserve bought at the distillery for £150, which are now worth considerably more, but until I developed a focused collection policy I was buying bottles that I felt may realise some value. It turned out that I was buying the same sort of bottles everybody else was. I’m now starting to think that this may not have been the best plan. There are a few of reasons why this may be the case.
If everybody else is collecting them and not drinking them, the bottle will not be truly rare. It’s just not easily available. Unless it’s in the high demand / low production category, the residual demand will not be that great. Even some of the collectible bottles from Macallan are released in the order of tens of thousands.
If supply is not that limited, the bottle will not necessarily increase that much in value from the point you bought it. The bottles such as Springbank local barley aren’t rare, yet the hype surrounding them is what is driving the price. Ditto committee release Ardbeg. The increases in price on the secondary market is just down to us. We do it to ourselves.
It is also likely that should there be an economic event that may persuade people to sell (such as mass unemployment or recession) then everybody is going to be selling the same stuff at the same time. Ergo, the price gets suppressed due to higher availability.
What I’m trying to say is perhaps it is all well and good to buy new releases as they could well earn a bit of money for those of you who have the prime concern of realising a profit Or at least you would hope they hold their value with inflation. But truly, beyond the initial flipper craze there is no saying any of these bottles are a reliable investment. I personally think the best thing to do is look for the older classics, which may have a track record of increasing prices or take a chance on lower key bottles. Who would have thought an investment in a £40 bottle of standard 10 year old Macallan would reach £400+?
To find out what is worth keeping aside, maybe ignore the plethora of new releases that people buy and put straight into a cupboard. They’ll probably never taste them unless one of their dram swap buddies has two bottles and shares one. Instead, look at what is popular, good value and potentially getting discontinued. One example I went for was the Old Pulteneny 17. At one time it was only £70 a bottle. Now if you can find one at retail, expect to pay £100 – £140. One more recent prospect is the Glendronach range, before the decision to remove the Non-Chill Filtered statement.
Often it is said in whisky you often have to speculate to accumulate, but I prefer to paraphrase a verse from the Good Book which says “Do not conform but be transformed”. Don’t follow just because everybody else is buying this and that. Make informed decisions in order to pave your own road on which to continue your whisky journey.
Ostensibly, whisky is for drinking so go forth and make your discoveries. Perhaps keep back something for a rainy day. Don’t just focus on the potential profit, but perhaps look on it as being a whisky custodian. Carve your own path and don’t merely follow the crowd. If you do your research and the whisky is truly great and not just another insipid inaugural release, then it will be just as valuable in the future, if not more. If the whisky doesn’t perhaps meet your financial expectations, you will still have a whisky you enjoyed from yesteryear which can be savoured or shared in decades to come. That will be a moment of untold riches and is probably the most positive thing I can advise you to do. That is exactly why I advise only to buy whisky at a price you would be willing to drink it at. That’s what it may come down to.
I am sure you can guess that I’m never likely to get mobbed at any event and certainly I am able to do my shopping without being mobbed by fans. God forbid that ever happens. I’m just quite happy plugging away at what I want to do, and living in an area with not a lot of people in it when we are outside normal tourist season suits me fine. To be honest, lockdowns haven’t really made a lot of difference to me during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not often doing anything that interesting if I am at home from my normal job. Indeed, part of me doesn’t want pandemic lockdown to end, as it means having to face more and more people.
I’m not as social as you may think.
The distillery from which the dram for this review hails from has a similar sort of circumstance. It just isn’t that well known at all. Firstly, there is no Glen Spey. The River Spey rises in streams that flow into Loch Spey, a small loch situated in the southern edge of the Monadhliath Mountains, just to the north of the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve.
Despite being so unknown, it may surprise you that Glen Spey, which is located in the Speyside village of Rothes is not a young distillery, having been built in 1878, around the same time as Glenrothes. It was initially named Mill Of Rothes distillery, but changed to Glen Spey in 1887 and the distillery was sold to the London gin makers W.A. Gilbey. This would be one of the three distilleries owned by Gilbey, the other two being Strathmill in Keith, and Knockando further to the south. Gilbey eventually merged with Justerini and Brookes, a London wine merchant. This formed International Distillers and Vinters, eventually becoming part of Diageo in 1997. Over 120 years of existence and only been sold once – remarkable for such an old distillery that is part of the big four distillers in Scotland.
While in the care of Gilbeys, this became the home of their blend made from the three distilleries they owned. The blend was known as Spey Royal, and was produced into the 1970’s. I actually own a bottle of this but I’ve got doubts over its provenance. Despite being reassured it is not a fake, there are a few things about it that mean I am going to just keep it as a talking piece.
Glen Spey was not one of the original Flora and Fauna releases. The range that started in 1991 originally only had 22 bottles, all of which had wooden boxes and 16 had white capsules to show they were 1st releases. Another Rothes distillery with a Flora & Fauna release – Speyburn. Due to the very short time it was in production, this is now the holy grail of collectors, now regularly seeing £2000+ hammer prices at auction. By 2001, a lot of the Flora and Fauna range had been discontinued due to Diageo selling or closing the distilleries. Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Dufftown, Clynelish, Craigellachie, Glendullan, Pittyvaich, Rosebank, Royal Brackla and Speyburn had been either sold or a new distillery expression created with Flora and Fauna being withdrawn. Mortlach would also follow. So in 2001 four new releases were introduced – Auchroisk Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill. The new four were not released with any packaging. Later on Glen Elgin would also be discontinued in favour of a distillery branded bottle.
So, despite its relative invisibility, does Glen Spey shout out its credentials? Only one way to find out.
Glen Spey 12 (Flora & Fauna)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 yrs old Strength – 43% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known, suspect bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Green, light, grassy, pineapple, light malt and barely perceptible smoke. Palate -Sweet, Light, slightly oily. Apple, sour lemon, nutmeg, slightly soapy Finish – short. earthy finish, bitter and soapy with a bit of aniseed right at the end. Gives a rough burn down the throat when swallowed.
Glen Spey is a gentle Speysider. Quite a pleasing nose, but that is for me where the pleasure ends. So many times I have been switched on by an aroma, but only to be let down by palate or finish. In this case both. While I for many years have championed the Flora and Fauna range, this is one that I haven’t tasted until now. Lets just say I won’t be tempted to open either of the full sized bottles I have. While this distillery may play a great part in Diageo blended whiskies, this example of it as a single malt is disappointing.
If you are tempted to buy this, make sure it is only to complete your Flora and Fauna collection. You can buy this for £43 online but you may be better spending your money on something a bit better. Speyburn 10 is also from Rothes and is not only tastier, but cheaper as well.
When you look at all the whiskies that are available on-line, there is a stunning array of bottles available. The mind boggles with all the different options when you consider age statements, cask finishes and different strengths. We’ve never had it so good. Often it is just a case of buying something that appeals to you based on flavours in the tasting notes, which incidentally may not be that accurate according to your palate. One such distillery with a large range of different bottlings over the years is Ardbeg. There is an annual release that generates a fuss as people flock to buy it in a feeding frenzy that would put a piraña shoal to shame. However there is a bottle that is cheap, easily available and reliable – the plain and simple 10 year old.
I used to be a fan of Ardbeg 10, though at one point I felt it became a bit inconsistent; far too medicinal and with this it put me off. I still loved peat but I’d become unfaithful to one of my peaty loves by deciding it was time to elope with Laphroig 10 instead. I would even abandon my first peaty crush, Talisker 10. All of a sudden my whisky morals had developed into that of a randy alley cat. These were the days well before I got totally into collecting and drinking whisky and hadn’t developed the inquisitive wunderlust that was to come in later years. Even once I had extensive dalliances with other whiskies, I wasn’t ready to return back to Ardbeg 10. I knew she would have me back, but I just wasn’t ready.
My peat journey continued. I eventually discovered the young but mega peated Octomores. Eventually, the time came to pass that I was ready to return to Ardbeg, but I still couldn’t. Unfortunately for me (and this may seem weird) Ardbeg had just become too popular. I had been on the mailing list (aka known as The Committee) but the postings were coming less and less relevant to where I had been heading on my whisky journey. In my mind I’m one of these ‘cool kids’ who rejects mainstream, and the constant promotion of product to my inbox with more and more outlandish claims was getting to be a bit tiresome. But most likely in reality, I’m not so cool, but a cynical, bitter Scottish curmudgeon. When I decided to cull the membership of things that pushed their propaganda into my private online space, Ardbeg and Macallan were the first to go. There’s only so much you can take of seeing the bottles you fail to win in the ballots appear on the secondary markets within a week of release, putting them out of reach of those who really valued them for more than the financial benefits selling them could realise.
If you want to gauge my measure of disgust and disappointment, you only have to look on websites selling the Arrrrrrrdbeg release to commemorate the retirement of Mickey Head. Released at £150, days later appearing on re-sale sites for £250+. And that’s just a recent example. There are scores more if you care to look.
But then, surely the 10 deserves another look at? For years it has been a stoic soldier on the shelves of supermarkets and whisky shops. It is almost invisible in full sight as I look to make my choices. But I have a ten year old Ardbeg unopened at home, though with the number of open full sized bottles I already have, I wasn’t wanting to open another one just to remember that there was a reason why I left my peaty love behind in the first place. It was a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop on my way through to Aberdeen on work business that saw me buy a miniature to take away while in quarantine before heading offshore. It is in this environment that I decided to take my former peaty mistress away to a Buckinghamshire hotel and see if we could have a little fun together during my 10 days quarantine.
Region – Islay Age – 10 years old Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sweet, Phenolic, Brine, Lime, Honey, Lavender Palate – Honey, slightly oil mouth feel. TCP, Nutty, Walnuts, cherries, creamy, smoky, brine. Finish – wood smoke, iodine, buttered toast, drying in the end with a hint of cinnamon bun and brine.
The fact that I brought only a miniature with me didn’t really amount to a rekindling of the romance with Ardbeg. It was pretty much a one night stand (wham bam, thank you mam). But it was one of those dangerous ones where passions that have been suppressed for so long rapidly come back to the surface. Did we have fun? Well, seeing as I’m no Jim Murray and I realise that I have readers of both genders and do not want to incur the biblical wrath of a certain female whisky writer and her personal crusade, all I will say is that I have been foolish in ignoring this whisky for so long. And it brings me to a serious whisky topic – what has changed – me or the whisky?
Not all of my reviews are going to give you a twee tourist guide of the local area around the distillery, and as I have not been to Ardbeg or even Islay, it will be obvious that I’m not the best person to give this information. But I can give you food for thought, and today I hopefully present you with at least a midnight snack of cerebral sustenance. I don’t really think that the whisky has changed that much, as all the notes I remember are still there. I’m surprised that I remember any, as one of the reasons I tend not to attend any virtual tastings is my memory of flavours is pretty shocking. I can taste things, but often can’t place them in a decent time frame. One dram can take a whole evening to discover the flavours for me. The Ardbeg 10 had nowhere to hide in this instance.
However, this whisky leopard can’t change it’s spots. The spirit is highly peated to a specification of around 55 ppm from malted barley obtained from the Port Ellen Maltings. Kilchoman Machir Bay is peated to the same specification and I wasn’t fond of that at all. However there is something magical still about the Ardbeg that is beckoning you in. This supermarket whisky is the ‘Plain Jane’ that turns into the dominatrix in the bedroom once you taste it. I’m liking it, yet still not taking to the iodine tastes, yet the aroma from my glass is wafting across my nostrils and I know that I am going to have to take another sip and it tells me that “I WILL ENJOY IT!”. Pain for pleasure.
If this dram was a song, then it would without be a doubt be ‘Heroin’ by the Velvet Underground. You need to listen to this song lying still in the dark to understand it – trust me. And the louder the better.
The whisky hasn’t changed. I have. Since I’d dumped Ardbeg in favour of other drinks, I have dallied with other much peatier whiskies. I had leapt onto the young Octomore spirit with reckless abandon; the different experiences maybe tuned my palate in new directions. No matter how long you have been in whisky, exposure to different whiskies will educate your palate, and when you return to things that you may have not been so keen on in the past, being a wiser, older dog you’ll know that you can learn new tricks to rekindle affection of your mistress or master. This will only benefit your whisky journey.
But coincidence has the last laugh. Only 3 days after I drafted this review, Matt Mckay published an interesting article which touches on how taste perception changes. Matt, for those of you who don’t know is the head of marketing and communications at Bimber Distillery in London. He’s also the main writer forThe Dramble Blog that I often mention. Click here to take a read of his articlewhich includes a great Glen Scotia review. Goes to show that my Peaty Mistress never changed and remained faithful until I returned.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. The larger demand making some whiskies harder to get has been tempered by the fact that there has been a massive influx of new distilleries on the scene. Not so long ago, there were only 3 operational single malt distilleries in the Lowland region; Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie, but now this has been expanded by a handful more becoming operational. The most famous arguably being Daftmill which released its first whisky at 12 years old in 2018. Also releasing its first whisky in 2018 was Eden Mill Distillery, and the Kingsbarns Distillery with its first Founders Release. Following on in the same year was the Dream To Dram bottling.
Dream to Dram was quite an appropriate name for such a whisky, as the concept of a distillery was born through the dream of former caddie Douglas Clement. Funding was initially gained through contacts he had made during his time as a caddie, but funding still fell short, so the project was sold to the Wemyss family to see the project through to conclusion. The distillery has been built in a former farm steading on the Cambo Estate, which the Wemyss have historical family connections to.
Dream to Dram was the first publicly available bottle from Kingsbarns. I’m not in the habit of chasing first releases, especially those which have been released at a young age. However just because a whisky is young, doesn’t mean that it will be a poor whisky. In this case, rather than buy a full bottle I decided to use Drinks By The Dram, which offered the chance to purchase a 3cl sample. And, this is a dram that has won several awards such as – World Whisky Awards 2020 – Best Scotch Lowlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky, World Whisky Awards 2020 – Category Winner, Lowlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky (12 Years & Under), Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters 2019 – Silver, International Spirits Challenge 2019 Taste – Silver, Scottish Whisky Awards 2019 – Highly Commended. It seems that there is little chance of getting a duff dram, so lets find out.
Kingsbarns Dream To Dram
Region – Lowland Age – 3 years old Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.2) Cask Type – 90% 1st Fill Bourbon, 10% 1st Fill STR Barrique Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Bananas, Pears, Green Apple, Lemon, Honey, light cereal note. Palate – Light body, quite thin. Creamy taste, vanilla, honey, peppery spices, ginger Finish – Medium – Short, towards the short side. Alcohol burn on the way down the throat, lemon, honey, ginger, pepper.
Well, in my life in the oil and gas industry, I have seen many great things promised and yet fail to deliver. To rework the saying in the first paragraph of this review, ‘Every Silver Lining has a Cloud’. I do realise that this dram has won multiple awards, but I don’t see anything in this dram to take it above average. The mouthfeel is light and watery, the finish has a firey alcohol burn which I didn’t experience when tasting my last cask strength whisky neat.
The one thing that many new distilleries seem to do is release whiskies as soon as it is possible and it could be that the drive behind it is to get income into the business. I really think if this was case, it wasn’t the best plan. The whisky lacks any really definitive character in the palate and the finish is short and rough in my opinion. Personally I think the approaches taken by Daftmill and Ballindalloch are much more realistic to release a whisky when it is truly ready and not just when it is drinkable. If your spirit is good, then waiting a bit longer would definitely be worth it. That’s my honest take on it, though I am aware many would disagree.
It’s not to say that this is a bad dram just because I didn’t take to it at all. Taste is indeed subjective. The spirit is good – they’ve bottled at a decent strength, no added colour, no chill filtration. Long fermentation and clear wort will fill the spirit with ester-y goodness. But for me I think it needed longer in the cask. It crosses my mind that when thinking of ‘Dream To Dram’ I’d suggest that a lie – in was needed.
I’m sure however this is definitely a distillery to watch out for with older releases. I can’t wait.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
I hope this is useful, perhaps check outRoy’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’!
Taste Review #106 – Arran Master Of Distilling 2 / Bere Barley 10
Thankfully this is the end.
Not of my blog, but thankfully it will be the last review in a while where I sample two whiskies at the same time. I find this pretty intensive, as I like to spend at least a couple of hours with each dram to try and understand them as best I can, given that the majority of time I use miniatures or sample sizes.
The two drams I bring to you today were given to me by a friend who told me that both he and his wife loved one of these drams and wanted to know what I thought. As a fellow countryman who hails from the east coast of Scotland, he’ll know that free will always be accepted. Take first, ask questions later.
I haven’t drunk a lot of Arran before, mainly because of my normal drinking habits take me to Speyside or Highlands, but not the islands. There are a few Arran miniatures that are sitting in my study waiting for review, but so far the time to taste them hasn’t been found. As I type this I feel that it is a shame, as the last Arran I reviewed, the now discontinued 14 year old was really nice. I was that impressed I made sure a few went into store so I can access that delicious spirit in the future.
The Arran distillery is a relatively young distillery, although it is starting to look much more grown up now we have so many new distilleries that have opened in the recent past, such as Ardnmurchan, Raasay, Daftmill, Dornoch, Eden Mill, Kingsbarns and there are a handful more in the process of not being far away from releasing their own spirit. Production started in 1995, so this means that the range is now able to stretch to 25 years old, bearing testimony that the distillery has most definitely come of age. By next year we may see the first three year old spirit being released at Lagg, the distillery at the south end of Arran that had to be built to enable the Isle Of Arran Distillers Ltd to have more capacity to concentrate on peated spirit. So far the main peated spirit at their main Lochranza facility has been the Machrie Moor release.
This release was bottled in honour of the master distiller at Arran, James MacTaggart, who had chosen the selection of Palo Cortado casks from Jerez, Spain. I have to say that I am more familiar with PX or Oloroso Sherried whiskies. Palo Cortado is a sherry type that starts maturation under a blanket of flor (yeast). When this does not remain intact, air comes into contact with the sherry, which starts to oxidise and form an Amontillado Sherry. This will give a nutty, savoury taste. However in the case of Palo Cortado, this doesn’t always happen and it becomes richer and darker like an Oloroso Sherry.
In the same shipment from my friend arrived another Arran whisky, the Bere Barley 10. This is a barley that in Britain is probably the oldest grain in continuous production. Bere is reckoned to have been brought to the British Isles by the Vikings, and is mainly cultivated in the North of Scotland, where the barley is able to grow in a short season on low pH soils. This is mostly in Caithness, Sutherland, Shetland and Orkney. This is a 6 row grain compared to the more common 2 row, but possibly due to its rapid growth and short season, it is not the most productive grain for the purposes of alcohol. However, in the 19th century, large amounts of Bere barley was used extensively by the Campbeltown distilleries. As strains of barley improved, it largely fell out of use. Nowadays, the only distillery releases that I can think of that use this Bere Barley are that of Springbank and Bruichladdich.
It is now time to move onto the whisky.
Arran Master of Distilling 2
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength -51.8% ABV Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – Palo Cortado Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Sweet. Nougat, Caramel, Floral (violets, rose water), Almond, hint of chocolate, porridge oats. A slight sour note of dry white wine. Palate – Medium body, sweet initially then a kick of alcohol. Peanut skin, orange zest, walnuts, almonds, red berries, slightly drying. Finish – Medium long. Cherry, chocolate powder, hint of must, possibly from an old book / old unvarnished wood furniture. A smattering of brine, slightly drying. With water, there was an increase in savoury note which reminded me of sautéed mushrooms.
Arran Bere Barley 10
Region – Highland Age – 10 year old Strength – 56.2% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Honey, Almonds, Vanilla, Peach, buttery bread / brioche, Floral notes, Lavender to the fore, mixing with the aforementioned honey, Coconut, Mango, Cardamom. Quite a lot going on in the nose! Palate -Cask Strength quite obvious here. Warming but not overheated alcohol arrival. Waxy mouthfeel. Quite floral, Pine, Honey, Sour Apple, Peppercorn. Bitterness, strong black tea. Finish – Short – Medium. Leafy – Spinach? Brine, more white peppercorn. Bay leaves, bitter citrus. Drying and fizzy.
As I said before I really liked the Arran 14, and although I hadn’t tasted much more Arran than that, I always had intended to try more, hence why I still have a selection of minis at home. I am glad that I kept that mindset, as the Master of Distilling 2 was a good dram for me. I always love a whisky with a cherry note to it, and the last time that I had that was the Wild Turkey Longbranch. My wife has since bought me a bottle, which I cannot wait to get cracked into. Whether or not I buy a Master of Distilling 2 remains to be seen, as although I like it, I’m at the point that I cannot really buy much more whisky in the vain hope I’m going to drink it within the next two years. I might still get a bottle to put into store, and see what happens.
The Bere Barley was quite good as well, but the strong leafy finish after the continual sweetness of MoD2 made my palate prefer the sweeter dram. I do have a sweet tooth! I found that both whiskies had a really pleasant nose, but only the 12 year old whisky really followed up with a pleasing palate and finish. Plus, despite being interested in whisky for many years, that is the first Palo Cortado casked whisky that I’ve knowingly had, and I liked it.
Master of Distilling 2 is available for around £75 if you look around the web. Bere Barley is about £36. Both not bad value for the experience given. I enjoyed the Bere barley 10 times more than Aberlour 12, and that cost £40!