A tale of 10 year old laddies.

Taste Review #87 – Bruichladdich 10 old Vs new

Mmmm, I really struggled with a title for this review. Nothing really seemed to be quite right, and in the end I settled something that to the more delicate of minds isn’t just ‘not quite right’ but more to the fact it’s ‘very wrong’. Initially I had thought of the Rolf Harris song ‘Two Little Boys’, but then given his history was probably an inappropriate choice. With the term ‘Laddie’ being an affectionate and non-predatory nickname for Bruichladdich whiskies, you can see I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Whatever I put resulted in sounding like I had a lifetime membership of the Gary Glitter and Jimmy Saville fan clubs, but I can assure you here that the 10 year olds we are speaking about are definitely whisky.


Two little boys…. I meant ‘laddies!

Bruichladdich isn’t a new distillery. Situated by the shores of Loch Indaal on the west coast of Islay, Bruichladdich has always been a bit of an oddball amongst the Islay distilleries, mainly because of the unpeated nature of its spirit. Peat is used in the distillery for the medium peat Port Charlotte and heavily peated Octomore bottlings, but not for the core Bruichladdich releases. The distillery was built in 1881 by it’s owners the Harvey Brothers. Their ownership came to an end in 1937, and by 1954 it came in to the hands of Distillers Company Ltd, a forerunner of Diageo. However, their ownership was short, and it was offloaded to AB Grant, who also owned the Bladnoch Distillery.

Bruichladdich changed hands again in 1968 when it was bought by Invergordon Distillers, who in turn in 1993 became under Whyte and Mackay. By 1995 Bruichladdich was deemed surplus to requirements and was closed in 1996. In late 2000 it was bought by a private consortium who included Mark Reynier. Coming from a wine background, Mark had also founded the independent whisky bottler Murray McDavid along with 2 others, so perhaps buying a defunct distillery on Islay was the next logical step.

When it was set up, Bruichladdich was a modern distillery, having been purpose built rather than developed from farm steadings. Unfortunately (depending on how you look at it) the distillery had seen very little in modernisation throughout the years. It had been used as a blend fodder factory for much of its prior ownership. Much of the original equipment is still in place, including an open top mash tun, one of a few still in existence. When the distillery was bought, between Jan and May 2001, the distillery equipment was dismantled and given an overhaul then reassembled. It still seems to this day that Bruichladdich is like a working museum, but who can argue with the quality of the liquid?

With a background in wine, you can be sure that Mark was familiar with the concept of ‘terroir’, which is how the local environment, microclimate and soil can all influence the crop of grapes that make wine. Mark had decided to apply this to whisky at Bruichladdich, and has since gone on to apply this to the new distillery he is now involved in at Waterford, Ireland. We will be discussing this at a later date, as that is a minefield of opinions on its own!

The other thing that needed doing at Bruichladdich was an improvement of its wood policy. Much of the existing spirit was re-racked, and a bottling plant was also constructed. However it was in the days of when the distillery had little money that they bought equipment from the Inverleven distillery which was being demolished. Of course, it was also around the time of the Iraqi Supergun, weapons of mass destruction so sailing a barge of distillery equipment past the Holy Loch, where the UK nuclear deterrent was based was always going to result in attention being paid. This came in the form of the US Threat Reduction agency notifying the distillery that one of their webcams was out, so Big Brother was definitely watching! It gave rise to a 19 year old bottling called Whisky Of Mass Distinction (get it?) This was joined by WMD II with the discovery of a Royal Navy ROV, but you can read that story here in my previous review of this whisky.

Mark sold the distillery to Remy Cointreau in 2012, so what direction it will take now will remain to be seen, bearing in mind what gets distilled usually isn’t released for 8-10 years. It doesn’t seem to be much has changed.


Plenty of breathing time as I type my tale of Bruichladdich!

As much as I hate the term ‘fanboy’, I have to tell you that I own more Bruichladdich than any other distillery. This ranges from the first 10 year old whisky to be released by the distillery, my bottles being signed by the distiller Jim McEwan through to the latest release, Octomore 11. I like their whisky, especially the heavily peated stuff, which tends to be quite young though this still works. I’ve never come across miniatures of Bruichladdich very often, but a recent acquisition of around 50 miniatures, most of which went back to auction saw 4 Bruichladdich minis – 2x 10, 15 and 17 year olds. I sold all but one of the 10’s so I could taste it at some point. The older style Bruichladdich came from a bulk buy of miniatures so I could get the one I wanted; in this case it was a Glenury Royal. But with my project of comparing old with new, I have something that I can taste and review to see if older was better.

Details

Bruichladdich 10 (old)

Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 40% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – not known Colouring – possibly but on account of colour not likely Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Solvent. Honey, vanilla, malt, green orchard fruit like a peeled Granny Smith apple, grassy. Palate– quite pleasant and unassuming. Honey flavour continues from the nose and is quite dominating, but wood spices start to take over with a sparkling dryness. No brine note that I would have expected from a coastal distillery. A slight cardboard note though. Apple tart without the cinnamon Finish – Relatively short and uninspired. The palate continues with a mild toffee note which quickly fades. You have to hunt for a brine note but it’s there.


The older of the two

Bruichladdich 10 (modern)

Region – Islay Age – 10 yr Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – bit more solventy, can detect a brine note mixing with the honey. There is definitely a malty, almost readybrek background. Creamy fruit dessert. Palate – definitely more sweet on the arrival, with more presence of wood spices. Ginger, Apple, citrus (lime?) can taste a green Rowntree’s fruit pastille. Slightly floral as well. A strong brine character. Finish – the finish is much more expressive. There is a creamy exotic fruit to it – Pineapple tart.


The more recent (though still discontinued) Bruichladdich 10

Conclusions

The more modern bottling was a different kettle of fish. It had some similar characteristics in the nose, but was more forward – possibly the result of the higher ABV. The older sample did make me think that the wood policy at Bruichladdich wasn’t the best. There was just no excitement there at all. It turned out I was right in my assessment as I am writing the conclusions the day after the tasting. I purposely don’t do any or much research prior to tasting, as I don’t want my notes to be influenced by what I have read.

I have to say without a doubt that in this case, older was definitely not better, and the newer sample was much more drinkable, much more fresh and much more aromatic, even though it looked as though the newer bottling looked as though it was the one that had suffered from a small bit of evaporation.

Without a doubt, had the older sample been my first taste of Bruichladdich, I’d have probably not given the distillery much of a thought. While not a bad whisky, it lacked any punch. Of course I only have an idea of the age of the bottle, but the spirit definitely comes from the 90’s. The clue is in the label – the Bruichladdich Distillery Company was founded in July 2000, which would possibly mean this is spirit made from the previous owners. The fact it’s a little bit boring, yet with no major flaws indicates it is not from the new regime.

While writing these notes, I did think about what I could do with the leftovers. With one at 40% and the other at 46%, I decided to make my own Bruichladdich single malt at 43% by mixing the two together. It was still drinkable, but the older spirit definitely held the newer one back. You can now see that the policy of re-racking wasn’t desirable, it was probably necessary.

The older style dram in a full size bottle can still be picked up at auction relatively cheaply. The newer version is similar, with a hammer price of around £50. It was also discontinued a few years back, so perhaps in due course a newer 10 year old expression may re-emerge, though nowadays the Classic Laddie bottling is probably the closest you will get nowadays.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Battle of The Benromach

Taste Review #86- Benromach 12 (Old) vs Benromach 10(New)

We have finally come to the first sampling of two malts from the same distillery that are not comparing apples with apples. This was a little bit harder to find an older edition versus the newer edition as there just wasn’t a lot of easily available older Benromach available. However, this shouldn’t impact our whisky research much. And what if it does? Well, at least I will have the opportunity to re-do the experiment; I mean, I’ll have to drink more whisky. Not exactly a hardship.

The Benromach distillery is located in the Morayshire town of Forres, not too far away from the railway station. It is classified as a Speyside whisky, and is a borderline coastal distillery, as it is not that far away from the sea which is 3 miles distant, however the shores of Findhorn Bay, are less than 2 miles away, so the warehousing on site will be exposed to the coastal air.

Benromach was founded in 1898, and started producing whisky in 1900. By 1953 it had come under DCL ownership. Unfortunately, the distillery did not survive the downturn of the 1980’s and was closed in 1983. The distillery was cannibalised for spares until 1993 when Whisky Merchants Gordon & Macphail bought the site from Diageo in 1993. Due to the incomplete nature of the distilling equipment, G&M were obliged to start from scratch, effectively building a new distillery within the old one. By 1998 the distillery was once again starting to produce whisky again.


Old Style packaging

The older Benromach I acquired when I bought a job lot of miniatures from a person clearing their late father’s estate. While I sold most of them, I did keep a few, this being one of them as I own a full sized bottle which I haven’t opened. I did want to see if it would be worth it. Let’s see if it was, and at the same time compare it to a contemporary bottle from modern day Benromach.

Details

Benromach 12 (old style)


Benromach 12 Dram

Region – Speyside Age – 12 years old Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Not known. Bourbon with Sherry finish possibly Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -light smoke. melon, malt, honey, vanilla, tobacco ash, musty carpet, red apple peel. Lemon rind. Water accents the sweet. Palate -Oily, damp straw, malt, sour citrus, grapefruit, resin. Honey Finish – Medium – short. Mild honey sweetness with a hint of malt and peppery wood spices, returning to a lemony sour must.

Drams side by side

Benromach 10 (2018 bottling)


Benromach 10 Dram

Region – Speyside Age – 10 years old Strength – 43% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Lemon curd. Creamy, vanilla, peach, apples. A hint of smoke and barley. Palate -Light smoked peat. Sweeter than the nose, honey, apple, raspberry. A note of salty liquorice. Finish – Medium. Tropical fruit peaches, apricots, more smoke and a light brine.

Conclusions

What is good about these two releases is that although both have been released by Gordon & Macphail, only one has spirit actually distilled by them. The 12 year old was released in the 1990’s and therefore contains whisky that had been distilled by the previous owners, DCL (of course who became Diageo). And it goes without saying that the 10 year old was wholly the product of the current owners.

The other disparity between these two drams is that I am led to believe (and haven’t had it confirmed) that when Benromach was rebuilt in the 1990’s that the stills had to be rebuilt, so while the distillery may be in the same buildings, and was a near copy of the original, some things will be different and this may show in the finished product,

What I experienced were two quite different drams. Of course, there is more than just the distillery equipment that can make the difference, I have to wonder it things like fermentation time, where the cut was being made and whether or not barley and yeast varieties were all the same, so realistically it is hard to compare the two.

The other thing is that the older Benromach had that peculiar musty character in some of the notes. I initially wondered if this was the result of old bottle effect but this is similar to what I have experienced in the past with other old drams, in particular the 12 year old Glenturret. I decided not to put the rest of the bottle in my infinity bottle (not that it would have fitted anyway) but left it for 3 days to see if more air contact with the whisky would have done anything. It certainly did. The arrival was very sweet in a short honeyed burst, but soon the musty note returned.

The newer style was much more accessible, with a slightly higher ABV helping to give a crisp, clear punch to the dram. There was more sweetness to the dram, with smoke being noticeable, although it was a compliment to the other aromas and tastes, keeping well in balance.

You would think that the 12 year old whisky would be better than the 10, but it is hard to judge for me in my limited experience to decide whether this is the result of the distilling process or the age of the bottle. I’m tending to believe the age of the bottle is playing its part. However I have to say that with all things considered I believe the newer dram to be the better one of this pair.

Since I bought the newer dram, Benromach has undergone a rebrand. Whether or not the recipe has changed I do not know. The new labelling doesn’t appeal to me at all, looking a bit too Soviet for my liking, though looking back the typeface is similar to the 12 year old. I have to say the new BenRiach re-brand is very similar in its lack of appeal to me. However, this shouldn’t distract us from the whisky.

My old 12 year old bottle of Benromach in store is safe. While it was interesting to taste a dram from yesteryear, I don’t think I will be opening that one any time soon.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Time To Talk Turkey

Taste Review #85 – Wild Turkey Longbranch

By my calculations, by time I publish this review we will be into January 2021. The thoughts of turkey will be far from our minds having endured the onslaught of another festive season. But it’s never far away from Turkey Time. Despite writing this in October, I think that by time you are reading this, Easter Eggs will already have made an appearance in some stores, Thanksgiving is around 10 months away and from there it is only 11 months before Christmas hits again. Without a doubt the Christmas tat will be in the stores sometime around September.

I have to admit, even I am getting a bit flummoxed about Christmas. It was before I went on away in early October that I was walking around my local Home Bargains store in Aviemore that I was being confused by the aisles of Christmas goodies as well as Halloween accessories. We haven’t even countered with Guy Fawkes, which doesn’t have much tat associated with it bar a few fireworks to scare the living daylights out of our pets for the couple of weeks leading up to 5th of November. Thankfully I’ve been away for Halloween and Guy Fawkes, so will miss a lot of the retail frenzy for these festivals as well as the majority of the commercial bombardment leading up to Christmas.

Halloween, it’s not the same as it used to be. It has become more and more Americanised, with trick or treating being a way of knocking on the doors for sweeties. When I was a young kid it was also a way of raising money to make an effigy of Guy Fawkes to put on your bonfire. Trick or treat was never really a big thing in Aberdeen – you were a Guizer. And none of this soft, hollowed out Pumpkins. We were hard as nails and used to hollow out neeps (Turnips or swedes, whatever your local identification of these things are). Took hours, and I am sure a good few spoons were bent in the process, but was much more satisfying, and of course the debris could be used in a variety of hearty Scottish dishes.

This Americanisation I’ll be looking at for this review is Wild Turkey. And that’s a bourbon. Perhaps you may have noticed that I haven’t done any foreign whisky. There’s been blends and a liqueur, but nothing from over any borders. This is a first for me. However I would like to point out that I have been very familiar with Wild Turkey in the past, with the Wild Turkey 101 proof being my regular drink back in the early 1990’s all the way up until the middle of the first decade of the 21st century. There is also the 80 proof version, which tasted pretty much the same but resulted in a lesser hangover. This one however is a totally different version, and is known as Longbranch.


Wild Turkey Longbranch.

I came across it while surfing the whiskyweb social media circles I now hover around the outside of. It’s an 8 year old Bourbon which has been refined with Texas Mesquite and American Oak charcoals. I’ll go into the differences between Bourbon and Single Malt at some point in the future, but suffice to say the quick differences are Bourbon has to use a virgin cask and only has to be matured for 2 years to be called a straight bourbon. It’s a mixed grain whisky which can use wheat, rye or corn, though must contain a minimum 51% corn. If your bourbon is between 2 and 4 years old, it must carry an age statement, above this age it isn’t required. Anyway, I digress.

The Wild Turkey distillery is based in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Its foundation predates many Scottish distilleries, with the origin of the distillery beginning in 1869 by the Riply Brothers on Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg. However, the whisky wasn’t known as Wild Turkey until 1940. By 1954, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell starts work at Wild Turkey. In 1981, his son Eddie joins the company and works his way up the ladder, becoming joint Master Distiller in 2015, making Jimmy and Eddie the only joint father and son Master Bourbon Distiller team in the world. In any case, I think Jimmy Russell would be the longest serving Master Distiller in the world, in 2019 reaching his 65th year at Wild Turkey.


Wild Turkey Longbranch

The Longbranch edition of Wild Turkey was a collaboration between the actor and Wild Turkey Creative Director Michael McConaughey and Eddie Russell, which Wild Turkey say is a celebration of their Kentucky and Texan roots. The whisky has been refined by Mesquite and American Oak charcoals, and is the first time a signature has been placed on the bottle that has not been one of the Russell family.

McConaughey said in the company’s press release, “Longbranch, in its simplest form, is an extended hand, inviting a friend into your family. So the branch that was extended to me from the Russells was a long one, one that reached from Kentucky to Texas and back again. I offered the Mesquite from my great state to add to their legendary Kentucky whiskey and together we made Longbranch.

Anyway, lets stop talking about the whisky and lets get into tasting it.

Details

Wild Turkey Longbranch


The Dram

Region – Kentucky Bourbon / USA. Age – NAS, but is reportedly 8 years old. Strength – 43% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type -Virgin American Oak Colouring – Not Stated. Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Caramel, nuts, vanilla, cherries, slight sour note that reminds of Jack Daniels. Palate -Honey roasted peanuts, rye bread, slight wood spice that moves into cherries again, charred wood. Finish – charred wood, slight spicy wood notes, caramel. 


Colour from above

Conclusions

This isn’t the Wild Turkey I remember. It has been about 15 years since I regularly drank Wild Turkey and I still remember the harsh taste it used to have. However in the past 15 years I have also grown to have an appreciation of whisky, in how to taste it and how to find all the flavours.

I didn’t find this harsh at all. It was I have to say a very pleasant drink. I liked how I kept picking up on the cherry note, which for me made the nip all the more desirable. It is a shame that I only bought a sample, as I would happily have this as a daily sipper if I was able to do such a thing. However, I have a lot of Wild Turkey sitting in the cupboard waiting ahead, so another bottle may not be the best idea. However, how often have I listened to my own advice on buying bottles? As I write this and since leaving home a fortnight ago, I’ve certainly been ignoring that guidance. At least I have a store..

Wild Turkey Longbranch can be bought on the Master Of Malt website for just under £37, and at this price I can tell you it is good value. I bought my sample of this whisky from Drinks by the dram and I believe it cost well under £5, but it is no longer available in the 3cl format. Trust me though, if you like your bourbons, in particular the sweeter ones, then this one is a winner

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

Wild Turkey Bottle – Master Of Malt

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Care In The Community

Are we playing the right part?

You can’t be controversial all the time, or at least I’d like to think so. In the almost 2 years that I’ve been writing my blog I’ve attempted to put a metaphorical fox into a few chicken coops and am still living to tell the tale. Perhaps that is the benefit of being an under the radar blogger. My last article targeted a Malt-Official submission that fell short on journalistic standard, and to my pleasant surprise was received well by those who read it. Since then I’ve been musing about the existence of the ‘whisky community’ that seems to have been generated within social media, and whether or not we always act appropriately within it.

The whisky community we are in is a wide church, including everybody from occasional drinkers who have a few drams a week, to the whisky über-geek. There’s the bottle chasers, collectors or those standing on the sidelines just observing. Nestling in amongst us are those directly involved in whisky production which nicely completes the mix.

On the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page and Twitter Feed I asked the question ‘ What does ‘Whisky Community’ mean to you? I got a couple of responses on each page but received a few more private messages. It turns out that most answers were similar and to me they seemed more to focus towards the online aspect of the community. By a large margin, the main aspect was that people see it as a way to learn and share knowledge. In second place was friendship and sharing of drams. A couple of people said they use the whisky community as a source of entertainment. I can vouch for this, as I do too when working offshore. But there was a more worrying tone to two replies, which inferred that the respondents felt that some people needed to get off their pedestals, with one going as far to say that some need to practice what they preach.

One DM even went as far to question what it would be like if we were together physically when having our debates? I’d like to think there wouldn’t be a fight, but often I wonder. I’m probably as guilty on occasion on getting a bit overheated when something presses my buttons. Does the online experience make us braver or is it that we inadvertently feel freed of our social norms? With so many different levels of experience, like any community we live in there is bound to be the occasional clash from time to time. Certainly on Twitter where interaction is a lot easier than other social media (or so I find), we’ve seen one or two negative incidents which maybe made more traction than they should’ve. The ability of an instant response and the slipping of the clutch between brain and keyboard can often show a glimpse of what can be below the outer fabric of our community. Fortunately it is rare and I feel the general pulse is positive.

However, it doesn’t take much to start something off. From producers making incendiary tweets when responding to comments about their product, to the battlegrounds created when people take sides over the latest issue of the moment, it does seem as though our social media behaviour mimics that of a real life situation.

2020 has been a year in which behaviour and respect for others has perhaps been stirred within our consciousness. For me, as a newcomer to ‘WhiskyTwitter’, the first I saw questionable behaviour was the debacle over Terroir and the subsequent fall-out over differences of opinion, fuelled by an incendiary and unnecessary article attacking a bloggers opinion. It was certainly a very polarised experience with some people adding their opinions as though only they were right and nobody else was. People who contribute online using social media or their own websites have to remember the impact their writing can have within their readership. Even if they apologise after a lapse of judgement, the damage can already be done. I for one was put off of a certain Irish distillery’s products if that was what terroir supporters were going to be like. However in the interests of fairness, the instigator has posted an apology. I suppose in any community you’ve got to forgive and forget to be able to move on. We’ve all made mistakes I’m sure, with public ones often being the hardest to correct.

If we become a community, we need to ask if what we are contributing adds to the health of our clan. If it isn’t a positive change, then maybe consider not publishing it. Free speech is a right, but exercising our rights do not negate our responsibilities to others.


Looks like somebody questioned terroir at Waterford again….

Can anybody fail to remember the next notable issue – the stance against some of the more lurid and often sexist comments in the 2020 Whisky Bible? This has been going on for a few years, but once Becky Paskin finally called the author out on it, it has been like a snowball rolling downhill, gathering size and pace. From there on in, the floodgates had been opened and many people within the whisky community have finally seemed to recognise that there is no place for sexism in the Whisky Community and it was time for things to change and not before time.

We’ll skip over the recent Malt article I blogged about a few weeks ago I previously mentioned. Click on the link if you want to be reminded. In more recent times I wish to draw upon two tweets to highlight the potential highs and lows of our community.

First was a tweet by @MaltMentalist who asked people if there was a whisky or an experience that had put you off a brand. I was shocked by the amount of people who told stories of distillery representatives or brand ambassadors at whisky events who’s behaviour had put them off. It was also sadly unsurprising about the amount of ladies who had been disrespected, which does reinforce the point that the whisky world still has a sexism issue. I’ve since learned of other examples of how fellow enthusiasts can equally be dismissive of the fairer sex being involved in our hobby. Attitudes like this do not help shake of the image of whisky being an old man’s drink. A stuffy, sexist and insular old man at that.

When we think of people perpetuating these sorts of behaviours, what are they really trying to achieve? It does nothing positive for anybody, least of all them. Surely a true whisky community builds each other up, regardless of gender, backgrounds or knowledge? The fact that people who consider themselves connected to the industry are sometimes responsible for this behaviour should start ringing alarm bells and be highlighted. That’s the only way to effect positive change.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin. My next tweet will remain anonymous as I don’t want to draw attention to anybody, but the people involved will recognise themselves. Somebody asked on Whisky Twitter “What is grist?”. I’ve become so accustomed to the high level of knowledge amongst the Twitterati that I was really surprised to see this question in public. I was half expecting a flurry of antagonistic replies, but this did not materialise. Instead a basic answer was given in which the replier asked for confirmation that he got the answer right. This is a complete contrast within the whisky community compared to the examples given in @MaltMentalist’s tweet. And to me, that is what our social media based whisky community should and must be about. Just because you drink a lot of whisky doesn’t mean you have to know how it’s made to offer an opinion, but it helps greatly. It was good to see someone reply and not talk somebody down in a way that I’ve seen many others do on different forums.


Like barrel staves, our community becomes more effective by staying together

It is easy to forget when you live in Speyside, or even Scotland that not everybody has access to a whisky distillery to see the whole process. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in one. Sometimes I go as I’ve never been. Sometimes I want a particular photograph. Other times I want a bit of extra knowledge and sometimes I just want to be immersed in the sights, sounds and smells of the distillery to satisfy my senses. These are just my experiences. Many may have only been once to a distillery, some never. So let’s get three things straight –

1/ Lack of knowledge does not preclude you from being a valued member of the whisky community, as long as you have respect for others and are ready to learn. There’s a lot of knowledge and assistance out there. Just use it wisely.

2/ As a ‘community’ we have the responsibility to help along others who maybe don’t have the same experience and knowledge. If we fail to do so, then we have a dysfunctional community.

3/ Your idea of what is good content on social media may differ from others. A community is full of people happy doing their own thing.

Pointlessly antagonistic articles like the Masterclass one that was pulished serve no purpose in building a whisky community, and smack of elitism and isolate people. It just diminishes the effect of the article which did have some valid points. Nobody likes feeling a fool and shooting people down in public will only result in many people not wanting to ask for vital knowledge for fear of looking stupid. And in my industry, making people feel stupid by having a superior attitude is the quick way to get kissed in the Glasgow style.

Factions and cliques will always exist. That’s no different to any ‘real life’ community. But we can’t act as though we are only connected each other by Ethernet cable from our router. In my opinion, while the vast majority of people do, we need to be behaving better than we would within a physical community. All said and done, it isn’t whisky that should be the focus, but the people. We all do our own thing that makes us happy. If people like it, great. If not, then move on and let people do theirs as long as they aren’t hurting anybody.


Care In The (Whisky) Community – Betty looked forward to her daily clearic

If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be about how important ‘communities’ are, and we need to care about them more by being aware of how we and others act within them. I’ll hazard a guess that we’ve all relied on the social fabric the whisky fraternity provides more than we think over the past 9 months. It’s been a fantastic time where people have risen to the challenges of isolation with online tastings and the use of the internet to cement friendships built over the shared love of a spirit.

As we move into 2021, it is perhaps time that we take a moment to think about how we can continue to add something positive to the circle of whisky lovers around the world. We all have our part if we want to be true community members. There is so much positivity in our movement that we should be proud of and build on. Goodness knows we all need it.

Wishing you all a Healthy, Happy and Prosperous New Year. Here’s hoping it never gets as bad as 2020.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

Nuclear explosion – stolen from Google

Care In The Community – stolen from Google

Barrel – authors own.

A Fraudulent Passport

Taste Review #84 – Passport Blended Whisky

They say nobody makes a bad whisky. I can agree with that with taste being subjective. But in the last review I post for 2020, this agreement been challenged severely for I think I have found the exception. Of course you may like this whisky and I encourage you to try, but while my review may be entertaining, I’d heavily recommend you don’t.

This is a bottle that I managed to get in a group of whisky miniatures that I purchased at auction. It holds absolutely no value to me as a collector, though as a reviewer I thought it would be interesting to do a quick tasting to see if we can learn something from this old blend.

Passport Scotch was first blended in 1965 by Seagrams, which has morphed through the passage of time and big money takeovers to be part of Pernod Ricard, so you can imagine that there will be a good amount of their own products from their vast selection of blend fodder distilleries.

Incidentally, that’s what triggered my interest in this particular blend was the fact that I’m led to believe that there is a good level of Glen Keith whisky in the recipe. Now, as you may recall I didn’t think much of the Glen Keith distillers edition, although I have to confess that I need to perhaps review that again. As the bottle has oxidised a bit, the malt within has had a slight improvement. Maybe a blend made with this whisky will be ok, but I have my reservations.


Passport Blended Scotch. Slight evaporation from bottle

The Passport Scotch does have its own website, and from the information I could glean from the internet it was the 2nd most popular blended whisky in Brazil. However that is probably because it is shipped in bulk from Scotland and diluted in Brazil to the required 40%. So technically, while this is allowed to happen for blended spirit, it isn’t as Scottish as single malt.

I’m going to skip straight to the whisky now.

Details

Passport Blended Scotch


The Dram

Region – Blend Age – NAS Strength -40% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – n/a Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -grain, citrus, straw, damp cardboard, vanilla Palate -Sharp and burning arrival. grain, biscuits, honey, vanilla, green apple, smoke, an overtone of bitter oak. Finish – short, sharp with bitterness, intertwined with a hint of sweetness in the background, smoke and vanilla 


From above. I think somebody has replaced the whisky with wee-wee.

Conclusions

Well, thank God for small mercies. The finish being short meant I could get beyond this whisky quickly. I’m going to be quite brutal, but this was to coin a Scottish term – ‘Shite.’ This was an abomination that made me think that the one of the distilleries in the blend got their feints receiver and spirit receiver mixed up. I actually wondered if this was going to make me blind. This has to be brake fluid masquerading as Scottish Whisky. If you tried to use a real passport of the same quality, you’d soon be taken aside at customs for a wee chat with the guys who are getting ready to put on the elbow-length rubber gloves prior to a body cavity check. That experience would probably be preferable to drinking this.

This is a whisky that was never meant to be sipped, not even with water. I think a mixer of ginger ale, cola, sulphuric acid or arsenic would be appropriate to make this taste better. There is a good reason that this is a budget blend, however I’d need payment to drink this again.

What is really surprising that during my research, I found that Ralfy reviewed this on his vBlog YouTube channel. And he appeared to like it and give it a basic score of 81/100. See his review #514 to see it for yourself. As much I respect Ralfy’s experience and knowledge, given my experience I really wonder if he had magic mushrooms instead of teabags in the pot for his breakfast beverage. Of course, there could be batch variations, perhaps Ralfy had a cold or maybe my bottle had a severe case of old bottle effect, but if I was to give it a score, getting above 30 would be a challenge.

While this is a generic blended whisky that seems to have a lot of grain spirit in it, this reinforces why I am cautious to these generic blends that turn up in auction lots where I am bidding on the lot for one bottle. This is why I usually send these types of bottles back to auction. I don’t think there is a lot of Glen Keith in this, as despite me not taking to the Distillers Edition, it was nowhere as bad as this. Ah well, every day is a school day.

Let me tell you this. It is definitely this is a Passport you wouldn’t be unhappy to lose. Scotty’s Drams score? Drain cleaner.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Top Of The Drops

What floated my boat in 2020.

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?


A decent whisky, despite being quite young. Didn’t make the top five, but would buy again. Gets into the top 5 of attractive bottles though.

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.


A good value dram and a pleasant surprise

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.

Allt Dour. My review is responsible for at least 10 sales.

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

Cheers to Scotty’s Drams for the recommendations.” While i enjoyed Haig Clubman, it didn’t make the top 5.

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.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Except – Haig Club / David Beckham – c/o Diageo.

Sitting in The Dock With A Bay

Taste Review #83 – Kilchoman Sanaig

Very recently it seems as though we have been stuck in a regional rut. It has been noticed that I have only been reviewing blends or single malts from the Highland or Speyside region. While that could be down to the fact that the majority of whiskies in Scotland come from these two regions, it is important not to ignore the other three Scotch Whisky Regions.

It has been some time since I reviewed an Islay Whisky, going back to the start of the year in which I reviewed a 15 yr old Bowmore. We have to go back even further until I find the last time that I reviewed a Kilchoman Whisky, the NAS Machir Bay. This whisky seems to be named after the Sanaigmore Bay to the north of the Kilchoman distillery, and is probably called the shorter name to avoid bay confusion with the Machir release. I’ve had to look back my notes on the Machir Bay, as from what I remember it wasn’t to my taste, although many people like it. Bit like pineapple on a pizza, but I’m proud enough to say I embrace that, but wasn’t so sure that I liked the whisky that tasted like a young Ardbeg.


Kilchoman Sanaig

As I said in my last review, (click here to read) the Kilchoman Distillery sits on the west coast of Islay, and is one of the few distilleries in Scotland that still utilise a traditional floor malting. They also use barley from Islay in their 100% Islay bottlings which is peated to around 20ppm, whereas the standard peat level is around the 50ppm level. Malted barley is also bought from the nearby Port Ellen maltings.

As Machir Bay concentrated mostly on Bourbon casks, I was certain that I may enjoy the Sanaig more, which leans more towards the sherry casks. With no further ado, lets see if this was the case.

Details

Kilchoman Sanaig

Region – Islay Age – NAS Strength – 46% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Mostly Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – sweet peat smoke. More like a Highland peat rather than Islay, Burnt Wood, ashes, Toffee, vanilla, dried fruit, antiseptic. Palate – Quite sweet smokey peat, spicy on the arrival with a fizz on the tongue. A hint of brine, then the sweetness increases with a note of green apples, caramel, powdered chocolate. There is always the medicinal peat note in the background. Finish – Medium. the burnt wood comes out again, tempering the medicinal notes. The brine comes into play a bit more with a sour citrus note. 


The Dram

Conclusions

My suspicions were quickly confirmed that I would enjoy this whisky more than Machir Bay. Like the Machir Bay, the whisky does seem a little on the young side, and I would guess around 5 years. Now this doesn’t make a bad whisky and I felt the Sanaig was a little bit more balanced than the Machir Bay. Adding water killed a lot of the spicy notes for me, and gave a clingy mouth feel, almost syrupy.

While I did indeed think more of this whisky, it still wasn’t for me. It was a decent dram, but not to my taste. I am wondering why this is, as I like Sherry, I like Peated Whisky and young whisky doesn’t phase me. Perhaps I need to try other Kilchoman editions. I have no doubt that this will find appeal with others, but like pineapple with pizza or jam and cheese sandwiches, it isn’t necessarily for everybody.

Is this good value? A full size bottle will cost about £50 and to me, that is the upper price I will pay for a young NAS whisky. I would suggest other whiskies from Islay may produce better value. The miniature that I bought from the Whisky Shop Dufftown cost about £8 which while expensive for what it is, presented me with a good opportunity to try this whisky without committing with to the whole bottle.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Turn Of An Old Century

Taste Review #82 – Century Of Malts

The one thing I am hope that you are beginning to notice with this blog is that I am not afraid to try blended whisky. While I am trying to pick the more interesting or at least vintage whiskies that I can, often they arrive as the result of a bulk auction purchase, with this release I am away to try being one such example.

The last blend I tried was the Collectivum XXVIII, a blend of 28 single malt whiskies from each of Diageo’s Scottish Malt Whisky Distilleries. Well, superlatives are meant to be broken, and this blend certainly does that with no less than 100 different malts in the mix.

For the record, the malts are; –

Aberfeldy, Aberlour, Allt a`Bhainne, Ardbeg, Auchentoshan, Auchroisk, Aultmore, Balblair, Balmenach, Balvenie, Banff, Ben Nevis, Benriach, Benrinnes, Benromach, Blair Athol, Bowmore, (Royal) Brackla, Braeval, Brechin (North Port), Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Caperdonich, Clynelish, Convalmore, Cragganmore, Craigduff, Craigellechie, Dailuaine, Dallas Dhu, Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Deanston, Dufftown, Fettercairn, Glen Albyn, Glenallachie, Glenburgie, Glencadam, Glen Craig, Glen Elgin, Glen Esk, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Glen Garioch, Glenglassaugh, Glen Grant, Glengoyne, Glenisla, Glen Keith, Glenkinchie, The Glenlivet, Glenlochy, Glenlossie, Glen Mhor, Glen Moray, Glenrothes, Glen Scotia, Glen Spey, Glentauchers, Glenturret, Glenugie, Glenury Royal, Highland Park, Imperial, Inchgower, Inchmurrin, Inverleven, Isle of Jura, Kinclaith, Knockando, Ladyburn, Lagavulin, Laphroaig, Ledaig, Linkwood, Littlemill, Longmorn, The Macallan, Macduff, Mannochmore, Miltonduff, Mortloch, Mosstowie, Ord, Pittyvaich, Old Pulteney, Old Rhosdhu, Scapa, Speyburn, Springbank, Strathisla, Strathmill, Tamdhu, Tamnavulin, Teaninich, Tomatin, Tomintoul, Tormore and Tullibardine.

The whiskies in bold italics are distilleries that are no longer with us. 20 Ghost Malts. Pretty much all of them have disappeared off the face of the planet, with no trace they were ever there. But does inclusion of such malts give this blend a better quality or not. I personally don’t agree with using such rare malts in blends nowadays, as I think it is the last vestiges of the distillery that can last way beyond the buildings; once the liquid is gone that is the last physical proof of the distillery was ever there.

I’ve tried to do a little research about this blend and the thoughts behind it, but there is precious little on the internet about it. I was quite intrigued by it, as the miniature has a very stylish looking bottle, but the temptation was too high for me to ignore so it got cracked open. Let’s dispense with the thoughts and start dealing in the dram facts.


Century of Malts miniature

Details

Chivas Century Of Malts


The Dram

Region – N/A – Blend Age – NAS Strength – 43% Colour -Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – N/A Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Not stated but assuming Yes Nose – Hazelnut, red apple, pear, a hint of peat, honey, vanilla, orange peel, grassy. Palate -Oily and smooth, restrained on spices, heather honey, covered in smoke but not that peaty although it is in the background. Hints of dried fruits upon swallowing Finish -medium long with heather, apple peel, wood spices. Warming with a touch of bitter sweet sensations. At the very end I got currants. 


Colour from above

Conclusions

Initially it seems a feat that there are 100 malts in this blend, and some rare or discontinued malts at that. But don’t let that blind you, as with that amount in the mix, you are very unlikely to get a taste of any distillery or individual cask character. If you can, I bow my head to you.

One of the small issues I have with this blend is that in the miniature I had of 5cl, on average each distillery is only represented by 0.5ml of fluid. Even in a full size bottle, the average is going to be 7ml. Just over a quarter of a standard Scottish dram. I repeat, if you can taste individual distilleries, then fair play. For me, this is as much a novelty whisky as the Beinn Dubh black whisky.

But in my opinion it shares something else in common with the infamous Beinn Dubh – it doesn’t taste that bad. To be honest I actually could say that even though it wouldn’t be a flavour profile that would attract me to be a regular drinker of this blend, it was a very pleasant sipper. Once I quickly calculated that I wouldn’t be able to pick any flavours out, I made out my tasting notes and sat down to enjoy the rest.

This is still available to buy retail, however only on the secondary market. I’ve seen miniatures for sale at £18 and full size bottles at £160, but this is without any shipping taken into consideration. Is it good value? I would have to say no, I wouldn’t pay that for this whisky, but if you ever get a chance to try it, I would say that it is worthwhile as long as you haven’t over paid for a miniature or cracked open your own full size bottle.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Playing the Fool

Taste Review #81 North British 30 y.o (Dramfool)

Do you ever get hung up on something that you want but can’t get? One of the downsides of whisky blogging is that sometimes you taste a sample of something and it just drives you to want more of that thing. In this case it was That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s Invergordon Single Grain whisky. Batch 15 at 42 years old was the oldest whisky that I’ve reviewed so far, although there are two older Invergordon samples waiting in the wings plus another 4 stretching between 9 and 25 years old, hopefully enough to slake my new found thirst for this distillery.

Try as I might, a bottle of aged Invergordon kept eluding me. At auction, each new sale seemed to see the prices going higher and higher, leaving me wondering if it was really worth the chasing. Common sense me said it wasn’t but the devil on my opposite shoulder told me the whisky-nomics were all ok and I should press on to achieve my aim. Of course, the devil on your back was never going to leave it like that and he also suggested I could look at other aged grain whisky.


Dramfool 30 year old North British Single Grain whisky

Thankfully, the common sense took over and I began to look at other distilleries. It was while I was perusing the website of The Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour that a 30 year old bottling from the North British Distillery appeared, bottled by Dramfool, a company started by Bruce Farquhar in 2015. I’d seen Dramfool produce before but didn’t know much about them, though I’d been recommended their whiskies before by Matteo the shop manager.

I knew even less about the North British distillery, other than it was a grain distillery in Edinburgh. However a little research on the internet reveals that it is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland, according to its website it is capable of producing 70 million litres of grain alcohol a year. Now thats a lot of spirit! Lets not forget that the distillation of grain alcohol has a different process from malt whisky, the former not relying on the batch process of the latter, but utilising the continuous distillation method of a Coffey Still.

The distillery was founded in 1885 by Andrew Usher, a pioneer of blended whisky when it became legal for single malt and grain to be blended together. The distillery opened in 1887 and has been going ever since. Its grain product forms the backbone of many blends. The current owners of the distillery are Diageo and the Edrington Group, owners of The Macallan and Highland Park. There isn’t really a lot to say about the distillery apart from there are occasional original bottlings available, but mostly any output as single grain seems to be the forte of the independent bottlers.

Details

North British 30 year Old (Dramfool Bottling 30th release)


The NB 30 year old dram

Region – Lowland Age – 30 Years Strength – 48.2% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type -Refill Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose -Solvent; polished wood, candy floss, pineapple, vanilla Palate – the character of the nose carries over into the palate with the addition of chocolate sponge, walnuts. Slight lemon note. Finish – medium to long. Solvent continues with hints of coconut, wood spices. 


Colour – definitely looks like a bourbon casked whisky

Conclusions

This was my first ever go at a single grain from the North British distillery. Did I enjoy it? Yes. It had a lot of the notes that I remember from my TBWC Invergordon. The devil on my shoulder was right, it is right and proper to chase aged grain whisky. While this might not be of the same age as the Invergordon whisky, I don’t think that matters. The taste and ease that this whisky was able to be drunk, even neat made me very happy with my selection. Even happier as I bought two….

Furthermore, now I have another independent bottler to keep an eye on. This is exciting and I cannot wait to see further releases, in particular single grain.

This bottle cost me £90 from the Speyside Whisky Shop. It is now sold out and isn’t available on the Dramfool website either. Was it good value? Yes, I believe it was. It’s not a distillery you see a lot of releases from, it was cask strength and 30 years old. NC and NCF means that it has a perfect spirit presentation. If I had only bought one bottle I would have been watching the auctions for another but I have one in store just waiting for the day I crack it open or sell it.

I would say if you see this bottle for under £120 and you fancy trying aged grain whisky, this is a good start.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Insane In The Membrane?

How Black Friday Causes Specialist Suffering.

I have to apologise from the very start of this article. Of course that is not like me at all, no Sir-ee! Mainly because the title of this article is from the a song on the Cypress Hill Album ‘Black Sunday’. Ok, wrong day I suppose for what I had in mind for this article. And while it is NOT like me, I actually own this album and listen to it on a rare occasion and enjoy it. You can’t listen to shoegaze all the time (apparently). What is at least accurate to some degree in my opinion is the topic today does have a slight whiff of insanity about it, although probably of a type we may not be aware of and suffer from in varying degrees. It’s about how we allow ourselves to become blind to the obvious.


The pin is out of the grenade. Time to get heads down. Incoming!

Once again my conscience has been pricked to write an article in defence of a body of people that have been undera silent attack for quite some time and since March 2020 this has been intensified. Unfortunately it is whisky drinkers that seem to be the people who allow it to happen, albeit not doing the attacking themselves. Given how friendly the whisky community is, I’m surprised that there seems to be little promotion and concern to people that are vital to our hobby, passion, or more to the point – obsession.

Independent whisky shops have had a tough time of it for some time now. This is something I raised on my blog Facebook page back in March of this year, going as far to break my anonymity and release a couple of videos. Use the Facebook links below to navigate to the page if you want to see the videos. In most cases these smaller retailers cannot compete with online retailers such as Amazon and don’t have the collective buying power of chains like The Whisky Shop, Oddbins or Majestic to name one or two. And you can forget any hope of being able to complete with any of the supermarkets.

What triggered this was the amount of people who seemed to be upset that there seemed to be not very many Black Friday deals on Amazon this year. I’m not having a go – in full disclosure I’ve bought booze from Amazon when I’ve seen a bargain, but usually it is when I cannot get a bottle anywhere else at that time. An Old Pultney 17 was my first bottle that I did this with just after it was discontinued and latterly when Glengoyne 18 was slashed to £70, though that was just before the change of packaging and it was bought for stash. Maybe for later of course…


Some independent retailers like a laugh on Amazon. Only £80 – £120 including fees at auction.

In a quick moment of research, certainly here in the UK are a myriad of places that do online only retailing. Drink Supermarket, Master Of Malt, Drinks Direct, 31 Dover, and Spirit Store are just a handful and I’d be sure that this would be replicated overseas where specialist whisky retailers may be thin on the ground. Even Whisky Exchange which does have a couple of shops probably makes the vast majority of its profits from online trading.

Look. I’m not trying to make anybody feel bad about seeking a bargain. It’s been a tough year for everybody with many people locked down for long periods of time; people losing their freedom, contact with family and friends, their jobs; people possibly losing a lot more. And I can hardly hold the moral high ground as I have made the occasional purchases from some of these retailers, especially Master Of Malt as the Drinks By The Dram give me a chance to taste older or more expensive whiskies without having to cough up for a full bottle. However let’s look at this from a slightly different perspective.

While online shopping may be very convenient and cheap (as an Aberdonian I can assure you this is very close to my heart!), let’s look at some very plain to see facts that often get ignored and I see no evidence to the contrary that we seem to be suffering selective blindness to these issues. Amazon does not need your money. Tesco, Asda, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s do not need your booze money. Let’s face it, despite the fun of #WhiskySanta, a company giving away £250,000 of drink does not need your booze money. However the hypocrite in me is very happy to promote the company by making my #WhiskySanta wishes. If they are generous enough to ‘pay’ quarter of a million quid for over a month of free social media advertising I’m taking my chance. You can bet your bottom dollar that an independent retailer of Whisk(e)y would probably wet themselves if they thought they could make £250,000 of profit, let alone be able to afford to give it away. And they certainly do need your custom.


A Facebook post by a local retailer. If you live close to Inverurie, Aberdeenshire I’m told it’s a great place for the ‘over the shoulder Boulder holders’. It’s not just whisky retailers that struggle against Amazon.

Speaking of local experience here in the Highlands, I can think of at least 4 local-ish (50 miles away still counts as local!) independent whisky retailers that have suffered the double whammy COVID has delivered. Not only were they forced to close their businesses when COVID first took hold, the businesses concerned were also in tourist areas, so once they’ve been allowed to open, there’s a lack of the normal crowds to sell to. I’m thinking of shops in Aberlour, Dufftown, Tomintoul, Pitlochry, Tyndrum, Inverary and Skye to name a few. The cancellation of the Spirit Of Speyside festival this year hit our region hard and without the same footfall, the whisky retailers in the area have had to rely on online sales to generate income. It doesn’t mean independent whisky retailers in large towns and cities aren’t suffering too – at least they have more chance of local footfall than one in the middle of the Cairngorms.


A brilliant Discovery from an independent shop and bottler in the tourist area of Highland Perthshire.

The majority of independent retailers have not got the same profit margins to reduce stock prices and remain viable. Some are forced to deal with wholesalers as they cannot buy directly with the distilleries or bottlers, further reducing competitiveness with online only businesses. To be fair to Amazon, there is plenty of independent traders use Amazon market place, but this is still not perfect as this still involves selling fees that further reduce margins. And therein could be the reason that there wasn’t so many Black Friday deals – perhaps the majority of them in the past have been supplied not from Amazon but small traders. They certainly cannot afford to be giving massive discounts at the moment.


Independents have greater overheads that the online only businesses don’t. And unlike Amazon they don’t have methods of avoiding a fair tax bill

The greatest benefit to dealing directly with an independent trader is that you’ll receive something that you’ll never get online – by buying over the phone or in person you’ll receive a personal service. Think about this when you next shop with an independent whisky retailer. They can tell you what is new. They usually have a great knowledge of the whiskies they sell. If you can visit one, you may get to try before you buy; something that has often seen me buy more than expecting to. You can build a relationship where the retailer may be privy to information that maybe of interest to you and they may tell you first, or at least keep a hard to find bottle back for you. At least one Whisky Twitterer has said he enjoys this type of situation and I have also found myself in this pleasant position too.


Never has a Twitter sponsored advert been so appropriate on the day of publishing.

This whole subject brings me back to a similar situation in a different retail environment; music. As I alluded to at the start of this article, I’m heavily into music, especially indie / shoegaze / post rock. There used to be a shop in Aberdeen called One-Up, of which I was a very regular customer. I always used them as the chances of finding something new, exciting and possibly undiscovered was high. But the ultimate draw was the service. The staff were excellent and one in particular, the well known shoegazer in local circles, Yogi Duncan used to recommend bands and albums to me so I could listen to it before making a decision. This was music I’d never have heard otherwise and would not be likely to see the suggestion on iTunes. You just don’t get that specialist service online and are at the mercy of an algorithm to suggest what you might like in the futureW. Just because some tracking cookie sees I’ve bought one album, doesn’t mean I’ll like the whole genre though it’s certainly cheaper to take a risk on a £10 CD than a £70 bottle of whisky.

It came to pass that CD buying fell out of fashion. People turned to downloads and with large overheads compared to online sales and a desire of one of the business partners to retire meant on the 18th of January 2013, One-Up closed for good. Since that store has gone, I’ve gradually fallen out of buying music. Perhaps it’s my age having an influence as well, but in the past 2 years I’ve found myself downloading more and more; my once proud music CD collection all but stagnated. For me nearly 8 years on, I and many others from the North East of Scotland still mourn the loss of One-Up


Gone yet not forgotten. And sorely missed by many. Thanks for the memories Yogi.

Regardless of my feeling, while digital retailing doesn’t mean we’ll fall out of love with whisky (goodness no!) it does mean we risk slowly falling out of touch with a more intimate way of connecting with the industry. If we only see what is advertised on line or by who we follow on social media, to me it just becomes a cacophony of marketing noise and other people’s opinion. The lack of personal contact within the whisky retail industry really means to me we are all perhaps following around on each other’s coat tails and are at the mercy of anonymous algorithms and advertising budgets which pigeon-hole us and see us getting targeted into purchasing blandness.

Let’s be clear however, as there is more we can do. It isn’t just spending our hard earned cash at independent whisky retailers that helps. Many of us on social media have our own blogs. Why not give one of the independent retailers a shout out on your blog? Review a bottle bought from them. Better still, if they bottle their own or have exclusive bottles to their shop, review one. I recently did, and the email that I received from the owner was one of pure gratitude. Not just because I genuinely enjoyed the whisky he had bottled, but because as an independent retailer in an area highly dependent on tourism it had been a tough year and he was over the moon to see his products promoted in such a way. 


It’s understandable we all have a budget but try to spend wisely whilst maximising your whisky purchasing power and remember the small guys

My blog is tiny and insignificant. However due to my review of his whisky, I know of 7 confirmed bottle sales as a direct result of what I said. Maybe only 1.13% of the bottling run, but that is sales that put money into a local business and a local economy; not into the bottomless pockets of CEO’s who don’t care a jot about whisky but just want your cash. If you don’t spend your whisky money at Amazon or get a Black Friday deal from an online only retailer, they aren’t that likely to go bust. Of course not everybody has the funds to avoid being frugal when it comes to whisky purchases, this year especially. The Mr Grumpy in me understands the situation and there is nothing wrong with that. Note: I’ve seen some whisky cheaper in an independent shop than on Amazon. Some retailers do promotions on free shipping if spending over a threshold amount. Shop wisely.


For Goodness Sakes! He’s gone off on one again. Don’t worry. Almost finished.

2020 has a lot of negative things to look back on. Don’t let it be the beginning of the end for a friendly independent whisky shop. Perhaps make an effort to reduce or let go of our building dependence on cheap online only sales. Once lockdown is finished, be sure to pop into one of the independent spirit retailers close to you. They’ll thank you for it. 

Feedback is welcome on this subject. My aim isn’t to offend but highlight the smaller businesses that struggling on an already uneven playing field. What’s your opinion?

Postscript

After One Up closed, Yogi Duncan was working in an Oddbins in Aberdeen. He could have become my shoegaze, wine and whisky guru, but sadly I left Aberdeen the same year as the lights went out at One Up forever. Then the nearest independent music shop was Imperial Records in Inverness, but sadly this closed the following year in 2014. Another store with a stunning customer service lost to the digital shopping paradigm, a service made more special due to the owner Mark and I having some great conversations based on initially realising a shared love of the music of Galaxie 500.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

One Up, Allt Dour; – Authors Own

Old Pulteney 17 – Amazon

Katsize Lingerie – Facebook.

All others – Shutterstock