If, like me you appreciate a good classic black and white war movie and a decent whisky, then what we are reviewing this week should become instantly apparent with this week’s title. I think I have to raise the bar after I wrote another taste review last week with a highly risqué title. As I write and taste long before publishing you will just have to wait and see what it is but it is loaded with schoolboy humour. The title for this week’s article is taken from the 1958 film of the same name which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster, and is set on a submarine that is operational in the Pacific during World War II. Therefore by now hopefully you have guessed that this week’s review is ‘The Yellow Submarine’.
This is quite a well known whisky amongst collectors, and comes from some of the first whisky that was made at Bruichladdich when it first re-opened in 1991 under the charge of Mark Reynier. I have written a little bit about it in the past and the story behind the Yellow Submarine HERE. To summarise, WMD II is the second in line of special event bottlings that got a fair bit of publicity for the distillery. The first bottling was in connection with the distillery being spied on by the US Threat Reduction Agency, and this bottling was to do with the finding of a mine disposal ROV (remotely operated vehicle) off the coast of Islay. I’ll not go into the story here, as if you click the above link, you’ll get the whole story there.
This is a bottling that I have had for quite some time and this review has been made using the very last dram in the 3rd bottle of this that I have drunk. It’s a whisky that I have had from the neck pour, to mid bottle, and finally in the last drops, so I would say this will be a very thorough review compared to what I can get from a miniature. I’m going to reserve most of my writing to after the review, so lets crack on with the tasting
14 years old
Deep Honeyed Gold
Sweet, apricots, spicy wood, honey, a whiff of smoke, buttery.
Sweet on the arrival – a burst of spirit gives a sparkly and spicy wood based arrival. Quite fruity but I also got a hint of malt, apricots, and a mild herbal note appears at the end
Medium finish, spiced wood continues with fruit, but becomes slightly astringent with a note of smoke now starting to show its head though this is a very light note. Peppery and oily. Right at the end of the finish I did get a brine note.
This has to be one of my favourite whiskies. That makes me sad. The truth is that Yellow Submarine while it was released in relatively high numbers for a special release, still had only about 12,000 made. And these numbers are getting fewer. The only number going up is the price, and this is borne out by looking at online auctions. The bottles that I am drinking now were bought around the £140 mark, which is not that bad for a bottle that is limited, has a relevant story to me, and is highly enjoyable. Now it is almost impossible to find a bottle under £200, and auction prices are usually around the £250-£350 mark, with £400 being the highest I’ve seen but add another 12% on for fees. Retail, the cheapest I’ve seen is £500 including VAT, but does go as high as £750 on other sites.
Is this whisky worth the price? Yes and no. If you can get it at auction under £250, then it is probably worth it, but any higher then it’s a collectors piece, unless you have a very deep pocket and don’t mind paying a bit for tasting a decent whisky. My first bottle was opened as a special occasion, that being my first-born’s christening, and I was hooked then but that was the time bottles could be bought even at retail for less than £300. My only bottle I bought at retail was £210, but that was in Jan 2016.
Taking the price and rarity out of it, is this a decent whisky? Yes it definitely is. I am sure the friends that I have let taste this whisky will agree. Sorry for you guys, I am probably not going to be sharing the rest. I’ll be honest and say I have drunk better whisky, but not often and this is one unicorn I can recommend trying to capture if you see one running about at a decent price.
Getting back to a tasting perspective, I feel that the nose offers a much more pleasant proposition than the taste does, but it seems that the Rioja cask has done a good job in developing a light, fruity flavour, quite different and more subtle than the sherried whiskies that I have been enjoying of late. I wonder what this would taste at 25 year old, and fortunately enough this was released in 2018 as a 25 year old as a result of some forgotten stock being discovered. I have two bottles of this, but it is not likely to be opened any time soon.
Finally, before I go, I’d like to give a really big thank you to Heather Leslie who works at the Bruichladdich Distillery. She has been really helpful in supplying information about the Yellow Submarine bottlings, and was kind enough to send me some photos of the Yellow Submarine at the Bruichladdich distillery, seeing as I will not be able to get there any time soon. Cheers Heather, I am hoping I can get over there in the next couple of years so I can express my thanks in person. To see what they get up to at Bruichladdich you can visit their website at www.bruichladdich.com
It is said that a mistake is only a mistake when you at least learn from it. When you continue to make that mistake, that is at the very least bad planning. It’s a Friday forenoon as I am writing this, so I suppose I really should know better. I am still going to call this a success as I finished the article on Friday as well, however only with 80 minutes to spare.
This week has seen a small burst of whisky activity, in which I have visited a distillery and cooperage, and it is the cooperage that is going to form the basis of this weekends article. I was wanting to do a bit of research into cask construction to give me a bit of a background for an article I am writing for something else and my visit to the Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie did not disappoint.
When we think of whisky, the focus is always on the distillery and the casks are almost a foregone conclusion. Yet these should not be forgotten as they play a massive part in the formation of our dram in creating the colour and developing the taste from the distillate. Even then, all we think of is rows of casks sitting in a warehouse, but we don’t really think of what goes into making them. I can tell you now that it is more than you think and you would be surprised at actually how much. What’s even more surprising is how quickly it all happens.
The Speyside Cooperage sits just outside the village of Craigellachie, on the A941 between Dufftown and Craigellachie. It is a business that I pass regularly, but most often from the rear of the site, on the short cut between the A941 and the A95 to Aberlour and home. When passing the pyramids of casks (known as a Stow and is pronounced to rhyme with Now) I’ve always wondered how they process so many casks. On a snowy Monday afternoon I decided to pay a visit to the Cooperage.
I chose the VIP tour, which allows access to the shop floor and the yard. This allows you to get as close as safely possible. The good thing about the VIP tours, especially out of season is the chances of getting a one on one tour is extremely high. While only mad dogs and Englishmen are said to go out in the midday sun, it is only perhaps the true whisky geek attired in appropriate amounts of Gore-Tex that will venture into Speyside to research barrels during a winter storm. Thus so it was the case that I got a solo tour with Rowan.
The tour starts with a very informative and well made video that is refreshingly full of easy to understand information and devoid of any corporate promotion, something that I note is more and more creeping into any whisky based tour. The video describes the type of wood used, how it is cut, and shows a basic overview into how a cask is made. After the video which lasts for approximately 15 minutes, you are then taken up the stairs to the viewing gallery where you can see most of the shop floor. Here you see the coopers in process repairing casks and what is instantly apparent is the speed that they work at. Because the coopers are paid at a piece-rate, it is in their best interests to have a high turnover of casks.
What is not appreciated is that the coopers are assisted by a a team known as the Labour Squad. These are the workers that assist the coopers by ensuring that there are casks ready to be worked on, by keeping the area around the benches clean, by making sure that they have supplies to repair casks. There are also apprentices at the far benches who serve their time over 4 years. There is quite a bit of interest when an apprenticeship comes up; apparently there were about 100 people applying for just one position.
The middle section in the photo above is where casks that are not repairable are put, and parts used from them to fix other casks. On the day that I visited, the workshop were repairing former wine casks, therefore they would all be similar in shape and height, but not every stave will fit every cask. You can see two casks in the middle section have their bands off and have some staves missing – these will be taken to repair other casks.
The cooperage can source or make a cask to order. The predominant wood in use is American Oak. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly it is quite a dense oak, and the wood does not interact quite so strongly with the distillate as much. It also grows tall and straight with few knots, which means it is a lot easier to get a consistent wood quality that is less likely to split or leak. European oak tends to be a bit more porous. A typical American Oak will yield enough oak to manufacture 3 barrels. At the time I visited, no new whisky casks were being made and it was old wine casks that were being used. I never did find out what oak these were made of, but if it was European, it is most likely to be French Oak.
To ensure that the liquid stays in the cask, the staves are cut in what is called quarters. This means the stave is cut across the grain, and will stop the liquid in the cask leaking out.
So what happens when a cask comes in for repair?
The cooper will take the cask to his station, and give it a thorough examination. They are looking for cracks and splits in the wood or signs of other damage, such as a damaged metal band or hoop. There are usually 6 hoops in a cask – the top one is the chime, the 2nd one down one is the quarter and the one closest to the middle is known as the Bulge. This is repeated for the other end. The cooper will use a wire brush to knock off any debris and weathering on the outside to get a good look at the wood. If it requires repair, then the three hoops at one end are removed and the barrel inverted. Then he will slacken the top hoop and remove the other two, so he can open up the cask to remove the damaged staves.
Once the staves are repaired, the cask is closed up, the bulge hoops are put back into position to start closing up the cask. The remaining hoops are placed on, but not into the final position. The cask ends are then put into position, and sealed around the edge with dried water reeds.
Depending on client requirements, if the barrel requires re-charring, the old char is removed and the charring process takes place once more. There are differing levels of char, which effectively blisters the wood to charcoal. This has a few uses – firstly it increases the surface area of the wood, to allow the spirit to interact more with the cask. The charcoal will also be a crude filter, and will help neutralise some of the less pleasant parts of the the distillate. It will also have an effect on the colour, taste and aroma of the final whisky.
At the time of my visit, the coopers were working on old wine barrels, and this could be clearly seen by the staining on the insides of the casks. The casks were being charred at around 400C for about 100 seconds. The cooperage customer will ask for a particular charr level, and Rowan my guide informed me it is getting more usual to see higher temperatures for shorter times. Once the charr is complete, the cask is then subjected to jets of steam – this is to put some moisture back in the wood. The cask ends are charred separately in a facility outside, and are then returned to the cooper to make up a cask once more.
It is thinking about the cask ends that I actually discovered something that I did not already know. Of course, the casks have no nails or glue holding them together, but I often wondered about how the cask ends are jointed together and this is where today continued to be a school day. Whisky casks generally have dowels holding them together. Several pieces of wood are dowelled each other then pressed together. Once pressed, the cask is then put on a lathe style machine to turn the cask end into a circular shape with the profile to enable it to seal correctly.
Wine casks are generally different, and what I saw was that the pieces of wood that form the end are pressed together using a tongue and groove effect. This makes the insertion of the cask end a little bit more tricky, but the coopers I watched assemble casks did it with ease.
The assembled cask is then passed onto one of the labour team who use a machine to press on the two hoops at either end. This ensures a tight seal and that the ring is in precisely the correct position. Once this is done, all that remains is for the cask to be seal checked, which is done by putting some water into the cask and pressurised with air. Should a leak be detected, the cooper responsible has to repair the cask.
Should the cask pass, it is either put into a stow for storage, or it is transported immediately to the client. And here is where I learnt something new. For years, I have heard in distilleries that the casks are shipped broken down, however Rowan tells me that this is not necessarily true. It was calculated that it was more expensive to pay for a cooper to break down the cask in the US or Spain (Most casks used in Scotch whisky comes from the bourbon or sherry industries) then have them rebuild the cask in Scotland. So in effect, the cooperage is actually shipping air, as usually nothing is in the cask when it is shipped.
There is a large collection of different casks on site. Everything from firkins (this was what the apprentices were working on) Quarter Casks, Barrels, Hogsheads, Port Pipes, Sherry Butts and Puncheons were present. In total there is around 200,000 casks on site at any one time. Wondering around the yard, the stows of barrels towered above us like a cathedral of casks. I had to wonder how much effort would be needed to knock the securing chocks out from the bottom and then to run from the tumbling casks. Thankfully that is not my job but images of Wylie Coyote getting buried in a in barrels after chasing Road Runner came to mind.
One question I had was how do they tell what each cask has held before or how many times it was used? The reason I asked was that each client has their own stows, yet the cask types (not sizes) were mixed. I thought it was something to do with the colour of the paint on the cask end, but the secret was a lot more mundane than that – it was usual to have the information on the paperwork when the cask arrived, and most casks now have a bar code or an alternative identifying mark.
I’ve got quite a lot of experience with cask ends, as I have been collecting these to use as decorative pieces for a local hotel bar, but nowadays these decorative cask ends are coming to an end in the larger distilleries at least. Many of them simply have a bar code on them. The distilleries are reluctant to allow these to be sold now, and many insist on the ends being painted over. Personally I think that this is a shame, as these marks tell a lot about the history of the cask. Remember that the wood it is made of is around 100 years old, then the cask itself can be as old as 40 – 60 years. I think it is nice to see all the dates that tell of whisky now probably long drunk.
At the end of the tour, we returned to the gallery where I am told that one of the coopers present is actually a world record holder. Davey Mckenzie had put a 190 litre barrel together in 3 minutes three seconds. Indeed, watching the guys repairing the wine casks, these were often repaired in around 10-15 minutes a piece, depending on how much work is needing done. It was now my turn to assemble a small cask, but I’m not going to embarrass myself only to reveal I didn’t manage – it really is a skill!
Finally it was time to finish the tour. It really was a great experience, and I think I spent 2 hours there, but it seemed a lot more. This was because you can get a lot of information and plenty of opportunity to ask questions in a short space of time. At the end of the tour, you get a tea or coffee, some shortbread, plus a bar towel and engraved Glencairn glass with the Cooperage logo. Oh, and a small nip of their own mystery single malt whisky bottled from a local distillery. I did tell my guide that I thought I knew what it was judging by the smell, but it is a secret. However, when I compared it to a sample of the whisky I thought it was, it was a very good match.
Don’t worry – I won’t tell.
I’d like to thank Rowan for her great tour. Whisky Geek Scotty was definitely on his best behaviour and didn’t get carried away. I’d also like to thank Andrew Russell, the General Manager of the Cooperage who took his time to answer a couple of questions I had to e-mail him in the writing of this blog post.
I can thoroughly recommend a visit to this cooperage, as it is one of the very few cooperages where you can see the cask being assembled from beginning to end. You can find out more by phoning the visitor centre on 01340 871108 or visiting http://www.speysidecooperage.co.uk
Taste Review #48 – TBWC Invergordon Single Grain 42
For those of you who know me personally, you’ll realise that due to my job I spend quite a lot of time visiting the Cromarty Firth, just to the north of Inverness. This stretch of water is most famous for being the place where oil rigs go to get refurbished or scrapped, and was once a base for the Royal Navy Home Fleet. But not many people realise that within site of this stretch of water there were 6 distilleries. There are 4 still producing – Dalmore and Teaninich at Alness, Glen Wyvis at Dingwall, Invergordon Distillery and two separate incarnations of the Ben Wyvis Distillery. Only the Ben Wyvis distillery is no longer producing.
The Cromarty Firth has to be one of the most awful places I have worked and I have worked in some dumps in my time. Truly the weather is like four seasons in one day. Apart from drinking, there is precious little else to do there. I’m probably being a bit unfair I suppose as the people I have met there have always been friendly. Indeed when a barmaid at the Caledonian Bar in Invergordon knows your drink, you’re in trouble.
Invergordon is one of the four sizeable towns on the Cromarty Firth, the others being Dingwall and Alness on the north side, plus Cromarty on the south side. It has an unofficial nickname of Inver-G By The Sea and was also the site of a large aluminium smelter that shut down in the 1980’s. Now apart from the oil industry related work, the only other industry in the town is the Invergordon Distillery. It’s unusual to see a grain distillery so far north – the other Scottish grain distilleries are all in the central belt. Invergordon was established in 1961 and has operated continually ever since.
A grain distillery uses a different distilling process to malt whisky, and Invergordon uses 3 Coffey stills, which are continuously running rather than the malt whisky pot still method. They also do not solely use malted barley, but a mixture of wheat and maize to make their spirit.
One advantage of the continuous still distillation method is that is is highly efficient at getting a purer, smoother alcohol, and the output of the Invergordon stills is around 94%, with the barrel fill strength being 71%. As it is owned by Whyte and Mackay, most of the output will be destined for their blended whiskies, but you do see the odd official bottling (I have an 10 year old Invergordon somewhere) but you are more likely to see it as an independent bottling, such as the sample I have to try today.
Before we move onto the tasting, let me tell you some more important information about the Invergordon Distillery. Malt whisky was actually produced here between 1965 and 1977, and was the second incarnation of the Ben Wyvis distillery name. After the cessation of malt whisky production, the pot stills were eventually sold to the Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown.
And onto our tasting. This is a bit different for me as I don’t generally go for grain whiskies, independent bottlers or old age statements. This is from ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company”, and I’m sure it is going to be lovely. Let’s see.
Sweet cereal; quite heavy, Floor varnish to start with, but opens up to a biscuity smell and a hint of vanilla. Corrugated cardboard, Apple peel and toffee.
Quite an odd one – I felt as though I was sucking on some heavily polished wood to start. Quite solvent tasting, but in a curiously addictive and pleasant way. PVA glue and old leather was in there too. Fried banana – maybe plantain, as it’s not that sweet, cloves, cinnamon.
Medium in length finish. Still got that polished wood taste in my mouth, but it has developed into something very pleasant. I’m also getting a dark chocolate, and a hint of pepper.
Invergordon isn’t as bad as I have made out. There is still a thriving community there, a couple of decentrestaurants and pubs (stay out of the Silver Dollar, andif you do go in, remember to wipe your feet on the wayout!). If you are in the area there is some spectacular scenery over the Black Isle and looking down the Cromarty Firth towards Ben Wyvis, the local Munro (hill over 3000ft).
Similarly, the tasting notes that I have given you on my impression are probably not the most attractive, but you need to give this whisky a bit of time. I am not in the habit of drinking whisky over 25 years old, and this the oldest whisky that I have reviewed so far and it is likely to remain that way for some time. Nor am I in the habit of drinking single grain whisky so this is another aspect of the whisky landscape that I am not that familiar with. However this was a great one to delve into, and while the cost of the sample is a little bit dear, it was a fantastic experience. I started the tasting not enjoying it, but once I could place the solvent like taste, it hit me between the eyes and I was converted quicker than Paul on the road to Damascus. Now, if you offer me a dram if this, I’m going to have your arm off.
My 3cl sample cost 11.70 from Master Of Malt. Unfortunately the full size bottle is sold out, but was £106.95. A bit pricey perhaps but remember it is a 42 year old whisky, and some much younger and poorer quality malts can cost more. It sometimes comes up on auction sites which if you want to add one to your cabinet would be the method I recommend.
The latest Invergordon batch of a similar age from TBWC is batch 19 and is 45 years old. Bottled at 44.5%, a 50CL bottle will set you back about £177. Good luck on finding it, as they sell out quick.
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This week is going to be much better than last week. Because I am writing my Saturday article on Monday, this will mean that I have no confession on Friday that I have nothing prepared. In fact, the way I feel now, that confession would be much better. Indeed I’d rather just not give you all a Saturday article and admit failure than give up the source of my shame.
For this, it grinds my insides even more than telling you that since my wee accident with the garage door, to this point not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips. It’s kind of ironic that a chap who writes a whisky blog and collects bottles has become temporarily tee-total. I have to confide that my whisky sin is worse than that.
It is an old proverb that says that confession is good for the soul, but this time I have my doubts, for the evidence of my shame will be on the internet, not just here but on another site for all to see, only you won’t know which one as there are some details that you just don’t need to know.
I’ve become a hypocrite.
Now that the truth is out, I can continue along the same theme as my article from last week in which my Macallan Folio 5 arrived. With the news so much more had been released than the 2000 per edition previously, it wasn’t going to meet my expectations. As I said last week, my intention had been to swap for a Folio 4, and maybe sell in the long run, but with Macallan reportedly releasing 18,000 more Folio 5 than Folio 4, the price of the former will never achieve the price of the latter.
Of course, I could always sell it on without a profit, but just cover my costs, but I do have a small amount of morality left, and I couldn’t sell my bottle to somebody knowing that even though they were just paying essentially what I paid, the price of the bottle is likely to fall below even that. That’s just taking advantage of people.
Lastly, I could always drink it. But I’m sorry, no Macallan NAS at £250 is worth that. Plus, when we take in consideration the excessive packaging, that alone must take up at least £20 from the RRP, and once drunk, what do I do with it? I’m not a Macallan collector in that way at all.
Even if I sell it to another punter who will drink it, I’m not sure my conscience will let me sleep at night knowing that I’ve met somebody face to face, or even a follower of my blog to sell them a whisky which in a couple of months will be a lot cheaper. That’s not how I roll.
So, with morals securely stored in a dark place, I made contact with an auctioneer to arrange pick up of my box. We had a nice chat about Macallan (Whisky Geek Scotty was in check this time!) which in my opinion could summarise the conversation by saying Macallan have definitely made an impact to the secondary prices of a few of their recent releases.
Indeed, the auctioneer made a very good point about how Macallan really should look into their application of the ballot system and how it really should be for known amount of limited bottles, something buyers of Edition 5 and Easter Elchies 2019 are probably thinking too. I’ve an article about that written, but will give it a break with the Macallan writing after today. Just to give your senses a rest if nothing else.
In all fairness, I should have seen the warning signs and not just blindly entered the ballot. No evidence of the likely age and no numbers of Folio 5 released. Plus there was a commitment to buy if you won the ballot, unlike the Easter Elchies 2018, which gladly at £750 they did give you a little breathing space.
The conclusion? I’m glad it’s going but I do hope that I recover most of my money from it, if not make a small profit. As from the comments from last weeks article, take the money and spend it on something you’d really enjoy drinking. That’s a great point, and already something has already popped up. Not telling you what it is, as you may outbid me.
As an aside to this article, my dealings with the auctioneer revealed that I could not set a reserve higher than the RRP. This is a great move as it helps limit the rip off profiteering that some online auctioneers facilitate. Of course, the price may go higher, but that is because of what people are willing to pay rather than people being taken advantage of through limited availability and the crazy prices some of the greedy, impatient or ill-informed are prepared to pay.
And these people all do exist. A quick look at an online auction reveals just under 120 bottles of Folio 5 available. Some ill-informed person has already bid £560, yet still hasn’t met the reserve, which means the auctioneer is essentially helping the greedy.
On the other side, there is bottles there still for sale under RRP but there is just over a day to go as I publish this and these may well make a profit yet. But seeing this gives me squeaky bum time, though it reinforces my belief that the price will plummet. Indeed, out of 118 bottles, 42 will still fail to make a profit going by current bids and not including the cost of getting them to the auction house.
Perhaps Macallan planned this mass release deliberately to ensure more whisky gets drunk, and I have to grudgingly doff my cap to them, but given the demand for the brand world wide, I am still sure if they were open about the amount produced it would sell out. Either way, do they care about the secondary market? They sell their product anyway, and surely that is all that matters? This is part of the Macallan article I am attempting to write, but my keyboard just defaults to ‘rant lock’ and I don’t fancy libelling anybody.
With that, it’s now time to go and think about what dram for later on. After all it’s Saturday night!
This is a slightly unusual review for me. Indeed it is a first, as it is the first time that I have reviewed a dram from a distillery that I have already reviewed. It has been sometime since I looked at the Old Pulteney 12, and I did promise to review the 17 year old, well here it is.
Reviewing distilleries reviewed before was always going to happen at some point and I tried my hardest to avoid it. However, if I leave this one much longer the price may rise enough to put it out of reach. Other distilleries we can look forward to reviewing again in the near future are Benrinnes, Glenfarclas, GlenAllachie,
I last reviewed Old Pulteney in August last year, and it was a success. Although it was the 12 year old, and it wasn’t exactly up my street, it was a dram I could recommend. You can visit the review here.
The dram I am trying today is a sample of the now discontinued 17 year old, which went out of production in 2018. It is still available in online retailers, and some specialist shops, but it is fast on its way to becoming a whisky that will rise more in price. I’ve already saved a few bottles back, as it was a popular dram when in production and I feel a lot of the existing stock will be drunk. The 17 year old was my first introduction to Old Pulteney a few years ago and I do remember it as being quite pleasant, but it was one of those things that I never really went back to. Thankfully I had presence of mind to get some when I heard it was discontinued.
Perhaps that this is the second time that I’ve reviewed a dram from Wick, I should make an effort to visit the distillery. It has been 19 years since I was last there, but it was as a quick flying visit (literally!) to the airport. I was due to join a vessel West of Shetland, and the Super Puma Helicopter we were travelling in had to make a refuelling stop. Due to regulations, we all had to disembark off of the chopper and go into the terminal. We were told we could grab a coffee or use the toilet. Easier said than done when in a survival suit! The chopper was refuelled before I could even get as far as using the toilet! Such is the struggle with the waterproof onesie.
Looking at the photos of the tubes for bottles that I have in storage, I can see that there is an incorrect statement on the tube – it proclaims that Pulteney distillery is the most northern whisky distillery on the Scottish Mainland. While this was true at one point, I am quite sure having passed not only my O level in Geography, but a Scottish Higher in the subject, that the Thurso based Wolfburn Distillery is now holds that title. Perhaps Inver House didn’t want to change the packaging. There has been one change in packaging already, and the older bottlings have the arched writing on the tube, and a slightly lighter shade of navy blue, whereas the later tubes have much darker navy colouring, bordering on black. Its a nightmare to photograph I can tell you!
Without any further ado, let’s plough into the dram.
Very aromatic. Once again the brine was present. Vanilla, toffee, floral, citrus,
Extremely pleasant mouthfeel that gives a good coating to your mouth. Salted Caramel, peppery, a slight sour citrus, almonds in the background – possibly marzipan? Honey definitely in the mix. The heat builds up from a mild and pleasant arrival to something a bit spicier. Nutmeg, cinnamon, while still holding a brine note.
Long, light wood note, spices, sweet, slightly peppery holding the brine to the last. A slight bitter note in the drying finish that reminded me of a plain chocolate.
This dram was very good, and I now sort of regret tasting the 12 year old first. I think if I was to compare these drams, the 12 would definitely have the more pronounced brine notes, but the 17 is definitely more refined. This bottling has been put together with 90% ex-bourbon casks and 10% Oloroso cask. The sherry influence is definitely there, but the way this has been crafted it is not overpowering.
Certainly the casks don’t seem to have overpowered the spirit, and the citrus note is easily picked out along with the floral, which can be something that sherry casks dominate with their sweetness. Indeed, with every few sips I went back to, there was a little extra note.
I would definitely recommend pouring this one out and cover it for 20 minutes or so to let the aromas build up in the glass. I didn’t but left it sitting beside me and the smells were just fantastic, leaving me with the regret of what could have been.
It is quite obvious from the mouthfeel that this has not been chill filtered. It is nicely oily and covers the mouth like velvet. It is however a bit sad that the 17 has also been artificially coloured, which is a shame, as it gets so many other things right. As it is now discontinued along with the old 21 year old due to a lack of the correct aged stock – something that owners Inver House were quite honest about, if we were to see this back again, I hope that Inver House also appreciate that whisky geeks like to see whiskies of this age and quality without colouring.
While I said that this is a not quite a unicorn whisky, it will become rarer, although in the UK it is still relatively easy to get, but don’t expect to see many still on the shelves. Online retailers are your best bet, but things are starting to rise in price, and this is where I become a bit torn with my summation. Would I recommend it? Well, yes and no. For taste, I would definitely recommend it, and if it was a currently produced whisky, it would get a full thumbs up. However this was discontinued in 2018, and now supplies are starting to tighten, the price has started to rise, although I do not really know if this is retailers taking advantage.
When I bought my last full size bottle of OP, I paid £74.99 from the Speyside Whisky Shop in June last year. This would represent good value for a very solid 17 year old. However, online prices are now tipping the £100 mark, and I don’t believe this is the best value you can achieve. Certainly at this price, I hate to say it, but if you are a drinker and not a collector, unless you are desperate to have a full bottle of it, this does not represent good value and I would look at spending my money on something a bit more affordable. As per my usual recommendation, which is to look at online auctions. This bottle can be seen for around £70. Certainly the 105th Scotch Whisky Auction saw all 5 lots of this whisky go for that figure, but other auctions have been higher. Once you factor in auction fees, you are paying just a little more over the original retail price, which I would say would be better value.
If you don’t want to spend that much cash on a drink, then pay a visit to Master of Malt. You can buy a 3cl sample for £9.22, which is very dear, but you can make it a bit more worth while by adding other samples to lower the aggregate shipping price. This is how I got my sample used for this review, but it was bought over a year ago, when the price was only about £6.
This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, why not visit one of my other social media channels. Or you can start following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share and spread the whisky love
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.
We come to Friday once more, and I am looking for a thought to provide you all with this week. It has been quite a week for me with a lot of stress. A couple of weeks ago, my car was involved in a minor collision and this was the week it was going in for repair. I’m lucky enough to have an insurance company that are quite generous when it comes to providing a hire car when mine is off the road, so I was lucky enough to be given a Toyota Aygo.
Lucky? No. These small cars are really only good for the city. I have driven an Aygo over one hundred miles from Aberdeen to home over twisty country roads and let me tell you that it wasn’t fun. Given we have had really bad weather and have a good blanket of snow, I opted to pay a little bit extra and get something bigger. I was given a Vauxhall Insignia which was a lovely car to drive but a bit longer than I realised. When backing the car in front of my garage, the sensors must have been covered in dirt from the slush on the roads, and the net result was that I backed the car into the garage door. Conclusions – car not a mark; the garage door seemingly a write off.
Of course, the weather was bad with snow and heavy winds, and the garage roller door was out of the guides on one side so I got plenty of fun with some hammers, spanners and pry-bars to get the door back into the guides. I didn’t care at that point if the door would ever open again, as long as I could get it wind and watertight once more. But I knew eventually that I had to make a hard decision – do I leave the door as is, for I don’t use it that often, or do I pay for a replacement? After paying a 4 figure sum just before Christmas for a new oil tank, I wasn’t really wanting to take the hit of a new electric door. I knew that the choice of doing nothing could become very inconvenient. Sadly, it was realistic to say that a new door was the only option and I had a £1500 bill staring me in the face. It was unexpected that when my local friendly garage door supplier turned up a couple of days later that he didn’t give me a quote. Thankfully he was able to repair the door in such a way it will survive another couple of years given the amount of use it gets. All ends well. I still haven’t had the dram to celebrate the avoidance of financial disaster!
So what has this got to do with whisky? Well, last Friday my package from Macallan turned up, the recently balloted Folio 5 which is part of the Archival Series. Costing £260 including postage, I entered the ballot without knowing too much about the whisky I was hoping to win. However, this is not that uncommon with Macallan releases nowadays. But, given the fact that previous Folio releases have been about 2000 units and usually keep at a price well above the purchase, then I thought it would be a safe bet.
Well, after the ballot was concluded, with my whisky contacts and on various forums, I noticed that quite a lot of people had actually won a bottle in the ballot. Far too many for my liking. Research suggested that Macallan had done the dirty and possibly released 20,000 units. This is a bit of a kick in the teeth, as it would mean 18,000 people will never be able to collect the full collection, and the value of the other four editions is now going to smash through the roof as those who do wish to collect the full series will be forced to pay for a much rarer whisky. This can only get worse as future editions are released (there are still 19 releases to go).
Of course, caveat emptor should be the phrase first and foremost in mind, but I feel in whisky terms I have metaphorically smashed the car into the garage door and have a tough decision to make in terms of what to do with this whisky. It may serve me well to give you another metaphor that would sum up my feelings adequately, I felt like the pigeon who didn’t notice there was glass in the french windows, and is now lying stunned on the patio waiting for the neighbours cat to get me.
To be honest, I bought it with the intention of not collecting the full set, but keeping it back to sell at a later date when the price settled. I had no intention of flipping it, as you should know by now my views on flipping. In the back of my mind, my thoughts were that if there was only 2000 made, I might be able to swap it for a Folio 4, which has the music of James Scott Skinner on it (I used to play the fiddle, so it was relevant). But now I am stuck with a bottle that I feel doesn’t fit my collection policies, won’t necessarily increase in value and I’ve no interest in drinking. And £260 isn’t a small amount of cash to splurge for no return.
And now I have to face the difficult decision – do I flip it, do I keep it and hope for the best, do I sell it to somebody that didn’t get one at a price that covers my costs, or do I drink it? I’ve opened more expensive bottles but I’m just not interested in Macallan. I’ve drunk too many insipid drams in recent times to be opening an NAS that cost so much. It should be nice to be in the position that I am to own such an item, but the responsibility of what to do with it hangs like the Sword of Damocles above my head, pretty much like it did with the garage door.
I’ll be honest with you, I am really tempted to flip it. I feel really let down by Macallan’s marketing practices, and I have since removed myself from their marketing data base. This has been the final straw that has broken this donkey’s back. I have had deep misgivings about the brand for some time, and this is one of the articles I have been trying to write for some time, but haven’t managed to articulate my thoughts in such a way that is readable. It seems I am not the only one, and have seen quite a few articles saying similar things. I also have written a diatribe against flippers, but again, the article is just too rough to be released without offending people. The possibility of being a hypocrite also fills me with dread.
So what’s it to be? To flip or not to flip. #sipdontflip – as in last week’s review? Or sit tight and take the loss in the meantime and hope it gets better? Let me know your opinions, either by commenting on Facebook, or below this article.
Welcome to the latest whisky review, and this one comes from a distillery that I have actually visited, probably around the same time as the dram I’m away to try was bottled. This dram comes from the Perthshire town of Crieff, namely the Glenturret Distillery.
The Glenturret distillery is said to be one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, with claims to 1775 but this is just due to the fact there was an illicit still on the site, although legal distillation started in 1818. Regardless it is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, and only produces around 340,000 litres a year. It is also one of the few distilleries that still use a malting floor, and it was famous at one time for having the oldest working cat and most successful mouser. Of course, having large amounts of grain lying on the floor would attract vermin, and distilleries often had cats. However they never had a cat like Glenturret distillery – Towser the Mouser lived from 1963 – 1987, and was present when I visited the distillery. Her estimated kill tally was some 29,000 mice, based on observation by the Guiness Book of Records over several days.
I made an alternative observation about the distillery cat. Being of a younger, non-drinking age when I visited the distillery, I wondered what would happen if the malt men saw cat foot prints across the malt floor. Would they wonder if the cat had mistaken it for kitty litter? Such are the thoughts of a 12 year old…… I do remember that because I couldn’t get the free sample at the end, I was given a sugar mouse instead. Nice touch.
The Glenturret distillery until recently was owned by the Edrington Group, owners of Highland Park, Glenrothes and Macallan Distillery. The distillery was also home to the Famous Grouse experience, which a brand also owned by Edrington. But by 2018, Edrington announced that it was to sell the Glenturret distillery and the Famous Grouse Experience in its current form was to close. The distillery was bought by Art and Terroir, a company owned by Lalique. The less said about terroir the better, but that will come up in a future article.
We have to come to the point that we are discussing why I am tasting a dram from Glenturret. Well, I am sure you can remember my recent articles on cask purchases. In both these articles, I was assisted by Mark Littler, a whisky broker who made sure that I got my facts right. Well, it turns out that Mark has plenty of other strings on his bow and also runs a company called ‘Cheaper By The Dram’. This is some thing that may be of interest to those of us who cannot afford the expensive bottles at auction, due to flippers or their rarity. Mark was kind enough to offer me a sample to thank me for the mentions and links, and it is with this sample I am going to give more gratuitous links and promotion, as I feel that the concept behind his company is actually a sound one.
Essentially, what Cheaper By The Dram (CBTD to save my typing!) aim to do is bring the normally rare and unobtainable whisky into the reach of the average drinker. Quite often there are rarer or limited whiskies released that are instantly snapped up, often by flippers who are just out to make a profit. However this can seriously distort the secondary market, and often leave a bottle of whisky sitting outside the reach of the person who wants to do what whisky is designed for – drinking!
CBTD works by taking a bottle of whisky and dividing it up in to 30ml portions. This makes a sample more affordable for those of us who can’t afford a full size bottles, or even for people like myself who can’t afford to open some of his collectables! While some of the samples may seem quite expensive for what they are, I can say that they do represent good value – for instance a 23 year old Macallan from 1971 3CL sample was only £25. Just looking at a whisky bar price list now reveals a Macallan 1988 / 28 year old 35ml sample at £35.
The presentation of the dram is also pretty good as well. These come in a stout bespoke cardboard box, which includes a card with the bottle details. The bottle itself has the minimal information required by law, and NOT FOR RESALE clearly marked on it. Indeed, the details I received with the bottle states that should CBTD see one of their bottles for sale, it will do all it can to stop the person it was sold to buying anything again from their site.
This is summed up best in their hashtag #sipdontflip that they are using as part of a campaign to encourage people to enjoy whisky as it was meant to be, rather than flipping it which in turn puts it out of the reach of the average drinker and even some collectors.
So, with all this information in hand – lets move onto the whisky.
12 Years Old
Sweet, Floral, Pear, Green Apple. Slight musky smell that reminded me of carpet and Parade Gloss shoe polish.
Suprisingly in spite of the nose, this one was a short burst of sweetness, followed by sour. However in the background there is a good honey note. It has a strangely mouldy note, but not unpleasant. The sweet, floral note almost reminded me of another 1980’s throwback, Parma Violets.
Mid length. There is a bitterness that is stronger than the sweetness, but the Parma Violet note is still there with a hint of liquorice.
I have to be honest in my assessment here – this is a dram that I thought on initial taste that I was not going to enjoy. The sour note didn’t do it for me. It made me worry about what I was going to write, as it isn’t nice to be supplied with a generous gift, only to be ungrateful about it. But the group of travellers that we are on the whisky road should know that sometimes whisky does behave like wine, and it just needs a little bit of time. Within a couple of sips I had a Parma Violet note, although not as sweet. The sour note then revealed the honey behind it, and once I started picking out flavours, this became a very pleasant dram.
Yes, it wasn’t to my normal taste, but that is what whisky is about. Sometimes we need to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and while this whisky did for me, it put me back into a familiar comfort zone. In this article I have referenced my visit to the distillery – I can now recall that sugar mouse. It made me remember Parma Violets – straight back to the 10p confectionary mix bags we got as kids. And finally, the recognition of Parade Gloss – brought back from when I started attending the Air Cadets in the mid 80’s and when spit and polish wasn’t just a cliche; it was a weekly reality on my boots and parade shoes!
Would I recommend this dram? Yes, I think I would, and not just because of its source. We get our taste notes based on memories of what has gone before, and this is what this dram did for me. And this is the beauty of CBTD. It is one of the drams I wouldn’t necessarily buy at auction to try, but being able to try an older whisky without the commitment to a full bottle is a definite plus, especially amongst the older and more popular drams.
And anything that sticks one in the eyes of flippers gets my vote. #sipdontflip
You can reach the CBTD site by clicking here. And don’t worry. Even though this review was endorsing a product I didn’t pay for, if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be afraid to say so. The review is a genuine reflection of what I thought of the whisky.
This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️
Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.