Don’t Forget the E’s!

Whisky Selection – Easy as A, B, C and D!

Over the past four weeks, I have been going over the checklist of how to make your selections whilst wondering what bottle on the shelf is going to float your boat. This has been based on a concept from a fellow whisky blogger Aqvavitae which he did a video blog which you can see here. It’s a brilliant presentation and I’d encourage you to watch it, if only to see that although I’ve used Roy’s concept, I have not plagiarised him. The points he makes are universal, and I feel I’ve added some more points. Look through his stuff on YouTube, perhaps subscribe. I enjoy his stuff, and he’s a thoroughly decent bloke.

Right, now I’ve established the bona fides of my content, let’s look towards a summary of the past four weeks. I’m going to have short, sharp easy to remember points that don’t go into too much detail that will help you avoid picking a dud.

A is for Age is there an age statement on the bottle? If not, you have no idea of the baseline quality you are getting for your money.


Age Statements Give a Quality Benchmark

B is for Bottling Strength low ABV means it’s been diluted already. Aim for higher ABV where you can lower it yourself to find where you enjoy it!

C is for Chill Filtering look to see if it states non chill filtering. If it has been, something is missing. Whisky above 46% doesn’t need it, but not to say it hasn’t been chill filtered to some point.


Age Statement, High ABV, Non Chill Filtered and no E150a. The Octomore X4+10 scores full marks

D is for Dye Whisky is a natural product and it shouldn’t have colouring. Something that isn’t dyed can tell you a bit more about the cask.

There is one caveat however………

Just because you follow my advice, it doesn’t mean you will hit the jackpot every time. Whisky is a personal taste where everybody will have a different experience with aroma, palate, finish and appearance. My advice will only steer you away from the banana skins or the mass produced whisky that might not be the finest. 

What you really need to do is sometimes take a chance. As you will have seen or will see in the near future, that had I applied the ABCD to some of the whiskies I have reviewed, I’d have missed out on some pleasant drams. Dalmore’s King Alexander is NAS, 40% and coloured. We’ll also take a guess it’s chill filtered to a degree, yet still very pleasant. I’ll not mention the other malts yet as they have still to be published – I like to keep you guys guessing what’s next.

Don’t Drop the E’s

Nothing to do with drugs, our ABCD needs some E’s.

Education. A wee bit of research

Experience. Don’t be afraid to try.

Evaluate. Does the whisky appeal to you? What pulls you into the dram? What puts you off?

Enjoy. Needs no explanation. Remember your experience of the dram may change as you go down the bottle. It may get a lot better.

One tip I’ll give you all is to consider buying miniatures online. It may be an expensive way of working out of you’d enjoy a full bottle, but will save your hard earned for going towards something a bit more to your taste. Both Master Of Malt and The Whisky Exchange sell samples of many full size bottles of all varieties and ages. It’s worth doing this to Or keep a lookout at auction.


Flora & Fauna 3cl miniatures from The Whisky Exchange. Allows me to try before committing to a full size purchase. Or experience what I can’t afford.

Tasting at a bar can be a wee bit hit or miss, as you aren’t generally taking your time to savour, and your palate won’t necessarily be as clear to taste all the nuances.

Anyway, after writing four epic articles over the holiday season, I’m keeping this one short.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and all the best for 2020.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo credits

All photos authors own.

Don’t be a Daftie!!

Taste Review #40 – Daftmill 2006 Winter Release

At the time of writing, this has been a week where everybody seems to have lost their minds (There’s just been a General Election in the UK), I thought that Daftmill would probably be the best whisky to try next. There’s certainly a lot of dafties of all descriptions on-line at the moment, so one more won’t be noticed. However, Scotty’s Drams is a place where we can leave that all behind as it’s solely whisky matters that we are interested in here.

Also, judging by my estimated time of publishing, this should also be the first review of the year, so Happy New Year to you all, and I wish you all the best for 2020.

Situated just to the west of Cupar in Fife, Scotland, Daftmill is a single farm distillery. This means everything takes place on the farm, though being on a working farm means that the distillery is silent for half the year. Distilling takes place in two separate three month periods, from November to February and for three months after spring. Being a small distillery which has a capacity of 20000 litres a year inherently limits production further and consequently isn’t the easiest bottle to get your hands on. Indeed, I’ve never seen one on the primary market, only at auction.

Normally, limited releases like this don’t interest me, as they are often only available at vastly inflated prices on the secondary market thanks to the demand and the greed of flippers. However this was soon to change as I managed to get a small sample from Roy at Aqvavitae.com and one smell of this sample made me realise that one sample would not be enough therefore I had to buy a bottle to drink.

I quickly realised that one full bottle wouldn’t last long and given the rarity, I decided to buy another one for my collection if I could find one at a decent cost. One soon turned up so now I have one in my collection and one that’s open. I still haven’t opened the sample to drink but decided rather to open the full size bottle in order that I can share it with friends.


I’ve done it. The most expensive bottle opened to date on Scotty’s Drams

One of the good things about Daftmill is that Francis Cuthbert is insistent that this whisky is for drinking and not for flipping and a single cask release #68 has not been bottled for sale but have been bottled for sale as drams in selected bars only. This is quite innovative and means that it takes away some of the unicorn aspect of this spirit and allows true whisky enthusiasts a chance to try it without breaking the bank in buying a full bottle. See this article.

There are more and more single cask releases available, some released through Royal Mile Whiskies or Luvians bottle shop in Cupar and St Andrews. Some single cask bottlings are realising high prices at auction.

As Daftmill is a working farm, there is no visitor facilities, as farm work takes priority. However, it’s location is close to other distilleries that do – Lindores Abbey, Kingsbarns and Eden Mill distilleries are all close by, as is the historic town of St Andrews. Or why not try a visit to Dundee? Certainly an exciting regenerating city that is worth a look.

And onto the dram.

Region

Lowland

Age

12 years

Strength

46% a.b.v

Colour

Golden straw.

Nose

Creamy, velvety, rich toffee, peaches, citrus, pineapple, vanilla

Palate

Buttery, pastry. slightly waxy. Barley sugars, vanilla. A touch of pepper and nutmeg.

Finish

Drying, Medium length. Slightly bitter notes, lemon meringue, oak. On a hard exhalation there was a mint choc note.


The Dram

Conclusion

One of the things I have to say that this dram brings immense joy and sadness. The sadness is that I cannot really afford to buy another bottle of this dram. The joy is multi-fold that I am enjoying such a lovely whisky. Very well balanced. This one has been matured in 1st fill Bourbon casks, which will be American Oak, and as such have definitely influenced the creamy and vanilla notes that are present in this whisky. The aroma has quite a fruity note, with juicy oranges in there and I detected peaches and pineapple, but to get that I had to put my nose right into the glass and take a sharp intake of breath.

In the mouth it hits an excellent balance between creamy and oily, giving a very pleasant mouthfeel, but it is a bit drying. A hint of spice appeared after I added some water, but even though this is 46% it didn’t really need water.

The finish wasn’t as impressive as I had hoped given the wonderful nose and palate, but it’s still very pleasant. It took a while to get some of the flavours, but still engaging enough. I expect this dram to improve as the level in the bottle goes down


The lower full level got opened. The JE Benrinnes is up for tasting at some point.

Suffice to say that this is close to a unicorn dram, so there won’t be a lot available. I know of a good handful of these that have been opened, and as there was only 1625 bottles released, if you see one in the wild at a price you can afford, jump on it. You’ll thank me. have two bottles, and I had to pay at auction £168 for one and £212 for the other and while admittedly a bit steep given that the release price was £95, that’s the going rate on the secondary market, and has since climbed. This hopefully is the peak price, although it’s an early release and prices may drop for other editions as supply increases. You still have a lot of people desperate to try this whisky, and that is also driving prices up. As it goes, if you want one the cost will vary and there is sense in not chasing one too hard just yet unless you HAVE to try it, as one will turn up. But now there is now another 3rd release open, and will now never return to the secondary market, and therefore the price for this edition will invariably climb. However, this will make the Cuthbert Family happy knowing that another of their whiskies have been opened and enjoyed.

Keep your eyes open for these being released and certainly take a peak on the Daftmill website www.daftmill.com

Lastly, is this the best whisky I have tasted in 2019? All I will say is that it’s up there in the top 5, but over the years there has been whiskies I’ve enjoyed more. It goes without saying that Daftmill will definitely be a distillery to watch.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo credits

All photos – Authors own.

A Coat of Many Colours

Why Artificial Colouring Is Used In Whisky And Shouldn’t Be

Whisky is a drink of the senses. And while it is predominantly a matter for the sense of smell and taste, there is one highly important sense that cannot be discounted, and many do, and that is our sense of sight.

While the consumer may think that ultimately sight isn’t important, it is my firm opinion that it is, and we may pick a whisky consciously or unconsciously partly based on the colour of the spirit. We shop with our eyes and seeing a nice darker colour in our whisky is like a visual Pavlov’s dog experiment. I’m salivating just thinking of a darker whisky now, and if I was to taste such a coloured whisky, there is a chance that I’d probably taste sherry notes, even if none were there, but that was a different scientific experiment.

So where does the natural colour come from?

The new make spirit that comes out of the stills is clear – it looks like a glass of water, but take a swig of it, and you’ll soon wish it was water! Sitting at potentially just below 70% alcohol, it’s not the most pleasant thing to have in big mouthfuls. The spirit actually gets its colour from the cask.


Clearic – spirit straight from the still

The new make spirit is gauged and taken down to around 63.5% abv. This is so it doesn’t destroy the barrel or evaporate too quickly. What colour the barrel gives will depend on different factors – namely

– the type of wood (European or American oak normally)

– how the barrel was charred

– what the barrel held previously.

– the size of the barrel

– how long the spirit stays in the barrel

– the age of the barrel

Before I go any further, I’ll just remind you all that I am no expert, and I may have missed a couple of factors but I definitely have the main ones. If you see I’ve missed one, let me know.

Let’s dig a little bit deeper.

1/ The type of oak. All Scotch whisky has to be matured in an oak barrel. No ifs or buts. If it hasn’t, it cannot be called Scotch whisky. American oak is often used due to the availability of bourbon casks. The wood is denser, and therefore interacts with the spirit less. European oak is used, often as the result of using ex-sherry, port or wine casks.

2/ How the barrel is charred. All whisky barrels get toasted. This is done to help shape the barrels, and will also start breaking down the chemical components of the wood. Wine and Sherry casks are only toasted when they are made for the original fill. This will prevent the liquid tasting sappy. By law, bourbon casks have to have a char applied, which means subjecting the inside of the barrel to a flame to char the wood. This further alters the chemical components of the wood but also opens up the wood to have a greater surface area. This has a big impact on flavour, but with more wood interaction will also have an effect on colour. For an interesting article on char please look at this article at Difford’s guide. This will give you more information.

A virgin oak cask means it has not held any other liquid prior to being filled with new make spirit, but will still have been toasted at least.

3/ What the barrel held previously. Bourbon whisky barrels tend to give a lighter colour, where sherry and port casks give a much darker, richer colour. Other spirits like cognac casks also give a nice deep amber.

4/ The size of the barrel. The smaller the barrel, the more wood contact there is. This is a technique for maturing whisky that little bit faster. It will also help develop colour too


Different cask sizes at Glenfarclas. Note the small quarter cask.

5/ How long the whisky stays in the barrel. The longer a spirit is in the barrel, the more interaction with the wood, therefore more opportunity to develop colour.

6/ The age of the barrel. A barrel can’t be used infinitely. Eventually all the goodness in the wood will be gone, and all it will be good for is converting into fire wood (and boy does it burn!) or something artsy-fartsy like furniture, tea light holders or a whisky glass stand. When I was at Glenfarclas distillery, they said they only fill casks a maximum of 4 times, with the final fill having a deep char. Of course, this will depend on the age of the barrel, but I was informed a barrel rarely sees more than 60 years use.

While sticking on the subject of barrels, it is worth pointing out a couple of further conditions that will affect your whisky colour


Natural colour, sherry butt matured. Both from same cask. One 26 year old, one 27 years old. Hand filled on its (and my) birthday

7/ The finishing. The spirit may be transferred from the barrel used for the bulk of the maturation into another barrel for finishing. For example, a whisky may spend 10 years in a bourbon barrel, but get finished for a final period in a different cask to give colour and a different flavour profile. Finishing can be used to correct casks of whisky that haven’t made the expected quality.

8/ Cask Marriage. Unless it is a single cask whisky (one cask only), all other whisky is blended. Single Malt is the produce of one distillery only, but may contain several different ages of whisky and barrel types to achieve a flavour profile. This is called the marrying of the casks. If you mix cask types, this could also affect colour. Because each cask is unique, to achieve a flavour profile, the recipe between bottling batches may vary, and therefore the colour may also differ between batches.


The youngest one is on the right @ 9 y.o. The 17 y.o is still lighter than the 15 y.o. Caramel perhaps or just the cask type?

For Blends (product of more than one distillery and often containing grain whisky) this will be the same issue, as you will be tweaking the recipe to achieve a consistent product across thousands of bottles.

So what is colouring?

Batch variation does mean there could be slight differences in colour. This is corrected by the addition of spirit Caramel colouring, which is known as E150a. Spirit Caramel colouring is made through heating carbohydrates in the presence of acids, alkalis and salts. This is really some type of sugar and other agents being reduced in a pan. The result is a water soluble solution, which will be used to influence the colour of the whisky.

75% of all caramel colouring is used in the soft drink industry for Cola style drinks.

So why is colouring added?

To be honest, in my opinion I really don’t know why. There is no need, as it is simply a cosmetic issue, and like chill filtration, those adding colour see it as no problem, but that’s not strictly the truth.

Colouring is added to ensure a consistent product across multiple batches. Producers want to eliminate the chance of people thinking there is a defective batch due to differing colour, and the impression of inconsistent whisky.

There is also a more sinister reason colour maybe added. Remember that whisky is a drink for the senses? Well, a three year old whisky that has been put into a second fill cask may not develop much colour and will be what Scottish people describe pale items as “peelie-wallie”. With increasing number of Non Age Statements using younger whiskies, caramel can be deployed to make the whisky look older. To me this is a total deception. I’m not that worried about young whisky looking pale, but I’d rather know rather than caramel being added. I would expect young whisky to look paler, but by adding colouring it’s hiding something.


Wolfburn Morven. Young whisky but not disguised. Natural colour and non chill filtered. 46%. NAS means a score of 3/4

It may also be added to give the impression of a certain type of cask, such as a red wine or sherry cask. This is also misleading and therefore a bit naughty.

One instance where it is quite obvious colouring has been added is black whiskies – the two that spring to mind are Loch Dubh from the Mannochmore distillery or the Beinn Dubh from the Speyside distillery. Both can be termed gimmick whiskies, and Loch Dubh does not have a good reputation. Beinn Dubh isn’t too bad; certainly I enjoy it, but I am under no illusions that there isn’t caramel in there.

How can you tell if colouring has been added?

By eyes alone, you can’t. You can tell by looking at the label – if it says that the spirit is at natural colour, then it is additive free. If the label has the German words ‘mit farbstoff’ or the Danish ‘justeret med karamel’ (with colorant / adjusted with Caramel) then you know colouring is present. There is no way a company will add E150a just for exports to these two countries. If the label says nothing about colouring, it’s probably got E150a in it.

Single cask products shouldn’t be coloured, as there is no need for them to have batch consistency.

Apart from the obvious visual effect, caramel colouring is reported to have a smell of burnt sugar and a bitter aftertaste. I am thinking that the cask influences and the alcohol will go a long way to masking that. However some palates are more sensitive than others and I guess not everybody will taste it. However in the case of the Beinn Dubh, I definitely initially tasted a sour, almost vinegar note for a split second. This is most likely the colouring.

Only a year between them. The younger one is darker. Guess it had the dye applied.

In a limited defence of colouring, it can be said that the concentration of colouring they put in does not alter the taste, but that might not be true for everybody. Plus I’ve had a few coloured and chill filtered whiskies that were still very good, but you wonder what could have been without tampering.

So we have to ask again, why are we adding something that can alter the taste and smell?

Personally, I don’t think we should. In this day and age, where the consumer is starting to question more about provenance of their food and drink, is it right that we add things to a whisky to colour it, and in some cases remove taste by chill filtering, just in the name of visual appearance? Do people really worry that each glass just looks the same?

What really gets on my nerve is a quote from Dr Nick Morgan, Head of Whisky Outreach for Diageo in an article on scotchwhisky.com, published 8 Feb 2016. He says –

‘A tiny and unrepresentative and self-consciously elitist group of vocal critics are apt to signal their “expert” credentials by claiming obsessively that spirit caramel affects the taste of the final whisky in the bottle.

I’m not surprised with that comment, but rather more dismayed. For somebody in charge of outreach, he’s obviously not savvy to marketing, as that is one way of alienating people more likely to be loyal to a brand than people who change their brands because the colour isn’t right or consistent. While I am no expert, I am a consumer, and Diageo are fairly well guilty of adding colour to their whiskies. Yes, maybe the E150a may not always be tasted, but does it really need to be there? Only the whisky enthusiast is going to be analysing the colour in his Glencairn – they will understand why the colour varies. The average Joe is just going to be putting it down his neck as fast as he can or will be putting it in a cocktail. Haven’t they realised you can only assess a dram by your eyes when looking at it on a shelf – coloured whiskies maybe fooling us into thinking we are getting an older whisky. Plus the discerning buyer is going to be looking for evidence of colouring and chill filtration. Lastly, Dr. Morgan’s quote shows in 2016 where Diageo’s focus will be, and it isn’t for geeks. It’s for mass production, the meeting a market demand and by adding colouring, bottlers are ringing that visual Pavlov’s bell.

Can we negate the need for colouring?

There is a simple way of getting around the colour issue – if you are that bothered about colour, just sell the whisky in coloured glass bottles. I’m quite sure Glenfarclas mentioned this during my tour for their older releases, as the vatting before bottling can have many different cask ages in them, meaning an inconsistent colour for their higher end whiskies.


Green Glass. Colour disguised. Job done.

The other simple way is education. Tell people that due to whisky being a natural product, there will be variation in colour. Print it on the rear label, do whatever it takes to reduce the need to colour your spirit.

Conclusion

So you now know what colour is, why it is used and how it can be misused. Personally I think it has no place in the whisky industry, as it is essentially a deception. Consumers should be looking for transparency in their purchases, not some idea of what some guy in a massive corporation thinks your drink should look like. There is no guide as to what whiskies will have colour in them, but I’d suggest the cheaper ones, ones under 46% or those with a massive market are all likely to have some colour in them unless otherwise stated.

If not in a hurry, do a bit of research. While it may be true younger whiskies may not have a lot of colour in them, older whiskies can be the same. It depends on the cask, and how the spirit has interacted with it. I’ve heard of a 40 year old Cameronbridge whisky being quite pale, yet the flavour being outstanding. This can show colour can be an influence on what we expect to taste, therefore colouring could influence buying choices. Sometimes you need to be brave and take a chance.

In summary- Remember although colouring doesn’t have to mean bad whisky, we know taste is where it counts. Ditch the dye and seek out the labels that say natural colour. Move forward into the broad, sunlight uplands of whisky enlightenment and know you are not falling into the abyss of the dark(er whisky) age of colourants, made more sinister by the lights of the perverted science that is artificially presented whisky. For this will be our finest hour.

(Goodness knows how long I’ve waited to paraphrase my favourite Churchill speech!)

Next week – we summarise the points of the past 4 articles and reach our definite conclusions on how not to pick a dud whisky.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo credits

All Photos – Authors own

Another Dram From Angus

Taste Review #39 – Glencadam 10

This week’s review also comes from a random selection, and it’s a ten year old whisky from Glencadam. I did wonder if I should re-select the dram, as that is now the 4th 10 year old whisky I’ve reviewed in a row. I’m concerned that it is starting to seem I’ve had more 10 year olds than Jimmy Savile….


Did somebody mention 10 year olds?

Still, I decided it would be maybe good to continue with this taste test as Glencadam is owned by the same owners as the 10 year old from Tomintoul three weeks ago, so I thought despite the change in whisky region, let’s have a look to see if there are many differences.

The Glencadam distillery has been owned by Angus Dundee, a Scottish Independent distiller, since 2003. Glencadam sits in the region of Angus, which extends from just north of the city of Dundee up to the border with Aberdeenshire. It is bounded by the North Sea to the East and the Cairngorm Mountains in the West. It was founded in 1825, 2 years after the Excise Act was passed, and has been generally in operation since, being mothballed during both world wars and in 2000 when owned by Allied Domeq.


Glencadam Distillery

Glencadam is the last distillery in the Angus region; North Port, only a couple of hundred metres away in Brechin closed in 1983. Lochside in Montrose was closed forever in 1992, and Glen Esk (aka Hillside) distillery closed in 1985. The distillery sits on the north side of the town of Brechin (pronounces Bree-chin) with the ch being the silent sound as in Loch, not Lock. However if you pronounce it as Breekin, few will notice and less will care.

****Geek Fact**** Famous celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay mispronounced Brechin as ‘Breckin’ on on his road trip program. However, all of Scotland noticed and proceeded to take him to task. He’s Scottish? My ar*e!! See here for newspaper article and video!

Anyway, there’s not a lot to be said for Brechin, so we will move on. There isn’t a visitor centre at Glencadam at the time of writing, although one was approved for construction by the local council in May 2019, utilising existing buildings. Until that opens then if you are in the area, Fettercairn distillery is not too far away.


The bottle

Region

Highland

Age

10 years old

Strength

46% abv

Colour

Light straw

Nose

Quite light. Estery, fruity, floral, a touch of barley and vanilla. Light spices. I also got a touch of coconut after 20 minutes.

Palate

Fruity on arrival. Pleasant mouthfeel. Toffee, vanilla, creamy popcorn, light oaky sort of taste.

Finish

Medium. Oak spiciness continues. Barley notes. Fades out to a slight salinity. A wee bit of creamy custard in the background.

The Dram

Conclusion

I’ve seen plenty of people saying that this is a not a well known distillery, and their whiskies are lost in amongst the noise made by others promoting their brands. I have to agree, this is not a brand I am too familiar with.

I wouldn’t have guessed that this dram is 46% by its mouthfeel and taste. That’s how smooth it is. There are no over powering flavours and to be honest, I feel a lack of depth, but perhaps that is being unfair, as there is nothing really wrong with this whisky. Personally I don’t feel a strong connection to this whisky, as there aren’t any flavours in there that grab me, but that is just my palate.

There is an unusual fact about the two stills at Glencadam, and that is the Lyne arms that carry the evaporated spirit to the condensers from the stills are actually angled up rather than the usual downward slope. This increases reflux and copper contact, and makes a much lighter, floral spirit. Plus let’s not forget at 10 years old, this is still a relatively young whisky, and there are older expressions from this distillery that may be worth having.

This is a malt that has a lot in common with last week’s Tomintoul in the level of flavour, but this dram holds a bit more integrity with natural colour, a decent ABV that allows you to play with the strength by adding water, and non-chill filtered. For that it scores 4/4.

If you want a relatively uncomplicated, smooth taste at a slightly higher ABV, this one is a winner. My miniature cost me £6.05 at the Whisky Shop Dufftown. A full size bottle is around £36, and this I feel is good value, and I can recommend this malt. Though would I buy another? No. Based on this would I try more of the range? Definitely yes. And that brings me to a very convenient truth as I’ve just discovered the 15 year old in my sample box.

Certainly this distillery deserves to be better known

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo credits

Distillery – Angus Dundee. Used under fair use.

Jimmy Savile – Daily Record, used under fair use.

Other photos – authors own.

It’s Time To Stop Chilling

Why you could be missing out on taste.

One of the things that will determines how good your whisky will be is the quality of the ingredients in your dram. But the whisky you have in your glass will have more in it than you realise.


Chilling. Potential hazard ahead.

Although the standard three ingredients in whisky are water, malted barley and yeast, the production process will develop many different compounds. The three main types of compounds are Phenols, Aldehydes and Esters. In your dram, these will be present in various sub types, but seeing as I am not a chemist, we won’t go that deep.

Starting with Phenols, these are mainly responsible for the smoky and peaty flavour in whiskies where the malted barley has been dried in a kiln with peat. It is nothing to do with where the water comes from. Phenols are measured in Phenol Parts Per Million (ppm) and this is the level of Phenol in the malted barley, not the finished whisky. Ardbeg is about 25ppm and some of the Octomore bottlings have insanity levels of peat at 167ppm. Thing is, these compounds can be lost at any point in the process, so a high phenolic value doesn’t mean it might taste peatier than a lower number, it’s just a guide.

Moving on to Aldehydes, these are a chemical compounds formed throughout the distillation process, and are formed as a result of oxidisation of alcohol (ethanol). It is also created during fermentation as a by product of the yeast converting sugar to alcohol. These aldehydes are quite pungent, and if you’ve been tricked into sticking your head into a washback and taking a good sniff during fermentation, that ammonia smell is an aldehyde. Other aldehydes are created during maturation as compounds in the wood break down and are exposed to oxygen.

Aldehydes are responsible for a variety of flavours and aromas, such as cinnamon, vanilla, herbal and other slightly bitter tastes. They also help create other aromas and flavours that you can experience.

Lastly, we move onto Esters. When you mix alcohol with phenolic or carboxylic compounds, this creates Esters. They are responsible for the fruity and creamy types of flavours and aromas, such as vanilla, butter, citrus and other fruits. Esters are also created throughout the process from fermentation, distillation and maturation as sugars break down and form various organic acids.


Ethyl Hexanoate – in whisky that’s pineapple or waxy green banana to you.

So why do we need a chemistry lesson??

Well, with the formation of esters and aldehydes, there is a presence of other naturally occurring fatty acids and proteins that will be in the spirit that comes out of a cask. These start to coagulate when the whisky has water and/or ice is added. It also happens when a whisky bottle has been kept in a cold location. This gives a cloudy appearance, and for many this gives an impression there is something wrong with the dram. There isn’t, and all that we are seeing is the esters of long chain fatty acids. Once the whisky is warmed it goes back to its natural colour.


Scotch Mist. Haze in a Glencadam 10 year old @ 46%

The bottlers solution to this is to chill filter the spirit. All whisky is filtered prior to bottling to ensure sediment and particles from the cask do not go into the bottle. This is a simple filtering process, similar to why you’d attempt filter oil in your engine to keep the bad bits out. Chill filtering is slightly different, where the spirit is chilled down to around 0C, which causes the compounds that create the haze to form. The hazy spirit is then forced through a filter (usually a fine metal mesh) which then removes the undesired compounds.


Auchentoshan @40% and cold water. No mist = chill filtered

This is only done in the vast majority of cases for whisky less than 46% abv. Whisky at 46% abv or above doesn’t need chill filtered so much for two reasons. Firstly, there is less water in a 46% whisky, so it doesn’t haze so much. Plus, if we strip out the haze causing fatty acids, we’re left with just more alcohol and less taste.

So why is this a problem?

This is a debate that perpetually continues in the industry. Those who support chill filtration will say it doesn’t change the taste of the whisky. Those who don’t support it say it strips out the texture, plus some of the oils and esters. And that is why I gave a brief over view to compounds in whisky – if you strip out esters and fatty acids which we know provide flavour, how can you not affect taste? It’s impossible not to, but people will still disagree.

What I can tell you in my experience with my whisky journey, most 40% whisky I have had seem to be light, lacking mouthfeel. Not them all, but most of them. It’s almost impossible to gauge what the dram would be like had it not been chill filtered. However it isn’t impossible, and this vindicates my policy of using miniatures of older whiskies bought at auction – as consumers are becoming more aware of chill filtration, producers sometimes upgrade their expressions with higher ABV and becoming non-chill filtered. One such example is the brands owned by Burn Stewart (Bunnahabhain, Deanston, Ledaig and Tobermory) raising the abv to 46%+ and not chill filtering. Comparing old and new may give a guide on the difference the chill filtering makes, but because the expressions may have a different flavour profile, it makes identifying what was lost through chill filtration a bit harder. I’d say the texture would be the easiest to identify in comparison, but that’s just me.

For me, it’s an issue worth mentioning, as it is solely done for cosmetic purposes, and I am more concerned about taste and texture, and so should you all be! You are reading this because you have an interest in whisky, and are (hopefully) not a ponce who worries about how their drink looks if he or she puts ice in it.

As consumers, how do we know if a whisky is Non-Chill Filtered?

Our labels tell us everything. It’s essentially the written contract from the distiller so the customer knows what to expect. We have already looked at age statement, alcohol strength and how they are on the labels, but what about chill filtration? Let me tell you one thing – if it isn’t mentioned on the label, then it’s almost certain if the abv is below 46% then it has been chill filtered. Non-chill filtering is now recognised as a desirable attribute, and if this is the case, the bottle will proudly proclaim it.


Wolfburn Morven. NAS but also 46% and NCF. 2 out of 3.

Or, put your bottle in the fridge. If it turns cloudy, then it is non chill filtered.

Is chill filtered whisky not worth it?

Chill filtering adds another step to the process, therefore makes production a little bit more expensive. So it seems crazy to do it for cosmetic purposes, but I guess producers are just doing what their markets want. It could be that they don’t want cloudy bottles on store shelves or whisky cabinets, but why not put an explanation on the bottle? Glencadam does on at least the 10 year old.


Integrity. Haze explained and Non Chill Filtered

However, as I say in nearly every article I write, we have to let our palate be our guide. I’ve had a few 40% whiskies that are chill filtered that have still been excellent drams and I would easily recommend. These have been reviewed and you’ll see them in the next few weeks. However, if you are not wanting to take the chance, in my opinion when standing in the supermarket aisles, the whisky that states ‘non-chill filtered’ gets an extra point.

Next week we move onto colouring, our final topic to consider when picking a bottle.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo credits

Road sign – UK.COM

Ester – Public Domain

All other photos – authors own

Almost Antique Auchentoshan

Taste Review #38 – Auchentoshan 10

When getting ready to pick a dram, it was a blind pick into the box of miniatures to have a taste of, and it was an old Auchentoshan that came out. It was part of my auction bulk buys – a hoovering up of the cheap selections of miniatures at the end of an auction by seeing what had not been bid on.

Today’s miniature is somewhat of a relic, but I include these tastings, as I feel they are still relevant. They show the distillery character and from them and tasting what the distillery does now, we can see how the distillery is moving forward. However this whisky is no unicorn, and you can still find the 90’s style packaging bottles on occasion at auction. While not an antique itself, and certainly of little value, this is a small delve into the past of a popular and under represented distillery.


My dram

Auchentoshan is on the North West side of Glasgow. When you think of Glasgow, you think of Taggart, ship building, knife crime, Rab C Nesbitt, Irn Bru, and incoherent alcoholics. But that’s the Glasgow of imagination. It’s a vibrant city, which is well worth a visit, even if the local dialect can be hard to understand if you aren’t Scottish. And sometimes if you are…. 😉. Stereotypes can be funny, but while Glasgow may have its fair share, it’s a great place with friendly people. I’ve had a fair few nights out in the city and never had any trouble.

Scottish place names can always be tricky to pronounce, as what is written is not how it is said. Glasgow has a couple – try saying Milgavie? Auchentoshan is pronounced “Ock-en-tosh-an” and this is directly from the distillery website, followed by quite a good slogan – Hard to pronounce, easy to to drink – we’ll find out later!

According to the distillery website, the Auchentoshan distillery was originally set up in 1817 on the banks of the River Clyde, and known as the Duntocher distillery. I’m not sure if it is still on the original site as Duntocher is north of the current distillery on the other side of the A82 Glasgow – Inverness road. It was 1834 before the distillery was taken over and renamed to Auchentoshan. Perhaps artistic license has been used as ‘by the side of the road’ isn’t as marketable as one the banks of a river’ when it comes to whisky.

The distillery was in close proximity to the many ship yards on the River Clyde, and during the Second World War, these weee targeted by the Luftwaffe. The A82 road was disguised as the river with the use of lights. It must have worked to a degree and large warehouses must have made an attractive target, for the distillery was bombed and three warehouses were destroyed during the war. There is a fanciful tale that the distillery pond was created by an exploding bomb, but this is pure fiction – a quick look on an old map reveals it was there even before the First World War!


A more up to date bottling with 2 more years on the clock

The unusual aspect of Auchentoshan is that it is currently the only Scottish distillery that fully triple distills all its production, having only three stills – Wash, Intermediate and Spirit stills. This is in common with Irish Whiskey, and as Auchentoshan was founded by people of Irish heritage, this will probably explain why this occurs. Other distilleries do triple distill, Springbank being one of them, but this is not across all of their range. The re-emerging Rosebank distillery in Falkirk will also be a distillery that will fully triple distill, and it expected to open in 2020.

The triple distillation helps further purify the spirit, and the new make strength is around 81%. I guess you wouldn’t be drinking too much of that Clearic!

Another very unusual aspect to Auchentoshan is that it is one of the only (if not the only) whisky that is only used as a single malt, although casks are sold to independent bottlers.

Auchentoshan does have a visitors centre, so pop on in if you are ever in the area. It certainly is a unique distillery. Let’s see how the spirit matches up.


Full Size Bottling

Region

Lowland

Age

10 years old

Strength

40% a.b.v

Colour

Warm gold

Nose

Warm, malty, sweet, floral, honey, banana, caramel.

Palate

A bit of spirit buzz on the arrival, wee bit on the harsh side, but not overly so. Similar experiences in taste as on the nose, but a wee bit fruitier, orchard fruit – pear.

Finish

Short to medium with a malty fruity sensation.


No Half Measures!

Conclusion

I was expecting not to be disappointed in this tasting, but I wasn’t. I had already partially set my expectations low given the age of the bottle and the 40% abv. Given the slightly lower level in the bottle, it is obvious that the seal had been a wee bit more porous than it should have been. The plus point for me was the aspect of the triple distillation which gives a smoother, more delicate spirit, and on this count it was definitely present. For a spirit that had been in the bottle for probably for about 20-30 years, and had probably oxidised a bit, I must say it was a very pleasant experience.

I don’t think there was much complexity there. All the flavours and aromas were all there on show. It didn’t change that much with water added and it was a very relaxing dram to sip.

Of course, this is a dram that has been discontinued, so you will only be able to pick this up in auctions. But why not try their current range? The current core range has recently been repackaged and consists of three bottlings – American Oak, 12 year old and Three Wood, along with 18 and 21 y.o in their aged range.


New style packaging


It’s been some time since I’ve had some Auchentoshan but on this experience I won’t be leaving it so long until next time. As mentioned previously, my sample was as the result of my bargain hunting at auction, so I can’t give a price for it. But the American Oak whisky can be had as low as £20 on offer at Tesco, but expect to pay around £30 elsewhere. The 12 year old whisky can be had for about £35 – £40. Very recently the packaging has been rebranded, so keep a lookout for deals that are getting rid of older stock.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

I need to apologise if people have seen this article published multiple times. WordPress on my phone hiccuped and wouldn’t publish properly….

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo credits

2019 Auchentoshan bottle – Tesco.com

1990’s Auchentoshan bottle – whiskybase.com

Images used under fair use and not intended to promote any sales, but for education purposes.

all other photos authors own.

Measuring The Muscles

B is for Bottling Strength


Whisky often needs a bit of muscle

It’s time to continue with our analysis of how we come to find the gems on the shelves of our whisky retailers. My last article mentioned the age statement and what it means for us whisky buyers. Now we turn our attention to the strength of our alcohol.

In Europe, we measure our alcohol by the percentage alcohol by volume (ABV). This is a test that measures the amount of alcohol (ethanol) in an alcoholic beverage and is expressed as a percentage. The US still also use the proof method which is double the ABV.

Why does strength matter?

Around 70% of a whiskies taste will be developed by the cask, but that means around a third of it will be spirit driven. The less spirit, there is a corresponding loss of taste. However it would be foolish to say that maximum spirit means more taste, as you then will just be obliterating your taste buds with alcohol, therefore there is a sweet spot to achieve in a bottling.

To give you an idea of the alcohol strength in the malt whisky process, here is a rough guide;

After mashing (Wort) 0%

After fermentation (Wash) 8-12%

After first distillation (Low Wines) 16-22%

After second distillation (Spirit) 68% – 75%

What happens after distillation will vary. As far as I know, some distilleries will proof the whisky while vatting prior to loading into casks. This means that they will dilute the spirit slightly before casking. This is because a higher strength means more evaporation, faster ageing and possibly making a poorer spirit. The spirit will effectively ‘eat’ the cask. Want to know what I mean? Try putting a bottle of whisky on its side for a while and see how long the cork lasts. (Please don’t, Trust me)

By the end of the maturation period, the whisky will have dropped in volume and alcoholic strength. It is now ready for bottling, after being mechanically filtered to remove sediment left over from the cask. And here is why strength matters. If we bottle it at cask strength, we are getting the full flavour of what came out of the cask.

Why would you want to dilute Cask Strength?

The truth is that cask strength varies and can be quite strong. I have a cask strength whisky at 70%, and some as low as 50%. Even at 40%, whisky is still a strong spirit, therefore to bring out the flavours more, the whisky will be re-proofed and brought down to a more drinker friendly alcohol volume. But by doing this, they are reducing the amount of spirit in our dram.


Not full strength but still very tasty.

There are two other reasons a distillery may do this – more water = less spirit in a bottle, so a batch of spirit that is diluted will make more bottles = more profit. The next reason is to hit a price point. Spirit made in the UK is taxed when it is bottled. At the time of writing (Nov 2019) this tax is £28.74 per litre of pure alcohol. Now it is geek time and we need to get our maths head on.

For one litre of 40% whisky tax alone is:-

28.74 x 0.40 = £11.50.

For a 70cl bottle = 11.5 x 0.7 = £8.04

Compare this to a cask strength whisky of 62%

For 1 litre = £17.81

For 70 cl = £12.47

That’s a massive increase of duty close to £4.50. Add the cost of bottling and production, and it becomes a bit clearer on why the distilleries will dilute during bottling to hit a price point or to increase the output from a vatting.


The distiller will be counting the pennies

So, does this really make a difference to our dram?

Yes and no. Some whiskies do actually need to be watered down to allow the whiskies to open up, to help release aromas and flavours. And each of us have our own palates and tolerance to alcohol, and therefore the abv sweet point for any whisky will be different for all of us. Roy from Aqvavitae.com did say in his original presentation that once you really get into whisky and start trying stronger spirits, that the softer abv’s will leave you wanting something more. This doesn’t mean that you will desert whiskies of below 46% (this is a magic number for more than one reason; it’ll be clear in the next article), but means with a cask strength you have the choice to add as much water as you want, drop by drop, until you find where you want to drink it.


This one wears the trousers. Water advised. Octomore Quadruple distilled, 10 y.o. 162ppm

I have to agree with Roy. I do like whiskies of all strengths, but get more from the cask strength. I used to doubt this, but my epiphany came this year when visiting the Oban distillery. We were given a 9 year old cask sample of 58.1% straight from the cask, then an Oban 14 at 43%. The cask strength knocked the 14 year old sample out of the water and I would happily buy it, but not so the 14 year old. A pleasant enough whisky, but boring compared to the stronger sample.

This wasn’t a one off. One of my favourite whiskies is Benrinnes 15 Flora and Fauna. When visiting Robertson’s Of Pitlochry, I had a sample of their own independent bottling of a 9 year old Benrinnes cask strength. On that one sampling I immediately bought a bottle, it was great! Pity I didn’t buy two, as the one I have is in storage.

One benefit of a higher ABV is you avoid whiskies that have been chill filtered, but that is a subject for the next article.

Summary

In our quest to select bottles that might be worth trying, ABV is a good way to calculate the value of a bottle. More percentage will mean more cost, especially with older releases, but you are more likely to get more engagement with a bottle of a higher percentage.

Don’t write off the less potent whiskies. Older drams will have less ABV due to evaporation. Some spirits just don’t taste good at higher strengths, and these are things the bottler will have taken into account. Let your palate be your guide. At least a cask strength whisky will give you the flexibility to experiment with the point you are happy with the ABV.

My final point will be not to judge on only one or two drams. Evaluate over the life of the bottle in your drinks cabinet. After the cork has been removed and oxygen gets into your bottle, a process starts that allows the whisky to develop. Think of it as a meaningful relationship rather than a one night hook up.

Slainte Mhath

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or 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.


Photo Credits

The Hitman Hart – John Cenation. Used under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Penny Jar – Shutterstock (under licence)

Whisky bottles – All authors own.