Better Late Than Never

Taste Review #123 – Waterford Bannow Island 1.2

I’ll start this review with some apologies. I’m sorry to Mr Nicoletti of Dublin, a follower of Scotty’s Drams almost from the start. I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to taste and review this whiskey.

And I’m going to continue with the apologies, as I am sure I am going to offend people from both sides of the debate regards this review. But you should really know me by now if you are a regular reader of my social media interactions – I really don’t care. If you feel the truth is offensive, then perhaps you need to review your choice of blog.

Waterford has been controversial from the start. The man at the top has been fond of courting controversy for quite some time, starting with his tenure at Bruichladdich, where the team he was at the head of successfully reinvigorated a run-down distillery which it would be fair to say had seen better days. Innovation was needed, care was given to the ingredients and their origin and it is at Bruichladdich we see the word Terroir come to the surface within the whisky world. It is something that Mark Reynier would be very familiar with given his time within the wine industry. And thanks to his vision, the distillery really went on to see better days than before, being so successful it was only a matter of time before somebody bought them out – and in July 2012 Remy Cointreau did just that.

So, with some money in his back pocket from the sale of Bruichladdich, it was time for Mark to consider his next move. I was personally not surprised when he decided to buy a former brewery in Ireland and convert it into a distillery. And this wasn’t to be any old distillery – this one was going to develop on the concept of Terroir in whisky that had been started in Bruichladdich.

Mark tells Irish Central – “For years folk have been hoodwinked on where whisky’s quality truly lies – once stills, then water, now wood. We want to shine the light on what really makes malt whisky the most complex spirit in the world,, the primary source of all that extraordinary flavour; barley.”


Some have ears yet do not listen… Some terroir indifferent barley.

Terroir in drinks is not a new concept. For those of you reading this who do not know what it means, it essentially is the environmental factors that affect crop growth, and in turn will make a difference to the quality of the crop. Such factors could be the soil, the mirco-climate, the type of land the crop is grown on, how much sun it gets. This look is just a very small part of what terroir is about, just to give you an idea. The concept behind Waterford is a positive one where the barley for distilling is grown on individual farms and is used individually, thus producing a single farm origin whisky. The terroir is recorded and can be seen online if you type in your bottles ‘Teireoir’ code. Apparently thats Irish Gaelic for terroir.


Lots of blurb. But importantly a teireoir code, a made up word which means terroir. The code lets you see more blurb.

Scoff all you want, entering this code in gives you access to all sorts of information about how the barley was grown and how the whisky was made, detailing all sorts of information that you desire to know about your whisky. It gives rise to another T word – transparency.

There were all sorts of arguments on whisky social media about the existence of terroir. It escalated so much that there was a couple of spats on Twitter which basically seemed precipitate the dissolution of the original Malt-Review website team. While Malt is still on the go, think of it like Glasgow Rangers Football Club. They may play under the same team name, but they are entirely different companies. (Sorry Bears, as a Dons supporter I couldn’t resist. All in jest!). There were arguments over whether or not Terroir existed, what it meant to the whisky community and would Waterford be the best single malt whisky in existence?

You can’t escape the existence of Terroir. As much as you may try to deny it, Terroir does exist and you cannot escape this. If you want a good example of this, think about the situation that you’d be in should your neighbour build an extension to his house that blocks out the sunlight from your strawberry plants. While your strawberries will still grow, they might not be as juicy and tasty as before. That my friends is terroir in action.

What we need to know is whether or not Terroir matters in whisky? One way of finding out is to drink some!


Waterford Bannow Island 1.2

Those ribs. What do they remind you of?

Region – Irish Age – 3 Years Old Strength – 50% abv Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask TypeColouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dry white wine, Malt, floral notes, red berry fruit, a hint of dusty seed barn. Peach. Palate – light to medium mouth feel, slightly oily. Breakfast cereal – a sweet one at that, malt, green apple, vanilla, ginger, a tingle on the tongue but no strong spirit hit. On swallowing I got a vegetal note, leafy. Finish – Short to medium, drying like white wine, vegetal note continues, chocolate digestive at the end. Was left with a lingering burn.

With water, the alcoholic tingle on the tongue subsided as did the ginger. It led to an increase in creaminess, more vanilla notes and an increase of vegetal notes in the finish. The finish increased in length with water but was still subtle.


Waterford Bannow Island 1.2

Conclusions

First things first – there are a couple of things I really detested about this whisky. While I used to think the bottling was pretty smart, things change when you get to handle the bottle in person. That stopper is bloody awkward to open compared to a standard cork. The second time I opened it, I ended up spilling a bit of whisky on myself. Not good.

Secondly – is that ribbing on that bottle really necessary? It reminded me of a product that you can get from vending machines in gentlemen’s toilets that had the selling point of being ‘For Her Pleasure.’ Somebody else mentioned this and now I cannot get it out of my mind. Can somebody please make it stop? It’s kind of putting me off. However at least it helped me get a better grip of the bottle to get that sodding awkward stopper off.

Taste.

I am sure that I am going to maybe feel a slight bit of derision from my peers in whisky social media circles as I am going to say that I kind of liked this whisky. It was certainly inoffensive, tasted of whisky, albeit noticeably young spirit with a degree of complexity, but nothing stunning. I personally found it a lot better than expected, as young whisky does not mean rubbish whisky in every case. While I would happily drink this again, would I buy it? No, I wouldn’t because to my palate it wasn’t exciting enough. I’ve had some whiskies over the past year that I only managed one nip of (and it was more than I’d normally pay) but I’d give my right bollock for to taste again. Scrub that, I’ve had all the children I want, I’d give both bollocks for that Linkwood Darkness 19 year old. But not for this whisky – my testes will remain intact. It was pleasant enough to sip along with and while I’d also be interested in tasting other Waterford bottlings, this one didn’t light my fire enough to want to go out and buy them yet.

Does Terroir Matter?

And here is where I earn my hate mail. Does Terroir matter in whisky? In my opinion, not really. While this whisky is said to be terroir (barley driven), I wonder if it was released so young to make sure that the lumber that the cask was constructed of would have no discernible impact on the spirit? Smoke and mirrors perhaps? You certainly taste the barley impact, even on a palate as abused as mine, but to me it tastes of nothing special.

The kicker is for me though that to be able to discern the true impact of terroir, I’d have to taste Bannow Island 1.3 and compare it to this one. Would I be able to discern a difference? Possibly. But then to narrow it down to solely the terroir, and looking at it from an engineers perspective, everything else apart from the barley would have to be the same. The same casks in the same position in the warehouse in the same climate as the previous editions. Exactly the same yeast, the same fermentation times. Each one of these things can have an impact on the maturing spirit. Certainly thats how I fault find electronic systems, as if you change more than one thing at a time, you will never really know what had most effect on the final outcome.

And that is it – I’m not going to be buying multiple bottles of Waterford or any other whisky to see if Terroir really matters. Whisky from each brand does change over batches, however subtly and different people will pick up these changes differently and interpret them differently. At the end of the day, all they want to drink is a tasty whisky. And I suppose by drinking Waterford, many people will get just that; it’s all subjective.

Some more Terroir. Barley is getting some rays there. Obviously not in Scotland then.

But it wasn’t only ever really about Single Farm Origin (although I do think this is a laudable and interesting concept). It seems the main aim was to produce a Cuvee, a practice similar to what exists the wine industry that Mark Reynier hails from. Basically a blended whisky, but not a blend likes of Bells or Grants. It’s a vatting of whisky of all the Single Farm Origin whiskies, so in reality is no different to any other major brand which may take its barley from a variety of sources. So to me, it sort of makes the Single Farm origin a bit pointless. I suppose people go for that sort of thing, just like they do for wine, but to me it’s just another way of persuading me to continually purchase Waterford, and that ain’t happening.

The best way to purchase Waterford if you want a bargain is at auction where even first editions are selling at below RRP. At an average of around £70 to buy from a retailer, for a 50% whisky, it isn’t the worst value you could achieve. Personally for the experience I had with this one, I’d not say it’s worth £70 but that’s another individual opinion and others may have a different point of view.

I want to end this on a positive. I do like the way transparency is addressed using the Teireoir Code. That way I can see more information about my whisky. It will be good for when I have my geek moments, or if I do actually taste more Waterford and want to compare. While I have opinions about who cares about all the information; it’s whether or not the whisky tastes good but at least the information is there for you to do your own personal geek out.

Mark Reynier as I have said before often courts controversy. It’s not quite any publicity is good publicity, but it amounts to the same thing. Waterford has got people talking and whether or not you buy into the ethos behind the whisky (to me it’s a massive marketing gimmick), the spirit itself is worth trying at least once. All said and done, I think I would buy Waterford for myself, but perhaps I’ll wait and see what the older editions taste like. If they let the casks sit for more than 12 years.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Thanks to Michele who gifted this lovely bottle. It was greatly appreciated and I sure I will get enjoyment out of it. It was a nice easy drinker, I just don’t think it deserves the hype.

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


All content subject to copyright and should not be duplicated without permission.

New Stuff In A New Way

Now for something different.

This blog entry has been inspired totally by one of the accounts I follow on Twitter. Robert For All (@RobertFiFoot) is an Aberdonian exile living in the Netherlands and runs a highly successful and often unintentionally thought-provoking blog called BrawBags. You can see the blog by clicking the link below.

http://brawbags.blogspot.com

I think this will be a controversial blog entry so if I say anything controversial, it’s all Robert’s fault. He put me up to it. The opinions are all my own. And I am sure I will ruffle up some feathers, so buckle up buttercups, as one or two of my following reviews will provoke similar reaction.


Today I want to speak a little about new stuff. There’s tons of new stuff. New stuff is everywhere. Most of us like new stuff, apart from me, as I am pretty comfortable with old stuff, which was new when I bought it, but I love it more and don’t want to part with it. Especially my rock concert tour t-shirts. One can’t beat wearing an original New Model Army T-shirt from 1990’s Impurity tour. Only I can’t, as when I was newer (or less old), I was a good few chest sizes smaller, so even if I could get into that T-shirt, it would look spray-on and show my moobs in a way that would make everybody feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable. Especially you, as I’m old enough I don’t have to give a flying duck anymore.


No band would let me wear their merch after the unpleasantness

But moving on from comfortable T-shirts and dressing inappropriately for one’s body size and age, there are still tons of new things bombarding us daily. There are new ways of having currency like Crypto-currencies. Bet that will make your wee nephew happy on Christmas morning when he opens his gift of some digital currency that is pegged to nothing and will be worth a tenth of what is was by the end of the day. Of course we can buy art in new ways, even whisky by purchasing NFT’s. NFT’s aren’t entirely new but are taking off in all sorts of ways. Some people think they are brilliant, some aren’t so sure and others think they are crap, and nobody really seems to know what they are. Having a certificate to say you own something that you can’t physically hold seems kind of pointless. It’s a bit like having a marriage certificate and everybody can get a chance to shag your wife for a price. No sirree! Not for me are these NFT’s, I’ll stick to physical products and keep my wife un-propositioned thank you very much.


NFT Whisky Bar – Cats and Unicorns included.

But do you know what is better than new stuff? Old stuff. Stuff that has been around for ages and we know we like it. It makes us feel warm and fluffy, unless you are German as they don’t apparently have a word for fluffy. Well, that is old tosh, as it is “Flaumig”. So old stereotypes aren’t good. I have lots of old stuff, all of it makes my heart go fluffy. Favourite clothes, my favourite screwdrivers, my preferred side cutters for trimming cable ties at work. Even my old stuffed toy from childhood (it’s a bunny called Bobby) and life would not be worth living without my ancient toasted sandwich maker. All important old things.

Even the oldest guy I regularly work with can be a bit of a curmudgeon, though people like working with him as he can be quite entertaining when he gets wound up. Old is good. But we mentioned whisky and seeing as this is a whisky blog, I guess this better turn to whisky at some point. I’ve loads of old whisky too. Not that old whisky is better than new whisky, but some whisky is betterer (sic) than others. But over the past 5 years more and more people have been going mental over three year old whisky and that isn’t just a bad thing in itself, but it’s the prices some will pay for it just to drink it or store it away in their cupboards. That is mental. Especially when there is a good chance the distillery may release much better older new stuff in the future and the new young stuff they are punting out is just to ensure they have capital to make the older new stuff. Plus, it’s an example of how wrong people can be craving new stuff with the first releases seeming to magically go up in value just because they are new; given their young age, you couldn’t get much newer. Spot the buyers remorse over somebody buying a brand new bottle that is worth £45 for £100 at the first auction, only to be disappointed when the price drops back to less than RRP. Flooding the market with new stuff was a smart move from those clever blighters at Lindores. It’s smart as I got mine under RRP at auction and Lindores got the full price on the initial sale. So me and Drew at Lindores are delighted as are the auctioneer. The person selling not so happy.


Old Vs New. Of course Old was the winner.

Of course there are the people who sell their new stuff at wildly exorbitant prices for liquid at three years old. Over 200 quids for an whisky only 4 years old is taking the mickey somewhat. I don’t care how unique your whisky is. It’s totally pie in the sky pricing. It might as well be unicorn pish, and even then, I doubt I would be getting value for money. Having said that, I’ve bought a 4 year old Starward for 3 figures, but that was a tasty dram, and I want more of that new stuff now. Even blogs aren’t immune. There used to be a great whisky blog but some Americans took over and now it’s not so good. I don’t know how it’s readership Cope(s). I’m not wrong as many like me prefer the older original version and not the new and ‘improved’ version. Goes to show they aren’t the only one who can make sly digs on their website in their laughinly ‘independent’ way. I don’t depend on samples from others or Patreon, so how do you like those apples?

Yes, stuff may be new and experimental, but is it going to be as good as old stuff? So far the verdict is certain in my less than humble opinion. Give me lots of old stuff. Aged Macallan before Edrington screwed with the winning formula, and the same goes for Highland Park. Give me old Talisker before Diageo decided to up the prices and make it a brand I won’t drink anymore. New and improved is rarely the case, especially if the result is not as comfy as an old pair of Doctor Marten 8 hole boots. Plus my Old Versus New research last year proved beyond all doubt that I am right. So yah boo sucks to the doubters. Time for a few more of those new-tangled emoji; I like them. 😉😉🤣🤣🤯


Old Doctor Martens. Much comfier than new ones.

Even my favourite bakery products, the humble rowie isn’t as good any more as vegetarians have spoilt that too. Gone are the recipes that include lard, replaced by vegetable oil and Palm oil. Well that’s no good as it makes them environmentally unsustainable now. Trust vegans and vegetarians to spoil everything. At least we use all the animal that makes lard. Do you use all the palm tree?? Plus, if I want a good old-fashioned heart attack, a rowie made with lard is the most comfortable and environmentally friendly way to do it. And it’s the tastiest way of guaranteeing Scotland’s place on the bottom of Health League tables.


Vegetarians. Spoiling things for people since 1933.

Lastly we have to look to our elders, those who say the olden days were better. As we weren’t alive to say otherwise, how are we know if being ravaged by an illness that is easily controlled by vaccine, being bombed by foreigners with dodgy accents (no blacks or dogs either), three day weeks, power cuts, winters of discontent, strikes, hyper inflation with double digit interest rates and rubbish rotting in the streets isn’t better than it is now? Must have been pure dead brilliant as the doddery and infirm keep voting in the Tories who appear to be content to let these things happen again. Even our fish are happier fish because of it.

I guess I can’t keep ranting. I’ve said a few controversial things and maybe it’s better that I stop. I usually end with a conclusion and I think I’ll nail my flag to the mast with “New = bad; old = good.”

Back to normal service next time…

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Sheep Lovers Of The World Unite.

Taste Review #122 Thomson Manuka Smoke

Seeing as I am doing a review of world whisky and have already reviewed an Australian whisky, I thought it a bit rude to miss out New Zealand.

I can’t say I know a lot about New Zealand. It’s the other side of the world and I’ve never been. However everybody I’ve met from there seems to be a good laugh. They are also famous for playing rugby, and regularly pump the Scottish Rugby team, although they aren’t always invincible.

One small fact about New Zealand that has always stuck in my head has been the ratio of sheep to humans. It’s quite impressive. From a population of around 5.084 million, there was estimated to be around 26.16 million sheep in New Zealand. That’s better than a ratio of 5-1. Being from the north east of Scotland I can appreciate a decent ewe. In fact I once dated a girl who ran a sheep farm to which I once joked that if she fell out with me, there were 500 other options outside.

Is that a come-on?

Of course, I’m joking. I did say that, but the intention was never there. Besides if you’ve ever been near a sheep, the back end is usually covered in sharn (that’s Doric for sh*te) and their eyes are creepy like goats. I’ll stick to watching lambs frolick in the field on the other side of the fence and wait until they grow up to be a kebab or a decent curry.

But enough about that and let’s move onto todays world whisky. It’s the Thomson Manuka Smoke single malt. The distillery is located in Riverhead, North West of Auckland and was founded in 2014. This whisky uses barley that has been malted using Manuka wood. The distillery only uses ingredients from New Zealand.

The whisky

Thomson Manuka Smoke

Region – New Zealand Age – NAS Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Wood smoke, Honey, sweet Liquorice, Rubbery, Cloves. Palate – Smoke, burnt toast, slight astringency, yet sweetness is allowed to keep its head above water. Orchard fruit. Light to medium mouthfeel. Finish – Short. Sweet liquorice and peppermint tea. Slight smoke.

The dram

Conclusions

Pleasant enough. Had smoky and sweet flavours throughout. You get the sense of a young whisky with a very light mouthfeel. Nothing wrong with this whisky, but I didn’t take to it until the last couple of sips. At 46% and all natural presentation, I felt this dram benefitted from added water.

I wouldn’t rush out to buy this but would think a few more years in the cask would improve it. I’d certainly try it again.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Sheep – 123rf

All other Photos – Authors Own

All content on this site is subject to copyright and should not be reproduced.

Take Heed Of A Red Flag

Taste Review #121 Penderyn Red Flag (Icons Of Wales)

As I meander through the whiskies of the world, I have to make time for the Celtic cousins of the Scots, the Welsh.

Penderyn was established in 2000 and was the first whisky distillery in Wales since the 19th century. There has been a resurgence of whisky distilling in Wales with a small handful of distilleries starting up. Aber Falls released their inaugural whisky in May 2021 to much fanfare, not only because its reported to be a good whisky but the low price of their first release. New startups take note – you don’t need to be greedy for what is only a three year old product.

The whisky I am tasting for you today is the Penderyn Red Flag from their Icons Of Wales series. It commemorates the first use of a red flag as a symbol of protest which took place over the execution of a miner during the 1831 Merthyr Rising. The miner was called Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) and was hung for the stabbing of a soldier during the riots.



Penderyn Red Flag

Region – Wales Age – NAS Strength – 41% Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Madeira Finish Colouring – Not stated on box Chill Filtered – No. Nose – Caramel, Stewed Rhubarb, Raspberry, Orange citrus. Palate – Medium mouthfeel, obviously young whisky. Grassy, dried herbs that are long out of date, tarragon, unseasoned cashews, orange citrus, Apple Sourz. Finish -Medium. Creamy and nutty. A taste of petrol at the end.



Conclusions

I hate to say this, but in my opinion this whisky was truly awful. Not completely awful as I really appreciated the nose, but it went downhill rapidly from there. The dried grassy herbs note was not pleasant at all, as though I’d necked a jar of out of date Schwartz. I managed to finish the sample but had I bought a full bottle I suspect it would have become a very expensive drain cleaner.

The finish left me feeling as though I’d been syphoning the fuel out of a Rover Metro which for me was just the icing on the cake.

I’ve had a few people tell me that Penderyn wasn’t to their taste. I have given them the benefit of the doubt. But red flags usually signify danger and I’m wishing I had paid attention to my friends and even Clarky on Four in a Bed.

Clip from Channel 4’s Four In A Bed. Clarky gives an honest appraisal

I would have thought a fortified wine finish would have had more body, more sweetness but while this was present in the nose, it was missing in action everywhere else. I cannot recommend this particular bottle. However it has let me know that if I was to try further Penderyn, a sample first before buying will be required.

Of course I will give Penderyn another try, but not in the near future.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

I Come From A Land Down Under

Taste Review #120 Starward Dolce

You just can’t be in two places at one time. As much as there is plenty to go around, you can’t split yourself in two without negative consequences. And that’s why I found myself on a ship in India and not on my usual vessel, which is now in Australia. Twice with this company I have obtained an Australian work visa and twice I haven’t gone. Guess I’m just going to taste their whisky instead.

There are a few distilleries to choose from and in my quest to try a few world whiskies I decided to try one from the Starward distillery. This isn’t your typical distillery hidden in a glen or a valley; it’s set up in the middle of Melbourne. Founded by David Vitale in 2007, the distillery makes use of locally grown ingredients and casks from the Australian wine industry. Add some variable hot and humid weather and you get a perfect environment for rapidly maturing whisky.

The whisky I’m tasting today is the Starward Dolce. Limited to 4800 bottles, it is around the 4 year old mark. Matured in Australian Red Wine casks and finished in a dessert wine cask, let’s see if the New World whisky is as good as some of their wines.



Starward Dolce

Region – Australia Age – 4 y.o Strength – 48% abv Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – Red Wine / Dessert Wine Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Red fruit, strawberries, Raspberries, chocolate, Pink Marshmallow, quite sweet. Salted caramel. Palate – quite spicy on the arrival. Spirit burn to the fore. Ginger, pepper, gives way to sweetness, again with the marshmallow. Dates. Medium mouthfeel, slightly oily. Finish – short and sweet. Pretty pleasant to be fair. The caramel theme carries on and fades into stone fruit. Possibly chocolate coated cherries. The spices drop off quite quickly.



Conclusions

I’m glad the original inhabitants of Australia were poor at evading capture after committing criminal activities, as without those original colonial settlers, we would not have had a whisky as delightful as this one. I picked this one as the tasting notes of fruit were right up my alley and I have not been disappointed in the slightest.

It is worth remembering that despite its young age, the environmental conditions in Melbourne mature whisky faster, and this while still detectably young, drinks like an older whisky than it is. I could go onto wine critics descriptors such as a tango on the tongue, like lambs gambolling across green grass meadows, a party on one’s palate but I won’t. It wasn’t that good. I would however strongly recommend if you enjoy a fruity whisky, this is one to get. I’ll certainly keep an eye out on this distillery.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

An Indian Winter

Taste Review #119 – Amrut Fusion

When I thought of doing a wee run of world whiskies for review and to expand ones horizons, one of the natural choices was Indian whisky. This is most appropriate at the time of writing I am currently working offshore the east coast of India, working from the port of Kakinada.

India is for me one of these countries of extremes. It can be filthy, yet colourful. It has many rich people within, yet sees the extremes of poverty when you do an excursion around the Dharavi slums, made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire. You can experience the mountains of the North, leading onto the Himalayas, or have a beach holiday in Goa, and everything between.


Cows everywhere in the streets of Kakinada – I think this one is interested in seeing a moo-vie

When I last worked in India during 2009, we used to fly from an airport called Rajahmundry, about an hours drive from the port of Kakinada in Andra Pradesh. The journey between the two towns was in a rural area giving the opportunity to see some very pastoral scenes. The city sits on the eastern bank of the sacred Godavari river, and we’d often get a night in a hotel there before flying out the next day. One of the hotels I remember sat on the riverside and we used to have our well deserved beer after 6 weeks of abstinence. Forget the ideas of Kingfisher lager – we were in India and the brands we were offered were Haywards 5000, Royal Challenge, Knockout and Maharaja. If you know the Scottish sit-com Still Game, you’ll understand when I say images of Fusilier lager came to mind!

And so it comes to pass that Indian whisky has always been in my head as an unknown quantity. Totally incorrect I will have to admit. As I am writing this, I don’t have any facts and figures to hand, but I’m sure that I remember that Indian whisky is the largest seller worldwide. You’ll need to check the Malt Whisky year book to confirm, but I’m sure Johnny Walker is the highest selling Scotch brand but only manages third place. So, if Indian whisky can sell so much, it can’t be bad, eh?

Because I didn’t want to invest in a whole bottle that I may not take to and I already have a surplus of open 70cl bottles, I chose to buy a variety of world whiskies using the Perfect Measure from The Whisky Exchange and Drinks by the Dram from Master Of Malt. The Indian sample I chose was from The Whisky Exchange and is Amrut Fusion.

Amrut Distilleries started out in 1948 after the British Colonising forces withdrew the previous year. Based in Bangalore, the current distillery was built in 1987. It came to more attention when whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murray gave their whisky a 82 out of 100 in 2005 and 2010. These were in the days when many Indian whiskies were made up of cheap imported Scottish whiskies blended with local spirit, so the bar had been raised for Indian whisky.

Maturing spirits in a hot and humid climate is totally different to doing it in Scotland. The higher temperature gives a much higher evaporation rate of around 10-12% compared to 2% in Scotland. Therefore I doubt we’ll ever see significant age statement Indian whiskies in quantity.

The whisky I chose was Amrut Fusion. This was originally launched in 2009 and it is made with 25% peated Scottish barley and 75% Indian unpeated barley. While some of the ingredients have Scottish provenance, it is very much still an Indian Whisky. So let’s see if the fusion of Scottish and Indian barley makes a taste sensation on my palate.


Amrut Fusion – a fusion of Scottish and Indian Barley

Amrut Fusion

Region – India Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Barley, wood shavings, light smoke, peaches, orange peel, runny honey, barley sugar. With water added got an ozone note of distressed electrical equipment. Palate – gentle arrival, light / medium mouth feel. Pineapple, wood, barley, chocolate (?), smoky peat. Creamy caramel. Orange rind. Finish – medium / long. Peat smoke, astringent, brine, woody taste (oak). Fades into a marmalade-esque sweetness and a bit of a spicy burn. Water takes away most of the spicy finish.


The Dram

Conclusions

Not too bad is my conclusion. I’m not a regular drinker of world whisky, so my experience of this is limited. I’d drink this again, but not sure if I’d buy a bottle. I’d say I much preferred this with a drop of water.

I don’t understand how Jim Murray can say this was the third best single malt whisky in the world in 2010, as I can think of many more that I’ve enjoyed more than this, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad whisky at all. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to pick some Indian whisky up on the way home…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


All content subject to copyright and must not be replicated without permission.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Black Isle Bummer

Whisky Review #118 – Glen Ord 12, 15, 18.

Not one to be positive when there is a chance of negativity, in this article you could say I’ve hit the jackpot. I’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory somewhat, but it is a hollow victory.

One of the issues of being a whisky geek is working out when you need to switch off from the constant marketing, promotions and opinions from those in the whisky social media circles that you mix in. While you may get a lot of enjoyment of having a massive and consistent whisky geek out, for me I’ve been finding this more of a burden than a blessing. While I usually have broad shoulders for these sort of things, I’ve become tired of bearing the load, so I’ve decided to shed some of the dead weight that troubles me. But like my big belly, this weight isn’t the easiest to offload.


Glen Ord Visitors Centre

I understand the need for marketing and pushing a product. Otherwise how would we know what is new and available? How would we get information about products? It can just be anything from subtle advertising in a publication or repeated adverts online – a personal hate of mine. Or it can be countless people online repeating the same stories countless times. Don’t ask me about Whisky Santa or Tweet Tastings – those got muted some time ago.

Before you are wondering what has happened to make me so bitter and twisted, don’t worry, I’m not. I’m just tired and have developed a low tolerance for faff that continually targets me but provides little benefit to my journey. I first spotted this issue after a visit to Glen Ord distillery in February 2020. Before I start this semi-rant, I’d be interested to find out how many people feel the same, so pay attention to my points.


Mash tun. 99.9% of distilleries have one

Once upon a time Diageo had three Singletons – Glendullan which was for the US market. Dufftown was for the European market and Glen Ord was for the Asian market. Therefore, before I visited Glen Ord it was a distillery I knew little about. That’s because most of their produce goes directly overseas to the Far East, where they don’t seem to be able to get enough of it.

It’s a pleasant enough distillery, with all the same bits that other distilleries have. The tour started with a video and off we went around the plant. But what stood out to me was the guide. I remember their name, but I won’t mention it for not wanting to embarrass them, but I have to say it was the worst tour I’ve ever had in a distillery. Not because the guide was unpleasant – indeed they were polite and courteous. My fellow visitors were the same. What made it the worst tour for me was the constant company propaganda.


Glen Ord Washbacks. Other distilleries have them too.

Of course, each distillery will try to make their product look as good as possible. Go to the Tellytubby-like distillery of Macallan and it’s a full on assault of the senses with audio visuals. Despite me not being a big fan of Macallan, I was expecting the sort of bombast from what is undeniably an iconic brand. Given the impressive nature of their new distillery and the premier status of their product, there was no way that they weren’t going to shout from the rooftops about what they do.

But we now look back to Glen Ord. This is a brand not many people in the UK know, unless you are a whisky geek. Or you may have had an independently bottled spirit, picked up one through a Diageo special release or travel retail. While I have never owned a bottle of Glen Ord, I have tasted it before and it wasn’t anything stunning. So it grated on me a little bit when my guide was singing the company line. Everything the distillery did was apparently to the highest standard that no other distillery matched.


Glen Ord Stills. All other distilleries stills.

You can’t blame the guide for trying. But for this weary whisky geek it was too much – the trip switch got flicked and rather than turn me on to the brand, it turned me off. It got to the point that I could not wait to get out of there.

As mine was a solo trip, the samples given at the end had to be put into a drivers pack for me to taste at home. The tour at the time gave out samples of the 12, 15 and 18 year old. If I remember correctly, the 12 was bourbon matured cask, the 18 Sherry matured and the 15 was a 50:50 mix of both. And unusually instead of the usual Glencairn style glass you get from a visit to a Diageo distillery, the glass given was a rocker glass. Unusual to me, as I prefer the Glencairn, it was at least a full sized glass. At last I had found something to intrigue me, but it didn’t fire my imagination too much as the glass went into the cupboard and the samples went to the back of the cabinet and got forgotten about.


Muir Of Ord maltings. Gives away the mass produced nature of Glen Ord and other Diageo Malts.

So we come now to the present day. I took it upon myself to sort out the whisky samples in the display cabinet in the kitchen. There lies the wreckage of samples tried then forgotten as I either didn’t care for it or I had just not got around to tasting them. There, hiding in the background were the Glen Ord. Better late than never I suppose, and this would give me the chance to clear three sample bottles. It also gave me the chance to test the rocker glass I had also been ignoring.

I wanted to be positive. Trust me, I did so badly. I wanted to like this whisky. Alas it was not to be. What I thought should have been a 10ml sample wasn’t even that (8ml x 3) and looked decidedly pathetic in the glass. I don’t know if this affected my perception of the whisky, but I’ll be honest and say it didn’t help. The samples were only really two sips each which made it almost impossible to do any serious tasting of the whisky, so hence in this review there are no tasting notes.


(L-R) 12 y.o, 15 y.o, 18 y.o Glen Ord. Spot the two major issues.

To be truthful, I did get the aroma profile of a bourbon, sherry and mixed casks from the nosing but it would be impossible to say much about the flavour profile as the samples were so small it wasn’t easy to tell. Yes, again there were hints of sherry and bourbon, but that’s about it. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the drams if I was to be honest. If you are going to shout about how good your product is, at least give us enough to be able to taste it.

And here we come to the worst point – this is a whisky aimed at a certain market. Even when we look at the samples we can see that they are all the same colour despite the difference in age and casks. We know that this dram is chill filtered. We know it’s diluted and we know it’s coloured, so in a message to distilleries, please don’t continue to preach about quality and standards when you are handing out a whisky that has been blended for a foreign palate and has been butchered to an inch of its life in unnatural and undesirable processes. We know you’ve got to do your marketing spiel, but to me it’s all getting a bit boring, especially when the product does not live up to the hype.


Rocker Glass. The Glen Ord sample looks lost in it. Did not enhance my experience at all.

A recent tour of Glenallachie during Spirit of Speyside 2021 also seemed to follow a company script, but was a lot more subtle. Once you’ve done a few tours, you’ll understand what I mean. The great thing was that this time the tour was given by a true whisky enthusiast and had a great deal of personal passion which could be based on their knowledge of other whiskies. I have to be careful as the guide on my tour is a follower of my blog, but I can comfortably say the message was passed over to everybody with a personal interaction; they genuinely wanted to know how the others were enjoying their whisky. They took the criticism of one of the drams well. And being fair, to push the Glenallachie line wouldn’t be a boast as Billy Walker does seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to consistently releasing good whisky. You could comfortably argue this would be a statement of fact in my opinion.

Alas, it’s lodged deeply in my mindset rightly or wrongly that a large distillery pumping out the goods to a specific mass market doesn’t necessarily earn the same bragging rights. It’s your money they are after is what you need to remember and you want to ensure is that you are going to be spending your money on quality based on taste and not some company fed bombast.

Turds can be polished regardless of the myth, therefore when consuming marketing or promotional output, it is essential to know not all that glitters is gold. By all means pay attention to what is getting released, but for me the best thing to do is let the whisky do the talking. Glen Ord may not be the metaphorical turd; not everyone can like everything, but I won’t be paying out for a special release or an original bottling. I think I’ll be seeking out an independent bottling to see if I can connect to this distillery in another way.

Now, as it’s now past the season for the Christmas Grinch, I’m happy to assume his duties for the rest of the year. After this rant, perhaps it’s time to beat up Whisky Santa. The miserable git didn’t even give me a bottle of Bells…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

All content within this blog is subject to copyright.

In The Bleak Midwinter

Taste Review #117 Glenmorangie A Midwinter Night’s Dram.

As I write this, the bleakness of a Highland winter couldn’t be further from my mind as I head to warmer climes. Pity it’s not a holiday and will mean Christmas away from my family again. But on one point I can’t really pretend to be sorry, as who really misses having to constantly shovel snow off the path, de-ice windscreens and the long dark nights? No, I didn’t think there would be many hands shooting up with keen voices shouting “Me, Me, Me!” If you were one of these deranged people then I’ve got a wee job for you…


A hard frost this morning. Nae looking forward to de-icing the car.

Thinking of the title of this latest review, I was reminded of a snowy winter scene. I am a bit nostalgic for the winters we used to get as children. Snow was often a magical, beautiful thing and it’s arrival often was around the time that the fat guy in the red suit started leaving presents. I remember way back in the day going round the streets of my home village in Aberdeen singing carols at Christmas time. In the snow was the best, as it seemed to deaden the sound of the adjacent airport and made the whole activity seem that little bit more traditional.

But the truth of a Scottish winter can be miserable with short days and long nights for months on end. It’s no surprise that the suicide rate in the Northern Highlands and Islands is sadly so high. So the kind bosses at the Ross-shire distillery Glenmorangie used to have a tradition that saw them give the workers a gift of whisky to help them warm themselves at home over the festive season. Perhaps giving people alcohol to assist their mental health may not be so approved of nowadays, but in the past this would have been appreciated when distilleries employed far more people and times were definitely not as easy as today.


That’s a bit of a frost. Midwinter in Kingussie 1978. The building on the right is the Tipsy Laird pub. I won’t be complaining of de-icing the car so much now. (Am Baile)

As a nod to this tradition, Glenmorangie released a whisky called a Midwinter Night’s Dram. It harks back to that whisky that was given to employees. It’s supposed to be fruity and spicy so sounds as though it’s just the job to cuddle up to on a cold winters night.

I managed to get this sample as part of a delivery from the Really Good Whisky Company. They had a bit of a flood and stock was damaged. So they had a draw in which you paid £49.50 for a ticket. The bottle would be at least that value. There was at least one bottle that was worth £1800. While I wasn’t imagining I’d win the first prize, I thought the chances of me getting something worth more than £50 was high.


Unrequested freebie. Still, all said and done a nice touch.

Well, me and a lot of others were disappointed as what we got was an old style Glenturret. This had been discontinued in this packaging for over a year and I couldn’t help but feel I had been duped into entering a draw to move new-old stock. I was livid, as my bottle was completely undamaged. If you know my whisky journey, you’ll understand that I know exactly what a flood damaged bottle looks like. But now I’ve calmed down and now we approach Christmas and the season of goodwill, it is time to forgive and move on. Perhaps this is the appropriate dram to have.

Glenmorangie – A Midwinter Night’s Dram

Region – Highland Age – NAS Strength – 43% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Red apple, orange peel, biscuit, caramel, biscuit. Palate – Medium body – oily. Malted biscuits, orange, slight drying bitterness. Caramel in background but hidden a bit by oak spice – cinnamon and nutmeg. Peppery too Finish – spicy and drying. Medium length. Pepper, cinnamon, citrus – more lemon / lime bitterness.



Conclusions

Not requested or expected. That’s the best way to sum up this free dram. I thought it to be a nice touch in all honesty and had discounted its value when thinking of my raffle prize. Eventually I’m going to get calm about TRGW Co using me as a patsy to shift excess stock. And it was a Glenmorangie I wouldn’t have otherwise bought so I got an experience that was reasonably enjoyable.

Would I buy it? No, not based on this taste but not because there was anything wrong with it; the whisky didn’t light my fire, as simple as that. However given that it was free was a big plus point. Being Aberdonian made me see the value. Should I be offered this again I’d be happy to drink it. The whisky for me was spicy and drying while I prefer the more sweet and fruity drams.

This will be the last review before Christmas, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2022. Here’s hoping it’s an improvement on 2020 and 2021.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Kingussie High Street November 1978 – Am Baile Highland Archive

All other photos – Authors own

All content on this site is subject to copyright and may not be reused without permission. Image copyright remains with the photographer or copyright holder and is credited as appropriate.

The Tale of Two Towns

Taste Review # 116 – Banff 1974 CC / Glen Deveron

When you go to a whisky distillery or read the rear of the packaging, there is usually some story or legend connected to the distillery. For this review I manage to review two Highland whiskies from the North East of Scotland. One distillery has been wiped from the face of the earth, while one continues producing almost anonymously. One has the sad epithet of perhaps being the unluckiest distillery in Scotland and the other seems to have little story at all. But in the absence of an industry created legend, there is a story which connects the two communities associated with these whiskies. These distilleries were part of two towns on either side of the mouth of the River Deveron, namely Banff and Macduff. This tale not only connects both these towns, but also the Badenoch area in which I currently live, and later involves Scots literary titan Robert Burns. It is a tale of illegitimacy, prejudice, outlaws, treachery plus a hanging. It will also include a fiddle and a well known Scots folk song.

So, if you are intrigued, pour yourself a dram, put your feet up and let me tell you a story.

For over 300 years, Macduff residents don’t tell people from Banff the time.

While there is only a river that separates the two towns, Banff and Macduff are very different places. Both fishing towns, for over three centuries there has been a now largely forgotten feud that has been part of Scottish folklore ever since. For if you are to look at the tower of the Doune Church in Macduff which houses the town clock, you will observe that there is a face to the east side, and one facing out north to sea. There can’t be one to the south due to the building construction but unusually there is no clock face on the west side for the people on the Banff side to see. The reason that Macduff people traditionally do not give people from Banff the time is all down to the hanging of Jamie Macpherson on the 16th November 1700.


Doune Church, Macduff (Stanley Howe)

The link to Badenoch area which happens to be the southernmost reaches of the Speyside whisky region comes from the illegitimate birth of James MacPherson (Jamie), the product of a tryst between one of the land owning Invereshie MacPherson clan and an attractive gypsy traveller woman. When his father died, the young Jamie returned to his mother’s travelling folk and soon became the Scottish equivalent of Robin Hood, embracing the vagrant lifestyle and robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Tales attest to his popularity and his skill with a sword and a fiddle, but he had a few powerful enemies – namely Lord Braco.

The Lord Braco was a rich landowner that had property around 5 miles east of Keith, in the region of Bracobrae. He’d have plenty of reasons to be vexed by Jamie Macpherson when his livestock or that of his tenants was robbed, as there is evidence that Macpherson was a reiver, a Scots word for Bandit. Being a traveller or a gypsy made it worse as since 1573 it was illegal to be a Gypsy (called Egiptians / Egyptians) in Scotland and when he was captured by Braco at the St Rufus fair in Keith, this was the charge to be put against him. At the fair, there was a skirmish to capture Jamie, and the legend was that a woman threw a blanket over him from an upstairs window ledge disabling his fighting ability for long enough that he could be captured.

Unfortunately for Jamie, the blanket was only the start of the treachery against him. The jury for his trial in Banff courthouse was never going to be unbiased, as the jury was full of people sympathetic to Braco. Judge Dunbar, also a friend of Braco, quickly found Macpherson guilty. For the charges of being an Egiptian and a vagabond the penalty was death and MacPherson was scheduled to be hung on the gallows tree along with three others.

The story goes that MacPherson played a lament on his fiddle before he was hung and once he was finished, he offered his fiddle to his fellow clan members. Nobody took it as it would betray them as being part of MacPherson’s band of vagabonds, so he smashed it over his knee, proclaiming nobody else shall play it.


Banff Town Clock Mechanism in Clan MacPherson’s Museum, Newtonmore

It is now we come to the part where the issue of the time comes. Upon the sentence being pronounced, a friend of MacPherson rode to Aberdeen to the High Court to get the sentence overturned. Prior to the hanging, Braco saw the rider coming with the pardon, so had the town clock advanced 15 minutes so the hanging could legally take place. And this is why people in Macduff traditionally never give people in Banff the time, as they remember the injustice served to Jamie MacPherson.

The remains of the fiddle were recovered and returned to the MacPherson clan at Cluny Castle, between Newtonmore and Laggan on the A86. The fiddle is now on display in the Clan Macpherson museum in Newtonmore.


The fiddle of James Macpherson in the Clan Macpherson Museum, Newtonmore

To cement the place this story has in Scots folklore, the words of the lament Macpherson played before he was hung were worked into a song by Robert Burns in 1788, known as MacPherson’s Farewell.

MacPherson’s Farewell

Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch’s destinie!
McPherson’s time will not be long,
On yonder gallows-tree.

Chorus (after each verse)
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play’d a spring,
and danc’d it round,
Below the gallows-tree.


O what is death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I’ve dar’d his face, and in this place
I scorn him yet again!


Untie these bands from off my hands,
And bring me to my sword;
And there’s no a man in all scotland.
But I’ll brave him at a word.


I’ve liv’d a life of sturt and strife;
I die by treacherie:
It burns my heart I must depart,
And not avenged be.


Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!


Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play’d a spring, and danc’d it round,
Below the gallows-tree.


I remember it from the popular Scots Folk singers The Corries. This was a regular tape that was played in the family car which formed at the time what I imagined to be the forerunner to modern child abuse by music, but in what may be a case of Stockholm Syndrome, I find myself tapping my foot to this. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube – MacPhersons Rant


View of Macduff from Banff (Xavier Laffitte)

And back to whisky!

The whisky distilleries in Banff and Macduff are also very different. One has sadly fallen silent and now no longer exists whereas the other is a more modern distillery and is still in production.

The original Banff distillery was situated at Mains of Colleonard just to the south west of Banff. In 1823 the Excise Act was passed and the first distillery at Banff was established by Major James McKilligan, who lived at Mains of Colleonard, along with two others, Mr Alex McKay and Mr William Hodge. The distillery was known as the Mill of Banff distillery and in 1826 was producing 3230 gallons of spirit.

The 2nd Banff distillery from which my sample comes from was built closer to the village of Inverboyndie and had a more reliable water source from springs on Fiskaidy Farm. Also the recently built Great North Of Scotland Railway built a branch line to Banff which passed the distillery site which made it easy to get raw materials in and whisky out. James Simpson built the new distillery in 1863, but this distillery had a very unfortunate existence involving fire and explosions. The distillery had a major fire that destroyed much of the distillery in May 1877. The distillery was rebuilt by October that year, and a fire engine was then stationed at the distillery. In 1921, a portion of the distillery was sold to Miles End Distillery Company, but by 1932, DCL bought the distillery outright for £50,000 and closed it immediately.


Banff Distillery (unknown photographer)

On the 16th of August 1941, a Luftwaffe Junkers JU88 bomber operating from Sola (now called Stavanger airport) attacked the distillery, suspecting it to be a military target associated with the nearby RAF base at Boyndie, which destroyed warehouse 12. Much stock was lost and spirit flowed into the local streams which resulted in reports of very intoxicated livestock in nearby fields. RAF Banff would be an important target as Mosquito fighter bombers based there were used for the hunting down and destruction of German shipping in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast. In 1943, 248 Squadron moved into the distillery and remained there until the end of the war.

After the war, the distillery resumed production but its relationship with catastrophe was reignited when in 1959 an explosion happened when a coppersmith was repairing one of the stills. DCL were fined £15 for safety breaches but thankfully nobody was seriously hurt.

But by 1964, the adjacent branch line stopped carrying passengers and by 1968 had also closed completely to freight, making transport costly as at the time the distillery was still coal fired. In 1963, the coal fired stills were converted from being fed by hand to a mechanical feed. In 1970, the distillery stills were converted to oil firing.


Site of Banff Distillery 2011 (Anne Burgess)

One can only guess why DCL selected Banff for closure during the 1980’s whisky glut. Being a small distillery of a single wash still and two spirit stills, possibly needing investment and higher transport costs, the distillery closed its doors in 1983. By the late 1980’s much of the site had been dismantled with only some warehouses being left. It’s kind of appropriate for such an unlucky distillery that the last of the warehouses were destroyed by fire in 1991. Pretty ironic don’t you think? The site is now derelict with limited remains of the former buildings, and is a site begging for development. Sadly this will likely be housing. So we should maybe have a moment of remembrance as we move to take a sample of Banff whisky.

Banff 1974 Connoisseurs Choice

Banff 1974, Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice

Region – Highland Age – VINTAGE Strength – 40% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Nutty, malty, green apple, pineapple, runny honey Palate – Medium mouthfeel, apples, honey, hazelnuts, slight woody notes with a fizz on the tongue. Finish – Not as short as I thought it would be. Honey, Ginger, Malt, hint of oak spices. After leaving in the glass for a while, there was a spirit burn on swallowing.

This whisky opened up quite a bit over the evening. It took me three hours to drink and by the end I could say that with the burn that developed, it was hard to believe that this sample had been so evaporated.

Macduff Distillery

Macduff distillery was one of a few of ‘new’ distilleries that appeared in the early 1960’s, slightly after Tormore and Glen Keith and just before the mini boom in the mid 60’s. Unlike its closest rival, it has never suffered any similar catastrophes.

Founded by brokers that included Brodie Hepburn who also had involvement with Deanston and Tullibardine, the distillery eventually came into the ownership of William Lawson, which is the whisky making arm of Martini & Rossi. The distillery eventually expanded to have 5 stills by 1990 and two years later, Martini merged with Bacardi. This resulted in the distillery becoming part of the Dewars stable in 1995.

Traditionally, the original bottlings from the Macduff distillery have been labelled as Glen Deveron or Deveron. Independently bottled spirit is normally named Macduff. The output from this distillery is normally unpeated, with a large majority of it destined either for blending or to export. It’s apparently quite popular in Italy.

Glen Deveron 12

Glen Deveron 12 1980’s distillation

I took the opportunity to put the remains of the sample into the fridge to see if there was any Scotch Mist that would appear. None did, so chill filtering is effectively confirmed.

Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not stated, likely Bourbon Colouring – Not Stated, probably Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Nutty, almond like marzipan, custard, pear, salty air Palate – cream crackers, apricot, unsalted potato crisps, stewed fruit, brine. Really watery mouth feel. Finish – Short and disappointing. Brine, bitter. Stewed fruit with wood spices. Slight burn.

I have no idea of the age of this bottle but it’s contents are not that attention grabbing. I’d go as far as say this whisky tastes flat.

Conclusions

This was never a taste comparison. Both were whiskies from distilleries of different eras and was a good way of killing two samples in one review. It was also a good opportunity to tell a wee story of the area both distilleries originate from. Great tales are often told while nursing a dram and I hope that I be have done these stories justice.

I doubt I’ll ever own a full sized bottle of Banff whisky. It may happen if I see one at the right price but as the years go on, the remaining spirit will be diminishing as bottles get drunk. I would be amazed if there are many more complete casks in existence so this will be more and more a unicorn whisky. It made no sense to keep my sample in its bottle only to evaporate to nothing, so the best thing to do was drink it. A dram has finally made its destiny and whisky history has been drunk. And the world’s stock of Banff has decreased by 40ml or so. Another true moment of whisky history consumed.

When it comes to the Deveron I have to say that I got a shock at how flat the dram was. Of course the purpose of the distillery is mainly to provide malt whisky for blends but the dram had no strong character. It was almost as though I’d drunk an alcohol free whisky. Despite the bottle being properly sealed and no sign of evaporation with a good fill level, there was just something missing. I suppose you can’t like everything.

Without a doubt the evaporated Banff which was originally bottled at 40% also was the far superior dram.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Doune Church – Stanley Howe – (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

Doune Church, Macduff – Xavier Laffitte (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

Banff Distillery– unknown photographer/ public domain

Banff Distillery Site – Anne Burgess (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

All other photos – Authors Own

ALL PHOTOS ARE SUBJECT TO COPYWRITE AND SHOULD NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PERMISSION

That’s The Spirit!

It’s amazing how often you can drive by something and not realise the treat you are missing. Being somebody who works away from home, I get used to missing things as deadlines and events pass me by. But this month I was going to make a stand and take action about some things that I’ve passed by for years.

The first thing that that I regularly pass by is the Bridge of Avon at Ballindalloch castle. If you are familiar with the A95 road that runs through Speyside, you’ll know of the hairpin like bend that descends past the Delnashaugh Hotel, towards Ballindalloch Post Office and Filling station. There is a modern bridge going over the River Avon, and out one side, you may see the gatehouse for one of the Ballindalloch Castle entrances, but it’s hard to see the old bridge.


The Bridge Of Avon

The other thing that is easy to pass by is some whitewashed steadings, but not just any old steadings – these contain the Ballindalloch Distillery, which started production in 2014. I have to admit that I don’t pass it by, as I have visited before and completed the ‘Art Of Whisky Making’ day that was run before the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic. This time I was going to be able to stop and take part in my first Spirit of Speyside Festival event in many years.

The Spirit of Speyside festival is probably the largest whisky festival in Scotland, if not the UK. Starting in 1999, the festival can ordinarily have over 700 events spread out over 6 days. Over the past couple of years, the festival has been impacted by the pandemic and the normally springtime event in 2021 was moved to the late autumn. This was great news for me. Normally the spring through to summer periods are a busy time at work due to the fact a lot of projects kick off at sea when the weather is more conducive to oil industry operations so I normally miss out, but the rescheduled festival this year meant I could take part once again.


Ballindalloch Distillery

As part of the Spirit of Speyside Festival this year, the distillery opened its doors once more. Not only would you get a detailed tour of the very compact distillery, but you would also get the chance to taste their single malt some two years before its official release.

Our party of 8 for this event included Richard Forsyth OBE, the former managing director of Forsyth’s of Rothes, the company famous for the manufacture of distilling equipment. Mr Forsyth told the story how he and some golfing chums used to play on the Ballindalloch Golf course. One day they had been playing and had met the Laird of Ballindalloch Castle at the time, Oliver Russell. Mr Russell had been mentioning to Mr Forsyth and his friends that he didn’t know what to do with the ruined buildings, which were listed, and means they could not be demolished, so the story goes that Mr Forsyth had suggested a distillery.

It is a good job that this advice was taken, for by 2014 the Ballindalloch distillery had started production. One of the issues in the construction was that the buildings could not be modified externally due to listing regulations, therefore any distilling equipment had to be fitted within the available space.


Mash tun and stainless steel under back

The distillery has a copper topped mash tun, with a charge of 1 ton of grist, the process then flows through the building beyond with 4 wooden washbacks followed by the single wash and spirit stills. All the equipment is on an upper mezzanine which makes the process easier to understand. While the majority of those present had been to the distillery before, the distillery manager Colin Poppy gave us a detailed yet unhurried tour and the opportunity to ask whatever questions we wished.


Wash backs with spirit Spirit Still and Wash Still in the background.
We’d be meeting this one later

Previously, tours usually ended in the tasting hall or sitting room where there were comfortable sofas to sit and relax while drinking whisky from some of the family Cragganmore whisky casks, on account of there being no Ballindalloch whisky to taste. This time was going to be different.


The tasting table

I’m not going to beat around the bush; the highlight of this trip was to sample the Ballindalloch whisky. For the tasting we were able to try two 7 year old samples of Ballindalloch. One was from cask 5, which was a bourbon cask, and the second one was from an Oloroso sherry cask number 130. 

Due to the nature of the tasting, I wasn’t able to take detailed tasting notes of any of the whiskies at the time as I was not able to take the time to really analyse the drams but I can give you the following: –


Ballindalloch Single Malt. Bourbon Cask 5 on the left, Oloroso Cask 130 on the right.

7 Year old Bourbon Cask – 60.3%

Nose: – Black pepper, Apples, slightly acidic – lemon. Hint of vanilla.

Palate: – Sweet – vanilla fudge, Apple jolly rancher candies, pastry notes. Became more spicy once water added, and the apple became less prominent and more like an apple pie with cinnamon and ginger. Light to medium mouthfeel with little spirit burn.

Finish: – Long but gentle finish with the apple, ginger and vanilla notes fading gradually.

7 Year Old Oloroso Cask – 60.2%

Nose: – Raisins, Fig, Christmas cake sponge, Red Apple.

Palate: – Much more Raisins and Fig, Plums, Sultanas, Nutmeg. Sweet, light to medium body, excellent mouthfeel with little spirit burn.

Finish: – Again, became a little spicier when water added. Another gentle fade with the Christmas Cake Spices and dried fruit dominating.

These drams both have something in common – at no point would you have guessed you were drinking cask strength spirit at such a young age. I found both these spirits to be immediately drinkable. Water was not necessary, though did open the spirit. Indeed, everybody at the tasting had the same opinion of the Ballindalloch spirit. It was agreed that the whisky that we were provided was exceptional. In my opinion the fact that Ballindalloch had made the decision not to release whisky as soon as they could legally do so was the correct one. I’ve tasted a few younger drams from some of the recent crop of recently opened distilleries and they come nowhere close to this.


Three Cragganmore from the MacPherson-Grant private casks

The three Cragganmore that followed were also very delicious, ranging from a 28 y.o Bourbon Cask at 53.1%, a 28 y.o 2nd fill Bourbon cask at 42.6% and a 29 year old PX cask at 43.2%. 

Ballindalloch will always be a distillery with limited supply of whisky when they eventually release. All the barley for the distillery is grown on the Ballindalloch estate, and the distillery was never designed with 24 hr operation in mind. If they were to up production, they would also likely need more washbacks to maintain the long fermentation times that are required to give the light and fruity spirit that is produced at Ballindalloch. And here is where the problem lies is that there is no room for extra washbacks. 

With Ballindalloch not having a large output and not able to expand, it is likely that releases of Ballindalloch will have the same buzz that is seen when a Daftmill is released. And it deserves this accolade, if not more than Daftmill. I’ve had early Daftmill and at 12 years old it came nowhere near to the levels of enjoyment I got with the Ballindalloch whisky. Colin and his team have done an excellent job in developing the Ballindalloch distillery right from the start. The unrushed approach to the distillation of the whisky has paid off, and I can’t wait to taste the final spirit.


Empty glasses are a sure sign of a good dram

We were told that Ballindalloch is not likely to release its spirit until 2023, this will be as an 8 year old. Colin informed those present that the plan would ideally to be to progress to a 10 and 12 year old once stocks allow. Of course, one does hope for single cask releases too.

Based on this experience, I don’t think anybody should have any sleepless nights over the quality of this whisky. The only sleepless nights I will get will be because I just can’t wait.

Hopefully the Ballindalloch distillery will get back to allowing regular tours next year, as well as the day long ‘Art of Whisky’ making course. I can personally recommend this, as you can see the passion in the Ballindalloch team in their distillery, the care they take with their spirit, and hopefully now the smiles they will have now the public have had a taste of their work and have loved it.

The countdown has begun to 2023.

Yours In Spirits (and in Speyside!)

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Thanks also to Fiona and Andrew at the Delnashaugh hotel just around the corner from Ballindalloch distillery. I stayed here when visiting for the Art Of Whisky day and again for this trip as I could not drive after drinking.

A great family run hotel with delicious food and large comfortable rooms. I slept well and the breakfast the next day was outstanding. I thoroughly recommend that anybody visiting Ballindalloch consider staying here.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own