Hiding in plain sight. Thats often what I think when I essentially ransack my study or bedroom looking for something that is sitting innocently on a shelf in full view when I am doing my mental calculations as to where I last saw it. Before I left for my last offshore trip I couldn’t find my head torch. I always have a dirty one for work, yet also carry a clean one if I am going to be staying in a hotel or have one in my cabin. Should there be a fire, you never know when you will need help. After wasting a day and a half looking for it and realising that I could have left it in a hotel in Borneo, I was only able to start to end the mental anguish by ordering a new one. And 6 hours after ordering, I found the old one tangled up in the lanyards of my memory sticks. I shook my head, as I tipped that bag out twice. It’s never easy being me sometimes.
The dram that I am going to review just now is the similar, although I haven’t had to waste a whole day looking for it. Sitting on the shelves of whisky retailers and even sitting on the shelves of my local Tesco Extra from time to time, Finlaggan was another of those whiskies I kept clear of because I did not know what distillery it was from and I’ve plenty of other drams to keep going on with. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the Whisky Shop Duffown, plus in their 5cl range, but I decided against it. “I’ll stick to what I know of” I kept saying to myself.
It was a trip into Inverness to a kilt makers of all places that also had a range of tourist souvenirs that prompted me to look in by. It was actually a recommendation of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill across the road, which incidentally also have a good range of miniatures. I know what I said about going into the touristy places in my Loch Lomond review, but it was in the EWM that I found a 16 year old Glentauchers G&M miniature for £7. You just need to be careful but bargains can be had.
Finlaggan is an anonymous Islay Single Malt which is released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, formed by Brian Crook in 1992. Brian was a former director from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Finlaggan was one of its launch brands, which were updated in 2014. Currently the core range is Finlaggan Old Reserve at 40%, Eilean Mor at 46% and a cask strength one at 58%.
As the whisky distillery is anonymous, the brand is named after Finlaggan Castle, which sits on an island in Loch Finlaggan, Islay. There isn’t really a lot to write about it, so I’ll just proceed with the tasting.
Finlaggan Old Reserve
Region -Islay Age – NAS Strength -40% ABV Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Peat, hard cheddar, iodine, toasted wholemeal bread, citrus. Palate – Light mouthfeel, brine, lemon, peat, nutmeg. Finish – medium short. Peat, brine, sweet. Strong wood spices going down the throat, but a small splash of water brings it into control. Drying in the end
I don’t like judging things on first tastes, but my first taste of this to be honest was not positive. Not too bad a nose, a calm palate with spice building and the insanity breaks out once swallowed. Hot spices and a weak peat, the sweetness turning to dryness. It became more balanced with a splash of water.
I like peaty whisky, so it’s not that I don’t like peat. In my opinion this is a young Caol Ila. I’ll base that thought on that it is the closest distillery to Loch Finlaggan and it is probably the distillery most likely to have the capacity to keep up with demand for the independent sales. It doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as other Caol Ila’s I’ve had and that’s being kind. I hate to admit this, but I couldn’t finish it and sadly had to dispose of it down the sink. You can’t like everything unfortunately.
It may be cheap, but I’ll be leaving this one on the shelf though in my opinion it’s best left in a dungeon, never to escape. I’ll be continuing to hunt for something more tasty. However if I see a mini of one of the other drams, I’d love to try for a second go, but this dram was definitely not for me.
*** There will be a following article about this review in the very near future. Be sure to catch it ***
We’ve come to the last in my old vs. new reviews and I’ve saved what is one of the best known name in whisky until last. Macallan. This has been one of the hardest comparisons to be organised, as COVID got in the way of me reaching my old 1990’s bottle of 10 year old Macallan which was damaged in a flood. As I had consigned this to a drinking bottle it would have been perfect for this cause. Conveniently I had managed to pick up a 1990’s miniature at auction, as the 70cl Macallan 10 year olds are now reaching £400 at auction, and I am not paying that just to do a review.
The newer bottle was also procured at auction, and it is currently easy to purchase, despite being discontinued as an age statement. It is in a much different box, with the white Easter Elchies box being discontinued mid 2000’s. The range was rebranded slightly in 2004 with the introduction of a second 10 year old in the core selection with the addition of the Fine Oak edition, which introduced spirit also matured in American Bourbon casks. As to the Sherry Oak, sometimes when there is a rebrand, this is a chance to do a slight recipe tweak, so we’ll see if this is the case in this instance.
The 10 year old Sherry Oak was discontinued in 2013 and the 10 year old Fine Oak was discontinued in 2018. The youngest Sherry Oak is now the 12 year old.
With old and new bottles procured, it was then a case of finding time to taste them, Given I realised that this would be probably the closest comparison out of all the drams in this series, I wanted to give this time, so I could fully appreciate both drams. You can probably guess what happened next – at each attempt to get some adequate time to do any tasting, I never got my days chores finished in time or my daughter would decide that she didn’t want to settle in the evening. On one occasion I shot myself in the foot by having a strong curry, thus knocking my tastebuds out. This wasn’t boding well for getting the old versus new series completed.
But, as I am fond of quoting, John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” And indeed that is the case. It’s also quite appropriate to quote a member of the Beatles, as my feelings towards them are similar to Macallan – I feel both are overrated. I know that I will have lots of people shooting me down over this statement, either for the musical or whisky assumption or perhaps both, but I just don’t see the quality in Macallan when I can taste similar whisky (or better) for a lot less money. Glenallachie 15 is my preference to the Macallan 18 and it has the bonus of being much, much cheaper.
I’ve reviewed the Macallan old style before and have also visited the distillery. You can see my last review of the old style Macallan by clicking on this link. In this review, I had also the samples given by the distillery, the 12 year old double cask and the 15 year old triple cask which I didn’t review due to the small amounts, but the sherry cask 10 year old blasted both drams way out of the park. Since then it has been my intention to compare the old version of the 10 year old with a like for like modern equivalent, which has also been discontinued since 2013.
As a bit of a laugh, during my research for this review, I came across this on a website speaking about the history of Macallan. I am sure that you will spot the error straight away.
The miniature bottle I have was bottled in the 1990s and shows the Easter Elchies farmhouse. The 70cl bottle of the newer spirit was released around the mid 2000’s. This particular bottle was released pre 2010, before Macallan started using Hologram stickers to deter forgeries.
Macallan 10 (1990’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, raisins, dates, tobacco, butterscotch, apricot, slight funk from the bottle. Palate – All components in the nose were in the palate. Mouthfeel had a medium body, slightly oily. Finish – Medium – Toffee, dried fruits, slightly drying, gentle oak notes.
Macallan 10 (mid to late 2000’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, milk chocolate, marmalade, tobacco, raisins. Hint of acetone. Quite a light nose. Palate – thin mouthfeel, sweet on arrival, the raisins appear along with a bitter oak tannin Finish – medium / short The alcohol disappears quite quickly, leaving chocolate, raisins and a bitter note on departure.
Confession time – I seriously expected the old one to totally romp home on this one. So much so, I was worried that this preconception would affect my judgement. However, nothing could have prepared me for how close both these drams were. I have often poured scorn on Macallan in the past, which has to be said now was unfair and unjustified in this instance. The fact is that both drams tasted very similar is testament to their focus on quality. My surprise was compounded when I looked back to the review I wrote last year and found I nearly got exactly the same tasting notes.
So perhaps I should chastise myself a little bit and loosen the belt of cynicism that I have around brand promotion and give into the fact that 1990’s Macallan and 21st century Macallan of this bottling are not too much different. But before we give into back slapping and high fives, there were a few small details that need to be taken into account, as to my palate they were different.
The mouthfeel on the newer bottling was very slightly thinner. The overall experience was more bitter and sharp compared to the older expression. The older expression also had it’s issues, but the only one I could find that stood out was that there was a slight funk to the sample, which was definitely caused by the fact it was in a miniature bottle. Therefore I predict that this was caused by the seal. Had I been able to taste from my damaged 70cl bottle that is currently languishing in a store 70 miles away, the presence of a cork seal would have maybe improved the sample experience for the better.
I can definitely say the newer example has a slightly lighter mouthfeel as well as a shorter finish, but it isn’t a bad whisky in any sense of the word. I found it had more bitter oak in it, something I didn’t get in the miniature sample, nor the sample I had in my last review which had came from a 70cl bottle with a cork seal.
I spent a few minutes discussing this with one of my friends who is a bit of a Macallan fan. He correctly told me that the distillery will try as hard as possible to keep the same flavour profile, so there is unlikely to be a big difference in the recipe. What he did say is that he’d heard that the 10 year old age statement was retired due to it being so expensive to keep producing as there were more and more older barrels being needed to maintain the flavour profile, so it was axed and the 12 year old age statement continued from that point.
I’m going to enjoy the rest of this 10 yr old bottle; the miniature got finished in this review. The 70cl bottle was £120 at auction including fees. The miniature was £40 at auction so this hasn’t been the cheapest of reviews as well as not being the cheapest. But it needed to be done. Perhaps once I get access to my store, it will give me and my friends a chance to compare like for like with both drams having been sealed by a cork.
Was the older dram better? I have to say yes, but I think it is due more to my preference. £120 is expensive for a ten year old whisky yet the 10 year old releases in the white boxes that show the Easter Elchies farmhouse painting now regularly sell at auction for over £400 including fees. There must be a reason for that, and perhaps it is that others also agree with me that the older one is better. However I think that eventually when supply of the older dram tightens due to them being drunk, the price of the more recent bottling will rise in value.
My final opinion is that if you aren’t really studying the drams, it would be hard to tell the difference. You will get a good experience regardless of what expression of the Sherry Oak you try. The Fine Oak reportedly is not as good, and I’m not opening my bottle to find that at out – not just now anyway.
This is my final review in my old versus new whiskies. It’s now time for me to mull over some conclusions and I look forward to publishing them. I hope that you have enjoyed this series, please consider looking at the index of my tastings using the link below to let you see my other reviews of this series.
Rebirth. The chance to start anew. And in this dram’s case it has had a couple more re-awakenings than Lazarus. As we are now into the top three of the drams to be compared to old vs new, I turn my head back to the GlenDronach distillery, which I last reviewed in July 2020. I have to tell you that if I was to call myself a fanboy of any distillery, GlenDronach would be there. Only I detest the term fanboy, makes me think that I should be devoid of body hair from the nose down and wearing latex underpants and little else. That is a sight you do not want to see. It’s just that I really appreciate the Glendronach 18 Allardice, which was the subject of my last review from this distillery. I do like a sherry bomb if I am not getting my head blown off by island peated whiskies, and GlenDronach fits into this very category very well, same as some GlenAllachie, Glenfarclas and Tamdhu, but we’ll skip over the Aberlour for now due to some fairly disappointing reviews of young age core range.
Glendronach distillery (let’s dispense with the Billy Walker signature capitalisation for a moment) has been operational since 1826, and was owned by Allied Distillers when it was mothballed in 1996. The older sample I have to try tonight is from that era, and was purchased from the Speyside Whisky Shop. By 2002, the distillery was reopened, while Allied Distillers eventually became part of Pernod Ricard. In 2008, the distillery was sold to a business consortium that included Billy Walker, who’d already bought the BenRiach Distillery in 2003 and would go on to buy the Glenglassaugh distillery in 2013. All three were sold to Brown Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels in 2016, and in 2017, Billy was involved in the purchase of Glenallachie distillery to work his magic there and spread some more seemingly random capitals into a brand name.
From what I could gather from the internet after my taste test that this 15 y.o dram was released in 1996, just before the distillery closed. It was the best seller in the limited range available at the time, although I do not know when it was discontinued. It wasn’t until 2009, under the watchful eye of Mr Walker, the GlenDronach 15 Revival was released, though by 2015 it had ground to a halt, in order to preserve older stocks. Re-introduced in 2018, this time by Rachael Barrie, I’d be hoping that stock management will ensure it will not have to have a hiatus again in the future, for this is a whisky that I’ve heard a lot of rave about, but never managed to wean myself off of the 18 yr old bottling. It’s time to find out if I can be persuaded to look beyond the Allardice offering.
Region – Highland Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Chesnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – PX and Oloroso Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sherry, Strawberry, Vanilla, canned peaches, citrus peel Honey Nut Cornflakes. After sitting for a while and after water added a more pronounced sour citrus (lemon peel) became apparent. Palate – Oily, coats the mouth. Spicy wood arrival, Slightly sweet, dried dark fruit, orange peel, gingernuts, milk chocolate Finish – medium – wood tannins, slightly astringent, raisins, apricots, milk chocolate truffle. Needed water to calm down the wood spice and bring out more of the flavours.
As much as these two drams may be similar in age, they do have enough differences to almost say that they are different whiskies. Looking at the two just in the bottle, we can see that the Revival bottling proudly states no colouring and no chill filtering. However the previous era bottle says nothing much apart from what it is legally obligated. So what do I think?
Let’s delve into cliches. The cliche about first impressions matter comes immediately into mind. When sampling the two whiskies neat, the older version was instantly drinkable and had so much more pleasant aroma. It would be remiss to write off the Revival at this point, as it was also presenting a decent nose, but yet had a slight sourness to it. And there I stick my hand back into the bag of cliches to find that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, I take a look at the cover of my Revival bottle to see the magic numbers of 46% written. So I’m not really comparing like for like, and by dropping the the ABV down a bit by adding some water, the playing field has been levelled somewhat. I am mindful as I write this that if somebody is playing cliche bingo, you may have a full house by the end of this review.
Because I was wanting to conduct as accurate a comparison as possible, I poured another new dram of 25ml and added 3.5ml of water, thus taking the sample down to 40%. This changed things a bit, the Revival has become more calm, the wood spice has subsided somewhat, and the flavours, although I didn’t find any more, came into a clearer focus. I also felt the mouthfeel change somewhat to be less viscous, even less than the undiluted 40% sample of yesteryear. The spices were still dominant for me, and I had to add even more water (1ml) to make it as pleasant as I felt the older sample was, then we have to acknowledge that we have taken the dram down to just under 39% abv.
And here is were we have to face an elephant in the room. And for a change it isn’t me making the trumping noises. There is a lot of noise made about alcoholic strength, and how more is better as you can dilute to how you like it. That is an undeniable fact. The other fact about having a stronger abv is the need to chill filter is removed, as the fatty esters that make a cold whisky go cloudy will remain in solution, and by not chill filtering, more of the goodness is retained within the spirit and transferred into the bottle for your drinking pleasure.
But let me suggest this, as we try to back the jumbo into the corner. Remember the earlier era sample was chill filtered, yet to me tasted better than the undiluted 46% Revival. In order to get the Revival to taste as pleasurable, I had to dilute it to a lower abv than the older sample, which left it with a thinner mouthfeel. Therefore, what sample is better? This is something that caused me a bit of consternation as it was obvious that it would look as though I am just expressing a personal preference. I reached out to one of my #Whisky Twitter colleagues Mick as part of the @Whiskychaps who review a lot of whiskies and asked his opinion. The advice was sound I feel, as he said that it is MY preference that matters whether or not the whisky was better. What do I get most enjoyment out of? He also made a very fair point that impressed me quite a bit when he pointed out that few, if any people who will read this will have tasted the pre-Billy Walker whisky and in my opinion that I can add probably even fewer can remember it. After all, it was in the times of Allied / Pernod Ricard ownership that this was distilled, pre 1996.
It is while thinking of this point that I can bring another strong argument to the table. I said in my exchange with Mick that I can compare the older dram to the 18 year old Allardice. It is an hour later after that exchange that I just thought of checking my notes for that review that I see a general similarity. It is worth remembering that some people are raving about the fact that the Glendronach 18 and 21 were using significantly older spirit than the age statement that was distilled not by Billy Walker, but by the former owners pre-1996. The Revival I have now is likely to be using spirit that was distilled entirely after the distillery re-opened in 2002. Remember that the initial Revival release was discontinued for 3 years, and the original revival was also using Allied distilled spirit. I think this forms a pattern that leads me to a definite conclusion. Perhaps I need to try the original Revival to be sure, but with auction prices being adventurous just for a quick taste, this is not a realistic option.
While I can honestly say that both whiskies are good whiskies, I’m not going to rush out to buy another GlenDronach Revival, but if I saw a pre Billy Walker era 15 on sale, I would snap it up. Controversial? Possibly, but what matters is taste, and I could enjoy the older dram straight off, the flavours seemed more balanced. While I have a lot of time for what Billy Walker and now Rachael Barrie produce, but I wonder now that the distillery is using spirit made since the re-opening, will the 18 and 21 head the same way going forward? I realise that this may not be a popular opinion, but we will see what happens. Will people start harking back to the Allardice and Parliament produced in the pre 2020 period in the same way they refer to the original Revival?
For me, this is an older spirit win. Thanks to Mick for raising some good points that helped me focus on what really mattered. I bought both drams from the Speyside Whisky Shop – thanks to Matteo for shipping to my ‘remote location’ as deemed by DHL. I paid £25 for the old miniature and £63 for the full sized bottle of the Revival.
This is truly a momentous occasion. It’s my 100th review, and its appropriate to mark this with a distillery that has a great reputation. It’s even better that this has happened during my series of old vs new, as I don’t get to taste just one whisky; I get to taste two!
I’ve reviewed a new Highland Park 12 before, this being the current offering which is called ‘Viking Honour’. I found to be acceptable and value for money. However the Highland Park distillery is one of those which often comes up in the whisky geek conversations that I have online where that it’s said that the previous era releases of this whisky are better. I can’t really speak with any authority on this, as Highland Park like the fellow other fellow Edrington stablemates Glenrothes and Macallan, are bottlings I don’t really purchase much, if ever. However I am in the fortunate position of finding an older Highland Park at auction. £46 for a 10cl bottle was a bit steep, but you can’t really walk into a shop to buy it.
What you can go and buy in many UK supermarkets is the latest incarnation of Highland Park. Its the youngest age statement in the Highland Park range and is often available for sub £30 if you look for offers. I felt that this wasn’t bad for its price point, but there is usually a bit of compromise involved in whiskies for this outlay. How does it match up to the older edition of the 12 year old Highland Park? It is time to move onto tasting and find out whether the newer one has kept up with the reported standards from previous eras.
Highland Park 12 y.o (1980’s)
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour -Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Ex-Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated, but did not have any Scotch mist after leaving in the fridge prior to the tasting. Nose – Raisins, Sherry, Honey, charred wood, apples, vanilla, fig rolls, salt laden air, a wisp of smoke. Palate – Entry is mild, slightly oily and sweet, moving towards figs, honeydew melon, dried currants, and a bit of sweet heathery smoke. Quite mild tannins. Finish – Medium. Honey, smoke, light brine and a building wood spice that doesn’t overpower anything else.
Highland Park 12 Viking Honour
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour -Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Ex-Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated, but did not have any Scotch mist after leaving in the fridge prior to the tasting. Nose – Honey, Slightly smokey, grapefruit, pine Palate – Entry is quite mild, weak and watery, Honey, heather, slightly floral which builds to a nutmeg, peppery wood spice, which becomes quite strong in comparison to other elements. Finish – medium short, wood spices, smoked wood, light sweet smoke. A burn of alcohol as it descends down the throat.
I’m not really wanting to beat around the bush here, but both drams were acceptable to my palate though one was a lot more refined than the other. There was noticeable differences between the drams. There is not any point in looking at the colour, as the colour does not determine taste and may just fool our minds into thinking the darker whisky was better. Highland Park does not add colour to their spirits. However both are chill filtered as far as I can see, though the distillery does not disclose on the packaging whether or not this happens. However as the fellow Edrington owned Macallan does chill filter their basic releases, I’ve no doubt that this is the case here.
There has to be a comparison made and to me the difference was a lot more than marginal. The older dram was smoother, more sweet, not so much sour and not so much wood spice. There was no overpowering flavours and the whole dram was one of harmony. And this is where the rub comes – tasting the newer Viking Honour beside a spirit at least a generation older shows that while many will accept the Viking Honour as a decent whisky, it is faded glory compared to that of the 1980’s dram. A strong citrus sour note, an increase in the wood spice and the rough end to the finish in the spirit burn as it goes down the throat is much more noticeable when compared to the old one.
In my previous review of Highland Park 12 (Honour) I said that it wasn’t bad and was probably good value. However when compared to the older generation 12, it is easily overpowered by its forebearer. Without a doubt, I’d have to say that the older dram is easily the better one and a lot tastier. If you ever get a chance to try an older edition Highland Park pre-Viking Honour, please do. You will not be disappointed.
For those of you not acquainted with the North East of Scotland, summer is a great time for agricultural shows. The three biggest ones are the Black Isle Show, Turriff Show, and the Keith Show. They are pretty much like a Highland Games, although without the traditional competitions but can include country dancing, field sports, various acrobats or stunt driving, with the added ‘thrill’ of livestock and farm machinery thrown in. This is of course if you appreciate a decent ewe waiting to be tupped or decent Massey Ferguson machinery. And then there is the marquee, the staple of all Highland events where people go to get sloshed and it often ends in drunken violence at some point. It is also said you cannot fail to get a date at the Keith show. I suppose that if a lassie rejects you, there’s always the wooly livestock. Ooops! Perhaps I’ve said too much about my Aberdeenshire upbringing!
It’s been a quite a while since I attended such an event, and it’s likely different now. But apparently leopards aren’t likely to change their spots, so it is with a little bit of trepidation that I approach this old vs new review of some Keith whisky produce. The newer of the two drams, the Glen Keith Distillers Edition, I have reviewed before and to be honest I didn’t really care for it. I’m lucky that my wife did not see that review as the bottle was a present from her. Having said that she knows little about whisky, but I’m secretly proud of her thriftiness as she’s a non-Aberdonian. There’s little point of expecting a more expensive whisky gift from her due to her lack of knowledge and a total refusal to pick up on hints. I keep dropping subtle verbal nudges about another Brora may be nice but nothing so far…
However, with this whisky I have persevered and am now halfway down the bottle, though I have been giving some of my friends samples as an example of what a budget whisky tastes like. Since my initial review, I’ve been using it in hot toddies, along with other less than premium drams (Jura Journey, Naked Grouse and Haig Club) and they performed adequately, so perhaps it is time to give this dram another chance. You can read what I wrote before by clicking on this linkTaste Review #42 – Glen Keith Distillers Edition.
Since that review, I haven’t actually tasted that whisky again since without adulterating it in some way, so perhaps now is time for a bit of redemption. This was a dram that I didn’t bother gassing, so it has had a bit of oxidation and hopefully this has kicked it into touch a bit. Its already had one kicking from me in the past. In my auction adventures, it’s earlier equivalent – a miniature of Glen Keith turned up, with a strange way of denoting its age on it – it says that it was distilled before 1983. Now usually there would be a vintage that states what year it was distilled, but this definition is open to interpretation.
Glen Keith isn’t an old distillery, becoming operational in 1960, just after Tormore. It is built on the site of a former meal mill. It was used as an experimental distillery and ran both double and triple distillations. It made the short lived Glen Isla single malt, which is a Glen in Angus, far away from Keith but is likely to have taken it’s name from the River Isla that flows past the distillery. This was a slightly peated malt. It is rumoured that the Craigduff peated single malt was also made here, although Strathisla has also been in the frame for this. Both Glen Isla and Craigduff are rare whiskies, and were included in the Lost Distilleries Blend I tasted (See Lost Distilleries Blend Review #55). The first single malt released from Glen Keith was in 1994, and it is the older sample that we taste today.
Glen Keith was mothballed in 1999, but refurbished and opened again by 2013. The Distillers edition was the first single malt released in October 2017 after reopening, so could have some pretty young whisky in it. I remember looking back at my other review that the dram was quite sharp, so lets see if a little bit of fresh air has calmed it down a bit and whether or not it meets the standard set by the first official release from the distillery.
Glen Keith 1983 (10 y.o)
Region – Speyside Age -10 y.o (1983) Strength – 43% Colour -Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – not stated Colouring – Not stated – presume yes. Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Initially a slight old bottle funk, but dissipated after allowing dram to breathe. Grassy / slightly floral, orchard fruit – apple, canned pears, apricot. Barley sugars, creamy vanilla. Palate – The arrival is unexpectedly sweet. Vanilla, apple, then developing a bitter taste from the wood spice, lemon, ginger, peppery. Finish – Medium. Peppery wood tannins, light malt, Calvados as the spirit fades away. Adding 2ml of water gives everything a bit of a smooth out, slightly increased the wood spice and gave a waxy, candle-like note to the aroma.
Glen Keith Distillers Edition
Region – Speyside Age -NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – not stated. Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Caramel, Apple, Vanilla, Condensed Milk, honey Palate – Light, with a slight oily feel, a light spirit / wood buzz, lemonade, apples, cinnamon / peppery wood spice Finish -Short, honey, creamy vanilla, peppery wood spice, slight spirit burn. Adding 2ml of water kills pretty much everything, bar the burst of spice on departure.
It seems that time in the bottle has mellowed the Glen Keith Distillers Edition. The sharpness and harsh burns that I got on my last review are no longer present and the fruit flavours are more prominent. But while it is more drinkable, than before, I have to say that it is fairly boring and disappointing. But then we have to remember that this is probably made up of whisky no more than 4 years old, possibly with some of the older stock mixed in. It’s price point was £30, but had I paid £30 for it, I would have still felt cheated. Not knowing my wife was going to gift me a bottle, I thankfully picked this one up for only £20 at my local Co-op, but put into store for a later date. As fair as I can be, I think now the spirit has had time to breathe, it has improved what I am tasting and £20 would be probably as much as it’s worth.
That means to me that this isn’t anything special at all and it will not be replaced when the bottle dies. I don’t mean to be unfair when I say that I wouldn’t give this to guests, but would rather use this as cooking whisky. I’ll be happy to sip away at it until the bottle is finished, therefore there is an improvement on what has gone before in my last review. I can say this dram does fit its position in Passport Blended whisky, another less than favoured review in the past.
But was it any better than the 10 year old? Well, the ten year old had a notable advantage, all 3% of them as extra points on the abv scale. And boy, did it show. The spirit was more engaging, there was more taste and furthermore, the dram actually had a proper finish. I felt that this dram showed off its palate and finish much more effectively. I’ll restrain from saying the nose as well due to the older bottle effect. But the mouthfeel was heavier, the flavours more distinct and water did not eradicate any of them. Of course, it could be argued that there has been evaporation taking effect of my distillers edition bottle plus it is only 40%, but then again, the 10 year old bottle is potentially 27 years old and didn’t have the perfect fill level either.
And just to put the unfair comparison accusation to bed, that in this series of reviews, I am trying to review comparable age statements or the entry level release from the distillery, which both of these drams are. It is sad to note that in this case, the alcohol level in this dram has been reduced from 43% to 40%, no longer has an age statement and has age that is most likely half that of the other sample, so on this note coupled with the bolder flavours I have to say that I think the older dram is the better one, as had I been given this dram as a gift, I’d maybe consider replacing it.
How both of these whiskies compare to an older, independent bottling remains to be seen – I’ve a 1968 G&M bottling sample to look at sometime in the future that was gifted by a work colleague, so will be reviewing that separately in the future.
As I continue to move through my series of old versus new bottlings of Scotch whisky, we are eventually coming to the point were my supply of minis is starting to run out and I am going to have to start cracking into the full sized bottles. I’ve had both these miniatures for quite some time now and I feel that it is time to perhaps submit to the fact that they need to be opened. Plus it gives me a great opportunity to drink again yet another Flora and Fauna bottling, as well as a first go of a Gordon and Macphail distillery label dram from this distillery.
Linkwood is quite a old distillery, first being established in 1821 on the outskirts of the Morayshire town of Elgin, although now the town is starting to encroach around the distillery site. The distillery became fully legal on the passing of the 1823 Excise Act. It has been rebuilt twice, the first time in 1874, and with a second plant being established on site in 1972. By 2012, much of the old distillery had been demolished and rebuilt, with only the Malting Kiln and what I assume to be the former malting floors or warehouses alongside surviving. I remember having to drive past it often in the early 2000’s as I used to court a girl who lived by Elgin. Just as you approached the town on the rural Linkwood road, the carriageway narrowed quite a bit as you had to negotiate a partially blind bend with the distillery buildings forming the edge of the road on the way into Elgin. With the demolition of the buildings, that has now become sadly a thing of the past.
While the need to expand and change things is necessary to ensure enough production, one of the former distillery managers was quite adverse to changes. Roderick Mackenzie, who was manager between 1945 and 1963 felt that any slight change could alter the quality of the whisky, so he forbade any unnecessary changes, even to the point that spider webs were left intact in the rafters. Pretty eccentric behaviour I suppose, and when I was thinking about how to title this article, the line from the David Bowie song ‘Ziggy Stardust’ came into my head, although I am more likely to be listening to the Bauhaus cover version. One has to wonder what happened to the webs during the regular upgrades? When the distillery was being upgraded in 1962, Mackenzie ensured that the stills being manufactured were exact copies of those already in use. Perhaps that is not so eccentric, as Macallan did exactly the same when they were building their new distillery in Craigellachie.
In another little bit of trivia, the 70cl Flora and Fauna bottling has a bit of incorrect data on it. It says that it stands on the River Lossie. I can assure you that if this was true, then a large part of Elgin would have to be flooded, as Linkwood is on the east side and the River Lossie is on the west side, some 1.75 miles away.
Linkwood is used heavily for the Diageo blends Johnnie Walker and White Horse. It is apparently very popular with blenders for adding complexity to blends, but very little is actually released as single malt. The only regular official bottling is the Flora and Fauna, but it is seen as an independent bottling as well as a Diageo Special Release.
The bottles that I have for this review come from two different sources. The older Gordon And Macphail bottle was obtained in an auction bundle and I don’t have an accurate date or price for it. However from research I can see that this bottling was produced in the 80’s and 90’s, so is likely to be somewhere between 20 and 30 years old. It is in good condition with an excellent fill level. The newer dram, because I don’t want to open a full sized bottle, was bought from The Whisky Exchange and is a 3cl Perfect Measure Sample. I have had this for some time I and it probably cost around £4.
G&M Linkwood 15 (old)
Region – Speyside Age – 15y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – not known, but suspect a mix of bourbon and sherry. Colouring – not known Chill Filtered – not known, suspect yes Nose – Fruity, sherry notes, but quite light – dried fruit, almonds, powdered chocolate. Palate – fruity and sweet, oily mouth feel, raspberry, pink nougat, vanilla, Finish – medium / long – slight smoke, fudge, sweet floral (parma violets) with a hint of freshly podded green peas.
Linkwood 12 Flora and Fauna (new)
Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 43% Colour -Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – not known, suspect bourbon. Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sweet, floral, vanilla, light honey, crisp green apple, light tobacco smell – like the inside of an empty cigarette packet. Palate -sweet initial hit, but soon turns sour. Has a medium body, slightly oily mouth feel, dry cider, lemon, minerals Finish – Drying, short to medium length. Almonds, lemon peel, slight malt. spicy wood, quite gingery. Addling a bit of water enhances the lemon peel in the finish and adds intensity to the wood spices.
When we look at it, these are two completely different whiskies, and while I enjoyed the 15 year old more, I also really enjoyed the Flora and Fauna one too. I feel that the older sample had much more ‘tah-dah’ about it, more stronger flavours and it was easier to engage with, despite the lower abv. It’s length of time in a small bottle hadn’t really affected it either. Of course it has matured in a different cask style or had a different vatting recipe compared to the 12 y.o. The Flora and Fauna came alive with a bit of water and it was still quite easy to engage with but not as easy as the older sample, While it does not have the extra three years in a cask, and I also feel that the G&M bottling has more of a sherry component within it, the Flora and Fauna bottling does have the advantage of the extra three percent abv, nor has it spent over 2 decades in a bottle.
It is easy to say that the older one wins in this review, but that is doing the newer dram a great disservice. It isn’t really fair to compare an apple with a watermelon, as both were good drams, I already have a few Linkwood Flora and Fauna in store and would definitely ensure I had a drinking bottle. The 15 year old G&M bottling from the 1990’s I would also buy if I saw it was available and would certainly recommend if you saw it at auction to buy it. Gordon and Macphail now release this at 43% so could be good value if you see it at a decent price.
In the interests of fairness, I have to call this a draw in the debate of old vs new, but if I only had money for one bottle, it would be the G&M one
Whisky history. It’s something that has gone through my mind a fair bit when I’ve been reviewing the old vs new drams. In fact it has been something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while. What sparked this mini confession was looking at the older bottle that I’m away to consume tonight. The label was in good condition, the fill level was good and it struck me that this was an almost immaculate bottle of at least 41 years of age. I wished that I was in as good a condition at 41! However, like me, the bottle couldn’t be preserved any longer and was away to meet its destiny. The end of its journey had been reached and had to be opened for the purposes of this review. And while sad as it was to destroy this history after reaching that age without a scratch, it was opened with the mantra ‘its made to be drunk’ running through my mind. After all, it was only a Glenlivet.
This thought of whisky should be destined to be drunk has been going through my mind more and more of late due to the rush on the newest Daftmill, Ardnamurchan and by the end of this week, the inaugural Torabhaig. I don’t mind the frenzy for new bottles. It’s understandable to a point, that perhaps people want to the the first to taste it, to have one for collecting or worse, to flip. As a collector myself, I’m not immune to criticism in this case, but it has saddened me to see Ardbeg ‘Arrrrrrrdbeg’ go on sale for over £100 more than the RRP. That is little more than gouging. A collector will know this and move on, knowing the value isn’t really there and wait for prices to subside, but it takes advantage of those who really want to drink it and forces them to pay through the nose. The distillery doesn’t care as they’ve sold out, but it is potentially damaging to their image. It’s a subject that I am determined to look into in the near future.
Anyway, from what I’ve heard, a source revealed that in his opinion Arrrrrrrdbeg tastes not too different to the 10 year old. I’ll save my money and buy Laphroaig or Octomore instead.
So, thinking of whisky history, It’s been a bit of a while since I last looked at Glenlivet. The Captains Reserve was the last bottle I looked at in 2019. You can read a little about the distillery history and what I thought about it here. Despite its massive output, Glenlivet is a distillery that I rarely look at. Perhaps because I feel their massive output is just ‘meh’. Not that I feel there is anything wrong with it, but my attention gets grabbed elsewhere. Perhaps it is just the ubiquitous nature of the brand that puts me off. I feel the same way about Glenfiddich, Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker. Not that there is anything wrong with these brands either, I just don’t seem able to engage with them, plus wherever I seem to travel in the world with my work, at least one of these is always obtainable.
The Glenlivet 12 year old was discontinued a few years back, and was replaced by the Founders reserve. This appears to have been a lamented decision, as the Founders Reserve just hasn’t appeared to have been as well received, most reviews I have seen in the passing seem to prefer the 12. Perhaps this makes this age statement a prime candidate for old vs new. Besides, it’s not really enough to write a distillery off just because I don’t pay attention to their product. It is time now to put that to bed, and try what is one of the most popular of the Glenlivet age statements.
Glenlivet 12 (Old 1970’s bottling)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 70 Proof / 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Light honey, vanilla, apple, slight leather, milk chocolate Palate – Quite sugary sweet on the arrival, with alcohol burn slowly arriving, golden syrup on toast, chocolate raisins, slightly heathery, creamy vanilla Finish – short to medium. spicy ginger as the last of the alcohol burn goes, chocolate bananas, custard, almonds. Adding 2ml of water only smoothed the spirit out, and has made for me the finish last that little bit longer with less of a gingery kick.
Glenlivet 12 (new / Double Oak)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – American and European Oak Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Creamy toffee, slight hint of bitter citrus – grapefruit or lemon, lightly nutty smell at the end, possibly almonds Palate – Creamy, buttery, toffee, apple, vanilla. Finish – Super short. Blink and you miss it. If I was forced to say something that it is drying, my mouth is left as dry as Mother Theresa’s sandals. Very quick burst of wood spice then nothing but a light hit of creamy vanilla. Adding 2ml of water has increased the spiciness and reduced the dryness slightly. There is a bitter citrus note that builds then fades away. However, at least this has lengthened the experience at the end. But in truth, I took a bigger sip this time.
This has been a bit of an eye-opener, mainly because I never had expected to get such a pristine miniature in an auction. There was very little old bottle effect in the older sample and I have to be honest that so far out of all the older bottles that I have tried so far in this series, this has to be one of the best, if not the best. It is certainly up there with the Glenfarclas 10 and Clynelish Flora and Fauna that I have tried at the start. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that the whisky that I am tasting is not the premium sips, but it is still a valid exercise to compare old to new to assess any differences.
Turning my head sadly to the newer Glenlivet, I have to say that nose wise it was fine, palate wise a bit light to my tastes but still an acceptable whisky, although I found it a bit boring, but my other eye was opened when I sampled it a few times and was getting pretty much zero finish. My palate went dry and it was almost like I hadn’t just tasted a whisky. Ok, perhaps zero was a little cruel, and I did get more of a finish once I added a bit of water, but even then, it wasn’t very exciting. Perhaps something I might put into a hot toddy or a cocktail.
I was a bit concerned that I was missing something, so I took it upon myself to trouble somebody in the industry as to what actually is responsible for providing the finish. It was as though there were oils or something missing, my thoughts were the chill filtration had perhaps stripped the newer spirit of the taste. So, I messaged one of the distillers I follow on Twitter, and he graciously answered my plea for answers. I feel that he put my thoughts into a more articulate way, and suggested that in the 70’s there would have been a greater range of ages available to make up a vatting, and it is entirely likely that there was more 1st fill casks used. The more modern version is probably made of product a lot closer to the 12 year old mark, possibly with less first fill casks, meaning the wood has a bit less to give in producing not only the nose and palate, but also the finish.
I’m a bit reticent in naming who helped me lest what I write causes a bit of fallout, but I hope I have interpreted your answer correctly, if not then you can give me a proper hazing on Twitter and I’ll go and sit on the naughty step knowing I must try harder.
Both drams were balanced, but the older one was definitely moreish. To conclude my reviewing session I finished the newer one so I could spend more time with the older dram. The newer dram was pleasant enough, certainly more enjoyable than the Aberlour 12 I recently tried but it just wasn’t really engaging for me, and the length of finish when neat was extremely disappointing. I’d recommend it as training whisky. The older dram was definitely the winner here.
In the last review I tasted two drams from Aberlour in which the earlier expression won the head to head. I now turn my attention to the two 12 year old samples that I have in my store. One was a sample from Matteo at The Speyside Whisky Shop of an early – mid 80’s Aberlour 12 he had in store for customers. In a recent auction win, I found that I have another old Aberlour, this one probably from the late 80’s – 1990’s. I really don’t know and am just going by what I can research on the internet. I’m not expecting a big difference, but they were samples to be cleared and could also help us find out if the extra two years in the cask made any difference.
I didn’t go into the history of Aberlour distillery much in my last review, and I won’t really go into too much depth now either, but here is a quick overview. It’s not really a large distillery, situated at the southern end of the village, and sits beside the Lour burn. Aberlour is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name Obar Lobhair, which basically translates as ‘Mouth of the Lour’. The formal version of the village name is Charleston of Aberlour. It got its name from the current village founder Charles Grant of Elchies (we’ll be hearing of that location again before the end of the series) who named it after his son.
Aberlour was formerly a stop on the Speyside railway line, passenger services ending in 1965, and freight continuing til 1968 when the Beeching axe finally fell. A very limited freight service did continue from Dufftown until November 1971, and I am led to believe it was to a coal merchants in Aberlour who supplied the local distilleries. There are a handful of distilleries nearby, Craigellachie and Macallan to the north of the village, and Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Imperial (replaced by Dalmunach) and Glenfarclas not too far to the south. And of course the Aberlour distillery itself.
James Fleming was the man who started the Aberlour distillery in 1879, with distillation taking place in 1880. Fleming was previously involved with Dailuaine distillery, close to the village of Carron, so had distilling experience. A man of many talents he was also a banker, Chairman of the School Board, County Councillor and even the Town Provost – the Scottish Equivalent of a Mayor. The distillery was sold in 1892, and James Fleming died in 1895 at the age of 65. But by that time he had really made his mark on the town through his philanthropy. He gifted the town its first meeting place in 1889 – the Fleming Hall. His legacy extended to the building of the local Cottage Hospital in 1900, and a suspension bridge over the Spey to Knockando Parish in 1902. All of these gifts are still fully operational over 100 years later. He is buried in the cemetery directly opposite the distillery entrance.
The distillery since 1974 has been owned by Chivas Brothers, now part of the Pernod Ricard drinks giant. I visited the Aberlour distillery in Oct 2019 when I finally got fed up of continually driving past when travelling between Aberdeen and home. It’s a good tour, mine being led by Nicola Topp, a young lady who’s family had an extensive history in the distillery. The tour was fantastic, and I’m happy to hear that Nicola has now moved to be involved in the production side at the Dalmunach distillery.
Compared to some of its near neighbours, Aberlour isn’t a large distillery. It has two wash stills and two Spirit Stills, and only 6 wash backs. In September 2020, Moray Council approved plans to almost completely rebuild the Aberlour distillery in phases, which can be seen by clicking HERE in an article that was published in the regional newspaper, the Press And Journal.
Aberlour 12 (Early 80s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, citrus, orange peel. Slight hint of dark fruit, quite sugary sweet, almost like candy. Palate – Quite tame on arrival. Not overbearing, no great spirit rush. Gentler than the nose would suggest. Creamy caramel, apple, bitter orange. Sweet candy note. Finish – medium long, spicy honey, nice gentle warming, hints of coffee, chocolate and raisin. Slight floral note found when a small sip taken and rolled around in the mouth. (Due to being only a 25ml sample, I did not add water)
Aberlour 12 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, Toffee, Quite a dark fruit sort of flavour, ripe plums raisins, definitely a sherry cask has been used. Fresh pipe tobacco, slight smoke. Palate – Oops. No real alcohol present, no buzz at all. Oh dear. It does give a nice sugary feeling at on the tongue, kind of like candy floss. A slightly bitter citrus (orange) is there as is the toffee and honey with a hint of dark fruit but oh so muted. Finish – Medium. Burst of peppery and cinnamon spice when the spirit does decide to appear, then goes into pineapple, coffee, then back into bitter wood notes, slightly drying. This gets shortened and the spicy burst goes with the addition of water, although there does have a slight caramel note left lingering.
Well, a wee bit of a disaster really. I can see why this is classed as a beginners single malt, as for me there is not really a lot going on here. Of course we can use the argument that these were older bottles, but yet to be honest for the first time in this series, I didn’t notice any of the usual tell-tale signs of old bottle effect, or having been exposed to the waxed cardboard seal of a screw top. Both drams were pretty even if it had to be said but the older expression was definitely the most consistent one.
What really surprised me was the newer one’s palate was just not really there. I had to do some research to see if I was missing something. I’ve seen descriptions such as ‘Full Bodied’, ‘Rich’, ‘Intense’. I have to wonder if they were drinking the same whisky as I was, or if perhaps 40% is perhaps a little too strong for them. Because if I have to be honest, on the younger expression, the palate is as flat and smooth as a dolphins bum. It’s like the beard on a 13 year old – barely there. I could go on with the metaphors. With the absence of a palate and a shorter finish, I thought it was another clear win for the older expression. However, I decided to do something that I hadn’t done yet, and that was bring on some of the big guns.
You see, sitting in my study as a present for somebody I haven’t yet met since I came home on Christmas Eve was a bottle of the brand new, up to date double cask Aberlour 12. I’m not really a fan of opening 70cl bottles when I have so many open already, but I thought that in the interests of research I should get that seal off and try. Besides it only cost me £30 in the Co-op, so not exactly a big loss. I’m sure I will see it on special again, and if I’m lucky, when I go back in the next couple of days it still might be at the lower price.
So – tasting #3 for the Aberlour 12 year old.
Aberlour 12 (2020)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite Fruity. Strong note of Moray Cup (explanation later), orange fondant, mint, honey, almond. Strawberry jelly cubes prior to melting. Palate – Quiet, a bit more oily than the previous two, wood notes pretty non- existent with a hint of bitterness at the end. Slight taste of almond, perhaps the red fruits and bitter orange. Perhaps a hint of ginger in subsequent sips. Finish – medium / short. Slight wood spice and alcohol burn as swallowed and I get reminded of Cointreau, bitter citrus. Nutty at the end. Disappeared quickly.
Conclusions (Part 2)
Well. I am glad I did not give that as a gift. The person would have thought I had hated them. You know, the colour and the nose excited me. I mean, Moray Cup…… For those who aren’t in the know because they have never lived in God’s Country (The Scottish North East) is a now defunct soft drink that was fruit flavoured, produced by Sangs of Banff. To look at it, you just knew it was artificially coloured, and a look at the range of E numbers in the ingredients list would confirm it. Such as it was, the label also had the warning to be careful in giving to young children. I am sure that a litre of that would give them AHAD so badly that they could be mistaken for a Springer Spaniel in a tennis ball and bone factory. Quite why it had two Caribbean gentlemen on the label I don’t know as Banff is normally as sunny and pleasant as a Siberian Gulag. Anyway, such is my lament for this drink I’ve gone and spouted off a load of rubbish, but those in the know would never bother with Irn Bru to cure a hangover – a bottle of Moray cup and and couple of rowies and away you go.
Sadly the palate was maybe slightly more prevalent than the early 1990’s bottling. But if I was to be honest, it wasn’t really there either, so that rules out any question that the older bottling had evaporated. It was almost perhaps as flat and smooth as before, but perhaps this dolphin has pimples on his bottom.
In summary, I was erring onto the inconclusive, but let’s look at plain facts. Its a basic 40% abv dram produced in massive volumes. You can’t expect it to be competing with some of the more exclusive brands or higher abv drams. I’m definitely not going to say these drams are rubbish – they are not, and will be a good bet for anybody starting on their whisky journey. Or even as an easy drinker, though I prefer other Aberlour expressions. A’Bunadh is a good start. However, in analysing the three whiskies had just now, taste is really where it is at, and despite the great nose, the lack of a defined palate and short to medium finish rules out the two younger expressions. Old expression wins by a gnat’s hair. Of course this is just my personal opinion. I’m going to enjoy the rest of the 12 year old as a wee nightcap and maybe stick to Aberlour’s more premium expressions which are very delicious in the future.
Oh, and I checked the price at the local Co-op this morning – back up to £40. I think I’ll pass.
Aberlour. It’s one of those places I just can’t avoid. Due to its location, when I’m travelling home from Aberdeen, the choices are limited. I’ve got the heady decision to go from Huntly to Dufftown, then head to Craigellachie. Before reaching Craigellachie village, turn onto the Bluehills Quarry road that leads past the Speyside Cooperage. I’ve often thought of stopping the truck and helping myself to a barrel, but knowing my luck I’d pick the barrel that collapses the stow. Resisting the temptation of petty larceny and a horrible death under a collapsing pile of casks, you end up on the A95 just to the north of the village of Aberlour.
Alternatively, you can continue from Huntly to Keith, then past Glentauchers (see what speed you can get round the bend outside the distillery at while keeping a clean pair of underwear), then up to Craigellachie, passing by two legendary bars – the Fiddichside Inn, closed since the death of the publican Joe Brandie in 2017 though reputedly has been bought and reopened in 2020. Coronavirus has stopped me dropping in. And of course the world famous Highlander Inn, owned by Tatsuya Minigawa. It’s a great wee pub, and has a full Flora And Fauna set on display. I’ve often wondered if he would open the Speyburn for me…. Regardless, you still end up on the A95 just to the north of the other route, having travelled an extra 5 miles.
Don’t underestimate the heady excitement of the decision I face when I approach Huntly and have to make that split second decision whether I want to go through Dufftown or Keith. It’s how I roll. The only other way home is via Tomintoul with the risk at this time of year being stuck behind a snow gate. That’s not exciting. It’s a much longer journey and unpleasant to do in the dark.
If you are a frequent flyer (or were a ‘frequent flyer’ before the days of Coronavirus) you too probably couldn’t escape Aberlour. You may not realise this, but the tiny Speyside village has two main exports – whisky, of which we will soon come to, and Shortbread. I am a frequent traveller, and I have to say in many airports around the world, and even in many foreign supermarkets, you often can’t avoid seeing the familiar red boxes with the buttery, biscuity snack. I’ve seen it in America, Canada, Poland, Indonesia, India, Singapore, France, Cyprus, Germany and the Netherlands to name a few. They’ve missed a trick, as being an eating enthusiast, I can tell you Deans of Huntly is a far superior shortbread.
As you drive through Aberlour from the north, the first thing you come to is the Shortbread factory, and the depots of Carntyne and McPherson haulage companies. If you are a regular visitor to Speyside, you will know these lorries well, especially if you are on the A95 as you are normally stuck behind them as they take ingredients, waste and produce in and out of the distilleries. Continuing on, there is the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Mash Tun pub that has a great Glenfarclas family cask collection, and lastly, there is Aberlour distillery.
I’ve visited this distillery before, lastly in 2019, but I won’t go onto say much about the distillery right now, as I’ve already rambled enough. Founded by James Fleming in 1879, the distillery has been owned by Chivas (Pernod Ricard) since 1974. I’ve got a couple more old/new drams from this distillery and I thought I would make two posts, and would enable me to kill 4 samples in quick succession. And we could also see in this case if the extra two years maturation made any difference in the next review.
Aberlour 10 has been known as a decent whisky at a very good price. Indeed if you search on Amazon (boo, hiss!) you can get it for £32, and if you are a prime member you’ll get it delivered for free. I bought a full bottle at the Speyside Whisky Shop in September for £33, and it’s now in my store. The 12 year old has recently been on sale at my local Co-op supermarket for £30, and at that price you’d be foolish not to, but both whiskies can often be seen on offer from time to time.
The value of Aberlour 10 is important. It is seen as an easy going whisky that is not particularly strong, well balanced and therefore suitable for beginners to start their adventure into Scotch Whisky. I’ve had it in the past and have to agree with this assessment, and if it is only £30-ish a bottle, what does a learner really have to lose? Aberlour also has a good reputation, so you know you aren’t drinking some random blend that could be used as a substitute for drain cleaner that is on offer at the local Costcutter. Passport Blend springs to mind.
The old 10 y.o sample I have here to taste is from an auction win during January 2021 that also included a 1990’s 12 year old. I already had a 12 year old sample from the 1980’s, but felt the generation gap wasn’t sufficient, and wasn’t wanting to open a full sized bottle to get a more adequate gap. I did however have a modern 10 year old mini which was bought in September 2020 from the Speyside Whisky Shop. I am not sure about the bottling date, as the Aberlour 10 is a dram that was always supposed to be getting discontinued since 2017, yet there is absolutely no problem in obtaining a bottle. Perhaps that shows how much production there has been, as this has been replaced in the core range by the 12 year old double cask.
Aberlour 10 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 10y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite rich, Malt, Honey, Raisins, Vanilla, McIntosh Red Apples, Caramel Palate – Well balanced. Sweet on arrival. The wood spices are restrained into the development. Nutmeg, Pepper, Malt, Butterscotch, Apricot, Sultanas Finish – medium long, with fruit, caramel and the oak spice fading off gradually. Adding 2ml of water increases the caramel and honey for me, also intensified the spices in the finish.
Aberlour 10 (2017ish)
Region – Speyside Age – 10y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Malty, Tablet (Scottish Toffee) Sultanas, Currants, Sugar Mice, Strawberry Jam Palate – a tad thin on the mouthfeel, slightly oily, creamy malt with a light toffee note and light oak spices (cinnamon) Finish – short, kind of missing in action. Toffee after a while, but mostly cinnamon. Adding 2ml of water drew out a lemon citrus for me, intensified the spice burst on the finish, but did pretty much nothing else.
I’ve often been wary of how I compare these drams. Often it is impossible to compare them blind, as I don’t have coloured glasses and often the colour of the drams lets me know whether I am currently drinking the older or newer sample. I’ve already confessed in previous blogs that I am often swayed by the colour of the whisky, which can be a big mistake. There was only a slight difference in the colour of these whiskies, but I got a pleasant confirmation to my opinion.
As most of you long term followers of my blog may realise (and if you aren’t a long term follower, then why not???) this blog is fairly basic as I write this on my mobile phone. This is an necessity when working offshore where having a laptop out during shift may be a bit awkward. Anyway, typing it out on a phone is also pretty awkward. I had just added some water to the newer sample and decided I was giving up on the phone and would swap over to the laptop. Unfortunately, I didn’t watch where I put the glass, and when I came back, to look at both drams, I couldn’t tell which one was what. My nose told me the most likely situation, but a taste gave me instant confirmation which one was what
This may not seem like a big deal, as many of you people reading this are very used to doing this, however as much as I am as well, it is also nice to have that confirmation that your assessment of the whisky was correct.
Both these whiskies are matured in the same way – Bourbon then finished in Oloroso butts I believe. However there was a pronounced difference in the two. The older dram had a much more defined sherry nose. The richness of dried fruit was there, unmistakeable signature of a sherry cask. It wasn’t as rich on the newer dram, and I have to say there was a lot more sourness in the newer dram when water was added,
The biggest downfall for the newer dram was the lack of a finish. I’m sorry, it was just not there. In my research for this dram, I’ve seen opinions that say that this particular bottling from Aberlour has been prone to batch variation, so I am not sure if my miniature has suffered from the same issues. However, I can only judge on what I have, and to be honest the combination of a richer nose, deeper palate and longer finish means that I have to award the older dram the winner of this tasting.
We’ll see if the 12 year old is any better in the next review, with a 1980’s sample against a 1990’s miniature.
The next pair of drams come from a relatively modern distillery and is the youngest distillery on my quest to find out whether or not older generation whisky is any better than its contemporaries in today’s market. The Auchroisk distillery was built in 1972 by International Distillers and Vinters to produce whisky for their J&B blends, and joined their Speyside portfolio of Knockando, Glen Spey and Strathmill. Production started in 1974, but wasn’t until 1986 that it was released as a single malt. Unfortunately it hit one main issue; how do you pronounce the name? Would the target market be able to ask for this whisky correctly? For me as a native Scots Doric speaker of the Scottish North East, I can tell you that there are many ways to pronounce many of our locations, and they’re all wrong. For a quick example, the Aberdeenshire village of Strachan is pronounced ‘Straan’; Finzean is pronounced ’Fing-inn’ and Aberchirder is known as ‘Foggie’. Fraserburgh is called the ‘Broch’. Just don’t ask why. Obviously the head honchos at IDV (that’s heidy-bummers in Scots Doric) decided that they didn’t want to engage an any geographical name nonsense so decided to release the whisky under the brand ‘Singleton’.
Well, that worked for a wee while, but this was retired in 2001 when the distillery became part of the Flora and Fauna range. And now we have to learn how to say Auchroisk; it’s aw-thrusk. Don’t believe any of the non-Doric speakers telling you it’s Orth-rusk. That might be how it sounds to you if you have a silver spoon up your bottom, but it’s wrong. To be honest, even if you get the the pronunciation wrong, you’ll easily be understood should you be lucky enough to see this in a bar.
The Singleton range wasn’t fully retired. By 2006 it was used again for three distilleries – Glen Ord (marketed heavily in Asia), Glendullan (marketed in US and Canada) and Dufftown (marketed in Europe). These are termed ‘recruitment’ malts which get people lured into buying Diageo’s more premium produce such as Mortlach. To be honest, it can’t be used for linguistic simplicity as if you can’t pronounce these three distilleries then perhaps you are either not old enough to drink or maybe whisky isn’t for you. Certainly don’t try ordering a Bunnahabhain; only on grounds of the tongue twisting challenge you’d face. Stick to Bells, it will be directly on your level.
As you may all know by now, I’ve got a wee bit of a fondness for the Flora and Fauna whiskies, but will the older one be better? I’ve not got a full size Auchroisk open at the moment, so will have to use a mini from Drinks By The Dram, along with a miniature which obtained in a multiple bottle auction lot. The older whisky was distilled in 1983 and bottled in 1993, making it 10 years old. It’s time to see how they compare.
Singleton of Auchroisk 1983
Region – Speyside Age – Vintage but believed to be 10 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – States Sherry on label Colouring – Not known but likely Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, raisin, green apples, smells quite creamy and oily, vanilla, pipe tobacco Palate -A good balanced oak spice, peppery, ginger, nutmeg, honey, green orchard fruit, a note of hay. There is a cardboard note that I am assuming is the seal but does not linger if the spirit is held on the tongue. Finish – medium long. Oak spices slowly dissipate leaving honey and pepper to linger on the tongue. Custard and wet brown paper with a slight hint of sulphur. 2ml of water increases the fruitiness on the palate and almost killed the cardboard note. Got a taste that reminded me of coconut on my second dram.
Auchroisk 10 year old Flora And Fauna
Region – Speyside Age – 10 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Jonquripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Subtle honey, vanilla, pears in custard, hint of barley and lemon. Palate – Quite citrusy arrival with a bitter taste, leading into peppery oak and green apple peel. Caramel sweets – Werther’s Originals Finish Short. Burst of peppery spices with a bitter lemon chaser. Herbal. 2ml of water definitely smoothed this whisky out. Strangely it lengthens the finish but didn’t really alter much of the taste profile. Perhaps a bit more caramel in the palate.
It became quickly apparent that these whiskies had only 2 things in common – the place of their birth and their age. The earlier whisky has been finished in Sherry casks, though I have a doubt that it was a full maturation. The 10 year old seems to have a bourbon only profile. I have a source that has told me that Singleton is possibly ony
These whiskies were the only official bottling from this distillery. Its 2001 appearance along with three other Speysiders (Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill, in the Flora and Fauna series seems to be a way of adding to the range as other distilleries were closed (Pittyvaich and Rosebank) or sold (Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Speyburn). The standard Flora and Fauna range is bottled at 43% so this is a positive move to step up from the Singletons basic 40%.
The other noticeable difference was the colour of the spirit. Both drams I suspect are not natural colour, the older one being darker but this had come from a Sherry cask, so it may be expected to have a different shade. Can’t help but think it has a bit of assistance in its colour like Trump. This sample was coincidentally drunk on the day Trump lost his day job to an older man. Fancy that.
Despite only a 3% increase in abv, the dram did seem a lot brighter, sharper. There was a similar warmth in both drams nose but the sherry notes didn’t come out in the older bottle until I was on the second dram. The older bottle also seemed to have been suffering a bit from old bottle effect, as the cardboard note reminded me of the seal. However this seal was tight and in good condition, so I don’t know.
Here is where it gets hard. I prefer sherried whisky to bourbon only maturation, so to pick a winner between these two is not easy. I preferred the nose and palate on the older dram, yet the newer dram was more punchier, had a bit more bite, and responded to water a bit better.
Going to have to put this one down to being an inconclusive result. If you get either dram, both will give you the same levels of enjoyment, it just depends on your tastes.