What is the first thing you think of when you think of the Germans?
It’s unfortunate that most people think of the Second World War, but Germany is much more than that. You can’t tar them all with the same brush because one Austrian goes mental and tries to take over Europe. I’ve just finished working with a German supervisor and on the one night we had nothing to do, it was suggested that we watch a movie. I had asked my colleague what he fancied watching, adding “I bet you don’t want to watch a war movie!” I was right. I followed it up a couple of days later by replying when asked what was happening that day “I don’t know – I was thinking of invading Poland.” Yes, the Germans aren’t known for their sense of humour, but this is a mistaken stereotype. So is the idea that Germans don’t have a word for fluffy; they just don’t use it much.
I like Germany. Nearly every German I’ve met has been very friendly and extremely hospitable. The country has many really beautiful sights and it’s unfortunate that many fixate on something that happened in the last century. It truly is worth going out and about and seeing what surprises Germany has to offer.
You might also be amazed to find out that Germany has more distilleries than the UK. It surprised me to find out that Germany has some 29,000 distilleries. Most of these distilleries produce fruit spirits, but they surprisingly have more whisky distilleries than Scotland. There are up to 800 dealing with whisky in Germany, far surpassing the Scottish total, though according to deutschland.de, 130 of these are expressly whisky distilleries, slightly short of the Scottish number.
I’ve always been tempted to try whisky made in Germany, but haven’t been able to get a full sized bottle, as well as not wanting to risk the money on something I may not like without trying first. Thankfully Drinks By The Dram have come to the rescue and I’ve been able to get a mini of German whisky, this being from the Slyrs Distillery and bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company.
The Slyrs Distillery is based in Bavaria, to the south east of Munich in a town called Schliersee Neuhaus, and is owned by the Stetter family who have a connection to the Lantenhammer distillery to the north in Hausham. This is due to the marriage of Anneliese Lantenhammer and Sigfried Stetter. It was their son, Florian Stetter who founded the Slyrs distillery. He had joined the Lantenhammer distillery in 1985. The distillery made brandy, but it was during a study trip to Scotland in 1994, had noticed similarities with his home in Bavaria – Mountains, fresh spring water and clean air. He felt that it would be possible to produce a whisky in Bavaria.
Florian had bet his friends a crate of beer that he could distill a Bavarian whisky and by 1999 his dream had been realised and the first whisky had been distilled. The result was a release of 1600 bottles of whisky in 2002. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Slyrs distillery was completed and a mountain store warehouse was completed on Mount Stümpfling.
Nobody I know personally has tried a German whisky, other than people I have met online through my blog and social media interactions, so I thought it best to just go ahead and try for myself.
TBWC Slyrs Batch 3
Region – Germany Age -3 y.o Strength – 52.6% Colour – Russet (1.3) Cask Type -American Oak, Crocodile char Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Apricot jam, vanilla, fresh croissants, mandarin peel, coconut. Palate – Sweet arrival, honey, coconut, butterscotch, orchard fruit – possibly pear slightly nutty note too. Finish – Still a bit sweet but hot on departure. Honey with peppery heat, Sichuan peppers possibly. Sense a wee bit of the char coming through. Honey
I have to say that I have enjoyed this whisky. Despite being at what I suspect is an undiluted cask strength, it was an extremely easy drinker. It was on the fruity side with a funk to the nose, but sweetness continued throughout the dram, with various flavours coming through, with no note particularly overpowering any other.
There was a bit of heat that started in the mid palate which continued through to the finish and didn’t overpower the sweetness. All in all quite pleasant. Water subdued the heat a bit and allowed the honey to show on the finish which was of mid to long length.
This is still available at the Master of Malt Website for £74.95. I won’t be buying one right now, but would recommend if anybody was thinking of trying a German whisky, then this is one I’d recommend to try. It won’t be around forever, as only 395 bottles were produced, but I’d imagine TBWC will have more casks in waiting. If you want to dip your toe in before you commit to a whole bottle, 3cl samples are available for £6.90.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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 Banffthe 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
It was often relayed to me by my parents that nothing in life comes easy. However, in this case they were most certainly wrong. This has been one of the easiest review titles that I have ever created. Since I have decided to review this whisky, every time I think of it the song ‘Loch Lomond’ has come into my head. As a Scotsman of a certain era, it is a right of passage to sing the Runrig version at the end of a wedding or just at some point in the proceedings. Some clubs I’ve been in also play it at the end of the night. We can’t forget either the twee Scottish soap opera that was filmed in Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond. Lunchtimes were usually the time to see Take The High Road, which later moved to an evening slot.
The programme was drama based, and as in every drama, there is usually some sort of mystery. Often there is a character that isn’t who they seem. This is the case with Loch Lomond distillery. The first part of the mystery is that Loch Lomond is the preferred whisky of Captain Haddock, the best friend of Tin Tin, an investigative reporter created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé. Often these characters get into adventures trying to solve various mysteries. Tin Tin was created around 1929, which pre-dates Loch Lomond distillery by some 35 years. This brings us on to our mystery now – Loch Lomond Distillery was founded in 1964. So why do the bottles carry the year 1814?
This is a mystery that we may need Tin Tin to solve, as when I looked up Loch Lomond on the internet and in various publications, it seems that there was a variety of information out there and not all of it correct, which contributed to me getting a bit waylaid in my search for facts. What was worrying was that some of the sources were normally creditable and supported by well known people in the whisky industry. It is time for the truth to be told about Loch Lomond distillery.
To kick off my investigations, when you look at any full-sized bottle of Loch Lomond whisky – it gives the year of 1814. Why is this the case when the distillery was opened in 1965? Well, it turns out the initial Loch Lomond distillery was opened in 1814, further up Loch Lomond in the village of Tarbert. There are no records to when the distillery closed, so the link is only the name. However, it was the owners of Littlemill Distillery who opened the Loch Lomond distillery and that whisky heritage goes back to 1772 with the founding of Littlemill. The owner of Littlemill, Duncan Thomas and an American company called Barton Brands formed a partnership to build Loch Lomond in 1964. By 1984 the distillery was closed before it was eventually being taken over by Alexander Bulloch / Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouses. In 2014 it was taken over by Loch Lomond Group, In 2019, the Loch Lomond Group was sold to Hillhouse Capital.
Loch Lomond is a shapeshifter of a distillery, with three different types of stills, making it possible to distill both grain and malt whiskies. This has led to a lot of confusion, as many websites claim that the distillery has Lomond stills. This is not true. Master Blender Michael Henry explains “Lomond Stills were never used at Loch Lomond. They were only ever used at Hiram & Walker distlleries.” The first Lomond still was developed at Innerleven distillery. As the distillery was close to Loch Lomond, they took on the loch’s name. The development of this style of still was some 9 years before the creation of the Loch Lomond distillery in Alexandria. Lomond stills were only ever used in Inverleven, Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Scapa. Only one is currently in use as a wash still at Scapa, with one more being used at Bruichladdich to create the Botanist Gin.
The straight necked stills were first used at Littlemill in the 1950s by Duncan Thomas, so were also used in Loch Lomond. There are some significant differences between the straight neck still and the Lomond still; size being the most obvious one. A Lomond still is short and fat, whereas the straight neck stills are taller and thinner. The next important difference is that the rectifier plates inside a Lomond still are moveable, to control the reflux within the still, which will make big differences in the spirit. The plates inside the straight necked stills are fixed.
There are definite advantages to using a straight neck still with the rectifier plates and still head cooling. A straight neck still is more efficient and can produce whisky up to 90% when using the still head cooling. Taking a cut between 90% and 80% which will give a strength at 85% at the spirit receiver. If still head cooling is not on, then a much wider cut is taken from between 90% and 55% giving a spirit at 65% at the receiver. By having the flexibility of the straight necked stills, coupled with clear wort, long fermentations and specific yeast varieties ensure that Loch Lomond are able to capture the fruity nature of the spirit. And that is something that Loch Lomond are aiming for – to capture the fruity essence into their whisky in a definitive distillery character.
The distillery also has continuous stills for producing grain whisky and the more traditional pot stills. In total they have one set of swan necked stills, three sets of straight necked stills and 3 continuous stills, each with 2 columns. The smaller of the sets is used for malted barley wash, and the larger continuous stills are used for wheat wash.
Why so many stills? It was the intention of the previous owners to be able to be self sufficient in whisky when making blends. Loch Lomond has over the years made many brands such as Inchmoan, Inchfad, Croftenga, Inchmurrin, Craiglodge, Old Rhosdhu, Glen Douglas, and Glen Garry. While many of these brands have fallen by the wayside, it has been instrumental in creating perhaps a false impression of the distillery and has made it harder to discuss distillery character. Whisky enthusiasts were confused and most other whisky drinkers didn’t get it at all, asking where the Inchmurrin distillery was.
I asked Michael why he thought it so hard to discuss distillery character, with Loch Lomond in mind. I got quite a comprehensive answer. “While single malt has been establishing itself against blends, distillers have mostly talked about wood and flavour, as it is easier to explain why a whisky takes on a sherry character if it has been matured in a sherry cask. It is a lot harder to discuss why a whisky has a fruitier character because a different yeast was used for a longer fermentation time with a different shape of pot still.” And I have to agree. As a whisky geek who has a limited understanding of chemistry, I am starting to study more about fermentation and the chemical processes that convert sugary water into whisky. None of it is dinner table style conversation, but it is much easier to skim over the whisky tastes by discussing casks. There is definitely a romantic story that can be built on that rather than discussing esters, phenols, yeasts and how long the fermentation takes.
It’s not to say that wood does not play a part in the formation of Loch Lomond whiskies. Michael told me that Loch Lomond buy 10,000 bourbon casks a year, all of which see the attention of their on site cooperage for inspection, repair and re-charr / de-charr of casks. The distillery has a 2 or three fill policy per char. A cask may see two de-charr / re-charr before that cask is scrapped. Their American wood policy is important to them, to give them a honey / caramel sweetness to compliment the fruity new make.
One other thing that Loch Lomond have started to do is experiment with yeast strains. I could write more about it here, but the Malt Review site had their own interview with Michael in which he goes into much more detail about this subject, and to save space and any plagiarism, you can link to the article here.
With all this information being shared, I asked Michael why he thought that there was so much misinformation about the distillery. The answer was pretty conclusive, and that was that the previous owners simply did not engage with the public. Essentially they had a high volume / low margin production policy. Nearly all their stock went into bulk blends, and there was no marketing as there was no brand to market. With little engagement and no background to any releases, people have made their best guesses. This easily perpetuates and I found quite a few reputable sites and vLogs with incorrect information.
There are no visitor facilities at Loch Lomond distillery, which makes it harder for the distillery to get its message out. The majority of the spirit produced at Loch Lomond is matured on site, which can amount to 300,000 casks. This makes it quite a hazardous site in terms of fire and explosion control, which is subject to tight regulation. In my interpretation of the distillery, it was never set up to be a site for visitors, and is essentially an industrial site. To take groups of people around would necessitate stopping operations, which is less than ideal. “This can create some suspicion as people think we have something to hide, when it is down to safety reasons that we have not been able to work out to an acceptable level,” says Michael.
As we come to the end of my investigations into Loch Lomond distillery, I feel that all my doubts about the distillery have been cleared up. There is a lot of work to do for Michael, who has said that the main role of his presence on Twitter is to engage with people so he can end the confusion over the various aspects of the Loch Lomond Distillery caused in part by the legacy of the former owners.
The range has been trimmed, which will make it easier for those drinking Loch Lomond to see the distillery character. The latest offerings has seen the Islands Collection brought into the Loch Lomond range. Inchmoan being the peaty offering of the two and using spirit from the straight neck still as well as the swan neck stills. The Inchmurrin is more lighter and floral, using spirit only from the straight neck stills.
Single Grain. 46% Non-chill filtered, natural colour; Unpeated NAS, Peated NAS. Both single grains are 100% malted barley.
I’ve not tasted Loch Lomond before, because I was one of those confused by the distillery and I never really gave it a chance. But when I was browsing through the miniatures of the Aviemore Gift Company, I saw the 18 year old sitting there, and I could hear the voices in my head telling me to take it off the shelf and buy it. I only wished I had a bit of situational awareness, as here I was in a gift shop in a tourist area away to buy whisky. £10.55 for a 5cl bottle… I really should have known better. Don’t worry, by telling this story and making this error means you don’t have to. But it’s an 18 year old from a distillery that plenty of people rate despite misconceptions, so it can’t all be bad, can it?
Let us find out.
Loch Lomond 18
Region – Highland Age – 18 years old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Russet (1.3) Cask Type – American Oak – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Strawberry Jam, Apple jolly ranchers, marzipan / almond, raisin, peat, hard toffee. Palate -Rich, like that hard toffee I am thinking of in the nose, very gentle on the palate, no real burn, light wood spices, slight apple, date sponge, hint of chocolate and smoke. Finish – medium. Woody spices really take off when drunk neat. ginger, white pepper, nutmeg, a woody metallic taste, Granny Smith apple bitterness, finished off with blackcurrant at the end. Leaves a slight sourness in the mouth and a very slight hint of sulphur.
With water, the spices in the palate wake up for an instant white pepper delivery, but the overall spice heat is tempered and brought into more balance in the finish. I found it much more drinkable.
When Michael first contacted me, his initial message said that he felt that my misconceptions about the brand had probably affected my ability to connect with the whisky. Now I have been able to understand more about the whisky, I have to agree with him. There will always be tendency to veer off to the negative when there is something you aren’t sure of. Being an Aberdonian, negativity is something that can perhaps too easy to attain. However, I still feel that this hasn’t affected my actual tasting notes, as if the truth be known, I was wanting to be proved wrong about some of the naysayers about this distillery. And having paid as much as I have for the sample, I was wanting value for money. Thats also a very Aberdonian trait.
The nose was appealing, and the finish had its good points, but it just didn’t totally float my boat. The palate was rich, but I felt it lacked something, almost a calm before a storm. The finish while taken neat was way out of balance for me. A sudden hit from the wood spices and a metallic presence made me think I had sucked a piece of oak with a nail buried in it. If I was to look into why this was the case, I can perhaps only explain it away by suggesting there may have been some interplay between the cap and the spirit? Will make sure I go for a corked bottle next time.
I have only altered my tasting notes slightly in response to the contact with Michael; not to change my opinion, but to alter facts. The distillery uses only ex bourbon casks in the core range, so I have had to remove the part about a possible sherry influence. Also, Michael explained that while the 18 year old is non chill filtered, they do add colouring due to the lighter colour produced by the bourbon casks. I know some people get bent out of shape about this, but I’m not going to. While I prefer a natural presentation, I’m not worried about a bit of colour, as it is flavour that matters. As long as I can’t taste the colouring, its good. I’m learning to not drink whisky with my eyes. Besides, most of the core range is under £40, the 18 year old is under £80, so it is not as though I am paying premium prices for a non-natural presentation. I would say this represents good value.
With water, this whisky was perfectly competent, and the spices reined in. As you can see, I did experience some fruity notes from the whisky – predominately apple ones for me. It’s been some time since I’ve had an apple Jolly Rancher! While I did not take to this release this time, now I know more I’d be happy to try another whisky from their range. From the descriptions, the Inchmurrin is likely to be the candidate, but that will be some time in the future. I think that taking the time to investigate Loch Lomond whiskies by yourself could be very worth while.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Michael for the help he has given to ensure an accurate article has been written. In disclosure, no incentive or samples have been given or expected and the content solely reflects a partial but accurate overview of what is being achieved at Loch Lomond, as well as an honest whisky review.
Times are hard, and I have to economise. After the potentially financially crippling Old vs New Series, the cost of which will be revealed in another article, I can no longer afford a decent article title. So this is it. If your name is Tam or Thomas, I’m not specifically saying hello to you, although you are welcome to join me, but just shortening the name of our next dram – Tamdhu.
Tamdhu sits in the parish of Knockando, not too far away from the Knockando distillery, and right beside the railway station for the parish. The Speyside line was instrumental in the genesis of many Speyside distilleries, such as Dailuaine, Imperial, Knockando, Tamdhu, Cragganmore and Balmenach, not to mention other distilleries within easy reach. Dr Beeching did the area a disservice by cutting this and the Boat Of Garten to Forres line, as it means I have to sit behind so many lorries on the A95 carrying casks, malt, yeast and waste products.
The original Knockando station was known as Dalbeallie, named after a farm in the area, was built after the distillery was constructed in 1899, long after the 1863 opening of the line. This name has enjoyed a resurgence as a special edition in commemoration of the railway in the Tamdhu story. The name changed to Knockando in May 1905, to avoid confusion with Dalbeattie Railway Station in Dumfries And Galloway. A similar problem existed further south in Strathspey when Abernethy Railway Station was renamed Nethybridge. Imagine landing up in the Highlands when you expected to be in north Fife!
The Knockando station goods yard was where the distillery used to take in its sherry casks. I’ve heard unconfirmed stories that they used to be unloaded in ships in Lossiemouth harbour, then taken on the railway to Elgin, then down to Knockando via Craigellachie railway station. Sadly the station closed in October 1965. The station and it’s signal box have survived, thanks to the distillery renovating them, and it is hoped that they will form the basis of a visitors centre in the future. Whisky and railway geeks unite!
The distillery has been owned for the majority of its life by Highland Distillers, later to become Edrington. They already had a sherry monster distillery in the form of Macallan, and I wonder if that was the reason that little known Tamdhu was chosen to be mothballed. Thankfully it wasn’t mothballed for long with Ian Macleod Distillers purchasing it in 2011, opening it again in 2012. The first release was the 10 year old with a more Victorian look to the bottle, now synonymous with the distillery.
Much is made of its former owners’ dedication to quality, but Tamdhu has just the same passion for their wooden casks. Using imported American Oak or native European Oak from Galicia in North Western Spain, their wood is dried then filled with Oloroso Sherry from the Vasyma Bodega in Jerez. The casks sit for 6 years, slowly absorbing the sherry into the wood fibres, ready to play its part in the maturation of whisky. And it isn’t just the cheap sherry that goes on to be used to make sherry vinegar – this far exceeds the 2 year minimum maturation that cheaper sherries may experience.
The dram I am going to try for this review was released as a 15 year old in 2019 as a limited annual release, with about 24000 bottles being produced. I have had this dram before, but I wasn’t in a place I could take notes to review. That’s a casual way of saying I was in the right physical place (a bar) not in the bodily correct place (on the way to being tipsy.) I do remember enjoying it, so I have purchased a nip so I can sample again to relay my experiences.
Region – Speyside Age – 15 yrs old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Oloroso Sherry (American + European Oak) Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Classic Sherry aroma, but not too powerful, balanced. Raisins, sherry, red apple peel, mint choc chip ice cream Palate – Raisins, honey, then the wood spices hit with pepper and ginger. A light alcohol tingle, drying, dark chocolate. Finish – medium. chocolate orange, biscuity, slightly bitter but not in an unpleasant way.
Tamdhu is always the sherried whisky I mention first if people are wanting a recommendation of a sherried whisky that isn’t Macallan, followed quickly by Glenfarclas and GlenDronach. I’ve never really had a bad dram from these distilleries, with the exception of an experience I had with a Glenfarclas 15 mini. I really do wonder why Edrington gave up this distillery when they were just on the cusp of a whisky boom. Perhaps they wanted more money to finance the Tellytubby land distillery they’ve made up in Craigellachie. Yes, I know that the building is impressive, but while the Macallan does make good whisky, they aren’t the only ones. Others do to, and they make it cheaper.
With the investment in good casks showing at Tamdhu, I really rate this distillery, even though on the global stage it is still a bit of a sleeper. Definitely one to watch and I cannot wait to see what will be replacing the 15 year old. With GlenDronach possibly edging towards the start of Chill Filtration on the 15 year old, if this does come to pass, I will certainly be looking at changing where I spend my money. If they do turn the old railway station into a visitors centre, I cannot wait to visit the distillery.
Tamdhu can be found in a 10 year old expression, which has been discontinued with the 12 year old replacing it. There are other limited editions as well as regular Batch releases of cask strength spirit.
The 15 year old costs around £82 in specialist whisky shops, and I’d say for that price, the quality you are getting from your dram is well worth it.
There is always somebody who wants to go one better. We all know that person. When you’ve been to Tenerife for your holidays, then they have gone to Elevenerife. They have the guitar amplifier that goes all the way to 11. You know the sort. They are really annoying to work with, as you end up feeling that you can’t say a thing without some sort of oneupmanship or some sort of belittling comment.
How annoying is it when somebody claims to be one better, yet only this time they aren’t trying to belittle you, their claim is actually true? As Winston Churchill said “I find humble pie to be a most edifying diet”, yet some people seem to have gone on hunger strike.
If you have the pleasure of visiting Dalwhinnie distillery, nestled on the northern reaches of Drumochter Pass, given the remote and desolate landscape around you, it is hard to conceive that there could be a distillery higher above sea level than this in the UK. But there is. And nobody in Dalwhinnie speaks about it. For if you were to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, but travel a bit further south, and you will come to a small settlement called Braes of Glenlivet. Travel through the hamlet and on your right will be the 1970’s distillery called Braeval. Despite the green farmland around you, believe it or not, if you stand beside the still house with a hand held GPS, you will find that you are 2 metres higher than Dalwhinnie. Of course, this could be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the satellites available and who our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are bombing, so lets not offend anybody any further and allow Dalwhinnie to not lose any face by saying they are the highest distillery with a visitors centre.
The Braes of Glenlivet was built in 1973, constructed for Seagram, a Canadian based distiller. The distillery was one of the first to be built as a fully automated distillery, requiring only one operative. It was also one of the first to be built as entirely open plan. There is a rumour that the first mash took place before the roof was put on so the incoming Canadian chairman could be impressed, but that’s likely to be a part of distillery folk lore that each distillery has its own tale. The other thing that is a bit fake about the distillery is the pagoda roof. Due to the age and automation of the distillery, there has never been any malting taking place on site, but it does help it’s brutal 1970’s architecture blend in with the local area.
If you think that the architecture is bad, then look a bit further north to its sister distillery in the shadow of Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhainne. It also was constructed by Seagram, opening in 1975, and bought by Chivas in 2001. Allt-a-Bhainne was eventually given a single malt release in 2018, which while I thought it was ok, wasn’t going to set the world on fire, despite all of the marketing cliches that accompanied its release.
The distillery changed its name to Braeval in 1994, to avoid any confusion with its much more famous neighbour in the glen. Not that there would be much confusion, as Braeval as a single malt is quite hard to get a hold of. As far as I know there has never been an official bottling, other than the Distillery Reserve bottles released by Pernod Ricard who took over the distillery in 2000. The distillery was mothballed a year later, not resuming production until 2008.
If you want to taste a Braeval, then your best bet is going to be through an independent bottler, and for this we have to be thankful that Douglas Laing has done just that with their Old Particular brand. Given the hot mess of the Allt-a-Bhainne release, I’d dread to think of what PR would do with Braeval. So it comes to be that I ordered some time ago a 3CL sample from Master Of Malt in order to make up a tasting set. I’d never tasted Braeval before but thought the time had come to set this right.
Old Particular Braeval 18 (Douglas Laing cask 11205)
Region – Speyside Age – 18 yr old Strength – 48.4% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite light, Honey, apple, walnuts, spices, a hint of malt. Palate – oily, apple continues, honey, slightly sweet. Finish – medium/long. Warm and drying, sweet. Apple peel, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, a hint of raisin. Water smoothed things out a bit, but shortened the finish.
Not a bad first venture. Definitely very pleasant to drink, and despite it’s slightly higher ABV, the spirit doesn’t seem very forward; there isn’t any great spirit arrival here, it is all gently warming, with a surprising dryness that thankfully doesn’t cause your mouth to pucker. There is a bit more of a spirit burn as it goes down your throat, but burn is a bad word to use here – heat and warmth is probably the best description. This is a malt you could seek out and enjoy if it wasn’t just for one catch – it’s discontinued.
By all means you could look around at auction to see if it turns up, but you’d be better off keeping an eye on what independent bottlers are releasing. If you can find a Braeval from a sherry cask with the same sort of age, I’d definitely recommend it.
I am sure you can guess that I’m never likely to get mobbed at any event and certainly I am able to do my shopping without being mobbed by fans. God forbid that ever happens. I’m just quite happy plugging away at what I want to do, and living in an area with not a lot of people in it when we are outside normal tourist season suits me fine. To be honest, lockdowns haven’t really made a lot of difference to me during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not often doing anything that interesting if I am at home from my normal job. Indeed, part of me doesn’t want pandemic lockdown to end, as it means having to face more and more people.
I’m not as social as you may think.
The distillery from which the dram for this review hails from has a similar sort of circumstance. It just isn’t that well known at all. Firstly, there is no Glen Spey. The River Spey rises in streams that flow into Loch Spey, a small loch situated in the southern edge of the Monadhliath Mountains, just to the north of the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve.
Despite being so unknown, it may surprise you that Glen Spey, which is located in the Speyside village of Rothes is not a young distillery, having been built in 1878, around the same time as Glenrothes. It was initially named Mill Of Rothes distillery, but changed to Glen Spey in 1887 and the distillery was sold to the London gin makers W.A. Gilbey. This would be one of the three distilleries owned by Gilbey, the other two being Strathmill in Keith, and Knockando further to the south. Gilbey eventually merged with Justerini and Brookes, a London wine merchant. This formed International Distillers and Vinters, eventually becoming part of Diageo in 1997. Over 120 years of existence and only been sold once – remarkable for such an old distillery that is part of the big four distillers in Scotland.
While in the care of Gilbeys, this became the home of their blend made from the three distilleries they owned. The blend was known as Spey Royal, and was produced into the 1970’s. I actually own a bottle of this but I’ve got doubts over its provenance. Despite being reassured it is not a fake, there are a few things about it that mean I am going to just keep it as a talking piece.
Glen Spey was not one of the original Flora and Fauna releases. The range that started in 1991 originally only had 22 bottles, all of which had wooden boxes and 16 had white capsules to show they were 1st releases. Another Rothes distillery with a Flora & Fauna release – Speyburn. Due to the very short time it was in production, this is now the holy grail of collectors, now regularly seeing £2000+ hammer prices at auction. By 2001, a lot of the Flora and Fauna range had been discontinued due to Diageo selling or closing the distilleries. Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Dufftown, Clynelish, Craigellachie, Glendullan, Pittyvaich, Rosebank, Royal Brackla and Speyburn had been either sold or a new distillery expression created with Flora and Fauna being withdrawn. Mortlach would also follow. So in 2001 four new releases were introduced – Auchroisk Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill. The new four were not released with any packaging. Later on Glen Elgin would also be discontinued in favour of a distillery branded bottle.
So, despite its relative invisibility, does Glen Spey shout out its credentials? Only one way to find out.
Glen Spey 12 (Flora & Fauna)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 yrs old Strength – 43% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known, suspect bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Green, light, grassy, pineapple, light malt and barely perceptible smoke. Palate -Sweet, Light, slightly oily. Apple, sour lemon, nutmeg, slightly soapy Finish – short. earthy finish, bitter and soapy with a bit of aniseed right at the end. Gives a rough burn down the throat when swallowed.
Glen Spey is a gentle Speysider. Quite a pleasing nose, but that is for me where the pleasure ends. So many times I have been switched on by an aroma, but only to be let down by palate or finish. In this case both. While I for many years have championed the Flora and Fauna range, this is one that I haven’t tasted until now. Lets just say I won’t be tempted to open either of the full sized bottles I have. While this distillery may play a great part in Diageo blended whiskies, this example of it as a single malt is disappointing.
If you are tempted to buy this, make sure it is only to complete your Flora and Fauna collection. You can buy this for £43 online but you may be better spending your money on something a bit better. Speyburn 10 is also from Rothes and is not only tastier, but cheaper as well.
If you are a regular follower of my blog, (and if you aren’t, then you should be!) you will know that over the past four months I’ve been doing taste tests of drams that are generations apart. The reason for doing this is to confirm or deny the saying that whisky was better in the olden days.
It is often the habit of people of previous generations that proclaim things were better in times gone by in their era. I used to scoff at them, but now as I approach a certain age, I can tell you that this may be the case. When I look back on tales of my own job, this is certainly the case. I remember the days when a ship would dock and there would be a herd of ‘Gangway Gazelles’ leaving the ship to head to the nearest bar. Times have changed now, and these things are frowned upon more and more, probably because they got tired of police arriving at boats, people just not turning up at the boat on time, or people just not turning up at all. It’s always an immediately sobering feeling waking up to see your ship sitting at anchor in the bay wondering how on earth you are going to get onboard. Only happened to me once…..
Whisky seems to have the same process. So many times you hear of people reminiscing about drams of yesteryear, the claim of how Macallan isn’t as good as it used to be, or even the qualities of discontinued drams in comparison to their replacement. Everybody has an opinion, but I decided it was time to maybe look a bit closer at this thought, to determine if it was a myth or if the various opinions had some traction. Thankfully, after a time of buying batches of miniature whiskies at auction to get one of the bottles contained within, I’d been left with quite a selection of older miniatures which had prompted me to investigate further and compare them to their contemporaries.
Let’s look at how I assessed the drams.
1/ I endeavoured as much as possible to compare like with like. That isn’t as easy as it sounds as core ranges change. Even, as in the case of Auchroisk, the age may be the same, but the Flora and Fauna is upped to 43% and is exclusively bourbon cask maturation, unlike the Singleton’s sherry cask finishing. In the case of the Benromach, there wasn’t a comparable 12 year old in the modern range, apart from a cask strength, so I used a 10 year old. As far as possible I used a contemporary dram if like for like wasn’t available.
2/ I never tasted blind. I know this may seem to invalidate my testing, but I don’t have coloured glasses, and besides, having seen the bottles before I tasted, it was often easy to see what one was the older or younger sample.
The other thing that made blind tasting pointless was the fact that I was using miniatures for a lot of my tastings. Due to the seal area / liquid volume ratio, plus the older drams suffered on occasion from old bottle effect, which made the older dram easy to identify. I mitigated this in most examples by letting the dram rest for 30 mins or adding water. It has to be said the usual taste was a musty, cardboard taste. I think that is common for older screw top seals, as a Glenturret 12 y.o sample I’ve had from a full sized 1980’s bottling was similarly affected. So if I was always able to easily identify the old or new bottlings by taste or smell, being tasted blind would make no difference.
3/ I’m fully aware that I cannot say that one is better than the other. That is because taste is subjective. However, my plan was if I could perhaps establish a pattern across the 43 samples I tried, there would be more grounds for coming to a conclusion whether whisky was better in the past or not
4/ I tried as hard as I could to get at least one whisky from each region, however Campbeltown and the Lowland regions have had tiny amount of distilleries for some time. This means it is harder to get old and new samples without purchasing full size bottles. This was going to lead to expense that I just could not justify. The reason I tested more Highland or Speyside malts is solely because samples were easier to obtain. Plus that’s where the majority of Scottish distilleries with visitor centres are located, thus more likely to have a 5cl release.
Cost has been a limiting factor. Some of the older minis were expensive. I had seen the older Aberlour 10 retail at £40 for 5cl. The Springbank I had to pay £40 for a batch of minis just for this one and another £60 for a full sized modern bottle so I could have one Campbeltown sample. The Highland Park 1980’s sample was £46 all in, but being 10cl, I’m going to be able to share that with a whisky friend who probably hasn’t tasted much, if any early Highland Park.
The 10 year old Macallan wasn’t cheap either. I had planned to use my 70cl bottle from the 1990’s that was damaged in a flood at my storage locker. It is still worth about £350 as a drinking bottle. In one way, I’m glad COVID restrictions stopped me retrieving it from the locker, as I’ve been able to get a 1980’s 10 year old sample instead. However, that was the same price as the Highland Park and only 5cl. So my whisky loving friends are going to have to wait a bit longer before they gets a sample of my damaged bottle.
So, no expense spared.
You can get links to each review by clicking on the distillery name which will open in a new page.
It can be seen that if you read each review that there were 14 wins for the older drams, 2 for the newer drams, three draws and one void. However it is not as simple to say that older drams are definitely better just looking at tally marks, as we have to take into account the subjective nature of taste. In the majority of times I picked the earlier era of whisky, this is due to the whisky in the older sample being more accessible, easier to drink, more pleasant notes or a better mouthfeel or finish. In the cases where it was hard to decide, it was often a gnat’s knee cap of difference, but a notable difference at least that I feel I’d be able to pick out on subsequent tasting.
Whisky and its distillation does change over time; it’s almost inescapable. There is little way of guaranteeing absolute continuity when staff come and go, changes in barley or yeast, changes in the time to ferment or distill, or even the temperature in the worm tubs can all have subtle differences. An example which you may not find likely but is 100% true occurred in the heat experienced during the summer of 2018. Dalwhinnie distillery had to stop production not because they had a lack of water, but they could not cool the spirit properly in the worm tubs due to the warmer water source, making the spirit character change too much. It makes me wonder how the spirit that was created just before they decided to stop will show through in bottling, though most likely it will end up in a blend.
One of the things I really noticed was that a couple of the newer drams had a very thin mouthfeel, or less intensity of flavour. The Glenlivet 12 totally seemed to lack a finish. I was able to communicate with a distiller who was able to give me a few pointers. Being honest, this is not limited to one distillery and it is unfair I suppose to name Glenlivet who have produced and continue to produce some great spirit. The answer confirmed a lot of my thoughts, but was put in a more succinct way. I’m going to add a bit more meat to the bones of what he told me so this is not quoted verbatim, but is also reflecting a situation that hasn’t exactly been a secret.
It has been no great surprise to hear that the distilleries have been facing a rapid demand for stocks, and as thus older stocks have been depleted. Aged whisky just cannot be produced on demand, so brands have had to make decisions on meeting that demand with stock available. A source in the industry once told me last year that a well known premium brand had a 12 year old whisky that once had an average age of 14-15 years old when you looked at the vatting. Nowadays its average age is 12 years old, and lacks the richness that it once had. Clue: – it is one of the distilleries that I tasted as part of this series. It isn’t limited to that brand either, as the distiller I spoke to while doing a review of one of these spirits said that this is common throughout the industry; a detail that has been mentioned to me by a few people in the industry. This may explain why so often the new era whiskies don’t have the same depth of character that older whiskies can provide. Distilleries just don’t have the same catalogue of aged barrels to pull from, and may preserve the older and higher quality stock for their more premium releases.
In my research, it was hinted that the quality of wood used has taken a backward step. When tasting whiskies of previous eras, most notably the sherry cask ones, the casks are not the same as before. Sherry ceased to be exported in casks in the early 1980’s meaning that source of casks was no longer available. Solera casks are not suitable for whisky production, as the Bodegas want as little wood influence as possible. Distilleries have been forced to season casks with sherry, and while you may get the taste, it is my belief that it isn’t as successful as having the real thing. Of course, some distilleries spend a lot of money getting their wood right, but some also may not concentrate on this to the same level.
The cask quality issue continues when it was mentioned to me was the general make up of casks in a vatting isn’t as good as it used to be. In order to perhaps lower production costs and increase the amount of whisky available, there are probably not as many first fill casks in the vatting of single malts. There are probably a lot more 2nd and 3rd fill casks getting used in any vatting. This may not be noticed in some whiskies, but most notably I noticed that the newer Aberlour and the Glenlivet I had tasted seem to have very thin bodies and next to no finish. The distiller I spoke to mentioned the fact less 1st fill casks being used will probably explain it. The wood has less to give, with less and less flavour components being imparted to the spirit. Indeed, I was recently shown a 9 year old 4th fill cask sample from a well known Speyside distillery, and to be honest it wasn’t much more than dirty dishwater in colour. One can assume next to no cask influence unless it is left for a couple of more decades at least.
It often leaves me wondering if production times have changed too, with fermentation and still times being made shorter to increase the production capacity where physical alterations are not possible or too expensive. With the boom in whisky sales showing little sign of slowing at the moment, the pressure is on distilleries to produce or lose market share. The more traditional distilleries also have the burden of having to supply produce for blends, which are in just as much, if not more demand than single malts.
A Personal Choice?
It is obvious if you look through the results of my reviews, that I do think there are good grounds for suggesting that whisky from previous eras are better in some cases. Of course it could be argued that this statement is dependent entirely on my own subjective point of view and taste, but that is why precisely why I deliberately tried as many whiskies as I could across each of the Scotch whisky regions. I also tried to pick some malts that I was unfamiliar with, so any bias could be ruled out. As alluded to in some of the reviews, I have always tried to find an identifiable flaw or difference that I could recognise in a blind test, in order to try and reduce the effect of simple preference. It’s not perfect but the best I could do in that circumstance.
I knew that bias would creep in. I had made my mind up that in the last comparison I did of Macallan 10 that the older Macallan would easily beat the newer dram, but I had to be honest and say that this just wasn’t the case at all. I would be telling lies if I said that one was much better than the other and doing a disservice to the quality control at Macallan. But I’ve heard from a friend who is involved in the industry that Macallan 10 was one of those whiskies that had an average age significantly higher than the age statement, so that made it expensive to produce. It was a good decision by Edrington to withdraw the age statement rather than continue with what may have been a much inferior product.
What mostly drew me to the older whiskies that I thought were better was just the depth of flavour, the length of finish, the mouth feel or just the fact that I was instantly drawn to it – that the whiskies were just so easily drinkable.
One thing that I noticed that in some cases the distiller had changed the ABV when producing the newer edition. Both Bruichladdich and Clynelish increased their core bottling to 46%, which removes the need for chill filtering. Auchroisk only upped their core to 43% in the Flora and Fauna bottling, but this also was supplemented by a change to exclusively bourbon maturation. There wasn’t a lot in the drams, but I felt the sherry finished Singleton had more character and mouthfeel than the Flora and Fauna dram. Interestingly enough, Auchentoshan had dropped their ABV to 40% from 43% but lengthened the maturation period. I personally think this was a backward step, as while I didn’t mind the 10 year old dram, I found the 12 year old was nowhere near as good and eventually was so undrinkable to me that it went down the sink.
There is one issue that we have to take into consideration was that the old bottles often suffered from the ‘old bottle effect’. I found that by leaving the drams to breathe for a while and adding a drop of water often mitigated this phenomenon but never eliminated it.
Drams that I liked or disliked
The one thing that my blog was designed to do was to encourage me to try different drams, and in this series it has forced me to drink a few whiskies that I wouldn’t normally drink. It is important to know what has gone in the past so we have a yard stick to judge the future. But is that really important? Because when it comes down to facts, all that matters is whether WE like it or not and definitely not as a result of others telling us we should like it.
The top drams that I tasted as a result of this series would definitely be –
Glenfarclas 10 (old)
Clynelish 14 Flora and Fauna
Glenrothes 8 (2007 – The Malt Cask Co.)
The drams I did not really enjoy
Auchentoshan 12 – so bad I couldn’t finish it
Aberlour 12 (New) – no finish whatsover
Glenlivet 12 (New) – poor mouthfeel and no finish.
The Final Caveat
Of course, this cannot be the final word. We have to keep an eye on what is happening in the whisky world. As I type this out, Glendronach have reportedly already removed the Non Chill Filtered Statement from their 15 year old bottling. Why they would need to do this when it is not necessary to chill filter a whisky at 46% I don’t know, unless they are thinking about lowering the ABV or are actually going to chill filter at 46% which will result in a change in flavour. It is a backward step, so this is why I maintain it is always good to keep an eye on the past so we can know that we indeed have tasted good whisky.
The final caveat is that we cannot stop here; we need to compare the whisky of the future to the whisky we have now to see if there is a progression. I think it is increasingly obvious that the production of whisky is in the hands of accountants as much as it is in the care of Master Blenders. We have to see that producers maintain or increase standards, or we risk going down the route that Auchentoshan went or that Glendronach seems to be heading. The internet has made information much more easier to obtain and share, with the result that today’s whisky enthusiast is much more informed and will not easily accept a reduction in standards.
Whoever wants to do the comparison of the next era of whisky against this era is welcome to do it – I’m done!
I’d like to thank everybody who has helped or encouraged me to complete this series. It has been an expensive labour of love, both financially, on time and emotionally. If you liked this article, can I ask that you share it, so it makes my work seem more worthwhile. And of course I will welcome all comments about this; it would be great if this generated some discussion in the community.
Taste Review #104 – Glen Garioch 15 old style bottling.
They say that time waits for no man and for me that is so true. Events always pass me by, as life for me often seems to move at the speed of continental drift as everything speeds past. This can have some very positive effects. Due to being fashion unconscious, I’ve found that I can use my wardrobe of walking gear, Levis and 8 hole Dr. Martens to drift in and out of fashion as it ebbs and flows around me. And I have both the black and cherry red variants so can mix it up a bit. Being a canny Aberdonian, this also has the effect of not wasting money on frivolous pursuits such as clothes and leaves more cash for whisky. However, this review isn’t a new release at all, but a bottling from the middle part of the first decade of this century. It is from my former local distillery, Glen Garioch in Oldmeldrum.
You may be surprised (or not as the case may be) to find out that this is a sample that I have had sitting in my wee kitchen display cabinet for over two years. I received it from a work colleague as an exchange for a wee dram of Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine; after all, wee yellow submarines are our trade. I’ve bought a handful of these bottles on his recommendation but have yet to open one. I’ve been itching to try it, but told my colleague I’d do it when I had time to really concentrate on it. Well, as is the case with offshore workers that have a child, that moment doesn’t come around too often. This poor sample was sitting on the shelf for longer than it should have and now that I have completed my course of antibiotics for an infected knee joint, this is my first dram of 2021. Publishing the review has been postponed due to my old vs new series, so it’s had a little longer to wait, but after 2 years in a cabinet, it’s hardly a problem, right?
I used to live a little more than 15 minutes drive away from here, but it was only in March of last year that I managed a visit to the distillery. It was worth it, although I didn’t take to the Founders Reserve sample given out.You can read my review here. There was nothing wrong with it other than it not being to my taste, and had several things going for it, not least the 48% bottling strength. But you can’t like everything that a distillery releases, though I am hoping that my colleague’s recommendation is a sound one. Let’s find out.
Glen Garioch 15 Year Old (2007 bottling)
Just for clarity, Garioch is pronounced Gear-ie and rhymes with dreary.
Region – Highland Age – 15y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Chestnut Oloroso (1.2) Cask Type – Not known. Suspect Bourbon with a sherry finish Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated but likely. Nose – Honey, slightly nutty, heather, caramel, quite sweet. Slight whiff of smoke suggesting peat, but that’s all it is; a suggestion. Palate – Sweetness all the way, with a heathery honey with that whiff of smoke in the background. There is more citrus appears when water added. The sourness increases and there is a mild lemon note occurring. It’s oily, and the legs on the glass are absolutely fantastic. Finish – Long, warming, sweet, with a slight citrus sourness building and a hint of wood spice. A bit more spice builds as time goes on as more is drunk. Smoke still there but continues to be subtle.
It’s a pity I left it so long. It’s a great easy going sipper. There is little complexity to this dram, but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes you just need something you can drink and isn’t challenging. To put it into the Doric language which is used all around the North East of Scotland, it’s a dram that gives you a ‘bosie’ (at’s a hug t’ aa iv youse ‘at cannae spik i Doric wye). Now I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the other dram, as I did say I might pass it on once I’ve done my review. Just not sure if being half full will rapidly change the dram due to dissipation, evaporation and oxidation.
And yet in that vein, I have no idea how long the bottle my sample was taken from was open, so it could be well ‘rested’ so to speak, but if it is, it has done the dram no harm.
You can pick one of these full sized bottles up at auction for a hammer price of between £55 – £70, plus fees. It’s not a bad price for an enjoyable whisky, but has been discontinued for some time now, so you may struggle to get it anywhere else than auction.
I’d recommend trying this if you see it going about. Maybe a bit on the expensive side for its age and abv, but a worthwhile experience.
What remains to be seen is if this standard of whisky returns to Glen Garioch. In mid March 2021, the owners of the distillery, Beam Suntory, announced a £6m refurbishment which would include a return to more traditional methods of distilling. The news that the malting floors were being reopened was a surprise, though a welcome one. Whether or not they will process their entire malt requirement is unclear though it can only be a good thing that this will be happening, whether it is a fraction or the entire amount. Exciting times are ahead and I’d mark this distillery as one to keep an eye on.
Yours In Spirits
Cheers to Ritchie Keith for the sample. Very enjoyable.
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.