Taking The High Road?

Taste Review #111 – Loch Lomond 18

This review was originally posted on 1st June 2021. Unfortunately for me, it turns out some of my sources of information were incorrect. After contact from Loch Lomond’s Master Blender, Michael Henry, I decided that to preserve the integrity of my blog and not spread further misinformation that it was better to remove the review and produce a re-write. And to be honest, I think it’s a better read.

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?


A Tv advert from a Tin Tin comic

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.


Loch Lomond Straight Neck Stills

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.


Swan neck still at Loch Lomond

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.


Charring a Bourbon Cask. These are used for honey and caramel influences

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.

The current range is:-

  • Core Range All 46% Non-chill filtered, colouring; Loch Lomond 12, Loch Lomond Inchmurrin 12, Loch Lomond Inchmoan 12, Loch Lomond 14, Loch Lomond 18, Loch Lomond 21, Loch Lomond 30. All
  • Supermarket range 40% Chill Filtered, Colouring; – Loch Lomond Classic NAS, Loch Lomond Original NAS, Loch Lomond 10.
  • 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

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.


The dram

Conclusions

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.


Captain Haddock didn’t realise he’d been given a sample straight from the receiver. A bit powerful at 85%!

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Tin Tin Cartoons – Tintin Whisky Fandom

Whisky Photos – Authors Own

Distillery Photos – Loch Lomond Distillery

Hello Tam.

Taste Review #112 – Tamdhu 15

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!


Knockando Station – the distillery is off to the left of the photographer. (Julian Paren)

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.


Tamdhu 15

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.

Tamdhu 15

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.



Conclusions

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Tamdhu Station, looking for a role – Julian Paren (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A New High.

Taste Review #110 – Braeval 18 (Old Particular / Douglas Laing)

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.


Braeval Distillery

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.


The sample

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.

Details

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.


The dram

Conclusions

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Braeval Distillery, ChapeltownStanley Howe (CC BY-SA 2.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Finding The Invisible Dram

Taste Review #109 – Glen Spey 12 (Flora & Fauna)

Being anonymous has its benefits.

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.


Glen Spey is an ingredient in this blend. Label felt a bit dodgy, so not chancing it.

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 Flora and Fauna

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.

Details

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.


The dram

Conclusions

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Those were the days……

Old Vs New – The Results.

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…..


Sadly we will never find out if two of these drams would have been better or worse in the present day.

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.


Only half of my mini collection. All destined for drinking.

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.

The Drams

You can get links to each review by clicking on the distillery name which will open in a new page.

  1. Clynelish 14 – old vs new
  2. Glenfarclas 10 – old vs new
  3. Benromach 12 old vs 10 new
  4. Bruichladdich 10 – old vs new
  5. Auchentoshan 10 old vs 12 new
  6. Glenrothes 8 old vs 1998 14 vs 8 y.o CS
  7. Glengoyne 10 – old vs new
  8. Auchroisk 10 – old vs new
  9. Aberlour 10 – old vs new
  10. Aberlour 12 – old vs new
  11. Glenmorangie 10 – old vs new
  12. Glenlivet 12 – old vs new
  13. Linkwood – old vs new
  14. Glen Keith – old vs new
  15. Glenkinchie – old vs new
  16. Ledaig – old vs new
  17. Highland Park – old vs new
  18. Glendronach 15 – old vs new
  19. Springbank 15 – old vs new
  20. Macallan 10 – old vs new

Conclusions

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.


Worth Remembering that through time……

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.


…Not everything gets better with age (but this whisky will be fine!)

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.


Glenlivet 12. One a bit watery and devoid of finish

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.


A surprisingly strong contender compared to current produce. Is the distillery edition just whisky for whisky’s sake?

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.

Measurable Changes

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 –

  1. Glenfarclas 10 (old)
  2. Clynelish 14 Flora and Fauna
  3. Glenrothes 8 (2007 – The Malt Cask Co.)

The drams I did not really enjoy

  1. Auchentoshan 12 – so bad I couldn’t finish it
  2. Aberlour 12 (New) – no finish whatsover
  3. 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.


Quite a surprisingly good dram. Is this what Brown Forman are planning?

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.

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Left On The Shelf.

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.


No Monkey Business Here! It’s just a reused bottle.

Details

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.


The Dram

Conclusions

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.


The full size bottling

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

Scotty

Cheers to Ritchie Keith for the sample. Very enjoyable.

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Sherry King Of Speyside.

Taste Review #103 – Macallan 10 old vs new

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.


MIA bottle (Macallan Is Annihilated)

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.


Mini Macallan Malt Moment

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.


Correct still pattern; wrong location. (cranesltd.co.uk) original article here

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 from the 1990’s.

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.


Macallan 10, circa 2010 or slightly earlier making an appearance on my cooker.

Conculsions

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.


Older dram on left. Like two peas in a pod.

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

except – screen shot of Macallan History Page – included under fair use, copyright cranesltd.co.uk

Spring Has Sprung

Taste Review #102 – Springbank 15 Old vs New

I am getting excited.

Meteorological Spring is here, and the Crocuses and Snowdrops have arrived and the daffodils are on the way. It hasn’t been the hardest of winters here in the southern part of the Speyside Whisky region and it was nice not to see the mess of my grass thanks to a month of snow and ice, but you can’t beat the sunny spring bulbs, the longer evenings and the warmer temperatures. Spring has sprung and the title of this article is taken from a song by one of my favourite bands, British Sea Power.

And I am also excited because it’s the penultimate review in which I compare old vs new whiskies and this time we take the only visit to the Campbeltown Region that I was able to obtain an older generation whisky for. To be totally honest, getting the new version wasn’t so easy either, as produce from this distillery does tend to disappear quite quickly. While I could get my hands on it reasonably easy over the internet, I found that many of the suppliers were taking the mickey with some of the delivery charges. With prices for the most recent bottling of the 15 year old Springbank online being over £70, some retailers were going to charge me over £20 to get it delivered to my house in southern Speyside.


Auction win. Older minis of Campbeltown whiskies not easy to get.

Fortunately I just happened to check my friendly (sort of local) independent spirits retailer with only one actually having it in stock – the Speyside Whisky Shop. Not only that, at £63 for the bottle, he was cheaper than Amazon. Result. The older dram was sourced from auction as part of an auction lot. I have reviewed this bottle before in Review #53 – you can visit it by clicking on this link. Since that article will tell you all you need to know about Springbank, I’m just going to move onto the whisky.

Springbank (1990’s / Early 2000’s)

Region – Campbeltown Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour -Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Caramel, orchard fruit – pears, honey, slight malt. dried fruit Floral note, cut grass. Palate – Oily dram, great mouthfeel, the sweet hits right away, closely followed by spicy wood tannins, raisins, slight citrus sourness, creme brulee. Finish – Sherry notes, linger, chocolate, brine, vanilla, and a hint of wood spice.


Unknown era, suspect 90’s to early 2000’s

Springbank 15 (2020)

Region – Campbeltown Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour -Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Toffee, almonds, worn leather, raisins, clootie dumpling, mushrooms. Palate – Oily, raisins, not quite as sweet and certainly more sharp. Bursts into a quick hit of wood spices, with ginger, pepper and nutmeg. Cherries and plum. A noticeable hint of smokey salt. Finish – medium dried fruit, brine, oak, creamy milk chocolate. Slight sulphur note.


Yes, that’s on the cooker. The only bright enough light I could get on the night

Conclusions

With both drams being the same strength and age statement, this will make it easy to pass judgement without having to make allowances for differences. I am not familiar with Campeltown whiskies at all, so it makes a decent bit of sense to try at least one as I can approach this without any preconceptions.


Side by side but quite different. 2020 bottling on right.

Both drams were good. Let me tell you I could not find fault with either of them. However when it came to taste, there were one or two differences between the two. Of the two to drink, I have to say that I preferred the earlier era bottle. This is because there was more depth to the sweetness, the wood notes were bright but lower in intensity than the up to date version. There was a funk to the latest edition that wasn’t present in the older bottle. – while I have described it using worn leather and mushrooms, the savoury note was a little bit of a turn off for me. Given that I’ve enjoyed a few bottles in this series that have had an ‘old bottle effect’, this is a shame. Old bottle effect I have found usually subsides after being allowed to breathe or water added. In this case, the funk of the newer bottle didn’t disappear. Coupled with the hint of sulphur at the end, to me it’s an old dram which wins my preference.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

A Walk In The Park

Taste Review #100 – Highland Park 12 Old vs New

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!


Making a second appearance on Scotty’s Drams, Viking Honour

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.


1980’s Highland Park

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.


1980’s Highland Park

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.


Highland Park Viking Honour

Conclusions

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.


New (l) vs Old (r)

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.


New (t) Old (b)

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Dram That Turned To The Dark Side.

Taste Review #99 – Ledaig old vs new

The dark side. We all probably have one, or perhaps I should stop judging others based on my own experiences. This is the one time that I wished that I did a little bit of research before sampling these drams, as if I had, I would have learnt that one dram in the tasting tonight was in its initial incarnation before it joined the dark side and peat was added to the mix.

I feel it is important not to research too much beforehand as this is likely to influence the review I am about to give. I may look at the distillery history, as I quite often type this bit out as the whisky I want to review settles and has a wee breather in the glass. However it is not so long ago I wrote an article about making sure of what you are bidding on at auction, which included a tale of what happened when you failed to check and yet again I’ve ended up scoring a spectacular own goal. The two whiskies I was to compare to see if either the later or more recent expression was better has failed at the first hurdle – the two whiskies are completely different and cannot be compared, due to one being peated and one not.


What was planned for comparison

For my faux pas to be explained, Ledaig is a whisky that is produced at the Tobermory Distillery on Mull. I’ve already reviewed one of their whiskies and quite liked it. But the distillery hasn’t always been known as Tobermory and it was the failure to see this rock of knowledge that saw my ship grounded.

The distillery which is the only one on the island was founded by John Sinclair in 1798 and named Ledaig. It had a patchy history, often with long periods silent, two of which were around 40 years in length. It wasn’t until 1979 that a Yorkshire based company, Kirkleavington Properties bought the distillery that it was named Tobermory. They didn’t have much success with whisky production, closing 3 years later, but they converted some of the buildings into accommodation and leased other bits for cheese storage. It all looked a bit dismal until 1993 when Burn Stewart took over, continuing with the Tobermory name.

It wasn’t until 2007 that the whisky we know as Ledaig was produced. It is a peated Tobermory, and it was my mistake to assume that whisky with Ledaig on the label would be peated. Before the 1979 rename, in 1972, a company formed of a Liverpudlian shipping company, Pedro Domecq and some business interests from Central America reopened the distillery. They weren’t successful either and the distillery went bust in 1975. Perhaps this is why a change of name which was also more pronounceable was carried out in its next period of production. Thankfully this was not before one of the drams I will be trying in this review was distilled. Still, a massive disappointment was experienced when I found out that it didn’t seem to be peated and was probably quite close to what Tobermory would be now. Oh well, my bad.

It is kind of pointless to debate whether this is a better dram than the 10 year old, as it is a completely different style before we even consider the age of the bottle, the lower abv and the greater age of the spirit. Therefore in this case before we even taste the whisky, I’m going to have to call this match null and void. I can give comparisons I suppose, but it was then I remembered that I have another sample of Ledaig in the house – a quick furrow about, and I find a 2008 bottling from Robert Graham’s Dancing Stag range. Not enough of a difference for an old vs new comparison, but still a worthwhile exercise to examine these drams now I’ve got them out.


What had to be added to the review

Ah well. Worse things happen at sea I suppose. At least I now have three drams in front of me so time to get cracking.

Ledaig 1974 (Bottled 1992)

Region -Highland Age – 18y.o Strength – 43%abv Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not known Chill Filtered – Possibly Nose – Quite Light, slight malt, fruity, heather, window putty, a whiff of smoke, wood varnish. Palate – Quite light. Honey, peaches, grassy, buttery, vanilla, sweet gingery wood spice, a hint of brine. However, overall insipid. Finish – short / medium, slightly astringent, more wood spice, a hint of lemon citrus and brine.


Ledaig 1974 – not peated

Ledaig 10 y.o (OB)

Region -Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 46.3% abv Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known, likely Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Smokey peat, ashes, earthy, vanilla, honey, seaweed. Palate – Smokey, pepper, lemon, ash, brine. Slightly nutty – walnut. A hint of nail polish remover. Finish – medium, not particularly spicy, citrus, oranges, fresh tarmacadam being laid – the sort of sensation you get when your nostrils and throat get saturated with the smell of a road surface being laid.


Ledaig 10 – peated Tobermory

Ledaig 8 y.o 2008

Region -Highland Age – 8 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Peat, smoke, overheated electronics, fudge, lemon, vanilla Palate – quite light smoke, black cracked pepper and sea salt, fudge, earthy, slight citrus. Finish – Long. Spicy, peppery oak spices, smoke, brine, celery sticks.


Ledaig 8 (2008) – still peated

Conclusions

It is not the first time that my failure to prepare has got me into trouble. I should take my own advice more often. Even this week when going for a morning shower, I had forgot to take a bath towel with me and only realised the omission by time my shower was complete and I was soaking wet. Fortunately there was a hand towel handy, but it was like trying to dry an elephant with a facecloth. Making errors though needn’t be a bad thing, especially when tasting whisky as it just drags you onto new avenues, and at least its not as bad as discovering by accident that disinfectant bathroom wipes are not good for wiping your bum with.

However, if the older dram had been peated, I would have had to say that it would not have been the victor. It did have slightly less strength at 43%, but it also had an extra 8 years in a barrel. Not years well spent I think. To be slightly more considerate in my approach, it had been bottled in 1992, had signs of slight evaporation, so while I could pick out one or two notes, it was definitely a dram that had gone flat. I got tired of drinking it and although it was not repulsive to my palate, I had lost interest, so down the sink it went.

The peated Ledaig we are all probably more familiar with was a different kettle of fish. The flavours and aromas were well balanced, quite bright and punchy, yet not a knockout blow. I’d put this dram somewhere between Laphroaig 10 and Talisker 10. I managed to finish the lot without a single drop of water. Delicious.


Hint: – the tasty one is on the left

The independently bottled Ledaig was not too bad but lacked the same depth of flavours and punch as the original bottling, despite being only 2 years younger and only 0.3% less in abv. I cannot help but think that keeping it in the cask any longer would not have done it any favours and I’d argue that this has been over diluted. It might be a cracking dram at cask strength, but in this guise it was a bit of a let down. Pity, as I bought it while in Glasgow while picking my wife up from the airport a couple of years ago, and bought one for my former Dalwhinnie tour guide neighbour as a thank you for looking after my canine equivalent of Jimmy Saville while I was away for the day. He said that he liked it, but that may have been politeness. At least his dog wasn’t under much threat of attack as it is a Newfoundland, and even Maksimus isn’t going to manage to ravish that. But like us with whisky perhaps he may have thought it worth a try.

You can still find the 8 year old Ledaig for sale from Robert Graham, but while it was an ok dram, it wasn’t as good as the original bottling. The price of £87.50 for an 8 year old spirit at 46% is a bit adventurous for the quality on offer here.

While I have already declared this as a null and void review in terms of the old versus the new, I can’t help but feel that the newer dram would have been the better of the two. I don’t wish to cast aspersions though it could be because the older dram was made during one of the two periods where the distillery was only open for 3 years, and they might have needed someone who knew what they were doing. I’ve heard the 1972 or 1973 are better but I’ll pass.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own