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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is truly a momentous occasion. It’s my 100th review, and its appropriate to mark this with a distillery that has a great reputation. It’s even better that this has happened during my series of old vs new, as I don’t get to taste just one whisky; I get to taste two!
I’ve reviewed a new Highland Park 12 before, this being the current offering which is called ‘Viking Honour’. I found to be acceptable and value for money. However the Highland Park distillery is one of those which often comes up in the whisky geek conversations that I have online where that it’s said that the previous era releases of this whisky are better. I can’t really speak with any authority on this, as Highland Park like the fellow other fellow Edrington stablemates Glenrothes and Macallan, are bottlings I don’t really purchase much, if ever. However I am in the fortunate position of finding an older Highland Park at auction. £46 for a 10cl bottle was a bit steep, but you can’t really walk into a shop to buy it.
What you can go and buy in many UK supermarkets is the latest incarnation of Highland Park. Its the youngest age statement in the Highland Park range and is often available for sub £30 if you look for offers. I felt that this wasn’t bad for its price point, but there is usually a bit of compromise involved in whiskies for this outlay. How does it match up to the older edition of the 12 year old Highland Park? It is time to move onto tasting and find out whether the newer one has kept up with the reported standards from previous eras.
Highland Park 12 y.o (1980’s)
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour -Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Ex-Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated, but did not have any Scotch mist after leaving in the fridge prior to the tasting. Nose – Raisins, Sherry, Honey, charred wood, apples, vanilla, fig rolls, salt laden air, a wisp of smoke. Palate – Entry is mild, slightly oily and sweet, moving towards figs, honeydew melon, dried currants, and a bit of sweet heathery smoke. Quite mild tannins. Finish – Medium. Honey, smoke, light brine and a building wood spice that doesn’t overpower anything else.
Highland Park 12 Viking Honour
Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour -Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Ex-Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated, but did not have any Scotch mist after leaving in the fridge prior to the tasting. Nose – Honey, Slightly smokey, grapefruit, pine Palate – Entry is quite mild, weak and watery, Honey, heather, slightly floral which builds to a nutmeg, peppery wood spice, which becomes quite strong in comparison to other elements. Finish – medium short, wood spices, smoked wood, light sweet smoke. A burn of alcohol as it descends down the throat.
I’m not really wanting to beat around the bush here, but both drams were acceptable to my palate though one was a lot more refined than the other. There was noticeable differences between the drams. There is not any point in looking at the colour, as the colour does not determine taste and may just fool our minds into thinking the darker whisky was better. Highland Park does not add colour to their spirits. However both are chill filtered as far as I can see, though the distillery does not disclose on the packaging whether or not this happens. However as the fellow Edrington owned Macallan does chill filter their basic releases, I’ve no doubt that this is the case here.
There has to be a comparison made and to me the difference was a lot more than marginal. The older dram was smoother, more sweet, not so much sour and not so much wood spice. There was no overpowering flavours and the whole dram was one of harmony. And this is where the rub comes – tasting the newer Viking Honour beside a spirit at least a generation older shows that while many will accept the Viking Honour as a decent whisky, it is faded glory compared to that of the 1980’s dram. A strong citrus sour note, an increase in the wood spice and the rough end to the finish in the spirit burn as it goes down the throat is much more noticeable when compared to the old one.
In my previous review of Highland Park 12 (Honour) I said that it wasn’t bad and was probably good value. However when compared to the older generation 12, it is easily overpowered by its forebearer. Without a doubt, I’d have to say that the older dram is easily the better one and a lot tastier. If you ever get a chance to try an older edition Highland Park pre-Viking Honour, please do. You will not be disappointed.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
As the blogging behmoth of the old versus new project continues (note to self; don’t do anything like this again!), I find my attention turning to the Lowland region for the second time. As hard as I have tried to spread out the samples of whisky to ensure I am trying a variety of styles and regions, it has all depended on the availability of miniatures or older whisky. The Campeltown and Lowland Regions were the hardest, due to the low number of distilleries in these regions. For many years there has only been two distilleries in Campbeltown until the re-emergence of Glengyle (Kilkerran) in 2004, supposedly to stop the SWA discontinuing the Campeltown region. The Lowlands have been similar, with only three malt distilleries, Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie. In recent years there has been an explosion of Lowland malt distilleries – Ailsa Bay, Annandale, Borders, Clydeside, Daftmill, Eden Mill, Glasgow, Holyrood, Inchdarnie, Kingsbarns and Lindores Abbey, with Rosebank re-opening and several others in development. Of course, the other problem is that older stock to do an old vs new review is impossible to get from these distilleries as of yet – I’m going to leave that project to somebody else in the future.
Glenkinchie was the closest malt distillery to the Scottish capital city of Edinburgh, until the opening of the Holyrood distillery. It was founded in 1837, by borhters John and George Rate. It may have existed as the Milton distillery in 1825, but records are a bit unclear. Unfortunately they weren’t that successful and they were bankrupted in 1853. The distillery was then converted into a saw mill, but this would not be the end of whisky distilling on the site. In 1881 the distillery was reopened due to the success and popularity of blended whisky, with the distillery as it now exists largely in place by 1890.
In 1914, the distillery joined with Clydesdale, Grange, Rosebank and St Magdalene to form Scottish Malt Distillers which in turn by 1925 merged with Distillers Company Limited (DCL) which has since evolved to become Diageo. The distillery did not shut down due to the restrictions on the use of barley in the Second World War, and eventually closed its on-site malting in 1968. The maltings were converted into a whisky museum which includes a scale model of a working distillery made for the 1925 British Empire Exhibition.
Glenkinchie was launched as a single malt with the arrival of the UDV Classic Malts in 1988. (UDV were formed by the amalgamation of DCL and Arthur Bell & Sons in 1987.) This was a series supposed to showcase different styles of Scotch Malt Whisky, but does not have a Campbeltown example, so has two Highland Malts (Oban and Dalwhinnie) as well as Lagavulin, Talisker, Cragganmore and Glenkinchie. Kind of pointless, as Dalwhinnie is also a Speyside, being closer to the River Spey than some of the traditional Speysiders like Glenlivet. Of course the saying goes that all Speyside whiskies are Highlanders although not all Highlanders are Speysiders. Glenkinchie was selected as a Classic Malt ahead of Rosebank, which became a part of the Flora and Fauna series in 1991 instead, eventually being mothballed by UDV in 1993.
Lowland malts are smooth, and were often triple distilled, but Glenkinchie is only distilled twice. It does however have the largest wash still in Scotland, with a charge of around 21,000 litres. It also has descending lyne arms from the top of the still, leading to an iron worm tub. This limits copper contact during distillation and can give a meatier, sulphurous profile. However the final result is light and fragrant.
The older sample is a 10 yr old at 43%. I obtained it as part of a miniature bundle at auction when I was wanting something else in the bundle. It has since been discontinued and replaced by a 12 year old. The newer whisky, which is also at 43%. It is a 20cl bottle which I bought at Cardhu in October 2019.
Glenkinchie 10 (old)
Region – Lowland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Light Malt, honeycomb, gingerbread. Smells greasy like a used chip wrapper paper. Hints of Brasso / Duraglit Palate – More malt, digestive biscuits, honey, vanilla, walnut. Develops into spicy oak, orange peels. Finish – Medium / Long. Peppery, white pepper oak spice, more peel, becomes slightly astringent with a hint of honey. There is also on taking another sip a hint of smoke and peat, star anise. Adding water gave me a burst of peppermint in the finish and an increase of the oak spices.
Glenkinchie 12 (new)
Region – Lowland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring -Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey Nut Cornflakes, malt, fruity – apple pie with sultanas and a hint of cinnamon. Light citrus such as a lemon cheesecake. Palate – Medium body. Quite sweet, vanilla, honey, malt biscuits, sultanas, grassy notes, peppery wood spice. Finish – Medium. Builds to bitterness as the finish continues, wood spice is peppery / gingery and slightly drying. a very faint whiff of smoke.
I’m going to have to be quite clinical about this as I was shocked as to how close the two drams were, yet both did give slightly different experiences.
Let me start out by saying I enjoyed both drams. Both were very pleasant and I would have no hesitation in not only drinking them again, but I’d also recommend both drams. Not anything that will set the world on fire, but both engaging and are a pleasant drink neat. The good thing is that Diageo have not played about with the abv, keeping the 12 year old, which was a replacement for the 10 year old at 43%. The colours were identical and it is clear that colouring has been used in these drams. There was no sign of Scotch mist when I added some chilled water, so I am assuming some sort of Chill Filtration has taken place.
The problem I have in deciding is that while the 12 year old is more smooth and lacks the bite of the 10 year old, it is easier to drink. On the other side of the equation, there was slightly more flavour that was discernible with the 10 year old. This leads it to be a decision solely based on personal opinion. However I felt there was also a better mouthfeel on the 10 year old. The 12 year old seems to be a little thinner on the palate. I could go into reasons why I think technically that the 10 is the ‘better’ whisky but I’d be talking total mince as it would still only be my opinion.
In football terms this would be a score draw – both drams score equally well and it is not possible to say that the older whisky is better than the newer whisky, despite my doubts. I’m just going to drink and enjoy.
Whisky history. It’s something that has gone through my mind a fair bit when I’ve been reviewing the old vs new drams. In fact it has been something that I’ve been reflecting on for a while. What sparked this mini confession was looking at the older bottle that I’m away to consume tonight. The label was in good condition, the fill level was good and it struck me that this was an almost immaculate bottle of at least 41 years of age. I wished that I was in as good a condition at 41! However, like me, the bottle couldn’t be preserved any longer and was away to meet its destiny. The end of its journey had been reached and had to be opened for the purposes of this review. And while sad as it was to destroy this history after reaching that age without a scratch, it was opened with the mantra ‘its made to be drunk’ running through my mind. After all, it was only a Glenlivet.
This thought of whisky should be destined to be drunk has been going through my mind more and more of late due to the rush on the newest Daftmill, Ardnamurchan and by the end of this week, the inaugural Torabhaig. I don’t mind the frenzy for new bottles. It’s understandable to a point, that perhaps people want to the the first to taste it, to have one for collecting or worse, to flip. As a collector myself, I’m not immune to criticism in this case, but it has saddened me to see Ardbeg ‘Arrrrrrrdbeg’ go on sale for over £100 more than the RRP. That is little more than gouging. A collector will know this and move on, knowing the value isn’t really there and wait for prices to subside, but it takes advantage of those who really want to drink it and forces them to pay through the nose. The distillery doesn’t care as they’ve sold out, but it is potentially damaging to their image. It’s a subject that I am determined to look into in the near future.
Anyway, from what I’ve heard, a source revealed that in his opinion Arrrrrrrdbeg tastes not too different to the 10 year old. I’ll save my money and buy Laphroaig or Octomore instead.
So, thinking of whisky history, It’s been a bit of a while since I last looked at Glenlivet. The Captains Reserve was the last bottle I looked at in 2019. You can read a little about the distillery history and what I thought about it here. Despite its massive output, Glenlivet is a distillery that I rarely look at. Perhaps because I feel their massive output is just ‘meh’. Not that I feel there is anything wrong with it, but my attention gets grabbed elsewhere. Perhaps it is just the ubiquitous nature of the brand that puts me off. I feel the same way about Glenfiddich, Chivas Regal or Johnnie Walker. Not that there is anything wrong with these brands either, I just don’t seem able to engage with them, plus wherever I seem to travel in the world with my work, at least one of these is always obtainable.
The Glenlivet 12 year old was discontinued a few years back, and was replaced by the Founders reserve. This appears to have been a lamented decision, as the Founders Reserve just hasn’t appeared to have been as well received, most reviews I have seen in the passing seem to prefer the 12. Perhaps this makes this age statement a prime candidate for old vs new. Besides, it’s not really enough to write a distillery off just because I don’t pay attention to their product. It is time now to put that to bed, and try what is one of the most popular of the Glenlivet age statements.
Glenlivet 12 (Old 1970’s bottling)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 70 Proof / 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Light honey, vanilla, apple, slight leather, milk chocolate Palate – Quite sugary sweet on the arrival, with alcohol burn slowly arriving, golden syrup on toast, chocolate raisins, slightly heathery, creamy vanilla Finish – short to medium. spicy ginger as the last of the alcohol burn goes, chocolate bananas, custard, almonds. Adding 2ml of water only smoothed the spirit out, and has made for me the finish last that little bit longer with less of a gingery kick.
Glenlivet 12 (new / Double Oak)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – American and European Oak Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Creamy toffee, slight hint of bitter citrus – grapefruit or lemon, lightly nutty smell at the end, possibly almonds Palate – Creamy, buttery, toffee, apple, vanilla. Finish – Super short. Blink and you miss it. If I was forced to say something that it is drying, my mouth is left as dry as Mother Theresa’s sandals. Very quick burst of wood spice then nothing but a light hit of creamy vanilla. Adding 2ml of water has increased the spiciness and reduced the dryness slightly. There is a bitter citrus note that builds then fades away. However, at least this has lengthened the experience at the end. But in truth, I took a bigger sip this time.
This has been a bit of an eye-opener, mainly because I never had expected to get such a pristine miniature in an auction. There was very little old bottle effect in the older sample and I have to be honest that so far out of all the older bottles that I have tried so far in this series, this has to be one of the best, if not the best. It is certainly up there with the Glenfarclas 10 and Clynelish Flora and Fauna that I have tried at the start. Don’t get me wrong, I am well aware that the whisky that I am tasting is not the premium sips, but it is still a valid exercise to compare old to new to assess any differences.
Turning my head sadly to the newer Glenlivet, I have to say that nose wise it was fine, palate wise a bit light to my tastes but still an acceptable whisky, although I found it a bit boring, but my other eye was opened when I sampled it a few times and was getting pretty much zero finish. My palate went dry and it was almost like I hadn’t just tasted a whisky. Ok, perhaps zero was a little cruel, and I did get more of a finish once I added a bit of water, but even then, it wasn’t very exciting. Perhaps something I might put into a hot toddy or a cocktail.
I was a bit concerned that I was missing something, so I took it upon myself to trouble somebody in the industry as to what actually is responsible for providing the finish. It was as though there were oils or something missing, my thoughts were the chill filtration had perhaps stripped the newer spirit of the taste. So, I messaged one of the distillers I follow on Twitter, and he graciously answered my plea for answers. I feel that he put my thoughts into a more articulate way, and suggested that in the 70’s there would have been a greater range of ages available to make up a vatting, and it is entirely likely that there was more 1st fill casks used. The more modern version is probably made of product a lot closer to the 12 year old mark, possibly with less first fill casks, meaning the wood has a bit less to give in producing not only the nose and palate, but also the finish.
I’m a bit reticent in naming who helped me lest what I write causes a bit of fallout, but I hope I have interpreted your answer correctly, if not then you can give me a proper hazing on Twitter and I’ll go and sit on the naughty step knowing I must try harder.
Both drams were balanced, but the older one was definitely moreish. To conclude my reviewing session I finished the newer one so I could spend more time with the older dram. The newer dram was pleasant enough, certainly more enjoyable than the Aberlour 12 I recently tried but it just wasn’t really engaging for me, and the length of finish when neat was extremely disappointing. I’d recommend it as training whisky. The older dram was definitely the winner here.
In the last review I tasted two drams from Aberlour in which the earlier expression won the head to head. I now turn my attention to the two 12 year old samples that I have in my store. One was a sample from Matteo at The Speyside Whisky Shop of an early – mid 80’s Aberlour 12 he had in store for customers. In a recent auction win, I found that I have another old Aberlour, this one probably from the late 80’s – 1990’s. I really don’t know and am just going by what I can research on the internet. I’m not expecting a big difference, but they were samples to be cleared and could also help us find out if the extra two years in the cask made any difference.
I didn’t go into the history of Aberlour distillery much in my last review, and I won’t really go into too much depth now either, but here is a quick overview. It’s not really a large distillery, situated at the southern end of the village, and sits beside the Lour burn. Aberlour is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name Obar Lobhair, which basically translates as ‘Mouth of the Lour’. The formal version of the village name is Charleston of Aberlour. It got its name from the current village founder Charles Grant of Elchies (we’ll be hearing of that location again before the end of the series) who named it after his son.
Aberlour was formerly a stop on the Speyside railway line, passenger services ending in 1965, and freight continuing til 1968 when the Beeching axe finally fell. A very limited freight service did continue from Dufftown until November 1971, and I am led to believe it was to a coal merchants in Aberlour who supplied the local distilleries. There are a handful of distilleries nearby, Craigellachie and Macallan to the north of the village, and Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Imperial (replaced by Dalmunach) and Glenfarclas not too far to the south. And of course the Aberlour distillery itself.
James Fleming was the man who started the Aberlour distillery in 1879, with distillation taking place in 1880. Fleming was previously involved with Dailuaine distillery, close to the village of Carron, so had distilling experience. A man of many talents he was also a banker, Chairman of the School Board, County Councillor and even the Town Provost – the Scottish Equivalent of a Mayor. The distillery was sold in 1892, and James Fleming died in 1895 at the age of 65. But by that time he had really made his mark on the town through his philanthropy. He gifted the town its first meeting place in 1889 – the Fleming Hall. His legacy extended to the building of the local Cottage Hospital in 1900, and a suspension bridge over the Spey to Knockando Parish in 1902. All of these gifts are still fully operational over 100 years later. He is buried in the cemetery directly opposite the distillery entrance.
The distillery since 1974 has been owned by Chivas Brothers, now part of the Pernod Ricard drinks giant. I visited the Aberlour distillery in Oct 2019 when I finally got fed up of continually driving past when travelling between Aberdeen and home. It’s a good tour, mine being led by Nicola Topp, a young lady who’s family had an extensive history in the distillery. The tour was fantastic, and I’m happy to hear that Nicola has now moved to be involved in the production side at the Dalmunach distillery.
Compared to some of its near neighbours, Aberlour isn’t a large distillery. It has two wash stills and two Spirit Stills, and only 6 wash backs. In September 2020, Moray Council approved plans to almost completely rebuild the Aberlour distillery in phases, which can be seen by clicking HERE in an article that was published in the regional newspaper, the Press And Journal.
Aberlour 12 (Early 80s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, citrus, orange peel. Slight hint of dark fruit, quite sugary sweet, almost like candy. Palate – Quite tame on arrival. Not overbearing, no great spirit rush. Gentler than the nose would suggest. Creamy caramel, apple, bitter orange. Sweet candy note. Finish – medium long, spicy honey, nice gentle warming, hints of coffee, chocolate and raisin. Slight floral note found when a small sip taken and rolled around in the mouth. (Due to being only a 25ml sample, I did not add water)
Aberlour 12 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, Toffee, Quite a dark fruit sort of flavour, ripe plums raisins, definitely a sherry cask has been used. Fresh pipe tobacco, slight smoke. Palate – Oops. No real alcohol present, no buzz at all. Oh dear. It does give a nice sugary feeling at on the tongue, kind of like candy floss. A slightly bitter citrus (orange) is there as is the toffee and honey with a hint of dark fruit but oh so muted. Finish – Medium. Burst of peppery and cinnamon spice when the spirit does decide to appear, then goes into pineapple, coffee, then back into bitter wood notes, slightly drying. This gets shortened and the spicy burst goes with the addition of water, although there does have a slight caramel note left lingering.
Well, a wee bit of a disaster really. I can see why this is classed as a beginners single malt, as for me there is not really a lot going on here. Of course we can use the argument that these were older bottles, but yet to be honest for the first time in this series, I didn’t notice any of the usual tell-tale signs of old bottle effect, or having been exposed to the waxed cardboard seal of a screw top. Both drams were pretty even if it had to be said but the older expression was definitely the most consistent one.
What really surprised me was the newer one’s palate was just not really there. I had to do some research to see if I was missing something. I’ve seen descriptions such as ‘Full Bodied’, ‘Rich’, ‘Intense’. I have to wonder if they were drinking the same whisky as I was, or if perhaps 40% is perhaps a little too strong for them. Because if I have to be honest, on the younger expression, the palate is as flat and smooth as a dolphins bum. It’s like the beard on a 13 year old – barely there. I could go on with the metaphors. With the absence of a palate and a shorter finish, I thought it was another clear win for the older expression. However, I decided to do something that I hadn’t done yet, and that was bring on some of the big guns.
You see, sitting in my study as a present for somebody I haven’t yet met since I came home on Christmas Eve was a bottle of the brand new, up to date double cask Aberlour 12. I’m not really a fan of opening 70cl bottles when I have so many open already, but I thought that in the interests of research I should get that seal off and try. Besides it only cost me £30 in the Co-op, so not exactly a big loss. I’m sure I will see it on special again, and if I’m lucky, when I go back in the next couple of days it still might be at the lower price.
So – tasting #3 for the Aberlour 12 year old.
Aberlour 12 (2020)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite Fruity. Strong note of Moray Cup (explanation later), orange fondant, mint, honey, almond. Strawberry jelly cubes prior to melting. Palate – Quiet, a bit more oily than the previous two, wood notes pretty non- existent with a hint of bitterness at the end. Slight taste of almond, perhaps the red fruits and bitter orange. Perhaps a hint of ginger in subsequent sips. Finish – medium / short. Slight wood spice and alcohol burn as swallowed and I get reminded of Cointreau, bitter citrus. Nutty at the end. Disappeared quickly.
Conclusions (Part 2)
Well. I am glad I did not give that as a gift. The person would have thought I had hated them. You know, the colour and the nose excited me. I mean, Moray Cup…… For those who aren’t in the know because they have never lived in God’s Country (The Scottish North East) is a now defunct soft drink that was fruit flavoured, produced by Sangs of Banff. To look at it, you just knew it was artificially coloured, and a look at the range of E numbers in the ingredients list would confirm it. Such as it was, the label also had the warning to be careful in giving to young children. I am sure that a litre of that would give them AHAD so badly that they could be mistaken for a Springer Spaniel in a tennis ball and bone factory. Quite why it had two Caribbean gentlemen on the label I don’t know as Banff is normally as sunny and pleasant as a Siberian Gulag. Anyway, such is my lament for this drink I’ve gone and spouted off a load of rubbish, but those in the know would never bother with Irn Bru to cure a hangover – a bottle of Moray cup and and couple of rowies and away you go.
Sadly the palate was maybe slightly more prevalent than the early 1990’s bottling. But if I was to be honest, it wasn’t really there either, so that rules out any question that the older bottling had evaporated. It was almost perhaps as flat and smooth as before, but perhaps this dolphin has pimples on his bottom.
In summary, I was erring onto the inconclusive, but let’s look at plain facts. Its a basic 40% abv dram produced in massive volumes. You can’t expect it to be competing with some of the more exclusive brands or higher abv drams. I’m definitely not going to say these drams are rubbish – they are not, and will be a good bet for anybody starting on their whisky journey. Or even as an easy drinker, though I prefer other Aberlour expressions. A’Bunadh is a good start. However, in analysing the three whiskies had just now, taste is really where it is at, and despite the great nose, the lack of a defined palate and short to medium finish rules out the two younger expressions. Old expression wins by a gnat’s hair. Of course this is just my personal opinion. I’m going to enjoy the rest of the 12 year old as a wee nightcap and maybe stick to Aberlour’s more premium expressions which are very delicious in the future.
Oh, and I checked the price at the local Co-op this morning – back up to £40. I think I’ll pass.