It’s Wednesday and you may be wondering where this week’s whisky review has gone. Well, I’m amazed to tell you that I’ve run out of whisky to review. I’ve been at work since 24th April (that is not a typo!) and while I’d built a considerable backlog of whisky reviews, this has now run out. I guess I didn’t realise that I’d still be offshore in August. By time I got off this vessel, I’ve done 110 days away from home and 105 without touching dry land.
I think this gives me a good excuse for running out of reviews.
And now, I realise after such an abstinence that probably drinking one dram will leave me in a state that will leave me unable to write a review. So there may be a small hiatus before the reviews start again. Don’t worry, they will start again as soon as possible.
Just because I’ve been at sea doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to advance my whisky journey. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whisky world and have thought through a couple of articles that should be of interest. I have also been continuing to gather more whisky for tasting and sharing, including my first Scotch Malt Whisky Society full size bottlings which were purchased at auction for reasonable money.
I’ve also bought a couple of historical drams from Cheaper By The Dram, which includes the first Highland Park edition that was released as a single malt and a dram from the long deceased Glenury Royal distillery. This has led me on to thinking about the theory of older whisky being superior than contemporary whiskies. This I think needs investigating and I may require some volunteers to either prove or disprove this concept.
As you may have seen on my Facebook page, Scotty’s drams has also been listed in whisky broker Mark Littler’s blog as one of the Whisky Blogs to keep track of, as well as my Instagram page. I’m grateful to Mark for his recognition, so I must be doing something right. You can see the entries by clicking on these links –Scotty’s Drams Instagram Page Reviewand Scotty’s Drams Page Review
All in all, despite being a busy summer for me work wise, it still has been successful in several ways.
Lastly, I cannot end this article without hoping that all of you had a good summer under the current circumstances the global community finds itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused great disruption to life as we know it and I hope you have all kept safe. It was my intention to have a Scotty’s Drams meet up at the tail end of the year but I do not think that this will be possible but keep 3 days free for sometime in the next year.
As you may have seen on my other social media channels, the storage locker that I keep the majority of my collection in suffered flooding to knee level on 11/08/2020. Unfortunately the facility flood prevention barrier was overcome. I have not been able to get access to the site but needless to say it is not looking good for some of my rarer drams. While I did have shelving, some of my boxes were on pallets.
It may be some time before I am able to review again, but will try and keep things going on Scotty’s Drams.
As one door closes, another opens and this may give me the opportunity to start with a new focus.
Taste Review #65 – Black and White Blended Whisky (1950’s Bottling)
How many times have we heard that things were better in days gone by? It’s certainly something that I’ve heard plenty of times and in some cases there may be a bit of justification in that statement. As a child of the early 70’s, I have very happy memories, but then again I also remember strikes, power cuts, uncollected trash and expensive fuel – so not everything was better. As we have propelled ourselves from the 20th century into the 21st, things are much improved. But is whisky?
Getting us into a sense of perspective, I’d suggest that this may not be true. Having a greater selection doesn’t mean that things are better for the whisky world than they were. Pressures of shareholders and demand have accelerated the need for production resulting I would say there a rising blandness in the whisky world and while none of the whiskies are bad as such, I feel there is much of a muchness.
This week’s sample has come from Cheaper By The Dram, managed by Whisky and Antique specialist Mark Littler. You might remember that I have done a series on cask purchases with his help and have also reviewed one of his other releases, the 12 year old Glenturret. This dram has come as a thank you for some help that I had given Mark – I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was overjoyed to be given a sample of whisky from the 1950’s – Black and White Blend. It has always been my ambition to taste a whisky from that era. An abortive attempt to do so occurred a couple of years ago with the purchase of a Glen Spey blended whisky at auction. I had questions over the provenance and authenticity of the bottling once I received it so had decided to keep it as an oddity rather than a drinking bottle.
Regular readers have probably noticed a relative lack of blends in my reviews and I give no apology for the fact that I don’t drink them often. That’s because I strive to find a character in a distillery through its single malt and that’s something that I look for. I’m not a snob and do not think that blends are inferior, but they don’t appeal to me so much. A telephone conversation with Mark led him to put the supposition ‘that a single malt is like a virtuoso violinist, yet a decent blend is like a whole orchestra’ with all the components in its correct place for maximum enjoyment. So I had to smile when I saw the cover note with this latest CBTD delivery. See below.
And I have to say there may be a grain of truth in that, but we will see later whether or not this will be true in this case. Speaking of cases, this one arrived in its usual secure packaging with minimal information contained within. This is partly to discourage re-sale of these bottles at auction and to me it helps provide focus to the whisky itself, partly like a blind tasting where few if any details are known about the spirit.
Black and White is amongst of the oldest whisky blends still being produced . It’s owner, James Buchanan supplied blended whisky that was made by Glasgow blenders W.P Lowrie. It was initially marketed as Buchanan’s, and was packaged in darkened bottles with white labels and was commonly known as Black and White whisky (which was to become the official name of the blend from 1902.) From 1885 this was supplied to the House Of Commons and was renamed Buchanan’s House of Commons Fine Old Highland whisky.
By the early 1900’s the logo of the whisky was to become an Aberdeen Terrier (also known as a Scottie Dog) and a West Highland Terrier. To help provide more whisky for his popular blends, Lowrie and Buchanan founded the Glentauchers Distillery beside Keith and also eventually obtained Convalmore Distillery in Dufftown when Buchanan bought out Lowrie in 1906. The whisky that Buchanan was producing was good enough to obtain Royal Warrants from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York in 1898.
By 1915, Buchanan had joined forces with Dewars, becoming known as Buchanan Dewars in 1919. By 1925 they merged with John Walker & Son and Distillers Company Limited (DCL), now part of Diageo.
As we know, blended whisky was made as an alternative to low quality single malts. Blended whisky was smoother, more consistent and easier to drink. After the invention of the Coffey Continuous Still, grain whisky was easier and more efficient to make. When the law changed in 1860 to allow the sale of blended of malt and grain whiskies, single malt fell out of favour. Even now, blended whisky outstrips consumption of single malt. It may shock you to know that roughly 90% of Scotch whisky goes into blends.
So, is this whisky any good now, and how does it compare to current blends? There is only one way to find out….
Region – BLEND Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished.Nose – Old linen, vanilla, strawberry, apple, walnut. Palate – Very light. Slight smoke in the back ground. Apple, oak, slightly tannic. Finish – Wood spices, light peat, brine, lemon, slightly drying and warming.
I started this article by wondering if things were truly better in the past. I’m still none-the-wiser as to whether this can be verified. What I can tell you is that this is a dram that is definitely unlike a lot of whisky that I have drunk recently. It definitely has that old fashioned feel to it; light but with a certain amount of meatiness. Fruit is in the fore, and one wonders if this is an influence of stock from Convalmore, a now silent distillery that had long fermentation and slow distillation.
And it is when I think of Convalmore, I had a slight epiphany. This is a blend made in the 50’s. The whisky in it may have been made in the 1930’s or 40’s. As a consumer we do not know exactly what whisky is actually in the blend, but I got a slight Highland peat (as opposed to Islay) and a brine note. It is highly likely we are drinking a blend that contains substance from more than one silent distillery and using a process long consigned to history. At this point nearly every distillery would have been using traditional malting floors, so perhaps it does make a difference. Other whiskies that are known to be in this blend are Dalwhinnie, Port Dundas, Glendullan and Clynelish. Perhaps the latter gave the brine note?
The nose of old linen takes me back to my first review of a CBTD whisky, the 12 year old Glenturret from the 1980’s which had a musky taste about it too. It took a bit of getting used to, but once I realised it was just a more traditional style, I really enjoyed it. The nose in this case was just a linen note that provoked evocative memories of my childhood visiting my great-grandparents in their croft on the outskirts of Aberdeen. This old style whisky conjured up happy memories of a bygone age and that is sometimes what tasting a whisky as an enthusiast is about – letting the aroma and tastes play in your mind as you try to describe them as you recall the occasions you last experienced these sensations.
Putting my thoughts into a neat package, the only recent whisky that I can truly compare this whisky to is the Lost Distilleries Blend. While that was a cask strength blend consisting only of silent distilleries, not all of the whisky in that blend is likely to be relatively old, circa the 1980’s. I didn’t really enjoy that blend for what it cost – a full bottle is £300+. But it’s been blended for modern tastes. Black and White is from a different era – where men were men and didn’t have top knot hairstyles or man bags, children were supposed to be seen and not heard and wives only had to do housework and have their husbands tea ready for when they come home. Yes, not everything in the past was better, but this relatively uncomplex blend gives us modern whisky drinkers a glimpse into whisky past – something that is essential to do for those of us on a whisky journey of discovery. For it is true that it is harder to appreciate the present and the future without a good grasp on what has gone before.
And that is not a bad thing.
Availability of this 3cl dram which costs £14 fromCheaper By The Dram is now limited. Given the full size bottle can be around £300 on the auction sites, this is very little to spend to enhance your whisky experiences. Black And White does not seem to be available for sale in the U.K. at the moment, but the modern equivalent is available cheaply in Europe, in some cases only £12-£15 a bottle. Keep an eye out for this at auction, but if you are quick, you may just get the last samples at Cheaper By The Dram store. Perhaps Mark / CBTD may obtain more in the future and for those of us who want to compare old style whisky to new style, this would make a most excellent comparison. Should more become available I’d certainly be willing to drink it again. As I don’t score my whisky, this would get a “recommended and would buy again” comment instead. And that is definitely high praise.
Thanks go to Mark Littler for supplying this sample. I wasn’t that optimistic about a blend to start with when I saw it arrive, but I’m really glad I did not miss out as it was delicious and a worthwhile journey into the past. Remember, sip don’t flip!
Welcome to the latest whisky review, and this one comes from a distillery that I have actually visited, probably around the same time as the dram I’m away to try was bottled. This dram comes from the Perthshire town of Crieff, namely the Glenturret Distillery.
The Glenturret distillery is said to be one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries, with claims to 1775 but this is just due to the fact there was an illicit still on the site, although legal distillation started in 1818. Regardless it is one of Scotland’s smallest distilleries, and only produces around 340,000 litres a year. It is also one of the few distilleries that still use a malting floor, and it was famous at one time for having the oldest working cat and most successful mouser. Of course, having large amounts of grain lying on the floor would attract vermin, and distilleries often had cats. However they never had a cat like Glenturret distillery – Towser the Mouser lived from 1963 – 1987, and was present when I visited the distillery. Her estimated kill tally was some 29,000 mice, based on observation by the Guiness Book of Records over several days.
I made an alternative observation about the distillery cat. Being of a younger, non-drinking age when I visited the distillery, I wondered what would happen if the malt men saw cat foot prints across the malt floor. Would they wonder if the cat had mistaken it for kitty litter? Such are the thoughts of a 12 year old…… I do remember that because I couldn’t get the free sample at the end, I was given a sugar mouse instead. Nice touch.
The Glenturret distillery until recently was owned by the Edrington Group, owners of Highland Park, Glenrothes and Macallan Distillery. The distillery was also home to the Famous Grouse experience, which a brand also owned by Edrington. But by 2018, Edrington announced that it was to sell the Glenturret distillery and the Famous Grouse Experience in its current form was to close. The distillery was bought by Art and Terroir, a company owned by Lalique. The less said about terroir the better, but that will come up in a future article.
We have to come to the point that we are discussing why I am tasting a dram from Glenturret. Well, I am sure you can remember my recent articles on cask purchases. In both these articles, I was assisted by Mark Littler, a whisky broker who made sure that I got my facts right. Well, it turns out that Mark has plenty of other strings on his bow and also runs a company called ‘Cheaper By The Dram’. This is some thing that may be of interest to those of us who cannot afford the expensive bottles at auction, due to flippers or their rarity. Mark was kind enough to offer me a sample to thank me for the mentions and links, and it is with this sample I am going to give more gratuitous links and promotion, as I feel that the concept behind his company is actually a sound one.
Essentially, what Cheaper By The Dram (CBTD to save my typing!) aim to do is bring the normally rare and unobtainable whisky into the reach of the average drinker. Quite often there are rarer or limited whiskies released that are instantly snapped up, often by flippers who are just out to make a profit. However this can seriously distort the secondary market, and often leave a bottle of whisky sitting outside the reach of the person who wants to do what whisky is designed for – drinking!
CBTD works by taking a bottle of whisky and dividing it up in to 30ml portions. This makes a sample more affordable for those of us who can’t afford a full size bottles, or even for people like myself who can’t afford to open some of his collectables! While some of the samples may seem quite expensive for what they are, I can say that they do represent good value – for instance a 23 year old Macallan from 1971 3CL sample was only £25. Just looking at a whisky bar price list now reveals a Macallan 1988 / 28 year old 35ml sample at £35.
The presentation of the dram is also pretty good as well. These come in a stout bespoke cardboard box, which includes a card with the bottle details. The bottle itself has the minimal information required by law, and NOT FOR RESALE clearly marked on it. Indeed, the details I received with the bottle states that should CBTD see one of their bottles for sale, it will do all it can to stop the person it was sold to buying anything again from their site.
This is summed up best in their hashtag #sipdontflip that they are using as part of a campaign to encourage people to enjoy whisky as it was meant to be, rather than flipping it which in turn puts it out of the reach of the average drinker and even some collectors.
So, with all this information in hand – lets move onto the whisky.
12 Years Old
Sweet, Floral, Pear, Green Apple. Slight musky smell that reminded me of carpet and Parade Gloss shoe polish.
Suprisingly in spite of the nose, this one was a short burst of sweetness, followed by sour. However in the background there is a good honey note. It has a strangely mouldy note, but not unpleasant. The sweet, floral note almost reminded me of another 1980’s throwback, Parma Violets.
Mid length. There is a bitterness that is stronger than the sweetness, but the Parma Violet note is still there with a hint of liquorice.
I have to be honest in my assessment here – this is a dram that I thought on initial taste that I was not going to enjoy. The sour note didn’t do it for me. It made me worry about what I was going to write, as it isn’t nice to be supplied with a generous gift, only to be ungrateful about it. But the group of travellers that we are on the whisky road should know that sometimes whisky does behave like wine, and it just needs a little bit of time. Within a couple of sips I had a Parma Violet note, although not as sweet. The sour note then revealed the honey behind it, and once I started picking out flavours, this became a very pleasant dram.
Yes, it wasn’t to my normal taste, but that is what whisky is about. Sometimes we need to take ourselves out of our comfort zone and while this whisky did for me, it put me back into a familiar comfort zone. In this article I have referenced my visit to the distillery – I can now recall that sugar mouse. It made me remember Parma Violets – straight back to the 10p confectionary mix bags we got as kids. And finally, the recognition of Parade Gloss – brought back from when I started attending the Air Cadets in the mid 80’s and when spit and polish wasn’t just a cliche; it was a weekly reality on my boots and parade shoes!
Would I recommend this dram? Yes, I think I would, and not just because of its source. We get our taste notes based on memories of what has gone before, and this is what this dram did for me. And this is the beauty of CBTD. It is one of the drams I wouldn’t necessarily buy at auction to try, but being able to try an older whisky without the commitment to a full bottle is a definite plus, especially amongst the older and more popular drams.
And anything that sticks one in the eyes of flippers gets my vote. #sipdontflip
You can reach the CBTD site by clicking here. And don’t worry. Even though this review was endorsing a product I didn’t pay for, if I didn’t like it I wouldn’t be afraid to say so. The review is a genuine reflection of what I thought of the whisky.
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