Get Yourself ‘Barred’

The benefits of visiting a whisky bar

Finally. God pats me on the head and says “Good boy Scotty”. After weeks at sea and a virtual disappearance from the world of whisky, I finally land on my feet. Due to the mis-match of COVID quarantine rules for seafarers between Scotland and England, I find myself in London for 10 days while I wait out the time limit before I can return to the land of my birth.

Seeing as it has been some time since I’ve drunk any whisky, I was straight down to the hotel bar to observe the spirit offerings. Pretty poor for a whisky enthusiast, but as a bit of a peathead, it could have been a lot worse. Talisker, Ardbeg, Laphroaig 10, Lagavuilin 16, Dewars 12, Glenfiddich 12, Blue Label Johnny Walker, Chivas Regal 12 and a dribble of Macallan 18. Pretty uninspiring, so I knew I’d have to look further afield.

A whisky SOS was put out on Twitter and while I got a couple of replies and DM’s, the only meeting that came to pass was with Claire Vokins, a fellow member of the whisky twitterati and occasional blogger (www.woodforwhisky.com). It was agreed to meet at Milroys of Soho, a whisky shop / bar in Greek Street, just in time before I nipped back up the road to Scotland.


Milroys Of Soho (timeout.com)

It was good to meet Claire, and we soon got into the whisky based topics that I knew we would. But it was hard to keep my eyes off the shelves behind the bar, wondering what whisky to start with after a warm-up beer. I’m cursing the fact that I didn’t take photos now, so you’ll have to make do with some I pinched from the web. Being in a whisky bar isn’t a new experience for me and I hadn’t planned to blog about it.

The set up of the bar is quite simple. World whiskies at the far end, moving to Islay at the opposite end. The cheaper drams are at the front with the more expensive ones to the rear. Much more expensive are the top shelf whiskies.


The Bar (drinkmemag.com)

My last article touched on the concept of buying whisky that you may not drink. I’ve been collecting whisky since 2006 and I have to be honest there are some bottles in my collection I’ll never open. Partly as I did buy them with investment in mind, some because their value has risen beyond a point I’d feel comfortable opening, and some because I’ve discovered that I just like the look of the bottle but have no real desire to taste the dram over others that I want to drink more. This leads to the issue that I have bottles I will never know what they taste like.

If you are a newcomer to whisky, it is tempting to try as much as you can. While this is a laudable ideal, it can get very expensive when buying multiple bottles. It gets even more damning when you discover you don’t like the liquid within. This is why a whisky bar is an ideal solution for the enthusiast, collector and novice alike.

  • You get a bigger range to try from.
  • You aren’t committed to buying a whole bottle that you may not ever like.
  • Staff can give advice based on your taste preferences – this is a crucial difference between a whisky bar and a normal bar.
  • For the collector it can give the opportunity to try a dram in their collection without the need to open it.

The second dram. A secret Cragganmore.

These are the four positives, although there are caveats which some of my drinking companions last night found themselves falling foul of. Let me introduce you to Matt, Oliver and Harry. Oliver was a wine drinker and didn’t like whisky, so his two mates were trying to persuade him otherwise. Harry was an inquisitive newcomer to whisky and Matt – I’m not really sure where he was on a whisky journey and seemed a little squiffy, but all three were a good laugh in the end.

Matt had heard me and Claire talking about our drams, and started asking questions, so we started giving guidance. After Claire had left I continued to talk with them. Harry became more inquisitive and asked very pertinent questions over barrel types and how to taste whisky. By this point I was on a Linkwood 19 Darkness, a whisky that has been finished for three months in a PX Octave. This was a heavenly whisky, which gave me strong chocolate and coffee notes and was easily my whisky of the night, despite some pretty good contenders to choose from. However, Matt ignored my suggestion not to buy a round of Darkness for his mates and soon found out it was £21 a dram. Didn’t seem too happy about it but that was a rookie error. However he did enjoy it so all was good in the end.


Linkwood Darkness. Coffee and chocolate in abundance

This is where you have to be careful in a whisky bar. Without wanting to seem snobbish, there is no point going instantly for the expensive drams as a novice. You’ll maybe know that the whisky is good and you like it, but you’ll have few points of reference to know why it is good and how it ranks compared to other whiskies. For instance, I knew the Linkwood Darkness was good once I tasted it, but I can get almost as good an experience from drams that were a lot cheaper. We all know you can get decent drams under £40 a bottle, but knowledge takes time to acquire and requires you have many experiences to build up that mental data bank.

Once you are a more experienced hand and you know what you like, it becomes easier to discern what styles you like tasting and knowing what you would like to taste next. This is why a well stocked whisky bar is a cornucopia of delights for whisky geeks like me – the proverbial kid in a candy shop.

One thing to point out that in a bar like Milroys where you run a tab and pay before you leave, you have to keep an eye on the spending if you have little experience. For me, I never once asked the price of any drams I bought; I picked the drams I wanted to taste based on what I knew about the distilleries and being allowed to smell the bottle contents before I came to a decision. Specialist whisky bars often give tiny samples to allow you to try before you buy, which is another bonus. I had no idea of what I spent, and apart from the Linkwood I had no idea of what each dram cost until I got my bill. 5 drams and a beer came to £76. Bargain, especially considering the quality whisky I felt I had consumed as well as the company and ambience I had over the course of the evening.


Can you ever have a bad Glentauchers? Despite its young age, this one was fantastic with a strong natural runny honey note fresh from the hive

Another good point for the inexperienced whisky bar novice is to plan your drams. Try and stick to lower abv drinks to start with. Also, if you are planning to drink a heavily peated whisky, then try to have that towards the end of your night, or have a suitable palate cleanser to hand. The higher abv’s will possibly desensitise your taste buds and impair your enjoyment of something more delicate afterwards. Plus you are at a danger of getting intoxicated quicker. Consider a high abv whisky as a finisher whisky before you head home.

My final tip for whisky bar newbies is to be cautious in picking a dram that only has one or two drams left in it. Whisky bars will not gas their bottles to arrest oxidation and evaporation. The plus side is that stock in a specialist whisky bar will not be sitting long, so the effect should be minimal. However if buying a more expensive dram and it has a small amount in it, consider asking how long since that bottle has been opened. Under 6 months and everything should be good. After that, it’s anybody’s guess. Some whisky shelves have lighting facing the bottles that generate heat and will have an effect on the rate of oxidation and evaporation. Having said that, I’ve had bottles open 5 years and they tasted fine, but I’d bet they aren’t at the stated abv on the bottle. Being cautious can ensure you are actually getting what you paid for.

The bottle of Macallan 18 in the hotel that I mentioned earlier got finished during my stay in London. I bet the consumer didn’t get as good an experience as they would have had from the first pour. Let the lesson sink in as that would not have been a cheap dram.

For the record, the whiskies I tried were (in order):

  1. Fable Whisky Benrinnes 12 y.o / Chapter 4 (57.5% abv)
  2. Gordon & Macphails Single Malt Whisky – Speyside 21 y.o (40% abv). Turns out it was a Cragganmore.
  3. Whisky Barron Glentauchers 6 y.o (62.5% abv)
  4. Darkness Linkwood 19 (48.5% abv)
  5. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte OLC 1 (55.1% abv)

If you are wondering if I took notes on any of the whisky, then the answer is no. Whisky is meant to be enjoyed, not constantly analysed. I get much from more tasting in good company. Indeed, once Claire, Harry, Matt and Oliver had all left, I fell into conversation with Jason, one of the bar tenders at Milroys who was enjoying a day off drink. If you think that all we spoke about was whisky you’d be mistaken. It turns out we have a shared enjoyment of photography. Another geek moment.

There’s more to whisky than a simple alcoholic drink… if you haven’t experienced a specialist whisky bar, then you need to.


Thanks to everybody mentioned in this article. I had a great night and look forward to be able to return. Also thanks to the two on duty bar tenders who I didn’t catch the names of – one was on her first day I believe. Your service was exemplary.

Matt, thank you for your generosity of offering to buy me a drink. I only refused because I could have really taken the piss accidentally as I wasn’t asking the price of drams and didn’t want to take advantage. Maybe next time buddy.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own unless otherwise credited.

So Where Were The Spiders?

Taste Review #96 – Linkwood old vs new

As I continue to move through my series of old versus new bottlings of Scotch whisky, we are eventually coming to the point were my supply of minis is starting to run out and I am going to have to start cracking into the full sized bottles. I’ve had both these miniatures for quite some time now and I feel that it is time to perhaps submit to the fact that they need to be opened. Plus it gives me a great opportunity to drink again yet another Flora and Fauna bottling, as well as a first go of a Gordon and Macphail distillery label dram from this distillery.


Linkwood old vs new

Linkwood is quite a old distillery, first being established in 1821 on the outskirts of the Morayshire town of Elgin, although now the town is starting to encroach around the distillery site. The distillery became fully legal on the passing of the 1823 Excise Act. It has been rebuilt twice, the first time in 1874, and with a second plant being established on site in 1972. By 2012, much of the old distillery had been demolished and rebuilt, with only the Malting Kiln and what I assume to be the former malting floors or warehouses alongside surviving. I remember having to drive past it often in the early 2000’s as I used to court a girl who lived by Elgin. Just as you approached the town on the rural Linkwood road, the carriageway narrowed quite a bit as you had to negotiate a partially blind bend with the distillery buildings forming the edge of the road on the way into Elgin. With the demolition of the buildings, that has now become sadly a thing of the past.

While the need to expand and change things is necessary to ensure enough production, one of the former distillery managers was quite adverse to changes. Roderick Mackenzie, who was manager between 1945 and 1963 felt that any slight change could alter the quality of the whisky, so he forbade any unnecessary changes, even to the point that spider webs were left intact in the rafters. Pretty eccentric behaviour I suppose, and when I was thinking about how to title this article, the line from the David Bowie song ‘Ziggy Stardust’ came into my head, although I am more likely to be listening to the Bauhaus cover version. One has to wonder what happened to the webs during the regular upgrades? When the distillery was being upgraded in 1962, Mackenzie ensured that the stills being manufactured were exact copies of those already in use. Perhaps that is not so eccentric, as Macallan did exactly the same when they were building their new distillery in Craigellachie.

In another little bit of trivia, the 70cl Flora and Fauna bottling has a bit of incorrect data on it. It says that it stands on the River Lossie. I can assure you that if this was true, then a large part of Elgin would have to be flooded, as Linkwood is on the east side and the River Lossie is on the west side, some 1.75 miles away.


One of the 1st Edition Linkwood White Cap Flora and Fauna 70cl – incorrect location data included.

Linkwood is used heavily for the Diageo blends Johnnie Walker and White Horse. It is apparently very popular with blenders for adding complexity to blends, but very little is actually released as single malt. The only regular official bottling is the Flora and Fauna, but it is seen as an independent bottling as well as a Diageo Special Release.

The bottles that I have for this review come from two different sources. The older Gordon And Macphail bottle was obtained in an auction bundle and I don’t have an accurate date or price for it. However from research I can see that this bottling was produced in the 80’s and 90’s, so is likely to be somewhere between 20 and 30 years old. It is in good condition with an excellent fill level. The newer dram, because I don’t want to open a full sized bottle, was bought from The Whisky Exchange and is a 3cl Perfect Measure Sample. I have had this for some time I and it probably cost around £4.

G&M Linkwood 15 (old)

Region – Speyside Age – 15y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – not known, but suspect a mix of bourbon and sherry. Colouring – not known Chill Filtered – not known, suspect yes Nose – Fruity, sherry notes, but quite light – dried fruit, almonds, powdered chocolate. Palate – fruity and sweet, oily mouth feel, raspberry, pink nougat, vanilla, Finish – medium / long – slight smoke, fudge, sweet floral (parma violets) with a hint of freshly podded green peas.


G&M Linkwood 15 y.o from 80’s/90’s

Linkwood 12 Flora and Fauna (new)

Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 43% Colour -Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – not known, suspect bourbon. Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sweet, floral, vanilla, light honey, crisp green apple, light tobacco smell – like the inside of an empty cigarette packet. Palate -sweet initial hit, but soon turns sour. Has a medium body, slightly oily mouth feel, dry cider, lemon, minerals Finish – Drying, short to medium length. Almonds, lemon peel, slight malt. spicy wood, quite gingery. Addling a bit of water enhances the lemon peel in the finish and adds intensity to the wood spices.


Linkwood 12 y.o Flora and Fauna

Conclusions

When we look at it, these are two completely different whiskies, and while I enjoyed the 15 year old more, I also really enjoyed the Flora and Fauna one too. I feel that the older sample had much more ‘tah-dah’ about it, more stronger flavours and it was easier to engage with, despite the lower abv. It’s length of time in a small bottle hadn’t really affected it either. Of course it has matured in a different cask style or had a different vatting recipe compared to the 12 y.o. The Flora and Fauna came alive with a bit of water and it was still quite easy to engage with but not as easy as the older sample, While it does not have the extra three years in a cask, and I also feel that the G&M bottling has more of a sherry component within it, the Flora and Fauna bottling does have the advantage of the extra three percent abv, nor has it spent over 2 decades in a bottle.


The two drams together

It is easy to say that the older one wins in this review, but that is doing the newer dram a great disservice. It isn’t really fair to compare an apple with a watermelon, as both were good drams, I already have a few Linkwood Flora and Fauna in store and would definitely ensure I had a drinking bottle. The 15 year old G&M bottling from the 1990’s I would also buy if I saw it was available and would certainly recommend if you saw it at auction to buy it. Gordon and Macphail now release this at 43% so could be good value if you see it at a decent price.

In the interests of fairness, I have to call this a draw in the debate of old vs new, but if I only had money for one bottle, it would be the G&M one

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

3 Drams From The Village With 3 Glens

Taste Review #89 – Glenrothes 8 Old vs New.

Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.

anon

When you are asked to think of where the powerhouse of the Speyside whisky industry, Dufftown is an obvious choice. There has been 9 distilleries founded in Dufftown. From the short lived Pittyvaich and Parkmore, through to Glenfiddich, Dufftown, Convalmore, Glendullan, Mortlach, Balvenie and Kininvie. What other village can be thought of as a centre of whisky production? While there is a pocket of distilleries to the south of Aberlour – Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhaine, Dailuaine and Dalmunach, but they aren’t in a village. You have to look further north to the Speyside village of Rothes, which once was home to 4 distilleries with one on the outskirts.

Rothes is a small village in Moray, some ten miles south of Elgin. It has a population of around 1400 people. It has 4 operational distilleries, three of which have the prefix ‘Glen’ – Glen Grant, Glen Spey and the distillery I will focus on today, Glenrothes. Of course, we can’t forget Speyburn on the north side of the village. There was another distillery, Caperdonich which closed in May 2002, and was demolished in 2011. The site was taken over by Forsyths, the company responsible for many a malt distillery still and equipment. Almost like a whisky circle of life.

The Glenrothes Distillery started operation in 1879 before the large boom that was to come around 15 years later. The initial investors, all of whom owned the Macallan distillery at the time. James Stewart had obtained the lease of Macallan and rebuilt the distillery in 1868, only selling it to Roderick Kemp in 1892. James Stewart eventually split from the group building Glenrothes, who continued with the plan to build the distillery.

In 1884 it changes its name to Glenrothes-Glenlivet, which was a cheeky way of riding on the coat tails of the original Glenlivet distillery, such was its renown. Rothes is nowhere near Glenlivet, but that didn’t stop them or others from this practice. By 1887 they merged with the owners of Bunnahabhain distillery to form Highland Distillers. This in turn became part of Edrington, the current owners of the distillery. However for 7 years the brand was owned by Berry Bros. (2010- 2017), and it is one of these vintages we will be trying today.


Anybody up for a threesome? Drams I mean! The three candidates for this review.

In fact, the distillery in the village with three ‘Glens’ has supplied us with three drams and a bit of drama. First up is an old style Glenrothes bottled by Gordon & Macphail. It is an 8 year old spirit at 70 Proof. This is 40% ABV. The requirement to have the strength in percent originated in 1980, but this bottle does not have the volume on it. I estimate this bottle to be from the 1970’s.

Whisky 2 is at the other end of the scale. It is an independent bottling from the Malt Whisky Co. also at 8 years old, distilled in 2007. This is the other end of the scale at 64.1%.

Lastly for a sense of balance, I’ve got a 1998 Glenrothes, bottled in 2012, so will be approximately 14 years old at 43%. I’m hoping that this will indicate if the newer whisky is any better, taking into account the maturation age difference.

While I am not directly comparing like for like, it is a good excuse to open an old bottle and a new bottle and thus experience a little whisky history.

Glenrothes 8 y.o est. 1970’s

Region – Speyside Age – 8y.o Strength – 70 proof (40%) Colour -Mahogany (1.6) Cask Typenot known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – not known. Nose – Solventy. Malt, Citrus, dried fruit, red apple peel, weetabix, chocolate Palate – Oily mouthfeel. Highly doubt this has been chill filtered. Malty, honey, slightly floral, hint of lemon. Spicy, nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon Finish – medium long. Spicy notes continue, honey and light sulphur towards the end. 2ml of water accentuated the spice and shortened the finish with slightly less sulphur.


Glenrothes 8 y.o, estimated from 1970’s

Glenrothes 8 y.o 2007

Region -Speyside Age – 8 y.o Strength – 64.1% Colour – chestnut Oloroso (Cask Typenot known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Like a Sherry laden trifle. I’m no Sherry expert but that’s what it reminded me of. Chocolate, Coffee, Raisins, Butterscotch Angel Delight. Palate – Chocolate, cinnamon buns, raisins, a hint of tobacco, caramel. Very spirit forward, not a lot of wood influence at all. A bit of a bite from the spirit on the tongue. Water added a cereal note, like eating cornflakes dry from the packet. Finish – the chocolate butterscotch combo continues into a short and relatively disappointing finish. However adding water shortens the sweet portion and increases the spicy blast at the end. Chilli chocolate springs to mind. After falling asleep in my armchair and waking up with half a nip left, there was a more balanced and less fiery finish, with the flavours returning to coffee and chocolate.


Glenrothes 8 y.o. At 64.1% this is the version for grownups.

Glenrothes 1998

Region – Speyside Age – vintage, approx 8 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type -not known ColouringNo. Chill Filtered – Not known Nose – Milky Tea, slightly sweet, butterscotch, vanilla, apricot. Palate – honey, fudge, the cinnamon, nutmeg, peppery spices dominate, slightly oily mouthfeel which turns dry. Water allowed a cereal note followed by caramel to show through Finish – medium. Spices carry over and fade into honey again with a hint of liquorice. A hint of plantain too. Sweetness increases and spices decreased when water added


A more modern Glenrothes.

Conclusions

It’s impossible to directly compare all these drams directly and I’m not going to try. However there can be a slight comparison between the 1998 vintage and the 1970’s bottle, despite the difference in age. With a massive difference in abv, there is no way I can use the 2007 sample as a comparison, other than a taste of a spirit from the same distillery.

Initially I didn’t expect much from the older dram. There was considerable contamination on the seal, some evaporation and a tell tale old bottle smell. Once poured into the glass, there was a sign of sediment. Now, this is likely to have been from the cap, so I went through the procedure I use if cork has accidentally gone into the spirit. I filter the spirit using a coffee filter paper, funnel and clean glass. I meant to put the glass into the wash but absent-mindedly put the 2007 dram into the dirty glass. Repeat of process and a clean glass required.


Cap contamination on the G&M 8 year old

I’d read somewhere that Glenrothes can take an while to open up in the glass, so I gave the 8 year old 30 mins, there was a reduction in old bottle aroma, and I was genuinely surprised by how tasty it was. Nothing spectacular by any means, but it has a bit of bite.

The closest competitor in this line up was the 1998 / 14 year old. It however didn’t have the same bite, and while it had more complexity, I felt it a little bit insipid in comparison. However it’s a 10cl bottle and I have more opportunity to get to know this bottle.


Contamination being removed -again.

The 8 year old from 2007 was fantastic. It had an instantly impressive nose, an equally impressive palate, although I felt the finish a little bit disappointing. However if this was available, I’d easily buy a bottle. In fact in a conversation with a fellow WhiskyTwitterite, I asked if it was better to have loved and lost or never loved at all, as if I’d never tasted this, I wouldn’t have the regret of not being able to buy more.

To be honest, despite old bottle effect, the older dram wins, as it was the one I felt more comfortable with, but if we allowed the 2007 to be considered, it would be the winner.

It’s a narrow win for the older bottle.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Battle of The Benromach

Taste Review #86- Benromach 12 (Old) vs Benromach 10(New)

We have finally come to the first sampling of two malts from the same distillery that are not comparing apples with apples. This was a little bit harder to find an older edition versus the newer edition as there just wasn’t a lot of easily available older Benromach available. However, this shouldn’t impact our whisky research much. And what if it does? Well, at least I will have the opportunity to re-do the experiment; I mean, I’ll have to drink more whisky. Not exactly a hardship.

The Benromach distillery is located in the Morayshire town of Forres, not too far away from the railway station. It is classified as a Speyside whisky, and is a borderline coastal distillery, as it is not that far away from the sea which is 3 miles distant, however the shores of Findhorn Bay, are less than 2 miles away, so the warehousing on site will be exposed to the coastal air.

Benromach was founded in 1898, and started producing whisky in 1900. By 1953 it had come under DCL ownership. Unfortunately, the distillery did not survive the downturn of the 1980’s and was closed in 1983. The distillery was cannibalised for spares until 1993 when Whisky Merchants Gordon & Macphail bought the site from Diageo in 1993. Due to the incomplete nature of the distilling equipment, G&M were obliged to start from scratch, effectively building a new distillery within the old one. By 1998 the distillery was once again starting to produce whisky again.


Old Style packaging

The older Benromach I acquired when I bought a job lot of miniatures from a person clearing their late father’s estate. While I sold most of them, I did keep a few, this being one of them as I own a full sized bottle which I haven’t opened. I did want to see if it would be worth it. Let’s see if it was, and at the same time compare it to a contemporary bottle from modern day Benromach.

Details

Benromach 12 (old style)


Benromach 12 Dram

Region – Speyside Age – 12 years old Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Not known. Bourbon with Sherry finish possibly Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -light smoke. melon, malt, honey, vanilla, tobacco ash, musty carpet, red apple peel. Lemon rind. Water accents the sweet. Palate -Oily, damp straw, malt, sour citrus, grapefruit, resin. Honey Finish – Medium – short. Mild honey sweetness with a hint of malt and peppery wood spices, returning to a lemony sour must.

Drams side by side

Benromach 10 (2018 bottling)


Benromach 10 Dram

Region – Speyside Age – 10 years old Strength – 43% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Lemon curd. Creamy, vanilla, peach, apples. A hint of smoke and barley. Palate -Light smoked peat. Sweeter than the nose, honey, apple, raspberry. A note of salty liquorice. Finish – Medium. Tropical fruit peaches, apricots, more smoke and a light brine.

Conclusions

What is good about these two releases is that although both have been released by Gordon & Macphail, only one has spirit actually distilled by them. The 12 year old was released in the 1990’s and therefore contains whisky that had been distilled by the previous owners, DCL (of course who became Diageo). And it goes without saying that the 10 year old was wholly the product of the current owners.

The other disparity between these two drams is that I am led to believe (and haven’t had it confirmed) that when Benromach was rebuilt in the 1990’s that the stills had to be rebuilt, so while the distillery may be in the same buildings, and was a near copy of the original, some things will be different and this may show in the finished product,

What I experienced were two quite different drams. Of course, there is more than just the distillery equipment that can make the difference, I have to wonder it things like fermentation time, where the cut was being made and whether or not barley and yeast varieties were all the same, so realistically it is hard to compare the two.

The other thing is that the older Benromach had that peculiar musty character in some of the notes. I initially wondered if this was the result of old bottle effect but this is similar to what I have experienced in the past with other old drams, in particular the 12 year old Glenturret. I decided not to put the rest of the bottle in my infinity bottle (not that it would have fitted anyway) but left it for 3 days to see if more air contact with the whisky would have done anything. It certainly did. The arrival was very sweet in a short honeyed burst, but soon the musty note returned.

The newer style was much more accessible, with a slightly higher ABV helping to give a crisp, clear punch to the dram. There was more sweetness to the dram, with smoke being noticeable, although it was a compliment to the other aromas and tastes, keeping well in balance.

You would think that the 12 year old whisky would be better than the 10, but it is hard to judge for me in my limited experience to decide whether this is the result of the distilling process or the age of the bottle. I’m tending to believe the age of the bottle is playing its part. However I have to say that with all things considered I believe the newer dram to be the better one of this pair.

Since I bought the newer dram, Benromach has undergone a rebrand. Whether or not the recipe has changed I do not know. The new labelling doesn’t appeal to me at all, looking a bit too Soviet for my liking, though looking back the typeface is similar to the 12 year old. I have to say the new BenRiach re-brand is very similar in its lack of appeal to me. However, this shouldn’t distract us from the whisky.

My old 12 year old bottle of Benromach in store is safe. While it was interesting to taste a dram from yesteryear, I don’t think I will be opening that one any time soon.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Gone but the memory ‘Still’ remains.

Taste Review #66 – SMWS 38.24 Princess Street Gardens in Summer (Caperdonich 26 year old)

I’m not a big fan of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I guess it’s because the tight Aberdonian in me sees no point in joining a society just to get independent bottles. Every pound wasted in membership fees is money that could have gone on bottles. Add in the fact that I’d rarely be able to take advantage of the facilities then it’s almost a no-brainer that I’m never likely to be a member. There is another issue. Any out-turns are limited and usually snapped up straightaway so availability isn’t great either. You can see that there isn’t a lot to attract me to membership.

But…. (and there is always a but) the SMWS has always reliably released decent bottlings. The few that I have tried have been really good, and I’d never write off buying one at auction should the price be right. Unfortunately due to lack of availability, it is rarely right.

Those who have been reading my reviews know that I have a predilection towards unicorn drams will not be surprised that this week is another one that has been bottled by the SMWS. While Caperdonich isn’t rare by any standard, it is a distillery that has been consigned to the history books as it was demolished in 2011, making remaining supply finite which means at some point it will get rarer.

Caperdonich was built at the wrong time; 1898 wasn’t a good year for the Scottish Whisky Industry thanks to those Pattison rogues whose forgery pretty much collapsed the industry. The distillery was built as a sister plant to the Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside village of Rothes, yet closed in 1902. The malting floor, kilns and. warehouses were kept in use and it wasn’t until 1965 that the stills started to wake from their slumber. A whisky boom started that saw Glen Grant rise in popularity in Italy and Caperdonich was activated to help provide spirit, but times had moved on and so had U.K. law which forbade two separate distilleries sharing a name. Caperdonich is named after its water supply.

In 1977, the distillery was sold to Seagrams and by 2001 it was then sold to Pernod Ricard. Sadly by 2002 the distillery had been mothballed and demolition started in 2010. It’s not all bad news, as Forsyths expanded their company on the site of the old distillery. If that name isn’t familiar to you, then I can tell you that they are the company responsible for the manufacture of a good deal of the stills currently used in the Scotch Whisky industry.

Caperdonich is slowly starting to gain a premium on prices and it now is the time to try it before the price gets out of reach of the enthusiast drinker. I was lucky and spotted this cheeky little sample at auction and snapped it up pronto. Let’s see what I thought.


SMWS 38.24 – 2.5CL

Details

Region – Speyside Age26 y.o Strength – 51.2% Colour Yellow Gold

Nose

Light malt, creamy, pineapple, dried out lawn, caramel, puff pastries. Almonds. A smell that reminds me of a dusty dunnage warehouse.

Palate

Sweet. vanilla custard slices, tropical fruit salad with apricot, apple, warming spices after the arrival. Still getting the impression of that warehouse. Adding water gave a bit more of a citrus prominence

Finish

Spicy polished wood, black currants, hints of cocoa with a pleasant slightly tart taste in the mouth with a medium length finish.


The dram

Conclusions

I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed and thankfully I got exactly what I expected. A very easy to drink cask strength whisky that gave a pleasant experience of a light, old style malt from a different era. From the experience I’ve had just now I’d definitely look forward to trying other Caperdonich drams and for a moment I wondered if my position on the SMWS should change.


Caperdonich Distillery Reserve 50CL

Don’t worry, the tight Aberdonian in me will ensure I keep my money in my pocket considering how many other independent bottlings of Caperdonich are available. Original bottles are also available occasionally at the Aberlour, Glenlivet, Scapa and Strathisla distilleries, as I’m sure that Pernod Ricard still have a sizeable stock remaining. You can find it bottled as part of the distillery reserve collection and should my memory serve me correctly I paid around £75 for a 500ml bottle.

My 25ml nip was not cheap. It was almost £44 after auction fees etc were added. Let’s face it though, you may pay more in a bar to drink the same dram. The price certainly brings tears to a glass eye, but the experience made it more than worthwhile.

Keep an eye on the internet for cheaper Caperdonich whisky – they can vary in price at auction for £100 – £300 per bottle but often more. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Of course, your local friendly specialist whisky retailer may be able to advise you of the retail availability of bottles.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

This Is Not A Drive-By.

Taste Review #57 – Glentauchers 1991 (G&M)

Glentauchers is one of those distilleries that flies beneath the radar. I have to say that it doesn’t seem to be well known at all. And in all fairness, I fly past it on a regular basis as it is right beside the A95, halfway between the Morayshire town of Keith and the hamlet of Mulben. Flying past it is maybe stretching it a bit. There is a bend right beside the distillery houses where a bridge also narrows the carriageway slightly. Up until 5 years ago or so, there was also a strange camber on the road as you went over the bridge which used to force you out into the middle of the road as you went round the bend. I’ve lost count of how many times I have passed it and almost needed a change of underwear. Yet still have to sit and review one of its whiskies.


Glentauchers Distillery

The Glentauchers distillery was another of those distilleries built at the end of the 1890’s, and was established by James Buchanan & Co. to provide fillings for its Black And White blend. This was to become a role that the distillery was to play for its whole life so far, as one of those distilleries whose main purpose is to provide whiskies for blends. As was the case for so many distillery companies, James Buchanan eventually merged with DCL, which would eventually become part of Diageo, although this was not the fate for this distillery – it wasn’t to survive the whisky downturn in the 1980’s and was mothballed at the same time as Convalmore which was also formerly owned by Buchanan / DCL. However, fate was kinder to Glentauchers than it was to Convalmore, and it was bought by Allied Distillers in 1989, with full production resuming in 1992. By 2005, Allied Distillers became part of the Chivas empire, whose parent company are Pernod Ricard.

Today, Glentauchers still carries on, and has been used as a training distillery by Pernod Ricard. Apparently it is a distillery that has limited automation, ensuring that staff have to learn how to distill whisky manually. The malting floors are not part of this as their operation ceased in 1969.

The Glentauchers distillery despite sitting right beside a main road does not have the have the same visibility, yet finding bottles of Glentauchers is not hard. There are plenty of bottlings available from independent bottlers. I own a couple, one being from First Cask, and another being a bottle in the Dancing Stag range from Robert Graham. A quick look online sees that there are bottles available from many of the well known independents such as That Boutiquey Whisky Company, Signatory, Douglas Laing, Berry Bros, but most notably is Gordon & Macphail, probably the oldest continually operating independent bottler, based in the Morayshire town of Elgin, and it is from this bottler we have this week’s sample.

Finding original bottlings of Glentauchers are few and far between. As mentioned above, it is a spirit usually for providing for blends, notably Ballantines. There has been official bottlings – there was a 12 year old released in the 1980’s and in 2000 it was part of a set of 6 different whiskies released by Allied Distillers – all at 46% and 15 years old, meaning that in the case of Glentauchers they were using the DCL distillate. In 2017 an official bottling was released at 15 y.o under the Ballantines brand.


The Bottle

Region

Speyside

Age / Vintage

1991 / 16 years (Bottled 2007)

Strength

43%

Colour

Pale Gold

Nose

Peaches, Honey, biscuity cereals, vanilla, slight apple note. To start with I got a hint of solvent, but that disappeared after I left the glass to sit and breath.

Palate

Slightly oily mouthfeel, yet still quite light. No real overpowering flavours. Spicy oak note with a little fizz on arrival. Sweet, apples, honey, toffee, hay. Hint of lemon peel. Spicy notes soften with the addition of water.

Finish

Short to medium. Oak, slightly bitter, lemon. After water added very slight vegetal taste on departure.

Conclusions

This was a long time coming and I am disappointed in myself that I waited so long to taste this whisky. I’ve always liked the appearance of the G&M distillery bottlings. They look bold and classic, even reminiscent of a bygone age. You see I am a bit of a romanticist about Scottish Malt Whisky, and I prefer to think of it as just a wee industry and not the global behemoth it has become. The diagonal distillery name sloping up to the right reminds me strongly of that other Buchanan owned distillery, Convalmore. If you look at the Diageo Special releases from 2006, 2013 or 2017 you’ll see why.

But we have to move away from the labels, as they do not make whisky taste any better. I didn’t know really what to expect from this whisky, as it is one I have not had before, and I have to say I was very impressed. I drank most of my sample neat, but as towards the end of typing this out, I noticed time was marching on and it was nearly bed time. So, rather than neck it, I decided to see how things would play out with water.

As it was 43%, I didn’t really think it needed water. I really enjoyed the dram neat. I am sure that if it was delivered at a higher ABV, I would definitely be adding water to maybe soften it to get a great easy drinker. My dram from the previous night was a Lagavulin 16, and at 43% that was also drunk without water, and was fully enjoyable, yet I didn’t get all the complexity that you can find in Lagavulin. However getting back to Glentauchers, I don’t feel that there is a complexity there to find in this bottle, but that’s ok. Not everything has to be a challenge and it is important that we remember that we drink whisky because we enjoy it. Constantly seeking for something that isn’t there is just going to lead to a disappointment and spoil what is actually a decent dram.

I paid £7.80 for my 5CL sample in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Inverness. It’s a very touristy shop, and I was only in there to conduct some business connected to my wife’s business. It was when walking past the till I noticed the miniatures for sale. Of course, in a shop like this, you know that you are probably paying over the odds, but this is a bottle I always wanted to try. I had the chance to buy the 1996 bottle, but I noticed this 1991 hiding behind a few others. Going by the flawed mantra of older is better, I dug this one out – if I remember rightly it was also cheaper, so it satisfied the needs of my inner Aberdonian. Result!

A little bit of research into the bottling codes on the label reveal that this was bottled in 2007, which makes it 16 years old. I had seen something about the 1991 vintage also being bottled in 2010, but this is unconfirmed. This means the distillery was definitely producing before coming out of mothballs in 1992, and this must be some of the first spirit created by Allied Distillers.


Glentauchers in Allied Distillers collection circa 2000

While this bottle is discontinued, a quick look on auction sites reveals that it is available under £50, and if you are lucky this will also include auction fees, though you might have to add a little more to also cover the P&P. I think that this represents good value, and I would be happy to pay that for this dram. Therefore you will not be surprised to find out that I do recommend this whisky and if I see this as a 70cl bottle, I would be happy to buy it for my drinking collection. It would be sad to miss it, just as I miss the hair raising adrenalin rush of going round the bend next to the distillery now the camber has been sorted. My undercrackers are more grateful though,

One last tip before I go – I forgot to mention that there is no such place as Glentauchers. The distillery was built on the site of Tauchers Farm, and Tauchers Wood is on the other side of the road. Thought I’d better mention it in case you want to have a pilgrimage up a non-existent Glen.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Speculate to Accumulate

Do not be afraid of the not perfect.

The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.

The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.


The four drams. Only Coleburn is silent, having closed in 1985. Only one official bottling was released – the 1979 Rare Malts. Most production went into Ushers or Johnny Walker Red. The other distilleries are still producing.

The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.

  • Coleburn 1965
  • Dailuaine 1971
  • Speyburn 1971
  • Tomatin 1970

I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.


The fill levels

Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.

Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.

Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.

One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.


A good way to taste long gone distilleries. Linkwood still going, Glenury Royal closed in 1985 and was demolished soon after. Imperial was silent more often than it was operational, falling silent in 1998 for the last time and was finally demolished in 2013 to be replaced by the Dalmunach distillery.

As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?

The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?

As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.


Banff – bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII didn’t survive the 1983 whisky loch and was closed that year. Convalmore fell two years later but is growing in popularity. Royal Brackla has changed hands since this distillation but is still going.

As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

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

Photo Credits

All photos – Authors own