In The Bleak Midwinter

Taste Review #117 Glenmorangie A Midwinter Night’s Dram.

As I write this, the bleakness of a Highland winter couldn’t be further from my mind as I head to warmer climes. Pity it’s not a holiday and will mean Christmas away from my family again. But on one point I can’t really pretend to be sorry, as who really misses having to constantly shovel snow off the path, de-ice windscreens and the long dark nights? No, I didn’t think there would be many hands shooting up with keen voices shouting “Me, Me, Me!” If you were one of these deranged people then I’ve got a wee job for you…

A hard frost this morning. Nae looking forward to de-icing the car.

Thinking of the title of this latest review, I was reminded of a snowy winter scene. I am a bit nostalgic for the winters we used to get as children. Snow was often a magical, beautiful thing and it’s arrival often was around the time that the fat guy in the red suit started leaving presents. I remember way back in the day going round the streets of my home village in Aberdeen singing carols at Christmas time. In the snow was the best, as it seemed to deaden the sound of the adjacent airport and made the whole activity seem that little bit more traditional.

But the truth of a Scottish winter can be miserable with short days and long nights for months on end. It’s no surprise that the suicide rate in the Northern Highlands and Islands is sadly so high. So the kind bosses at the Ross-shire distillery Glenmorangie used to have a tradition that saw them give the workers a gift of whisky to help them warm themselves at home over the festive season. Perhaps giving people alcohol to assist their mental health may not be so approved of nowadays, but in the past this would have been appreciated when distilleries employed far more people and times were definitely not as easy as today.

That’s a bit of a frost. Midwinter in Kingussie 1978. The building on the right is the Tipsy Laird pub. I won’t be complaining of de-icing the car so much now. (Am Baile)

As a nod to this tradition, Glenmorangie released a whisky called a Midwinter Night’s Dram. It harks back to that whisky that was given to employees. It’s supposed to be fruity and spicy so sounds as though it’s just the job to cuddle up to on a cold winters night.

I managed to get this sample as part of a delivery from the Really Good Whisky Company. They had a bit of a flood and stock was damaged. So they had a draw in which you paid £49.50 for a ticket. The bottle would be at least that value. There was at least one bottle that was worth £1800. While I wasn’t imagining I’d win the first prize, I thought the chances of me getting something worth more than £50 was high.

Unrequested freebie. Still, all said and done a nice touch.

Well, me and a lot of others were disappointed as what we got was an old style Glenturret. This had been discontinued in this packaging for over a year and I couldn’t help but feel I had been duped into entering a draw to move new-old stock. I was livid, as my bottle was completely undamaged. If you know my whisky journey, you’ll understand that I know exactly what a flood damaged bottle looks like. But now I’ve calmed down and now we approach Christmas and the season of goodwill, it is time to forgive and move on. Perhaps this is the appropriate dram to have.

Glenmorangie – A Midwinter Night’s Dram

Region – Highland Age – NAS Strength – 43% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Red apple, orange peel, biscuit, caramel, biscuit. Palate – Medium body – oily. Malted biscuits, orange, slight drying bitterness. Caramel in background but hidden a bit by oak spice – cinnamon and nutmeg. Peppery too Finish – spicy and drying. Medium length. Pepper, cinnamon, citrus – more lemon / lime bitterness.


Not requested or expected. That’s the best way to sum up this free dram. I thought it to be a nice touch in all honesty and had discounted its value when thinking of my raffle prize. Eventually I’m going to get calm about TRGW Co using me as a patsy to shift excess stock. And it was a Glenmorangie I wouldn’t have otherwise bought so I got an experience that was reasonably enjoyable.

Would I buy it? No, not based on this taste but not because there was anything wrong with it; the whisky didn’t light my fire, as simple as that. However given that it was free was a big plus point. Being Aberdonian made me see the value. Should I be offered this again I’d be happy to drink it. The whisky for me was spicy and drying while I prefer the more sweet and fruity drams.

This will be the last review before Christmas, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2022. Here’s hoping it’s an improvement on 2020 and 2021.

Yours In Spirits


Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

Photo Credits

Kingussie High Street November 1978 – Am Baile Highland Archive

All other photos – Authors own

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Blink and You’ll Miss It Balmenach.

Taste Review #68 – Balmenach 15 Master Of Malt

Balmenach. A distillery that I would wager many of the readers of this blog would not have heard of, and probably even fewer have tasted. All of this despite it being amongst the first to open legally after the 1823 Excise Act. This is a distillery I have never seen, as it is not visible while driving on the A95 road between Aberlour and Grantown On Spey; even the road sign to Balmenach doesn’t betray the fact there is a distillery nearby and only the clued up whisky geek would be any the wiser.

Situated to the south of the Speyside village of Cromdale, the distillery sits in an area known as the Haughs Of Cromdale, in the shadow of the Cromdale Hills. The battle of Cromdale took place here in 1690 when Jacobite forces were defeated by Government troops lead by Sit Thomas Livingston, commander of the Inverness Garrison. Some of the Jacobite forces took shelter in Lethendry castle, the ruin of which still exists close to the distillery.

Balmenach distillery was founded in 1824 by James Macgregor, although illicit distilling in farm buildings was probably already taking place. The Macgregor family owned the distillery until 1922 when it was sold to DCL which went on to become UDV, a forerunner of Diageo. UDV closed the distillery in 1993, and it wasn’t until 1998 when current owners Inver House Distillers bought it.

Inver House own brands you will have heard of – Knockdhu (anCnoc), Old Pulteney, Balblair and Speyburn, all four of which I have reviewed in the past but why have I not reviewed a Balmenach yet? That’s because it is not easily available as a single malt. It is seen on occasion as an independent bottle, and some old original bottlings are available, most notably the Flora & Fauna bottling, but since Inver House took over the distillery I am only aware of 2 bottlings under the Highland Selection brand – a 27 and 28 year old distilled in 1973 and 1972 respectively.

So why is it so uncommon? Balmenach is a ‘meaty’ malt, similar to whisky of a previous era. The fermentation is long, the stills are relatively small and the distillation is faster than would be normal for other similar distilleries. Coupled to the use of worm tubs to cool the still vapours, this gives a superb weighty, meaty spirit that is sought after for blending or independent casks.

Balmenach 15 Master Of Malt 5CL


RegionSpeyside Age15 years old Strength – 43% Colour Pale Straw


Malty, citrusy like lemon and lime. Dried grass / Hay. Slight sour note there too. Floral note there in the background.


quite a light mouthfeel, thin. Not sure how much of this is down to the evaporation. Very zesty. Lime, Kiwi fruit, Heather, light wood spice but again, suspecting that the evaporation has had a part in this as there is a very light wood spice.


Long. Despite the evaporation, it gave a peppery, gingery taste, without the burn associated with a whisky of 40%.

Quite pleasant though but thin mouth feel means I am not going to be adding water.

The Dram


So what do I think? Well, sadly as this dram had evaporated despite being properly stored and / or sealed, I know that I have not had the full experience this distillery has to offer. This is gutting as it was truly a lovely dram as it was and I can’t but help believe it would be a fantastic dram if drunk in the same condition as it was bottled. I guess I am going to have to keep an eye out for a good condition full sized bottle.

And that is the big problem. There isn’t a lot of Balmenach going around. The last mass produced official bottling was made by UDV when it was released as part of the Flora and Fauna range. This was only produced for around 2 years before the distillery was mothballed then sold. The Balmenach Flora and Fauna is slowly creeping up in price, often breaching the £200 per bottle level. I’ve got 2 of the first editions in storage but am often tempted to buy a drinking bottle, such as I have done with the Pittyvaich which was also closed in 1993.

Balmenach 12 Flora and Fauna 1st Edition

Best keep your eyes and ears open if you want to purchase a bottle. Keep an eye on releases from Cadenhead or That Boutiquey Whisky Company as a good tip, or search on the internet to see what comes up.

I can’t tell you how much this bottle cost, as it was part of an auction lot. I’d expect to pay around £10 – £15 at auction for it, though this will depend on whether or not you have somebody bidding against you. What I can tell you is that I recommend trying a whisky from this distillery; you will not be disappointed.

If all else fails and you want to try an alcoholic drink from Cromdale, then consider Carounn Gin. It’s made at the distillery and this does have a visitor centre, but does not allow access to the whisky production areas.

Slainte Mhath!


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Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own