You just can’t be in two places at one time. As much as there is plenty to go around, you can’t split yourself in two without negative consequences. And that’s why I found myself on a ship in India and not on my usual vessel, which is now in Australia. Twice with this company I have obtained an Australian work visa and twice I haven’t gone. Guess I’m just going to taste their whisky instead.
There are a few distilleries to choose from and in my quest to try a few world whiskies I decided to try one from the Starward distillery. This isn’t your typical distillery hidden in a glen or a valley; it’s set up in the middle of Melbourne. Founded by David Vitale in 2007, the distillery makes use of locally grown ingredients and casks from the Australian wine industry. Add some variable hot and humid weather and you get a perfect environment for rapidly maturing whisky.
The whisky I’m tasting today is the Starward Dolce. Limited to 4800 bottles, it is around the 4 year old mark. Matured in Australian Red Wine casks and finished in a dessert wine cask, let’s see if the New World whisky is as good as some of their wines.
Region – Australia Age – 4 y.o Strength – 48% abv Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – Red Wine / Dessert Wine Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Red fruit, strawberries, Raspberries, chocolate, Pink Marshmallow, quite sweet. Salted caramel. Palate – quite spicy on the arrival. Spirit burn to the fore. Ginger, pepper, gives way to sweetness, again with the marshmallow. Dates. Medium mouthfeel, slightly oily. Finish – short and sweet. Pretty pleasant to be fair. The caramel theme carries on and fades into stone fruit. Possibly chocolate coated cherries. The spices drop off quite quickly.
I’m glad the original inhabitants of Australia were poor at evading capture after committing criminal activities, as without those original colonial settlers, we would not have had a whisky as delightful as this one. I picked this one as the tasting notes of fruit were right up my alley and I have not been disappointed in the slightest.
It is worth remembering that despite its young age, the environmental conditions in Melbourne mature whisky faster, and this while still detectably young, drinks like an older whisky than it is. I could go onto wine critics descriptors such as a tango on the tongue, like lambs gambolling across green grass meadows, a party on one’s palate but I won’t. It wasn’t that good. I would however strongly recommend if you enjoy a fruity whisky, this is one to get. I’ll certainly keep an eye out on this distillery.
When I thought of doing a wee run of world whiskies for review and to expand ones horizons, one of the natural choices was Indian whisky. This is most appropriate at the time of writing I am currently working offshore the east coast of India, working from the port of Kakinada.
India is for me one of these countries of extremes. It can be filthy, yet colourful. It has many rich people within, yet sees the extremes of poverty when you do an excursion around the Dharavi slums, made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire. You can experience the mountains of the North, leading onto the Himalayas, or have a beach holiday in Goa, and everything between.
When I last worked in India during 2009, we used to fly from an airport called Rajahmundry, about an hours drive from the port of Kakinada in Andra Pradesh. The journey between the two towns was in a rural area giving the opportunity to see some very pastoral scenes. The city sits on the eastern bank of the sacred Godavari river, and we’d often get a night in a hotel there before flying out the next day. One of the hotels I remember sat on the riverside and we used to have our well deserved beer after 6 weeks of abstinence. Forget the ideas of Kingfisher lager – we were in India and the brands we were offered were Haywards 5000, Royal Challenge, Knockout and Maharaja. If you know the Scottish sit-com Still Game, you’ll understand when I say images of Fusilier lager came to mind!
And so it comes to pass that Indian whisky has always been in my head as an unknown quantity. Totally incorrect I will have to admit. As I am writing this, I don’t have any facts and figures to hand, but I’m sure that I remember that Indian whisky is the largest seller worldwide. You’ll need to check the Malt Whisky year book to confirm, but I’m sure Johnny Walker is the highest selling Scotch brand but only manages third place. So, if Indian whisky can sell so much, it can’t be bad, eh?
Because I didn’t want to invest in a whole bottle that I may not take to and I already have a surplus of open 70cl bottles, I chose to buy a variety of world whiskies using the Perfect Measure from The Whisky Exchange and Drinks by the Dram from Master Of Malt. The Indian sample I chose was from The Whisky Exchange and is Amrut Fusion.
Amrut Distilleries started out in 1948 after the British Colonising forces withdrew the previous year. Based in Bangalore, the current distillery was built in 1987. It came to more attention when whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murray gave their whisky a 82 out of 100 in 2005 and 2010. These were in the days when many Indian whiskies were made up of cheap imported Scottish whiskies blended with local spirit, so the bar had been raised for Indian whisky.
Maturing spirits in a hot and humid climate is totally different to doing it in Scotland. The higher temperature gives a much higher evaporation rate of around 10-12% compared to 2% in Scotland. Therefore I doubt we’ll ever see significant age statement Indian whiskies in quantity.
The whisky I chose was Amrut Fusion. This was originally launched in 2009 and it is made with 25% peated Scottish barley and 75% Indian unpeated barley. While some of the ingredients have Scottish provenance, it is very much still an Indian Whisky. So let’s see if the fusion of Scottish and Indian barley makes a taste sensation on my palate.
Region – India Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Barley, wood shavings, light smoke, peaches, orange peel, runny honey, barley sugar. With water added got an ozone note of distressed electrical equipment. Palate – gentle arrival, light / medium mouth feel. Pineapple, wood, barley, chocolate (?), smoky peat. Creamy caramel. Orange rind. Finish – medium / long. Peat smoke, astringent, brine, woody taste (oak). Fades into a marmalade-esque sweetness and a bit of a spicy burn. Water takes away most of the spicy finish.
Not too bad is my conclusion. I’m not a regular drinker of world whisky, so my experience of this is limited. I’d drink this again, but not sure if I’d buy a bottle. I’d say I much preferred this with a drop of water.
I don’t understand how Jim Murray can say this was the third best single malt whisky in the world in 2010, as I can think of many more that I’ve enjoyed more than this, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad whisky at all. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to pick some Indian whisky up on the way home…
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…
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.
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.
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.
Hiding in plain sight. Thats often what I think when I essentially ransack my study or bedroom looking for something that is sitting innocently on a shelf in full view when I am doing my mental calculations as to where I last saw it. Before I left for my last offshore trip I couldn’t find my head torch. I always have a dirty one for work, yet also carry a clean one if I am going to be staying in a hotel or have one in my cabin. Should there be a fire, you never know when you will need help. After wasting a day and a half looking for it and realising that I could have left it in a hotel in Borneo, I was only able to start to end the mental anguish by ordering a new one. And 6 hours after ordering, I found the old one tangled up in the lanyards of my memory sticks. I shook my head, as I tipped that bag out twice. It’s never easy being me sometimes.
The dram that I am going to review just now is the similar, although I haven’t had to waste a whole day looking for it. Sitting on the shelves of whisky retailers and even sitting on the shelves of my local Tesco Extra from time to time, Finlaggan was another of those whiskies I kept clear of because I did not know what distillery it was from and I’ve plenty of other drams to keep going on with. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the Whisky Shop Duffown, plus in their 5cl range, but I decided against it. “I’ll stick to what I know of” I kept saying to myself.
It was a trip into Inverness to a kilt makers of all places that also had a range of tourist souvenirs that prompted me to look in by. It was actually a recommendation of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill across the road, which incidentally also have a good range of miniatures. I know what I said about going into the touristy places in my Loch Lomond review, but it was in the EWM that I found a 16 year old Glentauchers G&M miniature for £7. You just need to be careful but bargains can be had.
Finlaggan is an anonymous Islay Single Malt which is released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, formed by Brian Crook in 1992. Brian was a former director from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Finlaggan was one of its launch brands, which were updated in 2014. Currently the core range is Finlaggan Old Reserve at 40%, Eilean Mor at 46% and a cask strength one at 58%.
As the whisky distillery is anonymous, the brand is named after Finlaggan Castle, which sits on an island in Loch Finlaggan, Islay. There isn’t really a lot to write about it, so I’ll just proceed with the tasting.
Finlaggan Old Reserve
Region -Islay Age – NAS Strength -40% ABV Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Peat, hard cheddar, iodine, toasted wholemeal bread, citrus. Palate – Light mouthfeel, brine, lemon, peat, nutmeg. Finish – medium short. Peat, brine, sweet. Strong wood spices going down the throat, but a small splash of water brings it into control. Drying in the end
I don’t like judging things on first tastes, but my first taste of this to be honest was not positive. Not too bad a nose, a calm palate with spice building and the insanity breaks out once swallowed. Hot spices and a weak peat, the sweetness turning to dryness. It became more balanced with a splash of water.
I like peaty whisky, so it’s not that I don’t like peat. In my opinion this is a young Caol Ila. I’ll base that thought on that it is the closest distillery to Loch Finlaggan and it is probably the distillery most likely to have the capacity to keep up with demand for the independent sales. It doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as other Caol Ila’s I’ve had and that’s being kind. I hate to admit this, but I couldn’t finish it and sadly had to dispose of it down the sink. You can’t like everything unfortunately.
It may be cheap, but I’ll be leaving this one on the shelf though in my opinion it’s best left in a dungeon, never to escape. I’ll be continuing to hunt for something more tasty. However if I see a mini of one of the other drams, I’d love to try for a second go, but this dram was definitely not for me.
*** There will be a following article about this review in the very near future. Be sure to catch it ***
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. The larger demand making some whiskies harder to get has been tempered by the fact that there has been a massive influx of new distilleries on the scene. Not so long ago, there were only 3 operational single malt distilleries in the Lowland region; Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie, but now this has been expanded by a handful more becoming operational. The most famous arguably being Daftmill which released its first whisky at 12 years old in 2018. Also releasing its first whisky in 2018 was Eden Mill Distillery, and the Kingsbarns Distillery with its first Founders Release. Following on in the same year was the Dream To Dram bottling.
Dream to Dram was quite an appropriate name for such a whisky, as the concept of a distillery was born through the dream of former caddie Douglas Clement. Funding was initially gained through contacts he had made during his time as a caddie, but funding still fell short, so the project was sold to the Wemyss family to see the project through to conclusion. The distillery has been built in a former farm steading on the Cambo Estate, which the Wemyss have historical family connections to.
Dream to Dram was the first publicly available bottle from Kingsbarns. I’m not in the habit of chasing first releases, especially those which have been released at a young age. However just because a whisky is young, doesn’t mean that it will be a poor whisky. In this case, rather than buy a full bottle I decided to use Drinks By The Dram, which offered the chance to purchase a 3cl sample. And, this is a dram that has won several awards such as – World Whisky Awards 2020 – Best Scotch Lowlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky, World Whisky Awards 2020 – Category Winner, Lowlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky (12 Years & Under), Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters 2019 – Silver, International Spirits Challenge 2019 Taste – Silver, Scottish Whisky Awards 2019 – Highly Commended. It seems that there is little chance of getting a duff dram, so lets find out.
Kingsbarns Dream To Dram
Region – Lowland Age – 3 years old Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.2) Cask Type – 90% 1st Fill Bourbon, 10% 1st Fill STR Barrique Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Bananas, Pears, Green Apple, Lemon, Honey, light cereal note. Palate – Light body, quite thin. Creamy taste, vanilla, honey, peppery spices, ginger Finish – Medium – Short, towards the short side. Alcohol burn on the way down the throat, lemon, honey, ginger, pepper.
Well, in my life in the oil and gas industry, I have seen many great things promised and yet fail to deliver. To rework the saying in the first paragraph of this review, ‘Every Silver Lining has a Cloud’. I do realise that this dram has won multiple awards, but I don’t see anything in this dram to take it above average. The mouthfeel is light and watery, the finish has a firey alcohol burn which I didn’t experience when tasting my last cask strength whisky neat.
The one thing that many new distilleries seem to do is release whiskies as soon as it is possible and it could be that the drive behind it is to get income into the business. I really think if this was case, it wasn’t the best plan. The whisky lacks any really definitive character in the palate and the finish is short and rough in my opinion. Personally I think the approaches taken by Daftmill and Ballindalloch are much more realistic to release a whisky when it is truly ready and not just when it is drinkable. If your spirit is good, then waiting a bit longer would definitely be worth it. That’s my honest take on it, though I am aware many would disagree.
It’s not to say that this is a bad dram just because I didn’t take to it at all. Taste is indeed subjective. The spirit is good – they’ve bottled at a decent strength, no added colour, no chill filtration. Long fermentation and clear wort will fill the spirit with ester-y goodness. But for me I think it needed longer in the cask. It crosses my mind that when thinking of ‘Dream To Dram’ I’d suggest that a lie – in was needed.
I’m sure however this is definitely a distillery to watch out for with older releases. I can’t wait.
For those of you not acquainted with the North East of Scotland, summer is a great time for agricultural shows. The three biggest ones are the Black Isle Show, Turriff Show, and the Keith Show. They are pretty much like a Highland Games, although without the traditional competitions but can include country dancing, field sports, various acrobats or stunt driving, with the added ‘thrill’ of livestock and farm machinery thrown in. This is of course if you appreciate a decent ewe waiting to be tupped or decent Massey Ferguson machinery. And then there is the marquee, the staple of all Highland events where people go to get sloshed and it often ends in drunken violence at some point. It is also said you cannot fail to get a date at the Keith show. I suppose that if a lassie rejects you, there’s always the wooly livestock. Ooops! Perhaps I’ve said too much about my Aberdeenshire upbringing!
It’s been a quite a while since I attended such an event, and it’s likely different now. But apparently leopards aren’t likely to change their spots, so it is with a little bit of trepidation that I approach this old vs new review of some Keith whisky produce. The newer of the two drams, the Glen Keith Distillers Edition, I have reviewed before and to be honest I didn’t really care for it. I’m lucky that my wife did not see that review as the bottle was a present from her. Having said that she knows little about whisky, but I’m secretly proud of her thriftiness as she’s a non-Aberdonian. There’s little point of expecting a more expensive whisky gift from her due to her lack of knowledge and a total refusal to pick up on hints. I keep dropping subtle verbal nudges about another Brora may be nice but nothing so far…
However, with this whisky I have persevered and am now halfway down the bottle, though I have been giving some of my friends samples as an example of what a budget whisky tastes like. Since my initial review, I’ve been using it in hot toddies, along with other less than premium drams (Jura Journey, Naked Grouse and Haig Club) and they performed adequately, so perhaps it is time to give this dram another chance. You can read what I wrote before by clicking on this linkTaste Review #42 – Glen Keith Distillers Edition.
Since that review, I haven’t actually tasted that whisky again since without adulterating it in some way, so perhaps now is time for a bit of redemption. This was a dram that I didn’t bother gassing, so it has had a bit of oxidation and hopefully this has kicked it into touch a bit. Its already had one kicking from me in the past. In my auction adventures, it’s earlier equivalent – a miniature of Glen Keith turned up, with a strange way of denoting its age on it – it says that it was distilled before 1983. Now usually there would be a vintage that states what year it was distilled, but this definition is open to interpretation.
Glen Keith isn’t an old distillery, becoming operational in 1960, just after Tormore. It is built on the site of a former meal mill. It was used as an experimental distillery and ran both double and triple distillations. It made the short lived Glen Isla single malt, which is a Glen in Angus, far away from Keith but is likely to have taken it’s name from the River Isla that flows past the distillery. This was a slightly peated malt. It is rumoured that the Craigduff peated single malt was also made here, although Strathisla has also been in the frame for this. Both Glen Isla and Craigduff are rare whiskies, and were included in the Lost Distilleries Blend I tasted (See Lost Distilleries Blend Review #55). The first single malt released from Glen Keith was in 1994, and it is the older sample that we taste today.
Glen Keith was mothballed in 1999, but refurbished and opened again by 2013. The Distillers edition was the first single malt released in October 2017 after reopening, so could have some pretty young whisky in it. I remember looking back at my other review that the dram was quite sharp, so lets see if a little bit of fresh air has calmed it down a bit and whether or not it meets the standard set by the first official release from the distillery.
Glen Keith 1983 (10 y.o)
Region – Speyside Age -10 y.o (1983) Strength – 43% Colour -Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – not stated Colouring – Not stated – presume yes. Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Initially a slight old bottle funk, but dissipated after allowing dram to breathe. Grassy / slightly floral, orchard fruit – apple, canned pears, apricot. Barley sugars, creamy vanilla. Palate – The arrival is unexpectedly sweet. Vanilla, apple, then developing a bitter taste from the wood spice, lemon, ginger, peppery. Finish – Medium. Peppery wood tannins, light malt, Calvados as the spirit fades away. Adding 2ml of water gives everything a bit of a smooth out, slightly increased the wood spice and gave a waxy, candle-like note to the aroma.
Glen Keith Distillers Edition
Region – Speyside Age -NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – not stated. Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Caramel, Apple, Vanilla, Condensed Milk, honey Palate – Light, with a slight oily feel, a light spirit / wood buzz, lemonade, apples, cinnamon / peppery wood spice Finish -Short, honey, creamy vanilla, peppery wood spice, slight spirit burn. Adding 2ml of water kills pretty much everything, bar the burst of spice on departure.
It seems that time in the bottle has mellowed the Glen Keith Distillers Edition. The sharpness and harsh burns that I got on my last review are no longer present and the fruit flavours are more prominent. But while it is more drinkable, than before, I have to say that it is fairly boring and disappointing. But then we have to remember that this is probably made up of whisky no more than 4 years old, possibly with some of the older stock mixed in. It’s price point was £30, but had I paid £30 for it, I would have still felt cheated. Not knowing my wife was going to gift me a bottle, I thankfully picked this one up for only £20 at my local Co-op, but put into store for a later date. As fair as I can be, I think now the spirit has had time to breathe, it has improved what I am tasting and £20 would be probably as much as it’s worth.
That means to me that this isn’t anything special at all and it will not be replaced when the bottle dies. I don’t mean to be unfair when I say that I wouldn’t give this to guests, but would rather use this as cooking whisky. I’ll be happy to sip away at it until the bottle is finished, therefore there is an improvement on what has gone before in my last review. I can say this dram does fit its position in Passport Blended whisky, another less than favoured review in the past.
But was it any better than the 10 year old? Well, the ten year old had a notable advantage, all 3% of them as extra points on the abv scale. And boy, did it show. The spirit was more engaging, there was more taste and furthermore, the dram actually had a proper finish. I felt that this dram showed off its palate and finish much more effectively. I’ll restrain from saying the nose as well due to the older bottle effect. But the mouthfeel was heavier, the flavours more distinct and water did not eradicate any of them. Of course, it could be argued that there has been evaporation taking effect of my distillers edition bottle plus it is only 40%, but then again, the 10 year old bottle is potentially 27 years old and didn’t have the perfect fill level either.
And just to put the unfair comparison accusation to bed, that in this series of reviews, I am trying to review comparable age statements or the entry level release from the distillery, which both of these drams are. It is sad to note that in this case, the alcohol level in this dram has been reduced from 43% to 40%, no longer has an age statement and has age that is most likely half that of the other sample, so on this note coupled with the bolder flavours I have to say that I think the older dram is the better one, as had I been given this dram as a gift, I’d maybe consider replacing it.
How both of these whiskies compare to an older, independent bottling remains to be seen – I’ve a 1968 G&M bottling sample to look at sometime in the future that was gifted by a work colleague, so will be reviewing that separately in the future.
No. I am not trying to get down with the kids. I am definitely not a cool person. But today’s review will be a refreshing piece of nostalgia, and we are going to be looking at whisky that many being produced today need to learn from. There may be a bit of Macallan bashing, but this is purely incidental, certainly not intentional and could be equally aimed at many other distilleries.
How many of us remember a time when whisky was good? Hasn’t it always been good? Can it get any better? With Single Malt Whisky having exploded over the past couple of decades, the choice has never been better. However with this taste review, I want to put a concept to you. I want each of you who reads this to think about it to yourselves. And if you can be bothered, I’d appreciate feed back, either in the form of a comment below the article, through facebook, instagram, e-mail or even twitter. If your only means of communicating with me is carrier pigeon, then by all means send it, however I can’t promise that my dog won’t eat it. So if you are General Melchitt and your pigeon is called Speckled George, definitely don’t send it. (Fans of Blackadder Goes Forth will get the reference!)
I’m going to put to you the concept that some whisky is not better than it used to be. I would say it is demonstrably not worse per se, but definitely not as good as it used to be. I would say this has happened and continues to happen due to the large amounts of different editions through different age statements, non-age statements, cask finishing and the lack of decent aged stock available. This is something that all distilleries will suffer from. Each one is trying to obtain, keep or improve its market share.
For a while, I have felt that this applied to Macallan. This is not because I want to rebel against Macallan, as everybody seems to like them and I don’t want to rebel like a stroppy teenager. It’sbecause I feel the focus has moved. While I still believe that they do still make quality whisky, I feel that quality is definitely subdued. This was highlighted to me during a visit to their distillery in October last year.
The building itself is a marvel. You will have never seen a distillery like it, and I doubt if we will ever see one again, certainly not in the near future. Outside it looks more like an extension of Tellytubby land, but inside you can see the architectural masterpiece it is. The tour is good value too, albeit it seems very corporate, although now thinking about it, this is not a mistake. This is deliberate.
The Macallan archive is a wonderful masterpiece, with hundreds of bottles on the soaring shelves. But it is here we start to make our comparisons. One of my bugbears with Macallan is the amount of NAS they are releasing. To look across the way, we see the shop, where many of the products there have no age statements. But as I said before, some of what I am saying about Macallan can be applied to many distilleries, as aged stocks run low.
Macallan has been known as a distillery that exclusively used sherry casks, and one of the six pillars of Macallan is the quality of their casks. However, since 2004, they have been releasing whisky that has been made not just in sherry casks, but now uses Bourbon casks. Not that I have a problem with this as such, as this doesn’t make a bad whisky. However, it just isn’t as good as what has gone before from Macallan in my opinion.
The tour I took at Macallan also gave us a sample of 12 year old Double Cask which is matured in American and European Oak, and the 15 year old Triple Cask which is also matured in a Bourbon cask. This, as far as I know isn’t the result of re-racking but a mixture of casks in the vatting prior to bottling. I never got a chance to try them at the distillery, as I was driving – and of course we all know drinking and driving is definitely not cool. So I got them to take home.
This fact was something that excited me, as I had a sample of a 10 year old Macallan from the 80’s or 90’s which I had been given by Matteo at the Speyside Whisky Shop, and I really wanted to write a review that compared all three, but the samples from the whisky tour just didn’t give me enough to write an objective review. However, although both drams were quite pleasant there was something that was very obvious to my palate. The old style whisky blasted the other two into outer space. Just no comparison.
Here are my tasting notes for the older whisky.
40 % abv
Proper sherry nose. Dates, plums, raisins, tobacco note, hot chocolate powder. More of a toffee note appears when water added.
Instant, intense sweet hit on the arrival, with pretty much every note in the nose also on the palate.
Medium to long, gently fades away. Slightly drying in the finish, toffee, dried fruits and a hint of spicy wood.
What I write now may be paraphrased from another article that I have written elsewhere about Macallan, but I’ll try and keep to the appropriate portions here.
I am indebted to Sorren at ocdwhisky.com for an article he wrote about whisky blogging. One of the things he said was that no whisky manufacturer deliberately makes a bad whisky. I know I might have had a bit of a rant over Jura Journey and Glen Keith, but Sorren is right. It’s just tastes are different, and you can’t like everything. However, that doesn’t mean that distilleries can get away with reduced quality whisky.
Of course, with a shortage of aged stocks, plus a decline in sherry drinkers has probably meant that sourcing quality casks has become harder and certainly more expensive for Scotch whisky producers. I would contend that Macallan has safeguarded the premium casks for their more expensive whiskies, which can cost thousand of pounds. However, they aren’t going to be doing that exclusive for whisky that is in the sub £100 bracket if they can get away with it. Use of Bourbon casks reduces the demand for sherry casks. This is something Macallan has been releasing since 2004. So, my concept I am trying to get you to think about is that have Macallan (or other producers) slowly weaned us off the premium whisky and onto something that is still good, but not as good?
I certainly feel this way, as the old-skool sample that I had was absolutely fantastic, and I almost regret giving my brother-in-law a small sample of the small sample I received. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t have shared, but my brother in law is a good bloke and he very much appreciated his share. Is it a case of what we used to get as a standard 10 year old is now the quality standard for the 18 year old or above? I may have to take the plunge and buy a more expensive bottle to find out, or chum up my more generous Macallan drinking friends.
This is why I feel that with Scotty’s drams it is good to use the samples of older whisky, in particular my bargain basement miniature buying at auction is actually a valid exercise. The ten year old Macallan in the picture above is auctioning for around £300. The 12 year old I’ve seen as high as £450. A smaller sample is good for reminding us what has gone before and gives us a point of reference.
Sorry for the double publishing – there was an error generated that caused the link to display incorrect information. It won’t happen again. Actually it probably will, but I will still be sorry.
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We come to Friday once more, and I am looking for a thought to provide you all with this week. It has been quite a week for me with a lot of stress. A couple of weeks ago, my car was involved in a minor collision and this was the week it was going in for repair. I’m lucky enough to have an insurance company that are quite generous when it comes to providing a hire car when mine is off the road, so I was lucky enough to be given a Toyota Aygo.
Lucky? No. These small cars are really only good for the city. I have driven an Aygo over one hundred miles from Aberdeen to home over twisty country roads and let me tell you that it wasn’t fun. Given we have had really bad weather and have a good blanket of snow, I opted to pay a little bit extra and get something bigger. I was given a Vauxhall Insignia which was a lovely car to drive but a bit longer than I realised. When backing the car in front of my garage, the sensors must have been covered in dirt from the slush on the roads, and the net result was that I backed the car into the garage door. Conclusions – car not a mark; the garage door seemingly a write off.
Of course, the weather was bad with snow and heavy winds, and the garage roller door was out of the guides on one side so I got plenty of fun with some hammers, spanners and pry-bars to get the door back into the guides. I didn’t care at that point if the door would ever open again, as long as I could get it wind and watertight once more. But I knew eventually that I had to make a hard decision – do I leave the door as is, for I don’t use it that often, or do I pay for a replacement? After paying a 4 figure sum just before Christmas for a new oil tank, I wasn’t really wanting to take the hit of a new electric door. I knew that the choice of doing nothing could become very inconvenient. Sadly, it was realistic to say that a new door was the only option and I had a £1500 bill staring me in the face. It was unexpected that when my local friendly garage door supplier turned up a couple of days later that he didn’t give me a quote. Thankfully he was able to repair the door in such a way it will survive another couple of years given the amount of use it gets. All ends well. I still haven’t had the dram to celebrate the avoidance of financial disaster!
So what has this got to do with whisky? Well, last Friday my package from Macallan turned up, the recently balloted Folio 5 which is part of the Archival Series. Costing £260 including postage, I entered the ballot without knowing too much about the whisky I was hoping to win. However, this is not that uncommon with Macallan releases nowadays. But, given the fact that previous Folio releases have been about 2000 units and usually keep at a price well above the purchase, then I thought it would be a safe bet.
Well, after the ballot was concluded, with my whisky contacts and on various forums, I noticed that quite a lot of people had actually won a bottle in the ballot. Far too many for my liking. Research suggested that Macallan had done the dirty and possibly released 20,000 units. This is a bit of a kick in the teeth, as it would mean 18,000 people will never be able to collect the full collection, and the value of the other four editions is now going to smash through the roof as those who do wish to collect the full series will be forced to pay for a much rarer whisky. This can only get worse as future editions are released (there are still 19 releases to go).
Of course, caveat emptor should be the phrase first and foremost in mind, but I feel in whisky terms I have metaphorically smashed the car into the garage door and have a tough decision to make in terms of what to do with this whisky. It may serve me well to give you another metaphor that would sum up my feelings adequately, I felt like the pigeon who didn’t notice there was glass in the french windows, and is now lying stunned on the patio waiting for the neighbours cat to get me.
To be honest, I bought it with the intention of not collecting the full set, but keeping it back to sell at a later date when the price settled. I had no intention of flipping it, as you should know by now my views on flipping. In the back of my mind, my thoughts were that if there was only 2000 made, I might be able to swap it for a Folio 4, which has the music of James Scott Skinner on it (I used to play the fiddle, so it was relevant). But now I am stuck with a bottle that I feel doesn’t fit my collection policies, won’t necessarily increase in value and I’ve no interest in drinking. And £260 isn’t a small amount of cash to splurge for no return.
And now I have to face the difficult decision – do I flip it, do I keep it and hope for the best, do I sell it to somebody that didn’t get one at a price that covers my costs, or do I drink it? I’ve opened more expensive bottles but I’m just not interested in Macallan. I’ve drunk too many insipid drams in recent times to be opening an NAS that cost so much. It should be nice to be in the position that I am to own such an item, but the responsibility of what to do with it hangs like the Sword of Damocles above my head, pretty much like it did with the garage door.
I’ll be honest with you, I am really tempted to flip it. I feel really let down by Macallan’s marketing practices, and I have since removed myself from their marketing data base. This has been the final straw that has broken this donkey’s back. I have had deep misgivings about the brand for some time, and this is one of the articles I have been trying to write for some time, but haven’t managed to articulate my thoughts in such a way that is readable. It seems I am not the only one, and have seen quite a few articles saying similar things. I also have written a diatribe against flippers, but again, the article is just too rough to be released without offending people. The possibility of being a hypocrite also fills me with dread.
So what’s it to be? To flip or not to flip. #sipdontflip – as in last week’s review? Or sit tight and take the loss in the meantime and hope it gets better? Let me know your opinions, either by commenting on Facebook, or below this article.