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.
In the last review I tasted two drams from Aberlour in which the earlier expression won the head to head. I now turn my attention to the two 12 year old samples that I have in my store. One was a sample from Matteo at The Speyside Whisky Shop of an early – mid 80’s Aberlour 12 he had in store for customers. In a recent auction win, I found that I have another old Aberlour, this one probably from the late 80’s – 1990’s. I really don’t know and am just going by what I can research on the internet. I’m not expecting a big difference, but they were samples to be cleared and could also help us find out if the extra two years in the cask made any difference.
I didn’t go into the history of Aberlour distillery much in my last review, and I won’t really go into too much depth now either, but here is a quick overview. It’s not really a large distillery, situated at the southern end of the village, and sits beside the Lour burn. Aberlour is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name Obar Lobhair, which basically translates as ‘Mouth of the Lour’. The formal version of the village name is Charleston of Aberlour. It got its name from the current village founder Charles Grant of Elchies (we’ll be hearing of that location again before the end of the series) who named it after his son.
Aberlour was formerly a stop on the Speyside railway line, passenger services ending in 1965, and freight continuing til 1968 when the Beeching axe finally fell. A very limited freight service did continue from Dufftown until November 1971, and I am led to believe it was to a coal merchants in Aberlour who supplied the local distilleries. There are a handful of distilleries nearby, Craigellachie and Macallan to the north of the village, and Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Imperial (replaced by Dalmunach) and Glenfarclas not too far to the south. And of course the Aberlour distillery itself.
James Fleming was the man who started the Aberlour distillery in 1879, with distillation taking place in 1880. Fleming was previously involved with Dailuaine distillery, close to the village of Carron, so had distilling experience. A man of many talents he was also a banker, Chairman of the School Board, County Councillor and even the Town Provost – the Scottish Equivalent of a Mayor. The distillery was sold in 1892, and James Fleming died in 1895 at the age of 65. But by that time he had really made his mark on the town through his philanthropy. He gifted the town its first meeting place in 1889 – the Fleming Hall. His legacy extended to the building of the local Cottage Hospital in 1900, and a suspension bridge over the Spey to Knockando Parish in 1902. All of these gifts are still fully operational over 100 years later. He is buried in the cemetery directly opposite the distillery entrance.
The distillery since 1974 has been owned by Chivas Brothers, now part of the Pernod Ricard drinks giant. I visited the Aberlour distillery in Oct 2019 when I finally got fed up of continually driving past when travelling between Aberdeen and home. It’s a good tour, mine being led by Nicola Topp, a young lady who’s family had an extensive history in the distillery. The tour was fantastic, and I’m happy to hear that Nicola has now moved to be involved in the production side at the Dalmunach distillery.
Compared to some of its near neighbours, Aberlour isn’t a large distillery. It has two wash stills and two Spirit Stills, and only 6 wash backs. In September 2020, Moray Council approved plans to almost completely rebuild the Aberlour distillery in phases, which can be seen by clicking HERE in an article that was published in the regional newspaper, the Press And Journal.
Aberlour 12 (Early 80s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, citrus, orange peel. Slight hint of dark fruit, quite sugary sweet, almost like candy. Palate – Quite tame on arrival. Not overbearing, no great spirit rush. Gentler than the nose would suggest. Creamy caramel, apple, bitter orange. Sweet candy note. Finish – medium long, spicy honey, nice gentle warming, hints of coffee, chocolate and raisin. Slight floral note found when a small sip taken and rolled around in the mouth. (Due to being only a 25ml sample, I did not add water)
Aberlour 12 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, Toffee, Quite a dark fruit sort of flavour, ripe plums raisins, definitely a sherry cask has been used. Fresh pipe tobacco, slight smoke. Palate – Oops. No real alcohol present, no buzz at all. Oh dear. It does give a nice sugary feeling at on the tongue, kind of like candy floss. A slightly bitter citrus (orange) is there as is the toffee and honey with a hint of dark fruit but oh so muted. Finish – Medium. Burst of peppery and cinnamon spice when the spirit does decide to appear, then goes into pineapple, coffee, then back into bitter wood notes, slightly drying. This gets shortened and the spicy burst goes with the addition of water, although there does have a slight caramel note left lingering.
Well, a wee bit of a disaster really. I can see why this is classed as a beginners single malt, as for me there is not really a lot going on here. Of course we can use the argument that these were older bottles, but yet to be honest for the first time in this series, I didn’t notice any of the usual tell-tale signs of old bottle effect, or having been exposed to the waxed cardboard seal of a screw top. Both drams were pretty even if it had to be said but the older expression was definitely the most consistent one.
What really surprised me was the newer one’s palate was just not really there. I had to do some research to see if I was missing something. I’ve seen descriptions such as ‘Full Bodied’, ‘Rich’, ‘Intense’. I have to wonder if they were drinking the same whisky as I was, or if perhaps 40% is perhaps a little too strong for them. Because if I have to be honest, on the younger expression, the palate is as flat and smooth as a dolphins bum. It’s like the beard on a 13 year old – barely there. I could go on with the metaphors. With the absence of a palate and a shorter finish, I thought it was another clear win for the older expression. However, I decided to do something that I hadn’t done yet, and that was bring on some of the big guns.
You see, sitting in my study as a present for somebody I haven’t yet met since I came home on Christmas Eve was a bottle of the brand new, up to date double cask Aberlour 12. I’m not really a fan of opening 70cl bottles when I have so many open already, but I thought that in the interests of research I should get that seal off and try. Besides it only cost me £30 in the Co-op, so not exactly a big loss. I’m sure I will see it on special again, and if I’m lucky, when I go back in the next couple of days it still might be at the lower price.
So – tasting #3 for the Aberlour 12 year old.
Aberlour 12 (2020)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite Fruity. Strong note of Moray Cup (explanation later), orange fondant, mint, honey, almond. Strawberry jelly cubes prior to melting. Palate – Quiet, a bit more oily than the previous two, wood notes pretty non- existent with a hint of bitterness at the end. Slight taste of almond, perhaps the red fruits and bitter orange. Perhaps a hint of ginger in subsequent sips. Finish – medium. Slight wood spice and alcohol burn as swallowed and I get reminded of Cointreau, bitter citrus. Nutty at the end.
Conclusions (Part 2)
Well. I am glad I did not give that as a gift. The person would have thought I had hated them. You know, the colour and the nose excited me. I mean, Moray Cup…… For those who aren’t in the know because they have never lived in God’s Country (The Scottish North East) is a now defunct soft drink that was fruit flavoured, produced by Sangs of Banff. To look at it, you just knew it was artificially coloured, and a look at the range of E numbers in the ingredients list would confirm it. Such as it was, the label also had the warning to be careful in giving to young children. I am sure that a litre of that would give them AHAD so badly that they could be mistaken for a Springer Spaniel in a tennis ball and bone factory. Quite why it had two Caribbean gentlemen on the label I don’t know as Banff is normally as sunny and pleasant as a Siberian Gulag. Anyway, such is my lament for this drink I’ve gone and spouted off a load of rubbish, but those in the know would never bother with Irn Bru to cure a hangover – a bottle of Moray cup and and couple of rowies and away you go.
Sadly the palate was maybe slightly more prevalent than the early 1990’s bottling. But if I was to be honest, it wasn’t really there either, so that rules out any question that the older bottling had evaporated. It was almost perhaps as flat and smooth as before, but perhaps this dolphin has pimples on his bottom.
In summary, I was erring onto the inconclusive, but let’s look at plain facts. Its a basic 40% abv dram produced in massive volumes. You can’t expect it to be competing with some of the more exclusive brands or higher abv drams. I’m definitely not going to say these drams are rubbish – they are not, and will be a good bet for anybody starting on their whisky journey. Or even as an easy drinker, though I prefer other Aberlour expressions. A’Bunadh is a good start. However, in analysing the three whiskies had just now, taste is really where it is at, and despite the great nose, the lack of a defined palate and short to medium finish rules out the two younger expressions. Old expression wins by a gnat’s hair. Of course this is just my personal opinion. I’m going to enjoy the rest of the 12 year old as a wee nightcap and maybe stick to Aberlour’s more premium expressions which are very delicious in the future.
Oh, and I checked the price at the local Co-op this morning – back up to £40. I think I’ll pass.
Aberlour. It’s one of those places I just can’t avoid. Due to its location, when I’m travelling home from Aberdeen, the choices are limited. I’ve got the heady decision to go from Huntly to Dufftown, then head to Craigellachie. Before reaching Craigellachie village, turn onto the Bluehills Quarry road that leads past the Speyside Cooperage. I’ve often thought of stopping the truck and helping myself to a barrel, but knowing my luck I’d pick the barrel that collapses the stow. Resisting the temptation of petty larceny and a horrible death under a collapsing pile of casks, you end up on the A95 just to the north of the village of Aberlour.
Alternatively, you can continue from Huntly to Keith, then past Glentauchers (see what speed you can get round the bend outside the distillery at while keeping a clean pair of underwear), then up to Craigellachie, passing by two legendary bars – the Fiddichside Inn, closed since the death of the publican Joe Brandie in 2017 though reputedly has been bought and reopened in 2020. Coronavirus has stopped me dropping in. And of course the world famous Highlander Inn, owned by Tatsuya Minigawa. It’s a great wee pub, and has a full Flora And Fauna set on display. I’ve often wondered if he would open the Speyburn for me…. Regardless, you still end up on the A95 just to the north of the other route, having travelled an extra 5 miles.
Don’t underestimate the heady excitement of the decision I face when I approach Huntly and have to make that split second decision whether I want to go through Dufftown or Keith. It’s how I roll. The only other way home is via Tomintoul with the risk at this time of year being stuck behind a snow gate. That’s not exciting. It’s a much longer journey and unpleasant to do in the dark.
If you are a frequent flyer (or were a ‘frequent flyer’ before the days of Coronavirus) you too probably couldn’t escape Aberlour. You may not realise this, but the tiny Speyside village has two main exports – whisky, of which we will soon come to, and Shortbread. I am a frequent traveller, and I have to say in many airports around the world, and even in many foreign supermarkets, you often can’t avoid seeing the familiar red boxes with the buttery, biscuity snack. I’ve seen it in America, Canada, Poland, Indonesia, India, Singapore, France, Cyprus, Germany and the Netherlands to name a few. They’ve missed a trick, as being an eating enthusiast, I can tell you Deans of Huntly is a far superior shortbread.
As you drive through Aberlour from the north, the first thing you come to is the Shortbread factory, and the depots of Carntyne and McPherson haulage companies. If you are a regular visitor to Speyside, you will know these lorries well, especially if you are on the A95 as you are normally stuck behind them as they take ingredients, waste and produce in and out of the distilleries. Continuing on, there is the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Mash Tun pub that has a great Glenfarclas family cask collection, and lastly, there is Aberlour distillery.
I’ve visited this distillery before, lastly in 2019, but I won’t go onto say much about the distillery right now, as I’ve already rambled enough. Founded by James Fleming in 1879, the distillery has been owned by Chivas (Pernod Ricard) since 1974. I’ve got a couple more old/new drams from this distillery and I thought I would make two posts, and would enable me to kill 4 samples in quick succession. And we could also see in this case if the extra two years maturation made any difference in the next review.
Aberlour 10 has been known as a decent whisky at a very good price. Indeed if you search on Amazon (boo, hiss!) you can get it for £32, and if you are a prime member you’ll get it delivered for free. I bought a full bottle at the Speyside Whisky Shop in September for £33, and it’s now in my store. The 12 year old has recently been on sale at my local Co-op supermarket for £30, and at that price you’d be foolish not to, but both whiskies can often be seen on offer from time to time.
The value of Aberlour 10 is important. It is seen as an easy going whisky that is not particularly strong, well balanced and therefore suitable for beginners to start their adventure into Scotch Whisky. I’ve had it in the past and have to agree with this assessment, and if it is only £30-ish a bottle, what does a learner really have to lose? Aberlour also has a good reputation, so you know you aren’t drinking some random blend that could be used as a substitute for drain cleaner that is on offer at the local Costcutter. Passport Blend springs to mind.
The old 10 y.o sample I have here to taste is from an auction win during January 2021 that also included a 1990’s 12 year old. I already had a 12 year old sample from the 1980’s, but felt the generation gap wasn’t sufficient, and wasn’t wanting to open a full sized bottle to get a more adequate gap. I did however have a modern 10 year old mini which was bought in September 2020 from the Speyside Whisky Shop. I am not sure about the bottling date, as the Aberlour 10 is a dram that was always supposed to be getting discontinued since 2017, yet there is absolutely no problem in obtaining a bottle. Perhaps that shows how much production there has been, as this has been replaced in the core range by the 12 year old double cask.
Aberlour 10 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 10y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite rich, Malt, Honey, Raisins, Vanilla, McIntosh Red Apples, Caramel Palate – Well balanced. Sweet on arrival. The wood spices are restrained into the development. Nutmeg, Pepper, Malt, Butterscotch, Apricot, Sultanas Finish – medium long, with fruit, caramel and the oak spice fading off gradually. Adding 2ml of water increases the caramel and honey for me, also intensified the spices in the finish.
Aberlour 10 (2017ish)
Region – Speyside Age – 10y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Malty, Tablet (Scottish Toffee) Sultanas, Currants, Sugar Mice, Strawberry Jam Palate – a tad thin on the mouthfeel, slightly oily, creamy malt with a light toffee note and light oak spices (cinnamon) Finish – short, kind of missing in action. Toffee after a while, but mostly cinnamon. Adding 2ml of water drew out a lemon citrus for me, intensified the spice burst on the finish, but did pretty much nothing else.
I’ve often been wary of how I compare these drams. Often it is impossible to compare them blind, as I don’t have coloured glasses and often the colour of the drams lets me know whether I am currently drinking the older or newer sample. I’ve already confessed in previous blogs that I am often swayed by the colour of the whisky, which can be a big mistake. There was only a slight difference in the colour of these whiskies, but I got a pleasant confirmation to my opinion.
As most of you long term followers of my blog may realise (and if you aren’t a long term follower, then why not???) this blog is fairly basic as I write this on my mobile phone. This is an necessity when working offshore where having a laptop out during shift may be a bit awkward. Anyway, typing it out on a phone is also pretty awkward. I had just added some water to the newer sample and decided I was giving up on the phone and would swap over to the laptop. Unfortunately, I didn’t watch where I put the glass, and when I came back, to look at both drams, I couldn’t tell which one was what. My nose told me the most likely situation, but a taste gave me instant confirmation which one was what
This may not seem like a big deal, as many of you people reading this are very used to doing this, however as much as I am as well, it is also nice to have that confirmation that your assessment of the whisky was correct.
Both these whiskies are matured in the same way – Bourbon then finished in Oloroso butts I believe. However there was a pronounced difference in the two. The older dram had a much more defined sherry nose. The richness of dried fruit was there, unmistakeable signature of a sherry cask. It wasn’t as rich on the newer dram, and I have to say there was a lot more sourness in the newer dram when water was added,
The biggest downfall for the newer dram was the lack of a finish. I’m sorry, it was just not there. In my research for this dram, I’ve seen opinions that say that this particular bottling from Aberlour has been prone to batch variation, so I am not sure if my miniature has suffered from the same issues. However, I can only judge on what I have, and to be honest the combination of a richer nose, deeper palate and longer finish means that I have to award the older dram the winner of this tasting.
We’ll see if the 12 year old is any better in the next review, with a 1980’s sample against a 1990’s miniature.
The next pair of drams come from a relatively modern distillery and is the youngest distillery on my quest to find out whether or not older generation whisky is any better than its contemporaries in today’s market. The Auchroisk distillery was built in 1972 by International Distillers and Vinters to produce whisky for their J&B blends, and joined their Speyside portfolio of Knockando, Glen Spey and Strathmill. Production started in 1974, but wasn’t until 1986 that it was released as a single malt. Unfortunately it hit one main issue; how do you pronounce the name? Would the target market be able to ask for this whisky correctly? For me as a native Scots Doric speaker of the Scottish North East, I can tell you that there are many ways to pronounce many of our locations, and they’re all wrong. For a quick example, the Aberdeenshire village of Strachan is pronounced ‘Straan’; Finzean is pronounced ’Fing-inn’ and Aberchirder is known as ‘Foggie’. Fraserburgh is called the ‘Broch’. Just don’t ask why. Obviously the head honchos at IDV (that’s heidy-bummers in Scots Doric) decided that they didn’t want to engage an any geographical name nonsense so decided to release the whisky under the brand ‘Singleton’.
Well, that worked for a wee while, but this was retired in 2001 when the distillery became part of the Flora and Fauna range. And now we have to learn how to say Auchroisk; it’s aw-thrusk. Don’t believe any of the non-Doric speakers telling you it’s Orth-rusk. That might be how it sounds to you if you have a silver spoon up your bottom, but it’s wrong. To be honest, even if you get the the pronunciation wrong, you’ll easily be understood should you be lucky enough to see this in a bar.
The Singleton range wasn’t fully retired. By 2006 it was used again for three distilleries – Glen Ord (marketed heavily in Asia), Glendullan (marketed in US and Canada) and Dufftown (marketed in Europe). These are termed ‘recruitment’ malts which get people lured into buying Diageo’s more premium produce such as Mortlach. To be honest, it can’t be used for linguistic simplicity as if you can’t pronounce these three distilleries then perhaps you are either not old enough to drink or maybe whisky isn’t for you. Certainly don’t try ordering a Bunnahabhain; only on grounds of the tongue twisting challenge you’d face. Stick to Bells, it will be directly on your level.
As you may all know by now, I’ve got a wee bit of a fondness for the Flora and Fauna whiskies, but will the older one be better? I’ve not got a full size Auchroisk open at the moment, so will have to use a mini from Drinks By The Dram, along with a miniature which obtained in a multiple bottle auction lot. The older whisky was distilled in 1983 and bottled in 1993, making it 10 years old. It’s time to see how they compare.
Singleton of Auchroisk 1983
Region – Speyside Age – Vintage but believed to be 10 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Amontillado Sherry (0.9) Cask Type – States Sherry on label Colouring – Not known but likely Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, raisin, green apples, smells quite creamy and oily, vanilla, pipe tobacco Palate -A good balanced oak spice, peppery, ginger, nutmeg, honey, green orchard fruit, a note of hay. There is a cardboard note that I am assuming is the seal but does not linger if the spirit is held on the tongue. Finish – medium long. Oak spices slowly dissipate leaving honey and pepper to linger on the tongue. Custard and wet brown paper with a slight hint of sulphur. 2ml of water increases the fruitiness on the palate and almost killed the cardboard note. Got a taste that reminded me of coconut on my second dram.
Auchroisk 10 year old Flora And Fauna
Region – Speyside Age – 10 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Jonquripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Subtle honey, vanilla, pears in custard, hint of barley and lemon. Palate – Quite citrusy arrival with a bitter taste, leading into peppery oak and green apple peel. Caramel sweets – Werther’s Originals Finish Short. Burst of peppery spices with a bitter lemon chaser. Herbal. 2ml of water definitely smoothed this whisky out. Strangely it lengthens the finish but didn’t really alter much of the taste profile. Perhaps a bit more caramel in the palate.
It became quickly apparent that these whiskies had only 2 things in common – the place of their birth and their age. The earlier whisky has been finished in Sherry casks, though I have a doubt that it was a full maturation. The 10 year old seems to have a bourbon only profile. I have a source that has told me that Singleton is possibly ony
These whiskies were the only official bottling from this distillery. Its 2001 appearance along with three other Speysiders (Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill, in the Flora and Fauna series seems to be a way of adding to the range as other distilleries were closed (Pittyvaich and Rosebank) or sold (Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Craigellachie, Royal Brackla, Speyburn). The standard Flora and Fauna range is bottled at 43% so this is a positive move to step up from the Singletons basic 40%.
The other noticeable difference was the colour of the spirit. Both drams I suspect are not natural colour, the older one being darker but this had come from a Sherry cask, so it may be expected to have a different shade. Can’t help but think it has a bit of assistance in its colour like Trump. This sample was coincidentally drunk on the day Trump lost his day job to an older man. Fancy that.
Despite only a 3% increase in abv, the dram did seem a lot brighter, sharper. There was a similar warmth in both drams nose but the sherry notes didn’t come out in the older bottle until I was on the second dram. The older bottle also seemed to have been suffering a bit from old bottle effect, as the cardboard note reminded me of the seal. However this seal was tight and in good condition, so I don’t know.
Here is where it gets hard. I prefer sherried whisky to bourbon only maturation, so to pick a winner between these two is not easy. I preferred the nose and palate on the older dram, yet the newer dram was more punchier, had a bit more bite, and responded to water a bit better.
Going to have to put this one down to being an inconclusive result. If you get either dram, both will give you the same levels of enjoyment, it just depends on your tastes.
Once upon a time….. yeah, that’s not how this story is going to turn out I’m afraid. No Hans Christian Andersen here, this is strictly adult story territory here. The emblem of Glengoyne is a Swan, so whether or not one of these whiskies graduates from an ugly duckling to a graceful swan remains to be seen. I tend to like happy endings here at Scotty’s Drams.
I’ve reviewed Glengoyne 10 before and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed. However it didn’t stop me buying an 18 year old 70cl bottle when the range had a facelift and it was going cheap on Amazon. Of course I know what I’ve said about shopping on Amazon for whisky, but this was a rare occurrence. I still buy the majority of my spirits from independents. But would this time be any different? Would I notice a difference in taste?
Glengoyne is a Highland distillery (only just) as the dividing boundary is on the road outside. The stills are in the Highland Region and the warehouses are in the Lowland region. It is currently owned by Ian Macleod Distillers, who also own Tamdhu. They have owned the distillery since 2003, when they bought it from Edrington. The spirit made here is completely unpeated.
As this is a comparison review, I’m not going to say too much about the distillery history, but concentrate on the whisky. The two bottles I have are both 10 years old and both at 40% abv. The older one has suffered a little evaporation it seems despite having quite a tight seal. This was bottled in the 1980’s so we can forgive a little bit. The modern version was bought in 2020, just before the rebrand. Let’s see what one gives the best dram experience.
Glengoyne 10 (old)
Region -Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Sherry, possibly Bourbon in the marriage Colouring – Not known but suspect Yes Chill Filtered – Nose – Toffee, Raisins, Vanilla, quite fruity, slight cereal note. Green apple. Palate – Toffee and vanilla continue, with the raisin note decreased slightly. Leather, slight liquorice notes, and a hint of nut. Soft oak with a waxy mouthfeel. Nut and oak increase with water. Finish – medium. Sweet with soft oak spiciness, chocolate, mocha and butterscotch. Adding water increases spices at the end. There is also a slight interaction from the bottle.
Glengoyne 10 y.o (new)
Region – Highland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – 30% Sherry, 70% Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Toffee, Green Apple, Honey, Lemon, a hint of cereal. Quite crisp Palate – Apples, grass, waxy mouthfeel but not a heavy wax. Almost indistinguishable oak note, faint white pepper. Finish – short. Ginger. Lemon, Apple. Adding water to this dram made little difference to N,P & F.
Some fairly damning opinions here. I will hold back from saying that they are ‘facts’ as this is just my experience.
The manufacturer has been quite open about how the new bottling is put together. This should be applauded when many distilleries say nothing about the make up of their whiskies. This one was Sherry cask (15% European Oak and 15% American Oak) and 70% refill bourbon casks. To be frank, I struggled to taste much of the sherry effect in this dram.
Let’s contrast this to the 1980’s version. Despite the obvious effects of age, this dram in the nose alone screamed “I’ve been in a Sherry Cask”. I do believe there has been a touch of bourbon cask involvement, I can’t tell you if the spirit has been re-racked or married with bourbon cask. Whatever it is, the oak notes are a lot more pronounced, where in comparison the new version the oak notes were almost missing in action.
My main thought is whether or not this whisky has fallen foul of poorer quality casks or more reliance on bourbon maturation. The modern 10 isn’t a bad whisky and although I haven’t enjoyed it particularly over the past two reviews, that is just my personal taste. Too many people enjoy Glengoyne for me not to accept it is a decent brand, and perhaps that I’ll enjoy something a wee bit older. I’ve an 18 y.o miniature for that purpose.
You can buy the old style Glengoyne at auction for around £80. Bit pricey for a drinking 10 year old but I’ve tasted a lot worse and paid a lot more for it. Be aware it’s a screw top, so the seal may not be perfect and the waxed cardboard will have an effect if it has been incorrectly stored. The modern Glengoyne retails around the £30 mark.
Despite being from an old bottle and slightly evaporated, the old style Glengoyne wins hands down, mostly due to having a superior nose and palate.
Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.
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.
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 – 70proof (40%) Colour -Mahogany (1.6) Cask Type –not 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 2007
Region -Speyside Age – 8 y.o Strength – 64.1% Colour – chestnut Oloroso (Cask Type – not 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.
Region – Speyside Age – vintage, approx 8 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type -not known Colouring – No.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
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.
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.
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.
Ever bitten off more than you can chew? I certainly have. Whilst it seemed like a good idea to compare old and new versions of whisky to see if we did have it better back in the day, I’m now faced with a massive backlog of drams. It’s becoming pretty daunting having to face constant dramming to enable me to complete this series before I head off to work again.
Such is the demand on my time, I have had to make the difficult decision to ramp up my publishing to 2 reviews a week. That’s up to 4 whisky reviews. It’s not just the case of sitting with an easy sipper; to review you aren’t just drinking the liquid, but constantly thinking and analysing what is in your glass.
Region – Lowland Age – 10 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Cask Type – Not Known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Rich Toffee, Honey, Heather. Quite fresh considering the age of the bottle Palate – quite a light mouthfeel, not oily but more like syrup from canned fruit. Citrus, slightly floral too. Peppery Finish – medium short. Peppery and malty at the end.
Auchentoshan 12 (2018)
Region – Lowland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Cask Type – 10 years Bourbon / 2 years oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Malty. Smells as though something has gone off, vegetal note, nutty, toasted bread. Caramac bars. A whiff of smoke.Palate – quite oaky and agressive. Definite taste of smoke, perhaps char from the cask, as I believe this to be unpeated. Mixed spice, honey, a slight sourness such as passion fruit. Finish – medium/short. Bit citrusy and sour with a slight whiff of TCP. Pretty insipid.
I have to say that I wonder why Auchentoshan decided to move from a 43% age statement at 10 years old to a 12 year old at 40%. It is without a doubt one of the more backward things a company could have done, especially in the age where consumers are more discerning. Both drams were chill filtered, both appear to have colouring added. While the 10 year old is from an era where these things are acceptable, whisky drinkers are wanting more nowadays.
Both drams lacked any complexity and adding water did nothing to them for me. After an hour with the 12 year old after adding water I found to be drinkable. I’m no expert, but I feel that the use of a re-racking for 2 years in Oloroso casks may be as a result of the use of tired, worn out wood. The char in the 12 year old was particularly noticeable to the point I almost thought it was peated. I didn’t get a lot, if any of the sherried barrels. More evidence of worn out wood.
Why they don’t bottle at 46%, natural colour and non chill filtered astounds me. Being triple distilled, you’d expect a smooth dram, but this wasn’t. One thinks the more diluted product at bottling and poor wood means that the distillery are attempting to maximise profits. The assumed re-racking of this offers little benefit. No matter how much you polish a turd, it’s still a turd. However, I’m not saying it this whisky is rubbish because I didn’t like it.
The ten year old, whilst lacking in complexity was a pleasant, though underwhelming experience and I much preferred this one. Adding water to this made it more relaxed and easy to drink, though I didn’t get any extra tastes from it. The experience was similar to my last review of a 1990’s Auchentoshan, which i did enjoy though this older edition was better.
It’s a shame, as I’ve always been put off slightly by the amount of non age statement whisky Auchentoshan have released. While I am sure they are all competent whiskies, I’m reluctant to try it if this what an age stated whisky is like. I guess I’ve just not had the right nip from this Clydeside distillery yet.
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.
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.
Benromach 12 (old style)
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.
Benromach 10 (2018 bottling)
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.
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.
We come to the second round in the battle between old whisky and new whisky. In the first round we found out that I preferred the older whisky. But will it be the same on this occasion?
Glenfarclas is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. Situated to the north of the tiny village of Marypark, Ballindalloch, the distillery was started by Robert Hay as a farm distillery. Although it was only granted a licence to distil in 1836, there is evidence that distilling was happening for some time before that. By 1865, the distillery had been bought by the Grant Family, who have held it ever since.
The water source for the distillery comes from springs on the slopes of Benrinnes, the tallest hill in the local region. Glenfarclas is known for putting its spirit into sherry casks for maturation, with a mixture of European Oak Oloroso Hogsheads and butts being used. Glenfarclas is one of the few distilleries to directly heat their stills from underneath. In the early 1980’s steam was tried, but this altered the quality of the new make spirit, so it was back to direct fire.
I’ve always enjoyed the whisky made at Glenfarclas. It’s a good, solid reliable performer. I didn’t really take to a 15 yr old sample I had at one point, but that has been very much the exception. It came to pass that I had a visit to the distillery in October 2019, but seeing that I was driving and a law abiding citizen, I couldn’t partake of a sample. The distillery give drivers a 5cl bottle of the 10 year old, so when a bottle of 10 year old of yesteryear came into my possession, then the stage was set for what would become this head to head. Without any further ado, let battle commence
Glenfarclas 10 (Old)
Region -Speyside Age -10 years Strength – 40% Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type -Oloroso Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -Not Stated, suspect yes Nose -Instant hit of sherry sweetness. Strong smell of raisins and sultanas, toffee, vanilla, chocolate, light oak. Palate – Instantly warming, sweet honeycomb, dried fruit, cinnamon spices with a light fizz on the tongue. The mouthfeel is like a big hug, covering the mouth in a syrupy blanket. Finish – Long and smooth with honey and spices warming the mouth and throat.
Glenfarclas 10 (New)
Region – Speyside Age – 10 years Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Oloroso Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Not stated, suspect yes Nose -Sweet, honey, toffee, malt, barley, grassy Palate – oily, same spicy note as the old version. I find this more malty and less honey and dried fruit impact. Finish – Medium. Spicy tones fade off quicker than previous. Honey continues and I’m left with a bit of burnt rubber at the end – sulphur.
Both very strong drams. The old version of the 10 yr old started off with a disadvantage, in that I didn’t realise that this bottle in the time I had it in my possession had a slightly loose cap, resulting in a wee bit of evaporation. However in the end, it was the older version of the 10 year old expression that won. In my opinion not by a little bit, but by a country mile. The sherry cask influences were much more apparent in the older expression and there was a much more mouthfeel, despite the evaporation.
I find it interesting that I get a small burst of sulphur at the end of the new expression, which is the same as the 15 year old I reviewed last year, but not in the older edition. I wonder if it is something to do with the evaporation? Perhaps the spirit has had (more than adequate) time to breathe and oxidise. Those greedy whisky angels have had more than their fair share.
Glenfarclas 10 is available in shops for around £35 to £40. The older style is only available on the secondary market, and the 1990’s edition has gained in value somewhat, with prices up to around £115 including auction fees.
Next head to head in around a month’s time will be from the Benromach distillery.
Whether or not you want to, it is pretty hard to escape the fact that the world of whisky is expanding beyond all expectations. We don’t even need to stop at whisky, for there is still a lot of expansion in other distilled spirits such as premium rums and craft gins and it doesn’t seem to be stopping. More and more people are getting in on the concept of collecting. I’ve been asked by quite a few people recently about collecting and its enough to make it worthwhile to write another article on it. I’ve already written extensively on this in the past, but I feel now it is appropriate to bring you a more up to date article which encompasses some of the experiences that I have had as well as conversations I have had with various people within the whisky industry.
What is collectible?
This is all down to personal preference. We all have different things that excite us in the whisky world. Some people only collect from one distillery, some people may only collect certain vintages, certain age statements. We’ve all heard of the generous father who gave his son a bottle of 18 year old Macallan for his birthday, allowing his son to sell it and use the profit to help him move onto the property ladder, there really is no limit on what is and isn’t collectable, but you have to look at why you are collecting and this will determine what will be suitable for you to collect.
This is a question I put to Andy Simpson of Rare Whisky 101. Andy has been a whisky collector as long as he has been legally allowed to be, as well as being a collector, he is a broker, valuer and consultant to the Scotch Whisky Industry. Andy and I had some very interesting conversations over our joy of whisky collecting and seeing as I was going to have to rebuild my collection slightly, I thought it made sense to ask Andy what would be appropriate to collect in the future.
“There are three properties to collectible whiskies” Andy explained to me over the phone. “which are desirability, collectability and investability.” He went onto explain how every bottle will have different amounts of each property, and where it has good levels of all three, then that is where you have a suitable bottle.
Desirability. Does the bottle have a physical property that makes people want to own it? Is it a whisky with an in demand flavour profile? Does it have attractive packaging?
Collectability Is it a rare release? Is it from an in demand distillery or bottler? Is it part of a set that you already own? Is it discontinued or from a silent distillery?
Investability This can be a product of the desirability and collectability. This is because if a whisky is rare and in demand, then the chances of it being investment grade are high. However, true investment grade whisky is likely to beyond the means of most people reading my blog. We are looking at items like Macallan where some bottles easily reach into five figures. Investability (which isn’t really a word in the English dictionary) is not likely to occur from a bottle that can be bought in your local supermarket. You are looking to source bottles at specialist whisky shops, distilleries or auctions to get a better chance of making a profit.
If you are considering whisky that has all of these attributes then you have a bottle that is likely to be in demand.
What sort of collector am I?
I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of collectors are people who perhaps just collected a bottle here and there, perhaps to drink, perhaps to save for a rainy day. Few might go down the investment route from the beginning. Has it been that people have got the idea that is often fuelled by the media and the producers themselves that whisky is a premium investment option? Just because something appeared on the Knight Frank index does not mean it will continue to do so.
The types of collector fall into a handful of very easy categories. 1/ Drinkers – Those who want to collect to have a good stash of a favourite dram on standby. 2/ Hobbyists. Those who take pride in owning bottles. 3/ Investors. Those who are buying whisky in order to realise profit, expecting their whisky to go up in value. 4/ Flippers. Those who take advantage of new releases to sell quickly after release to those who either can’t wait for a bottle or aren’t able to get a bottle.
Of course there can be blurring of the borders between the four types of collector. I don’t know if a flipper actually counts as a collector as some don’t even touch the bottle they buy, often getting retailers to send straight to the auctioneers. Personally, I’m a bit of the first three types. I have whisky in store that I know I plan to drink, whisky I’ve wanted to own because I like the presentation and whisky I have bought deliberately as an investment.
For those who drink or those who collect just to own bottles they admire, then what they choose to collect is entirely personal and dependent on their own tastes. However if you want to collect to realise a profit, no matter how small, there are guidelines that you would be well advised to stick to.
1. Have a collection policy or an aim.
This might not be particularly obvious, but if you want to maximise profits, then you have to target what you want to collect. In the start of my collecting journey, I initially started collecting bottles from distilleries that could be seen on my journey between home and Aberdeen. As this passes through Speyside, that encompassed many distilleries. I didn’t just collect any bottles, I collected those that were limited edition. Let’s face it, a standard 12 year old Glenfiddich unless its ancient is never going to realise much value.
I moved onto collecting Flora and Fauna bottlings. It’s advisable if you are going to collect a certain type of bottle, then attempt to get the whole collection. When the time comes to sell, you will be able to attract two types of buyers; those who want the whole collection or those who wish to a bottle at a time. Make sure however you are aware of the likely cost of all the collection before you start. For instance, many Flora and Fauna bottles cost around under £200. However, rarer bottles like the white cap first editions often go for over £400. The holy grail of the collection is the Speyburn, which was only made for one batch according to legend. This bottle has started regularly achieving hammer prices of over £2000.
2. Buy bottles that are likely to realise an increase in value
There is absolutely no sense in buying bottles for investment just because they are available. They have to be able to realise an increase in value and realistically you need to be buying bottles that will be in demand in the future. Bottles that would come under this criteria are most normally limited editions with low numbers released. There is a problem with the title ‘Limited Edition’ as in a lot of cases it isn’t really rare at all.
Realistically speaking, if you can buy it off the shelves of your supermarket, then it is generally not going to be a bottle that will be collectable. There are some exceptions, but you will have to generally keep hold of the bottle for many decades to realise a decent increase in value.
Unfortunately, many bottles increase in value not due to the whisky inside of them, but due to the brand. The whisky inside them may not be the best example of what that distillery can produce, but the demand is there. Distilleries such as Macallan, Ardbeg, Highland Park and Glenmorangie spring to mind. It is pretty hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, but you have to buy the right one. The quality of the whisky in a 1980’s distilled 10 year old is far superior to some of the Double Oak and Triple Oak expressions available now in my opinion so it pays to do your research. Not that any are bad whiskies, it’s all a matter of relativity and personal opinion. And while I did say it was hard to lose money on a Macallan bottle, it is possible and I personally know of one person who has lost £100 on a higher value release. It’s not me I hasten to add, although the person in question is quite open about it.
Bottles that are likely to go up in value are those from silent distilleries, bottles that were popular and discontinued, single cask bottles from an in demand distillery. Cask strength editions are quite worthy as well, but you have to keep an eye on how many are produced. Something like Glenfarclas 105 will not go up in value, as it is a core range and many thousands have been produced, however a limited run of a cask strength bottle such as a Glenfarclas family cask will most likely increase in value, or a bottle such as a festival release with limited numbers.
Also popular are the bottles from first releases from new distilleries. However buying these on the secondary market soon after release usually means the price has been distorted by flippers, so it is always better to buy straight from the initial point of sale.
3. Know of the potential value of the bottle before you buy.
Yes, it is nice to get your hands on a rare Glenugie, the Peterhead distillery that was the first distillery to close as part of the 1983 mass cull of distilleries due to a surplus of production. However when buying such a bottle, it is always better to get it straight from a retailer on the primary market. If you buy such bottles on the secondary market, such as from an online auction or whisky broker, then you have to be aware of the going price for the bottles. While you may be happy in paying £400 for the bottle at auction, it’s not really a good investment if the ceiling for that bottle is £450. A closed distillery may not be the best example, as eventually supply will run out at some point, but the same goes for any bottle. Look at those people paying over £2000 for a Macallan Genesis – the market price has seen a lot of these bottles sell now for around £1400 at auction. Yes, given time the price will probably go back up again, but that depends on how demand continues for them. If you overpay, then you have to hold onto the bottle for longer to realise a profit, or stand to make a loss.
It’s worth pointing out that in some cases, original bottlings often are more profitable than independent bottlers, but this is not always the case. Buying a whisky bottled by Signatory, Gordon & Macphail, Cadenhead, Adelphi, James Eadie, That Boutique-y Whisky Company amongst others can realise good prices. Certainly an Invergordon 42 year old whisky from TBWC I’ve been chasing has certainly increased in value, and I know from the bidding action it is very much in demand. I think the original release price for Batch 15 was in the region of £115. I had to pay close to £200 once auction fees were considered. However, I have tasted it in the past and it is a great dram, making a good explanation for why the price has gone up.
4. Know your potential buyer
When buying, think about who is likely to buy what you are selling. This is why gimmicks like the Game Of Thrones whisky wasn’t really a good investment. Apart from those complete sets flipped just after release, it is rare to see a complete set break even. It is unlikely to ever make much of a profit if any at all. Limited editions tied to a TV show are unlikely to make money as they are normally manufactured in large amounts.
‘Limited Edition’ is often a misnomer, as something produced in its hundreds of thousands, but only made available for a 6 months or so is still technically a limited edition. You need to see my article on Game Of Thrones whisky to understand that the only people likely to buy this are fans of the show. And they’ll already have a set or two. With no real auction demand, unfortunately you are stuck with it or will not be able to sell for any profit. Remember most auctioneers take between 5 and 10% on the hammer price which when Game of Thrones has already got a hammer price well under the original RRP makes the blow a little bit harder.
This is why I always advise do not buy anything you are not prepared to drink. Buying bottles like Macallan, Ardbeg and Highland Park may have higher prices, but there is a healthy secondary market for these bottles, as people buy them to drink, especially whisky bars in Asia who’s clientele are demanding rare whisky and are prepared to pay for it.
This is also the risk in single cask bottlings. You need somebody to want the single cask whisky you have as there can be duds going about that haven’t been well received, but this can be mitigated by buying from an in-demand distillery. It’s hard for me to suggest individual distilleries, but I myself have usually restricted myself to single cask bottlings from GlenAllachie, GlenDronach, Invergordon, Glentauchers, Dailuaine, Benrinnes and Tamdhu. I have other single casks, but these for me are the brands I like.
5. Don’t overstretch.
It goes without saying that you should not overstretch. If you are a low grade investor, the best advice I can give you is set a budget for what you are prepared to spend to collect. Perhaps a monthly budget – you don’t have to spend it all in one go, but perhaps roll it over to another month. What ever you do, it is important not to spend more than you are prepared to drink, as there is a possibility that the situation may happen. With that in mind, it is also helpful if you collect stuff that you would enjoy drinking – if you don’t like peaty whisky, then there is no sense in collecting Ardbeg for example. Just in case, you understand! It all depends whether or not you are prepared to take the risk.
6. Speculate to accumulate.
As with any investment, you have to consider what bottles give most value. I’ll put it here that if you are only going to collect bottles at £30ish then the chances of any sort of profit are minimal. They are not extinguished, but from my experience the more you can spend on a bottle, the more it is likely to have a chance in going up in value. I can give three examples to show relative profits.
Aberlour 10 – decent enough whisky. Can be bought for £35-45. I am aware that it is getting discontinued in favour of a 12 year old expression. This whisky is mass produced, and while a decent whisky there will be a lot of this hanging around in people’s drink cabinets. It’s a simple yet pretty good value Speyside whisky. However, it is highly unlikely in the period of 10 years to double in value.
Old Pulteney 17 – Another mass produced whisky, but perhaps not as much as the Aberlour above. This was discontinued in 2018. It was reviewed by American YouTube vBloggers Scotch 4 Dummies as potentially the best Old Pulteney ever. Cost used to be £74ish. I’ve just had a look on Amazon, and the cheapest new one they are advertising is £203. It can be had a lot cheaper elsewhere, but the thing is that editon was a very popular whisky. Just looking at one auction site, the price has peaked at £110, yet averages at £85. It has only been discontinued for two years, so many of the people buying it are likely still to be drinking it. Once supply narrows down, this will be a good whisky from an old era. The price is likely only to do one thing.
Bruichladdich Octomore X4+10 – Now we look at a whisky that was a limited release. £150 on release and only 3000 produced. Sold out instantly. This is a quadruple distilled whisky at 70% and ten years old. However it was only in a 50cl bottle. However just looking at one auction site, this peaked at £281 some three months after release and now sells for anywhere between £210 and £250. Even at the lower value, thats £60 in less than a year on an initial investment of £150. As these get drunk, the value will only go up, but will reach a ceiling value of which I estimate to be in the £300 – £350 range maximum. I own two, and I can guarantee one will be getting cracked open.
Can you see the pattern? The more that gets spent on a whisky, the potential to realise an in value increases also. In my experience if you spend below £100 a bottle as an investment, you are unlikely to see great profits and it may only hold its value. Factor in selling costs and you may only break even. However, if you are collecting as a hobby because owning certain whiskies or brands gives you an amount of pleasure and pride, then profit is not your main motive so you should not expect to make any. Harsh, but fair as you’ve received value in the pride factor and not the monetary factor.
7. Be aware what is getting relabelled.
For those who want to collect a specific whisky, they are more likely to be looking for all variants of it. So when a distillery is rebranding, people will want the new style in their collection. Doesn’t necessarily have to be an expensive whisky. Example – GlenDronach, BenRiach and Glenglassaugh were all sold by Billy Walker to Brown Foreman. While there has not been a rebranding of all the whisky (BenRiach recently has undergone a rebrand), there has been subtle changes to the bottles, such as the new Master Blender signature changing to Rachael Barrie instead of Billy Walker. This gives the bottling a distinct ‘marker’ of when it was produced, therefore collectors in the future will easily be able to tell the era the bottle was from.
Another distillery that has rebranded, Glengoyne, recently had it’s 18 yr old expression for sale on Amazon for £20 less than normal retail, possibly in an effort to sell old stock. That is good for drinkers (cheap drink!) but is also good for collectors who have more margin to realise a profit should they ever sell.
This is why with intelligent buying, you don’t have to go for the expensive whisky. It can be enough to buy an affordable bottle and just wait for a rebrand or a recipe change. An example is GlenDronach 15 Revival. The original recipe had to be discontinued for three years due to lack of sufficient stock to make up the malt. Three years later, it reappeared and has since undergone another recipe change according to my sources. The original bottles have increased
8. Be aware what is getting released or discontinued.
First bottlings from any distillery are usually a safe bet, especially if in limited numbers. Be careful if you are buying them on the secondary market as you may be overpaying, Similarly be aware of what is getting discontinued.
It can help being on the mailing lists of distilleries to see when new releases are coming. Often that gives you access to any ballots for limited releases or first chances to purchase. I used to be on the mailing list for a few distilleries, such as Macallan and Ardbeg, but have now decided to cut back as I am no longer really interested in these brands enough to be on their marketing lists.
9.Make sure you have a place to keep your collection
It’s all well and good collecting whisky. But if you are not drinking it, or not drinking it quick enough, then you will have to ensure that you have somewhere to keep it. If you are collecting for investment, then you need to make sure that it is in a place that keeps your bottles in prime condition. I’ve written on this extensively here and here (click on links) but to quickly summarise it needs to be somewhere not exposed to constant light and the temperature has to remain stable and not at extremes – lofts, attics and garages are not good places. I personally have a storage locker, but that comes with its own risks – see here
10.Make sure it is covered.
Again, I have gone into this in detail before here and here, but regardless of where you keep your collection, make sure that it is covered under insurance. Keep an eye on the values of any high value bottles as they may go up and exceed the single item limit on your house insurance. Having large amounts of bottles in your house may also compromise your house insurance too if there was a fire. Best look into specialist insurance. This is a given if you are using a storage facility – get professional whisky insurance and don’t rely on the insurance offered. There are normally limits on alcohol pay outs -my first storage location limited me to £10K.
11.Keep an eye on the value of your collection.
You need to keep an eye on the value of your collection for a few reasons. Firstly and most importantly is for insurance purposes. This will make sure you have adequate cover for your collection.
Keep a regular check on what the more expensive bottles in your collection are doing at auction. These are the bottles that you stand to make the most profit on if bought at the right price, but equally could be the bottles you lose most on. You may find that the price is dropping as a bottle is going out of favour and it may be a good time to sell. However, don’t let one or two auctions be the decider – use a service like Rare Whisky 101 to check every so often to see the average prices. Investment in whisky bottles is best played out over the long term, similar to any investment, so it is sometimes better to hold your nerve.
If collecting to realise profit, then you have to keep an eye on how to sell it. There are limited options as it is illegal to sell alcohol without a licence, therefore you have to use an auctioneer or a broker. These often come with charges or commission, so you have to factor this into your final profit or loss.
Auctions are a risk as you need somebody to want to buy your bottle for it to sell. Ideally you want two or three people to want to buy it, as a bidding war often results in a better price for you. But here’s the hint why you don’t really collect stuff off the supermarket shelves – its been made in its thousands, supply is likely plentiful on the secondary market, therefore people don’t have to have bidding wars.
The other risk in selling is that you have to ensure that you are not selling in quantities regularly enough that could attract the attentions of the authorities. You may be selling in such a way the tax authorities may deem you as a trader. This could have legal as well as tax implications. Advice I have been given in the past is that if not selling everything at once is sell in larger tranches.
You have to be aware that selling bottles of whisky, this can expose you to tax liablity, especially Capital Gains tax if you reside in the UK. This is because unlike casks of whisky, bottles are not seen as a depreciating asset and therefore can be used in any tax liability. Of course, this depends on how you sell it as you will also need to avoid being seen as a trader too if conducting frequent sales. A reputable whisky broker will be able to advise you.
l would like to point out that this is not an exhaustive list. If you decide to collect for profit, then all I can really say is do not spend more money than you can afford to lose or drink. It’s a hobby, do not let it be your downfall. If you want to make bigger levels of profit for less work, I’d consider cask purchase ONLY THROUGH A REPUTABLE DEALER and not through any of these advertised investment schemes. Cask investment also potentially comes with some large tax costs and you need to have a plan on what to do once the cask reaches maturity. Essentially the only way to make profits is to sell in bond.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that collecting in whisky is becoming more and more popular. However I feel in the UK that we are potentially in the path of a perfect storm that may crash bottle auction prices and also affect the industry as a whole. Back in the 1980’s the whisky industry severely constricted due to oversupply. Whisky distilleries were shut wholesale, some never to reopen. The term coined for the period I’ve often seen as the ‘Whisky Loch’. Well, I feel we are reaching a point that we now have a Glass Loch building in the cupboards across the UK. Supply has never been so good, and with many new distilleries coming online, people are seeing bottle collecting as an easy way to make money.
However, I feel the dam holding back the Glass Loch is on shaky foundations. While auction prices are healthy at the moment, the global economy may not be. Without taking the political view but based on fact, the UK economy is in a very precarious position, caused by the Coronavirus and the potential effects of Brexit. Should the economy fail and there is mass unemployment or raised taxes, there will be a pinch on the pockets of the public. People will then see their whisky for what it is – a luxury. Faced with having to make mortgage payments, I predict that a good many people will be selling parts of their collections or even in their entirety. This will have the result of potentially lowering secondary prices.
This has two outcomes for us as collectors and investors. Falling auction prices mean availability of bottles at reasonable prices goes up. Any investment in whisky should always be seen as a long term strategy. Buying cheap now at auction could realise great benefits in the future. But in the second outcome it also potentially means that our collections go down in value too. Hold your nerve as long as possible. Those people who do will benefit, as the lowering of prices will also potentially mean more of those collected bottles get drunk or end up in the hands of those who will drink them. A shortening of supply means when the market swings back the other way, our bottles will be that little bit rarer. And worth more.
Please realise that I am not a professional and am only writing this based on my experience as a collector myself and what I have seen in market performance within the secondary market. I cannot reiterate enough that you must only purchase what you can afford to drink or are comfortable to lose.
Last bits of advice? Collecting for personal enjoyment or profit can give immense levels of satisfaction. You can learn lots about the whisky industry as you research your bottles. Have fun but remember that when the fun stops, stop.
And don’t forget to open a bottle in the stash every now and again. Collecting without tasting is a bit soulless.