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…
Not one to be positive when there is a chance of negativity, in this article you could say I’ve hit the jackpot. I’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory somewhat, but it is a hollow victory.
One of the issues of being a whisky geek is working out when you need to switch off from the constant marketing, promotions and opinions from those in the whisky social media circles that you mix in. While you may get a lot of enjoyment of having a massive and consistent whisky geek out, for me I’ve been finding this more of a burden than a blessing. While I usually have broad shoulders for these sort of things, I’ve become tired of bearing the load, so I’ve decided to shed some of the dead weight that troubles me. But like my big belly, this weight isn’t the easiest to offload.
I understand the need for marketing and pushing a product. Otherwise how would we know what is new and available? How would we get information about products? It can just be anything from subtle advertising in a publication or repeated adverts online – a personal hate of mine. Or it can be countless people online repeating the same stories countless times. Don’t ask me about Whisky Santa or Tweet Tastings – those got muted some time ago.
Before you are wondering what has happened to make me so bitter and twisted, don’t worry, I’m not. I’m just tired and have developed a low tolerance for faff that continually targets me but provides little benefit to my journey. I first spotted this issue after a visit to Glen Ord distillery in February 2020. Before I start this semi-rant, I’d be interested to find out how many people feel the same, so pay attention to my points.
Once upon a time Diageo had three Singletons – Glendullan which was for the US market. Dufftown was for the European market and Glen Ord was for the Asian market. Therefore, before I visited Glen Ord it was a distillery I knew little about. That’s because most of their produce goes directly overseas to the Far East, where they don’t seem to be able to get enough of it.
It’s a pleasant enough distillery, with all the same bits that other distilleries have. The tour started with a video and off we went around the plant. But what stood out to me was the guide. I remember their name, but I won’t mention it for not wanting to embarrass them, but I have to say it was the worst tour I’ve ever had in a distillery. Not because the guide was unpleasant – indeed they were polite and courteous. My fellow visitors were the same. What made it the worst tour for me was the constant company propaganda.
Of course, each distillery will try to make their product look as good as possible. Go to the Tellytubby-like distillery of Macallan and it’s a full on assault of the senses with audio visuals. Despite me not being a big fan of Macallan, I was expecting the sort of bombast from what is undeniably an iconic brand. Given the impressive nature of their new distillery and the premier status of their product, there was no way that they weren’t going to shout from the rooftops about what they do.
But we now look back to Glen Ord. This is a brand not many people in the UK know, unless you are a whisky geek. Or you may have had an independently bottled spirit, picked up one through a Diageo special release or travel retail. While I have never owned a bottle of Glen Ord, I have tasted it before and it wasn’t anything stunning. So it grated on me a little bit when my guide was singing the company line. Everything the distillery did was apparently to the highest standard that no other distillery matched.
You can’t blame the guide for trying. But for this weary whisky geek it was too much – the trip switch got flicked and rather than turn me on to the brand, it turned me off. It got to the point that I could not wait to get out of there.
As mine was a solo trip, the samples given at the end had to be put into a drivers pack for me to taste at home. The tour at the time gave out samples of the 12, 15 and 18 year old. If I remember correctly, the 12 was bourbon matured cask, the 18 Sherry matured and the 15 was a 50:50 mix of both. And unusually instead of the usual Glencairn style glass you get from a visit to a Diageo distillery, the glass given was a rocker glass. Unusual to me, as I prefer the Glencairn, it was at least a full sized glass. At last I had found something to intrigue me, but it didn’t fire my imagination too much as the glass went into the cupboard and the samples went to the back of the cabinet and got forgotten about.
So we come now to the present day. I took it upon myself to sort out the whisky samples in the display cabinet in the kitchen. There lies the wreckage of samples tried then forgotten as I either didn’t care for it or I had just not got around to tasting them. There, hiding in the background were the Glen Ord. Better late than never I suppose, and this would give me the chance to clear three sample bottles. It also gave me the chance to test the rocker glass I had also been ignoring.
I wanted to be positive. Trust me, I did so badly. I wanted to like this whisky. Alas it was not to be. What I thought should have been a 10ml sample wasn’t even that (8ml x 3) and looked decidedly pathetic in the glass. I don’t know if this affected my perception of the whisky, but I’ll be honest and say it didn’t help. The samples were only really two sips each which made it almost impossible to do any serious tasting of the whisky, so hence in this review there are no tasting notes.
To be truthful, I did get the aroma profile of a bourbon, sherry and mixed casks from the nosing but it would be impossible to say much about the flavour profile as the samples were so small it wasn’t easy to tell. Yes, again there were hints of sherry and bourbon, but that’s about it. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the drams if I was to be honest. If you are going to shout about how good your product is, at least give us enough to be able to taste it.
And here we come to the worst point – this is a whisky aimed at a certain market. Even when we look at the samples we can see that they are all the same colour despite the difference in age and casks. We know that this dram is chill filtered. We know it’s diluted and we know it’s coloured, so in a message to distilleries, please don’t continue to preach about quality and standards when you are handing out a whisky that has been blended for a foreign palate and has been butchered to an inch of its life in unnatural and undesirable processes. We know you’ve got to do your marketing spiel, but to me it’s all getting a bit boring, especially when the product does not live up to the hype.
A recent tour of Glenallachie during Spirit of Speyside 2021 also seemed to follow a company script, but was a lot more subtle. Once you’ve done a few tours, you’ll understand what I mean. The great thing was that this time the tour was given by a true whisky enthusiast and had a great deal of personal passion which could be based on their knowledge of other whiskies. I have to be careful as the guide on my tour is a follower of my blog, but I can comfortably say the message was passed over to everybody with a personal interaction; they genuinely wanted to know how the others were enjoying their whisky. They took the criticism of one of the drams well. And being fair, to push the Glenallachie line wouldn’t be a boast as Billy Walker does seem to have the Midas touch when it comes to consistently releasing good whisky. You could comfortably argue this would be a statement of fact in my opinion.
Alas, it’s lodged deeply in my mindset rightly or wrongly that a large distillery pumping out the goods to a specific mass market doesn’t necessarily earn the same bragging rights. It’s your money they are after is what you need to remember and you want to ensure is that you are going to be spending your money on quality based on taste and not some company fed bombast.
Turds can be polished regardless of the myth, therefore when consuming marketing or promotional output, it is essential to know not all that glitters is gold. By all means pay attention to what is getting released, but for me the best thing to do is let the whisky do the talking. Glen Ord may not be the metaphorical turd; not everyone can like everything, but I won’t be paying out for a special release or an original bottling. I think I’ll be seeking out an independent bottling to see if I can connect to this distillery in another way.
Now, as it’s now past the season for the Christmas Grinch, I’m happy to assume his duties for the rest of the year. After this rant, perhaps it’s time to beat up Whisky Santa. The miserable git didn’t even give me a bottle of Bells…
It was often relayed to me by my parents that nothing in life comes easy. However, in this case they were most certainly wrong. This has been one of the easiest review titles that I have ever created. Since I have decided to review this whisky, every time I think of it the song ‘Loch Lomond’ has come into my head. As a Scotsman of a certain era, it is a right of passage to sing the Runrig version at the end of a wedding or just at some point in the proceedings. Some clubs I’ve been in also play it at the end of the night. We can’t forget either the twee Scottish soap opera that was filmed in Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond. Lunchtimes were usually the time to see Take The High Road, which later moved to an evening slot.
The programme was drama based, and as in every drama, there is usually some sort of mystery. Often there is a character that isn’t who they seem. This is the case with Loch Lomond distillery. The first part of the mystery is that Loch Lomond is the preferred whisky of Captain Haddock, the best friend of Tin Tin, an investigative reporter created by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, better known as Hergé. Often these characters get into adventures trying to solve various mysteries. Tin Tin was created around 1929, which pre-dates Loch Lomond distillery by some 35 years. This brings us on to our mystery now – Loch Lomond Distillery was founded in 1964. So why do the bottles carry the year 1814?
This is a mystery that we may need Tin Tin to solve, as when I looked up Loch Lomond on the internet and in various publications, it seems that there was a variety of information out there and not all of it correct, which contributed to me getting a bit waylaid in my search for facts. What was worrying was that some of the sources were normally creditable and supported by well known people in the whisky industry. It is time for the truth to be told about Loch Lomond distillery.
To kick off my investigations, when you look at any full-sized bottle of Loch Lomond whisky – it gives the year of 1814. Why is this the case when the distillery was opened in 1965? Well, it turns out the initial Loch Lomond distillery was opened in 1814, further up Loch Lomond in the village of Tarbert. There are no records to when the distillery closed, so the link is only the name. However, it was the owners of Littlemill Distillery who opened the Loch Lomond distillery and that whisky heritage goes back to 1772 with the founding of Littlemill. The owner of Littlemill, Duncan Thomas and an American company called Barton Brands formed a partnership to build Loch Lomond in 1964. By 1984 the distillery was closed before it was eventually being taken over by Alexander Bulloch / Glen Catrine Bonded Warehouses. In 2014 it was taken over by Loch Lomond Group, In 2019, the Loch Lomond Group was sold to Hillhouse Capital.
Loch Lomond is a shapeshifter of a distillery, with three different types of stills, making it possible to distill both grain and malt whiskies. This has led to a lot of confusion, as many websites claim that the distillery has Lomond stills. This is not true. Master Blender Michael Henry explains “Lomond Stills were never used at Loch Lomond. They were only ever used at Hiram & Walker distlleries.” The first Lomond still was developed at Innerleven distillery. As the distillery was close to Loch Lomond, they took on the loch’s name. The development of this style of still was some 9 years before the creation of the Loch Lomond distillery in Alexandria. Lomond stills were only ever used in Inverleven, Glenburgie, Miltonduff and Scapa. Only one is currently in use as a wash still at Scapa, with one more being used at Bruichladdich to create the Botanist Gin.
The straight necked stills were first used at Littlemill in the 1950s by Duncan Thomas, so were also used in Loch Lomond. There are some significant differences between the straight neck still and the Lomond still; size being the most obvious one. A Lomond still is short and fat, whereas the straight neck stills are taller and thinner. The next important difference is that the rectifier plates inside a Lomond still are moveable, to control the reflux within the still, which will make big differences in the spirit. The plates inside the straight necked stills are fixed.
There are definite advantages to using a straight neck still with the rectifier plates and still head cooling. A straight neck still is more efficient and can produce whisky up to 90% when using the still head cooling. Taking a cut between 90% and 80% which will give a strength at 85% at the spirit receiver. If still head cooling is not on, then a much wider cut is taken from between 90% and 55% giving a spirit at 65% at the receiver. By having the flexibility of the straight necked stills, coupled with clear wort, long fermentations and specific yeast varieties ensure that Loch Lomond are able to capture the fruity nature of the spirit. And that is something that Loch Lomond are aiming for – to capture the fruity essence into their whisky in a definitive distillery character.
The distillery also has continuous stills for producing grain whisky and the more traditional pot stills. In total they have one set of swan necked stills, three sets of straight necked stills and 3 continuous stills, each with 2 columns. The smaller of the sets is used for malted barley wash, and the larger continuous stills are used for wheat wash.
Why so many stills? It was the intention of the previous owners to be able to be self sufficient in whisky when making blends. Loch Lomond has over the years made many brands such as Inchmoan, Inchfad, Croftenga, Inchmurrin, Craiglodge, Old Rhosdhu, Glen Douglas, and Glen Garry. While many of these brands have fallen by the wayside, it has been instrumental in creating perhaps a false impression of the distillery and has made it harder to discuss distillery character. Whisky enthusiasts were confused and most other whisky drinkers didn’t get it at all, asking where the Inchmurrin distillery was.
I asked Michael why he thought it so hard to discuss distillery character, with Loch Lomond in mind. I got quite a comprehensive answer. “While single malt has been establishing itself against blends, distillers have mostly talked about wood and flavour, as it is easier to explain why a whisky takes on a sherry character if it has been matured in a sherry cask. It is a lot harder to discuss why a whisky has a fruitier character because a different yeast was used for a longer fermentation time with a different shape of pot still.” And I have to agree. As a whisky geek who has a limited understanding of chemistry, I am starting to study more about fermentation and the chemical processes that convert sugary water into whisky. None of it is dinner table style conversation, but it is much easier to skim over the whisky tastes by discussing casks. There is definitely a romantic story that can be built on that rather than discussing esters, phenols, yeasts and how long the fermentation takes.
It’s not to say that wood does not play a part in the formation of Loch Lomond whiskies. Michael told me that Loch Lomond buy 10,000 bourbon casks a year, all of which see the attention of their on site cooperage for inspection, repair and re-charr / de-charr of casks. The distillery has a 2 or three fill policy per char. A cask may see two de-charr / re-charr before that cask is scrapped. Their American wood policy is important to them, to give them a honey / caramel sweetness to compliment the fruity new make.
One other thing that Loch Lomond have started to do is experiment with yeast strains. I could write more about it here, but the Malt Review site had their own interview with Michael in which he goes into much more detail about this subject, and to save space and any plagiarism, you can link to the article here.
With all this information being shared, I asked Michael why he thought that there was so much misinformation about the distillery. The answer was pretty conclusive, and that was that the previous owners simply did not engage with the public. Essentially they had a high volume / low margin production policy. Nearly all their stock went into bulk blends, and there was no marketing as there was no brand to market. With little engagement and no background to any releases, people have made their best guesses. This easily perpetuates and I found quite a few reputable sites and vLogs with incorrect information.
There are no visitor facilities at Loch Lomond distillery, which makes it harder for the distillery to get its message out. The majority of the spirit produced at Loch Lomond is matured on site, which can amount to 300,000 casks. This makes it quite a hazardous site in terms of fire and explosion control, which is subject to tight regulation. In my interpretation of the distillery, it was never set up to be a site for visitors, and is essentially an industrial site. To take groups of people around would necessitate stopping operations, which is less than ideal. “This can create some suspicion as people think we have something to hide, when it is down to safety reasons that we have not been able to work out to an acceptable level,” says Michael.
As we come to the end of my investigations into Loch Lomond distillery, I feel that all my doubts about the distillery have been cleared up. There is a lot of work to do for Michael, who has said that the main role of his presence on Twitter is to engage with people so he can end the confusion over the various aspects of the Loch Lomond Distillery caused in part by the legacy of the former owners.
The range has been trimmed, which will make it easier for those drinking Loch Lomond to see the distillery character. The latest offerings has seen the Islands Collection brought into the Loch Lomond range. Inchmoan being the peaty offering of the two and using spirit from the straight neck still as well as the swan neck stills. The Inchmurrin is more lighter and floral, using spirit only from the straight neck stills.
Single Grain. 46% Non-chill filtered, natural colour; Unpeated NAS, Peated NAS. Both single grains are 100% malted barley.
I’ve not tasted Loch Lomond before, because I was one of those confused by the distillery and I never really gave it a chance. But when I was browsing through the miniatures of the Aviemore Gift Company, I saw the 18 year old sitting there, and I could hear the voices in my head telling me to take it off the shelf and buy it. I only wished I had a bit of situational awareness, as here I was in a gift shop in a tourist area away to buy whisky. £10.55 for a 5cl bottle… I really should have known better. Don’t worry, by telling this story and making this error means you don’t have to. But it’s an 18 year old from a distillery that plenty of people rate despite misconceptions, so it can’t all be bad, can it?
Let us find out.
Loch Lomond 18
Region – Highland Age – 18 years old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Russet (1.3) Cask Type – American Oak – Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – No Nose – Strawberry Jam, Apple jolly ranchers, marzipan / almond, raisin, peat, hard toffee. Palate -Rich, like that hard toffee I am thinking of in the nose, very gentle on the palate, no real burn, light wood spices, slight apple, date sponge, hint of chocolate and smoke. Finish – medium. Woody spices really take off when drunk neat. ginger, white pepper, nutmeg, a woody metallic taste, Granny Smith apple bitterness, finished off with blackcurrant at the end. Leaves a slight sourness in the mouth and a very slight hint of sulphur.
With water, the spices in the palate wake up for an instant white pepper delivery, but the overall spice heat is tempered and brought into more balance in the finish. I found it much more drinkable.
When Michael first contacted me, his initial message said that he felt that my misconceptions about the brand had probably affected my ability to connect with the whisky. Now I have been able to understand more about the whisky, I have to agree with him. There will always be tendency to veer off to the negative when there is something you aren’t sure of. Being an Aberdonian, negativity is something that can perhaps too easy to attain. However, I still feel that this hasn’t affected my actual tasting notes, as if the truth be known, I was wanting to be proved wrong about some of the naysayers about this distillery. And having paid as much as I have for the sample, I was wanting value for money. Thats also a very Aberdonian trait.
The nose was appealing, and the finish had its good points, but it just didn’t totally float my boat. The palate was rich, but I felt it lacked something, almost a calm before a storm. The finish while taken neat was way out of balance for me. A sudden hit from the wood spices and a metallic presence made me think I had sucked a piece of oak with a nail buried in it. If I was to look into why this was the case, I can perhaps only explain it away by suggesting there may have been some interplay between the cap and the spirit? Will make sure I go for a corked bottle next time.
I have only altered my tasting notes slightly in response to the contact with Michael; not to change my opinion, but to alter facts. The distillery uses only ex bourbon casks in the core range, so I have had to remove the part about a possible sherry influence. Also, Michael explained that while the 18 year old is non chill filtered, they do add colouring due to the lighter colour produced by the bourbon casks. I know some people get bent out of shape about this, but I’m not going to. While I prefer a natural presentation, I’m not worried about a bit of colour, as it is flavour that matters. As long as I can’t taste the colouring, its good. I’m learning to not drink whisky with my eyes. Besides, most of the core range is under £40, the 18 year old is under £80, so it is not as though I am paying premium prices for a non-natural presentation. I would say this represents good value.
With water, this whisky was perfectly competent, and the spices reined in. As you can see, I did experience some fruity notes from the whisky – predominately apple ones for me. It’s been some time since I’ve had an apple Jolly Rancher! While I did not take to this release this time, now I know more I’d be happy to try another whisky from their range. From the descriptions, the Inchmurrin is likely to be the candidate, but that will be some time in the future. I think that taking the time to investigate Loch Lomond whiskies by yourself could be very worth while.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank Michael for the help he has given to ensure an accurate article has been written. In disclosure, no incentive or samples have been given or expected and the content solely reflects a partial but accurate overview of what is being achieved at Loch Lomond, as well as an honest whisky review.
There is always somebody who wants to go one better. We all know that person. When you’ve been to Tenerife for your holidays, then they have gone to Elevenerife. They have the guitar amplifier that goes all the way to 11. You know the sort. They are really annoying to work with, as you end up feeling that you can’t say a thing without some sort of oneupmanship or some sort of belittling comment.
How annoying is it when somebody claims to be one better, yet only this time they aren’t trying to belittle you, their claim is actually true? As Winston Churchill said “I find humble pie to be a most edifying diet”, yet some people seem to have gone on hunger strike.
If you have the pleasure of visiting Dalwhinnie distillery, nestled on the northern reaches of Drumochter Pass, given the remote and desolate landscape around you, it is hard to conceive that there could be a distillery higher above sea level than this in the UK. But there is. And nobody in Dalwhinnie speaks about it. For if you were to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, but travel a bit further south, and you will come to a small settlement called Braes of Glenlivet. Travel through the hamlet and on your right will be the 1970’s distillery called Braeval. Despite the green farmland around you, believe it or not, if you stand beside the still house with a hand held GPS, you will find that you are 2 metres higher than Dalwhinnie. Of course, this could be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the satellites available and who our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are bombing, so lets not offend anybody any further and allow Dalwhinnie to not lose any face by saying they are the highest distillery with a visitors centre.
The Braes of Glenlivet was built in 1973, constructed for Seagram, a Canadian based distiller. The distillery was one of the first to be built as a fully automated distillery, requiring only one operative. It was also one of the first to be built as entirely open plan. There is a rumour that the first mash took place before the roof was put on so the incoming Canadian chairman could be impressed, but that’s likely to be a part of distillery folk lore that each distillery has its own tale. The other thing that is a bit fake about the distillery is the pagoda roof. Due to the age and automation of the distillery, there has never been any malting taking place on site, but it does help it’s brutal 1970’s architecture blend in with the local area.
If you think that the architecture is bad, then look a bit further north to its sister distillery in the shadow of Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhainne. It also was constructed by Seagram, opening in 1975, and bought by Chivas in 2001. Allt-a-Bhainne was eventually given a single malt release in 2018, which while I thought it was ok, wasn’t going to set the world on fire, despite all of the marketing cliches that accompanied its release.
The distillery changed its name to Braeval in 1994, to avoid any confusion with its much more famous neighbour in the glen. Not that there would be much confusion, as Braeval as a single malt is quite hard to get a hold of. As far as I know there has never been an official bottling, other than the Distillery Reserve bottles released by Pernod Ricard who took over the distillery in 2000. The distillery was mothballed a year later, not resuming production until 2008.
If you want to taste a Braeval, then your best bet is going to be through an independent bottler, and for this we have to be thankful that Douglas Laing has done just that with their Old Particular brand. Given the hot mess of the Allt-a-Bhainne release, I’d dread to think of what PR would do with Braeval. So it comes to be that I ordered some time ago a 3CL sample from Master Of Malt in order to make up a tasting set. I’d never tasted Braeval before but thought the time had come to set this right.
Old Particular Braeval 18 (Douglas Laing cask 11205)
Region – Speyside Age – 18 yr old Strength – 48.4% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite light, Honey, apple, walnuts, spices, a hint of malt. Palate – oily, apple continues, honey, slightly sweet. Finish – medium/long. Warm and drying, sweet. Apple peel, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, a hint of raisin. Water smoothed things out a bit, but shortened the finish.
Not a bad first venture. Definitely very pleasant to drink, and despite it’s slightly higher ABV, the spirit doesn’t seem very forward; there isn’t any great spirit arrival here, it is all gently warming, with a surprising dryness that thankfully doesn’t cause your mouth to pucker. There is a bit more of a spirit burn as it goes down your throat, but burn is a bad word to use here – heat and warmth is probably the best description. This is a malt you could seek out and enjoy if it wasn’t just for one catch – it’s discontinued.
By all means you could look around at auction to see if it turns up, but you’d be better off keeping an eye on what independent bottlers are releasing. If you can find a Braeval from a sherry cask with the same sort of age, I’d definitely recommend it.
It has been noticed that perhaps I have a tendency towards the negative.
I’m sure that if you are a regular reader then this will come as no surprise. Being Aberdonian it could be argued that this is a genetic trait, and that’s a hard argument to disagree with. As an example there is an apocryphal story of two Aberdonians talking about their holidays. One is showing the other their holiday snaps. The Aberdonian viewing the snaps sees them all, thinks for a minute and points to one of the photos and says “that’s the worst one.” Every silver lining has a cloud.
But don’t think we’re all gloomy all of the time. It is worth remembering no matter how dour the day is, the sun still rises behind the clouds. Inside I’m a ray of sunshine, though at the moment I’ve got every reason to feel less than delighted. Without revealing too much which could land me in bother, I’m currently sailing in what has been described as a ‘High Risk’ or ‘War-Like’ zone. Research a region called Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and you’ll get the picture, so any bit of good news will easily brighten my mood, even for a short while.
It was one of my fellow crew members on board that supplied the reason (plus some of the material for this article). One of the purposes for starting this blog was because of people at work knowing about my whisky geekery and them wanting to ask questions. Unfortunately I don’t often have the time to continually talk about whisky while at work, though I have the occasional burst. One of the contractors who regularly returns to this ship had mentioned that he had a few older bottles of whisky and was showing me the pictures. I was asked if they were worth anything. It’s often the case in these situations that normally there will be a handful of 1970’s Johnnie Walker Red bottles or some Bells, but the first bottle was a 1980’s Bowmore 12. While there also were a couple of 1980’s blends, my eyes were opened when a 1990’s Macallan 10 y.o popped up. Then a Highland Park 12 in the 1980’s dumpy bottling. I was fully paying attention when a Port Ellen 21 appeared in the photos. There’s a few 1980’s single malts also which may raise a few pounds, yet there are more whisky bottles to be photographed.
You can bet your bottom dollar it was a great feeling to be able to give my colleague the good news. If they chose to sell, they would get a tidy sum for the whisky they may never drink, or alternatively they would have quite an impressive small scale whisky collection to start with. But despite this, thoughts of an overcast nature were gathering on the horizon. I remembered how I started collecting whisky and wondered what I would do differently now. Unlike my colleague, I started from ground zero.
My first collectable bottles were two Glenmorangie 1993 Truffle Oak Reserve bought at the distillery for £150, which are now worth considerably more, but until I developed a focused collection policy I was buying bottles that I felt may realise some value. It turned out that I was buying the same sort of bottles everybody else was. I’m now starting to think that this may not have been the best plan. There are a few of reasons why this may be the case.
If everybody else is collecting them and not drinking them, the bottle will not be truly rare. It’s just not easily available. Unless it’s in the high demand / low production category, the residual demand will not be that great. Even some of the collectible bottles from Macallan are released in the order of tens of thousands.
If supply is not that limited, the bottle will not necessarily increase that much in value from the point you bought it. The bottles such as Springbank local barley aren’t rare, yet the hype surrounding them is what is driving the price. Ditto committee release Ardbeg. The increases in price on the secondary market is just down to us. We do it to ourselves.
It is also likely that should there be an economic event that may persuade people to sell (such as mass unemployment or recession) then everybody is going to be selling the same stuff at the same time. Ergo, the price gets suppressed due to higher availability.
What I’m trying to say is perhaps it is all well and good to buy new releases as they could well earn a bit of money for those of you who have the prime concern of realising a profit Or at least you would hope they hold their value with inflation. But truly, beyond the initial flipper craze there is no saying any of these bottles are a reliable investment. I personally think the best thing to do is look for the older classics, which may have a track record of increasing prices or take a chance on lower key bottles. Who would have thought an investment in a £40 bottle of standard 10 year old Macallan would reach £400+?
To find out what is worth keeping aside, maybe ignore the plethora of new releases that people buy and put straight into a cupboard. They’ll probably never taste them unless one of their dram swap buddies has two bottles and shares one. Instead, look at what is popular, good value and potentially getting discontinued. One example I went for was the Old Pulteneny 17. At one time it was only £70 a bottle. Now if you can find one at retail, expect to pay £100 – £140. One more recent prospect is the Glendronach range, before the decision to remove the Non-Chill Filtered statement.
Often it is said in whisky you often have to speculate to accumulate, but I prefer to paraphrase a verse from the Good Book which says “Do not conform but be transformed”. Don’t follow just because everybody else is buying this and that. Make informed decisions in order to pave your own road on which to continue your whisky journey.
Ostensibly, whisky is for drinking so go forth and make your discoveries. Perhaps keep back something for a rainy day. Don’t just focus on the potential profit, but perhaps look on it as being a whisky custodian. Carve your own path and don’t merely follow the crowd. If you do your research and the whisky is truly great and not just another insipid inaugural release, then it will be just as valuable in the future, if not more. If the whisky doesn’t perhaps meet your financial expectations, you will still have a whisky you enjoyed from yesteryear which can be savoured or shared in decades to come. That will be a moment of untold riches and is probably the most positive thing I can advise you to do. That is exactly why I advise only to buy whisky at a price you would be willing to drink it at. That’s what it may come down to.
If you are a regular follower of my blog, (and if you aren’t, then you should be!) you will know that over the past four months I’ve been doing taste tests of drams that are generations apart. The reason for doing this is to confirm or deny the saying that whisky was better in the olden days.
It is often the habit of people of previous generations that proclaim things were better in times gone by in their era. I used to scoff at them, but now as I approach a certain age, I can tell you that this may be the case. When I look back on tales of my own job, this is certainly the case. I remember the days when a ship would dock and there would be a herd of ‘Gangway Gazelles’ leaving the ship to head to the nearest bar. Times have changed now, and these things are frowned upon more and more, probably because they got tired of police arriving at boats, people just not turning up at the boat on time, or people just not turning up at all. It’s always an immediately sobering feeling waking up to see your ship sitting at anchor in the bay wondering how on earth you are going to get onboard. Only happened to me once…..
Whisky seems to have the same process. So many times you hear of people reminiscing about drams of yesteryear, the claim of how Macallan isn’t as good as it used to be, or even the qualities of discontinued drams in comparison to their replacement. Everybody has an opinion, but I decided it was time to maybe look a bit closer at this thought, to determine if it was a myth or if the various opinions had some traction. Thankfully, after a time of buying batches of miniature whiskies at auction to get one of the bottles contained within, I’d been left with quite a selection of older miniatures which had prompted me to investigate further and compare them to their contemporaries.
Let’s look at how I assessed the drams.
1/ I endeavoured as much as possible to compare like with like. That isn’t as easy as it sounds as core ranges change. Even, as in the case of Auchroisk, the age may be the same, but the Flora and Fauna is upped to 43% and is exclusively bourbon cask maturation, unlike the Singleton’s sherry cask finishing. In the case of the Benromach, there wasn’t a comparable 12 year old in the modern range, apart from a cask strength, so I used a 10 year old. As far as possible I used a contemporary dram if like for like wasn’t available.
2/ I never tasted blind. I know this may seem to invalidate my testing, but I don’t have coloured glasses, and besides, having seen the bottles before I tasted, it was often easy to see what one was the older or younger sample.
The other thing that made blind tasting pointless was the fact that I was using miniatures for a lot of my tastings. Due to the seal area / liquid volume ratio, plus the older drams suffered on occasion from old bottle effect, which made the older dram easy to identify. I mitigated this in most examples by letting the dram rest for 30 mins or adding water. It has to be said the usual taste was a musty, cardboard taste. I think that is common for older screw top seals, as a Glenturret 12 y.o sample I’ve had from a full sized 1980’s bottling was similarly affected. So if I was always able to easily identify the old or new bottlings by taste or smell, being tasted blind would make no difference.
3/ I’m fully aware that I cannot say that one is better than the other. That is because taste is subjective. However, my plan was if I could perhaps establish a pattern across the 43 samples I tried, there would be more grounds for coming to a conclusion whether whisky was better in the past or not
4/ I tried as hard as I could to get at least one whisky from each region, however Campbeltown and the Lowland regions have had tiny amount of distilleries for some time. This means it is harder to get old and new samples without purchasing full size bottles. This was going to lead to expense that I just could not justify. The reason I tested more Highland or Speyside malts is solely because samples were easier to obtain. Plus that’s where the majority of Scottish distilleries with visitor centres are located, thus more likely to have a 5cl release.
Cost has been a limiting factor. Some of the older minis were expensive. I had seen the older Aberlour 10 retail at £40 for 5cl. The Springbank I had to pay £40 for a batch of minis just for this one and another £60 for a full sized modern bottle so I could have one Campbeltown sample. The Highland Park 1980’s sample was £46 all in, but being 10cl, I’m going to be able to share that with a whisky friend who probably hasn’t tasted much, if any early Highland Park.
The 10 year old Macallan wasn’t cheap either. I had planned to use my 70cl bottle from the 1990’s that was damaged in a flood at my storage locker. It is still worth about £350 as a drinking bottle. In one way, I’m glad COVID restrictions stopped me retrieving it from the locker, as I’ve been able to get a 1980’s 10 year old sample instead. However, that was the same price as the Highland Park and only 5cl. So my whisky loving friends are going to have to wait a bit longer before they gets a sample of my damaged bottle.
So, no expense spared.
You can get links to each review by clicking on the distillery name which will open in a new page.
It can be seen that if you read each review that there were 14 wins for the older drams, 2 for the newer drams, three draws and one void. However it is not as simple to say that older drams are definitely better just looking at tally marks, as we have to take into account the subjective nature of taste. In the majority of times I picked the earlier era of whisky, this is due to the whisky in the older sample being more accessible, easier to drink, more pleasant notes or a better mouthfeel or finish. In the cases where it was hard to decide, it was often a gnat’s knee cap of difference, but a notable difference at least that I feel I’d be able to pick out on subsequent tasting.
Whisky and its distillation does change over time; it’s almost inescapable. There is little way of guaranteeing absolute continuity when staff come and go, changes in barley or yeast, changes in the time to ferment or distill, or even the temperature in the worm tubs can all have subtle differences. An example which you may not find likely but is 100% true occurred in the heat experienced during the summer of 2018. Dalwhinnie distillery had to stop production not because they had a lack of water, but they could not cool the spirit properly in the worm tubs due to the warmer water source, making the spirit character change too much. It makes me wonder how the spirit that was created just before they decided to stop will show through in bottling, though most likely it will end up in a blend.
One of the things I really noticed was that a couple of the newer drams had a very thin mouthfeel, or less intensity of flavour. The Glenlivet 12 totally seemed to lack a finish. I was able to communicate with a distiller who was able to give me a few pointers. Being honest, this is not limited to one distillery and it is unfair I suppose to name Glenlivet who have produced and continue to produce some great spirit. The answer confirmed a lot of my thoughts, but was put in a more succinct way. I’m going to add a bit more meat to the bones of what he told me so this is not quoted verbatim, but is also reflecting a situation that hasn’t exactly been a secret.
It has been no great surprise to hear that the distilleries have been facing a rapid demand for stocks, and as thus older stocks have been depleted. Aged whisky just cannot be produced on demand, so brands have had to make decisions on meeting that demand with stock available. A source in the industry once told me last year that a well known premium brand had a 12 year old whisky that once had an average age of 14-15 years old when you looked at the vatting. Nowadays its average age is 12 years old, and lacks the richness that it once had. Clue: – it is one of the distilleries that I tasted as part of this series. It isn’t limited to that brand either, as the distiller I spoke to while doing a review of one of these spirits said that this is common throughout the industry; a detail that has been mentioned to me by a few people in the industry. This may explain why so often the new era whiskies don’t have the same depth of character that older whiskies can provide. Distilleries just don’t have the same catalogue of aged barrels to pull from, and may preserve the older and higher quality stock for their more premium releases.
In my research, it was hinted that the quality of wood used has taken a backward step. When tasting whiskies of previous eras, most notably the sherry cask ones, the casks are not the same as before. Sherry ceased to be exported in casks in the early 1980’s meaning that source of casks was no longer available. Solera casks are not suitable for whisky production, as the Bodegas want as little wood influence as possible. Distilleries have been forced to season casks with sherry, and while you may get the taste, it is my belief that it isn’t as successful as having the real thing. Of course, some distilleries spend a lot of money getting their wood right, but some also may not concentrate on this to the same level.
The cask quality issue continues when it was mentioned to me was the general make up of casks in a vatting isn’t as good as it used to be. In order to perhaps lower production costs and increase the amount of whisky available, there are probably not as many first fill casks in the vatting of single malts. There are probably a lot more 2nd and 3rd fill casks getting used in any vatting. This may not be noticed in some whiskies, but most notably I noticed that the newer Aberlour and the Glenlivet I had tasted seem to have very thin bodies and next to no finish. The distiller I spoke to mentioned the fact less 1st fill casks being used will probably explain it. The wood has less to give, with less and less flavour components being imparted to the spirit. Indeed, I was recently shown a 9 year old 4th fill cask sample from a well known Speyside distillery, and to be honest it wasn’t much more than dirty dishwater in colour. One can assume next to no cask influence unless it is left for a couple of more decades at least.
It often leaves me wondering if production times have changed too, with fermentation and still times being made shorter to increase the production capacity where physical alterations are not possible or too expensive. With the boom in whisky sales showing little sign of slowing at the moment, the pressure is on distilleries to produce or lose market share. The more traditional distilleries also have the burden of having to supply produce for blends, which are in just as much, if not more demand than single malts.
A Personal Choice?
It is obvious if you look through the results of my reviews, that I do think there are good grounds for suggesting that whisky from previous eras are better in some cases. Of course it could be argued that this statement is dependent entirely on my own subjective point of view and taste, but that is why precisely why I deliberately tried as many whiskies as I could across each of the Scotch whisky regions. I also tried to pick some malts that I was unfamiliar with, so any bias could be ruled out. As alluded to in some of the reviews, I have always tried to find an identifiable flaw or difference that I could recognise in a blind test, in order to try and reduce the effect of simple preference. It’s not perfect but the best I could do in that circumstance.
I knew that bias would creep in. I had made my mind up that in the last comparison I did of Macallan 10 that the older Macallan would easily beat the newer dram, but I had to be honest and say that this just wasn’t the case at all. I would be telling lies if I said that one was much better than the other and doing a disservice to the quality control at Macallan. But I’ve heard from a friend who is involved in the industry that Macallan 10 was one of those whiskies that had an average age significantly higher than the age statement, so that made it expensive to produce. It was a good decision by Edrington to withdraw the age statement rather than continue with what may have been a much inferior product.
What mostly drew me to the older whiskies that I thought were better was just the depth of flavour, the length of finish, the mouth feel or just the fact that I was instantly drawn to it – that the whiskies were just so easily drinkable.
One thing that I noticed that in some cases the distiller had changed the ABV when producing the newer edition. Both Bruichladdich and Clynelish increased their core bottling to 46%, which removes the need for chill filtering. Auchroisk only upped their core to 43% in the Flora and Fauna bottling, but this also was supplemented by a change to exclusively bourbon maturation. There wasn’t a lot in the drams, but I felt the sherry finished Singleton had more character and mouthfeel than the Flora and Fauna dram. Interestingly enough, Auchentoshan had dropped their ABV to 40% from 43% but lengthened the maturation period. I personally think this was a backward step, as while I didn’t mind the 10 year old dram, I found the 12 year old was nowhere near as good and eventually was so undrinkable to me that it went down the sink.
There is one issue that we have to take into consideration was that the old bottles often suffered from the ‘old bottle effect’. I found that by leaving the drams to breathe for a while and adding a drop of water often mitigated this phenomenon but never eliminated it.
Drams that I liked or disliked
The one thing that my blog was designed to do was to encourage me to try different drams, and in this series it has forced me to drink a few whiskies that I wouldn’t normally drink. It is important to know what has gone in the past so we have a yard stick to judge the future. But is that really important? Because when it comes down to facts, all that matters is whether WE like it or not and definitely not as a result of others telling us we should like it.
The top drams that I tasted as a result of this series would definitely be –
Glenfarclas 10 (old)
Clynelish 14 Flora and Fauna
Glenrothes 8 (2007 – The Malt Cask Co.)
The drams I did not really enjoy
Auchentoshan 12 – so bad I couldn’t finish it
Aberlour 12 (New) – no finish whatsover
Glenlivet 12 (New) – poor mouthfeel and no finish.
The Final Caveat
Of course, this cannot be the final word. We have to keep an eye on what is happening in the whisky world. As I type this out, Glendronach have reportedly already removed the Non Chill Filtered Statement from their 15 year old bottling. Why they would need to do this when it is not necessary to chill filter a whisky at 46% I don’t know, unless they are thinking about lowering the ABV or are actually going to chill filter at 46% which will result in a change in flavour. It is a backward step, so this is why I maintain it is always good to keep an eye on the past so we can know that we indeed have tasted good whisky.
The final caveat is that we cannot stop here; we need to compare the whisky of the future to the whisky we have now to see if there is a progression. I think it is increasingly obvious that the production of whisky is in the hands of accountants as much as it is in the care of Master Blenders. We have to see that producers maintain or increase standards, or we risk going down the route that Auchentoshan went or that Glendronach seems to be heading. The internet has made information much more easier to obtain and share, with the result that today’s whisky enthusiast is much more informed and will not easily accept a reduction in standards.
Whoever wants to do the comparison of the next era of whisky against this era is welcome to do it – I’m done!
I’d like to thank everybody who has helped or encouraged me to complete this series. It has been an expensive labour of love, both financially, on time and emotionally. If you liked this article, can I ask that you share it, so it makes my work seem more worthwhile. And of course I will welcome all comments about this; it would be great if this generated some discussion in the community.
Taste Review #104 – Glen Garioch 15 old style bottling.
They say that time waits for no man and for me that is so true. Events always pass me by, as life for me often seems to move at the speed of continental drift as everything speeds past. This can have some very positive effects. Due to being fashion unconscious, I’ve found that I can use my wardrobe of walking gear, Levis and 8 hole Dr. Martens to drift in and out of fashion as it ebbs and flows around me. And I have both the black and cherry red variants so can mix it up a bit. Being a canny Aberdonian, this also has the effect of not wasting money on frivolous pursuits such as clothes and leaves more cash for whisky. However, this review isn’t a new release at all, but a bottling from the middle part of the first decade of this century. It is from my former local distillery, Glen Garioch in Oldmeldrum.
You may be surprised (or not as the case may be) to find out that this is a sample that I have had sitting in my wee kitchen display cabinet for over two years. I received it from a work colleague as an exchange for a wee dram of Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine; after all, wee yellow submarines are our trade. I’ve bought a handful of these bottles on his recommendation but have yet to open one. I’ve been itching to try it, but told my colleague I’d do it when I had time to really concentrate on it. Well, as is the case with offshore workers that have a child, that moment doesn’t come around too often. This poor sample was sitting on the shelf for longer than it should have and now that I have completed my course of antibiotics for an infected knee joint, this is my first dram of 2021. Publishing the review has been postponed due to my old vs new series, so it’s had a little longer to wait, but after 2 years in a cabinet, it’s hardly a problem, right?
I used to live a little more than 15 minutes drive away from here, but it was only in March of last year that I managed a visit to the distillery. It was worth it, although I didn’t take to the Founders Reserve sample given out.You can read my review here. There was nothing wrong with it other than it not being to my taste, and had several things going for it, not least the 48% bottling strength. But you can’t like everything that a distillery releases, though I am hoping that my colleague’s recommendation is a sound one. Let’s find out.
Glen Garioch 15 Year Old (2007 bottling)
Just for clarity, Garioch is pronounced Gear-ie and rhymes with dreary.
Region – Highland Age – 15y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Chestnut Oloroso (1.2) Cask Type – Not known. Suspect Bourbon with a sherry finish Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated but likely. Nose – Honey, slightly nutty, heather, caramel, quite sweet. Slight whiff of smoke suggesting peat, but that’s all it is; a suggestion. Palate – Sweetness all the way, with a heathery honey with that whiff of smoke in the background. There is more citrus appears when water added. The sourness increases and there is a mild lemon note occurring. It’s oily, and the legs on the glass are absolutely fantastic. Finish – Long, warming, sweet, with a slight citrus sourness building and a hint of wood spice. A bit more spice builds as time goes on as more is drunk. Smoke still there but continues to be subtle.
It’s a pity I left it so long. It’s a great easy going sipper. There is little complexity to this dram, but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes you just need something you can drink and isn’t challenging. To put it into the Doric language which is used all around the North East of Scotland, it’s a dram that gives you a ‘bosie’ (at’s a hug t’ aa iv youse ‘at cannae spik i Doric wye). Now I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the other dram, as I did say I might pass it on once I’ve done my review. Just not sure if being half full will rapidly change the dram due to dissipation, evaporation and oxidation.
And yet in that vein, I have no idea how long the bottle my sample was taken from was open, so it could be well ‘rested’ so to speak, but if it is, it has done the dram no harm.
You can pick one of these full sized bottles up at auction for a hammer price of between £55 – £70, plus fees. It’s not a bad price for an enjoyable whisky, but has been discontinued for some time now, so you may struggle to get it anywhere else than auction.
I’d recommend trying this if you see it going about. Maybe a bit on the expensive side for its age and abv, but a worthwhile experience.
What remains to be seen is if this standard of whisky returns to Glen Garioch. In mid March 2021, the owners of the distillery, Beam Suntory, announced a £6m refurbishment which would include a return to more traditional methods of distilling. The news that the malting floors were being reopened was a surprise, though a welcome one. Whether or not they will process their entire malt requirement is unclear though it can only be a good thing that this will be happening, whether it is a fraction or the entire amount. Exciting times are ahead and I’d mark this distillery as one to keep an eye on.
Yours In Spirits
Cheers to Ritchie Keith for the sample. Very enjoyable.
We’ve come to the last in my old vs. new reviews and I’ve saved what is one of the best known name in whisky until last. Macallan. This has been one of the hardest comparisons to be organised, as COVID got in the way of me reaching my old 1990’s bottle of 10 year old Macallan which was damaged in a flood. As I had consigned this to a drinking bottle it would have been perfect for this cause. Conveniently I had managed to pick up a 1990’s miniature at auction, as the 70cl Macallan 10 year olds are now reaching £400 at auction, and I am not paying that just to do a review.
The newer bottle was also procured at auction, and it is currently easy to purchase, despite being discontinued as an age statement. It is in a much different box, with the white Easter Elchies box being discontinued mid 2000’s. The range was rebranded slightly in 2004 with the introduction of a second 10 year old in the core selection with the addition of the Fine Oak edition, which introduced spirit also matured in American Bourbon casks. As to the Sherry Oak, sometimes when there is a rebrand, this is a chance to do a slight recipe tweak, so we’ll see if this is the case in this instance.
The 10 year old Sherry Oak was discontinued in 2013 and the 10 year old Fine Oak was discontinued in 2018. The youngest Sherry Oak is now the 12 year old.
With old and new bottles procured, it was then a case of finding time to taste them, Given I realised that this would be probably the closest comparison out of all the drams in this series, I wanted to give this time, so I could fully appreciate both drams. You can probably guess what happened next – at each attempt to get some adequate time to do any tasting, I never got my days chores finished in time or my daughter would decide that she didn’t want to settle in the evening. On one occasion I shot myself in the foot by having a strong curry, thus knocking my tastebuds out. This wasn’t boding well for getting the old versus new series completed.
But, as I am fond of quoting, John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” And indeed that is the case. It’s also quite appropriate to quote a member of the Beatles, as my feelings towards them are similar to Macallan – I feel both are overrated. I know that I will have lots of people shooting me down over this statement, either for the musical or whisky assumption or perhaps both, but I just don’t see the quality in Macallan when I can taste similar whisky (or better) for a lot less money. Glenallachie 15 is my preference to the Macallan 18 and it has the bonus of being much, much cheaper.
I’ve reviewed the Macallan old style before and have also visited the distillery. You can see my last review of the old style Macallan by clicking on this link. In this review, I had also the samples given by the distillery, the 12 year old double cask and the 15 year old triple cask which I didn’t review due to the small amounts, but the sherry cask 10 year old blasted both drams way out of the park. Since then it has been my intention to compare the old version of the 10 year old with a like for like modern equivalent, which has also been discontinued since 2013.
As a bit of a laugh, during my research for this review, I came across this on a website speaking about the history of Macallan. I am sure that you will spot the error straight away.
The miniature bottle I have was bottled in the 1990s and shows the Easter Elchies farmhouse. The 70cl bottle of the newer spirit was released around the mid 2000’s. This particular bottle was released pre 2010, before Macallan started using Hologram stickers to deter forgeries.
Macallan 10 (1990’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, raisins, dates, tobacco, butterscotch, apricot, slight funk from the bottle. Palate – All components in the nose were in the palate. Mouthfeel had a medium body, slightly oily. Finish – Medium – Toffee, dried fruits, slightly drying, gentle oak notes.
Macallan 10 (mid to late 2000’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, milk chocolate, marmalade, tobacco, raisins. Hint of acetone. Quite a light nose. Palate – thin mouthfeel, sweet on arrival, the raisins appear along with a bitter oak tannin Finish – medium / short The alcohol disappears quite quickly, leaving chocolate, raisins and a bitter note on departure.
Confession time – I seriously expected the old one to totally romp home on this one. So much so, I was worried that this preconception would affect my judgement. However, nothing could have prepared me for how close both these drams were. I have often poured scorn on Macallan in the past, which has to be said now was unfair and unjustified in this instance. The fact is that both drams tasted very similar is testament to their focus on quality. My surprise was compounded when I looked back to the review I wrote last year and found I nearly got exactly the same tasting notes.
So perhaps I should chastise myself a little bit and loosen the belt of cynicism that I have around brand promotion and give into the fact that 1990’s Macallan and 21st century Macallan of this bottling are not too much different. But before we give into back slapping and high fives, there were a few small details that need to be taken into account, as to my palate they were different.
The mouthfeel on the newer bottling was very slightly thinner. The overall experience was more bitter and sharp compared to the older expression. The older expression also had it’s issues, but the only one I could find that stood out was that there was a slight funk to the sample, which was definitely caused by the fact it was in a miniature bottle. Therefore I predict that this was caused by the seal. Had I been able to taste from my damaged 70cl bottle that is currently languishing in a store 70 miles away, the presence of a cork seal would have maybe improved the sample experience for the better.
I can definitely say the newer example has a slightly lighter mouthfeel as well as a shorter finish, but it isn’t a bad whisky in any sense of the word. I found it had more bitter oak in it, something I didn’t get in the miniature sample, nor the sample I had in my last review which had came from a 70cl bottle with a cork seal.
I spent a few minutes discussing this with one of my friends who is a bit of a Macallan fan. He correctly told me that the distillery will try as hard as possible to keep the same flavour profile, so there is unlikely to be a big difference in the recipe. What he did say is that he’d heard that the 10 year old age statement was retired due to it being so expensive to keep producing as there were more and more older barrels being needed to maintain the flavour profile, so it was axed and the 12 year old age statement continued from that point.
I’m going to enjoy the rest of this 10 yr old bottle; the miniature got finished in this review. The 70cl bottle was £120 at auction including fees. The miniature was £40 at auction so this hasn’t been the cheapest of reviews as well as not being the cheapest. But it needed to be done. Perhaps once I get access to my store, it will give me and my friends a chance to compare like for like with both drams having been sealed by a cork.
Was the older dram better? I have to say yes, but I think it is due more to my preference. £120 is expensive for a ten year old whisky yet the 10 year old releases in the white boxes that show the Easter Elchies farmhouse painting now regularly sell at auction for over £400 including fees. There must be a reason for that, and perhaps it is that others also agree with me that the older one is better. However I think that eventually when supply of the older dram tightens due to them being drunk, the price of the more recent bottling will rise in value.
My final opinion is that if you aren’t really studying the drams, it would be hard to tell the difference. You will get a good experience regardless of what expression of the Sherry Oak you try. The Fine Oak reportedly is not as good, and I’m not opening my bottle to find that at out – not just now anyway.
This is my final review in my old versus new whiskies. It’s now time for me to mull over some conclusions and I look forward to publishing them. I hope that you have enjoyed this series, please consider looking at the index of my tastings using the link below to let you see my other reviews of this series.
In these dark days of lockdown, more and more people are relying on social media to fill in their spare time. I resisted social media until 2009 when a long standing offshore contract came to an end and I joined Facebook to keep in contact with the people that I worked with. I’d been avoiding it for so long as I’ve got a mildly addictive personality, and being hooked on social media wasn’t on my life plan but I signed up anyway once a plausible excuse to myself turned up. And that was the beginning of the end really, as social media can be anything but social.
You don’t have to wander far to see that social media is pretty much like nuclear energy, as in it can be used for good or evil purposes and when things go bang, they often go bang in a big way. This is especially true when people use the media to push their own objectives or opinions. I have to say, that in the past that I have been guilty of this in the past regards political matters and that was the prime reason for starting my blog to give myself something creative to do, rather than something that was leading nowhere.
The advantages of social media is that you can keep in contact with people that you may not ordinarily see, ‘meet’ new people and exchange ideas. Different social media platforms have their own uses – I used to use Instagram as a photo editor for the filters. I joined Twitter in 2010, for a similar reason to joining Facebook but never saw the need for really contributing, and Facebook is fine for reaching out to people you know but is a very limiting tool for reaching new people without using paid promotions. The curse of the algorithm strikes again. There are other social media outlets and messaging services which I am sure we all know about, each one being more appropriate for different things.
Then, of course as in many things, the good side is counteracted with a negative side. And this to me often outweighs the good things. First of all, it has to be said that the poor thing about social media is the amount of time that people spend on their mobile devices. How many times have you been in a pub and people seem to be having conversations with other people on social media and not engaging with people that are there with them. Or more to the point, how many times have you been sitting at home on your phone and your spouse may be a bit fed up that you pay more attention to that than your family? This is a pitfall that many, including myself have fallen into in the past.
It is easy to forget that unless you set filters, everything you post can be seen by anybody else. And it’s also easy to forget that nothing in life comes for free, and the price of free social media is our digital identities being used for marketing purposes. As social media consumers or even just internet users, we are targets for those looking to separate us from our money in exchange for their goods. How often have you maybe searched for something online, then minutes later, any targeted ads are suggesting what you’ve just looked for? It is constant and for me it is starting to get draining. It’s bad enough having my boss and wife look over my shoulder without retailers doing the same thing.
I’ve deliberately kept my social pages with regards whisky and family life separate. I personally don’t want my wife to find out what I am spending on whisky, or more to the point what I have spent on whisky! I think it is a good idea to have a social disconnect between the two things, and this works for me, as I don’t particularly want to have my private family life displayed for all to see. But with the time between looking out for family, my work offshore and my other interests besides whisky, I’ve had to adapt my social media habits and now tend to use Twitter a lot more than I used to. One really good advantage to Twitter is that it is almost like an instant chat service, with the added advantage it only limited photos and text in a single post, meaning the information you get is bite sized. The other advantage is that it is easier for all to see what you are posting, therefore getting more attention if you use it as a communication tool for your hobby, which is what many of you reading this will do.
But again, as I Iike to say after working with some of the grumpiest people in the offshore industry, “every silver lining has its cloud” and Twitter is no different. While I predominantely use Twitter for my whisky hobby, I try to use it as a social tool rather than an information gathering exercise. However others do use it as a vehicle to gather followers and spread their marketing message. The spirits industry has long been using social media to promote their products, and while it is good to be able to maybe see what is new on the market, the endless trotting out of new products is starting to wear a little thin. Indeed it often starts to feel that your social media feeds aren’t for socialising, but a field for marketeers to do their harvesting. And to me, that’s starting to encroach too much on my social world.
So, this week I decided to have a cull. I pay extra to ensure any of my blog readers aren’t exposed to advertising , so it was time to take steps to limit marketing for me. The list of whom I follow / like or who follows me was away to take a wee bit of natural selection.
Now that the fun of #WhiskySanta is over, Master of Malt were top of the list. So were TWE. Nothing personal, I do use both sites but I don’t appreciate the marketing. Next were a bunch of distilleries which to be honest, I’ve no real interest in their whisky. Sorry Jura, but I still haven’t forgiven you for Journey. The next on the line were the people who constantly post stuff that aren’t whisky related. Football is an exception, extra points being given if they are a fan of Aberdeen FC. Even then, if it’s excessive they get muted. Crypto-currencies and Elon Musk’s wittering; retweeting that nonsense instantly consigns you to a cull or if you do post whisky stuff as well, mute may applied.
My largest personal ire on social media is reserved for the shameless self-promoters or influencers. Those who just crave likes or follows. They are in a second place of my whisky dislikes behind flippers. You have to ask what their agenda is as it is often marketing again or personal enrichment. They shall begone from my list of followers, as these are snake-oil salesmen and should forthwith be consigned to the fires of Twitter or Instagram Hell. Indeed I had to deal with one recently, who’d become a bit spammy after suddenly coming onto the scene. Feel free to do what you want. I can happily sail past it.
Do you value your success in the amount of interaction you have or the quality of your interaction? I don’t really mind not having a massive following as it reduces any pressure to perform by continually having to output content. Decent articles often take a lot of time to write and require a lot of research. I’ve written articles on whisky topics for people in the industry, so you need to know you’ve got your facts spot on. You can bet your bottom dollar I prefer quality over quantity. As Robert Louis Stevenson said “Don’t judge each day by the harvest reaped, but by the seeds you plant.”
If I can say one thing; it isn’t how big your collection is, how large your knowledge or how amazing your palate is. The recent article about Whisky Community I wrote mentions how more appropriate it could be to think of what you can add to the community in order to build others up rather than taking for your own selfish means. If you have to beg for followers then something is suspicious or you are just an attention seeker. Desperation is never an attractive quality.
One of the Whisky Twitterati I spoke to during my research for this article mentioned that he’d rather only 100 followers he engaged with than 1000 he didn’t. Wise words indeed. What’s the point of that 900 cluttering up your feed if you have no real interest in what they say? There is no gold medal for the most followers unless you are promoting something.
Though let’s not forget that there is nothing wrong with a bit of recommendation in my eyes. A recent review I wrote and a couple of discreet recommendations saw around 10 sales of an independently bottled single cask whisky from an independent bottler / retailer. Given the massive drop in his trade due to the pandemic, he was very grateful for the extra sales and exposure his business got. Hopefully those who bought the recommended bottle will see the quality in the bottling and will look to this retailer in the future. Word of mouth is a powerful weapon to create a social media buzz and has a positive uplift to it rather than the slick words of a marketing dept. And there is always the pleasant, if not slightly smug feeling of making a difference.
I come on social media to relax, and have some banter. I’m even happier if I learn something new. I have made plenty of sincere friendships since I started using social media as part of my whisky hobby and that had been a bonus. I don’t welcome retailers, companies or individuals pushing themselves into my online space. Of course there are brands and brand ambassadors I do follow, as they are good craic and certainly not overbearing. Often you’d forget they actually represent brands. The skill of these people is to communicate in a way you want to look at their product or even try it. Being too forwards or not properly interacting with your followers just encourages people to switch off.
The weeding out of the items that aren’t focused on my interests have been a long time coming. Indeed I have found this social media cull quite cathartic and will allow me more space for the people and opinions I do value.
Being unsocial on social media often has its benefits
Yours In Spirits
p.s By the way, if you liked this article, feel free to share, retweet, like or follow. I’m not that grumpy. I’m sure you’ll get the irony.
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 / short. Slight wood spice and alcohol burn as swallowed and I get reminded of Cointreau, bitter citrus. Nutty at the end. Disappeared quickly.
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.