One of the great things in any journey is that while you may have a final destination, there is no stopping you falling down a wormhole, being sidetracked, a metaphorical stop to sniff flowers on a whisky journey. Certainly as I write this I’m still serving 14 day’s quarantine in Indonesia and I have fairly fallen down the YouTube wormhole. It’s funny how one video topic often leads to another, and whilst I started looking at whisky and historical videos, I’m now at the point of considering a cruise, buying a Volvo (just like the middle aged man I am) and possibly thinking how good it would be to own a caravan – all based on video suggestions.
Of course, none of this will be happening, certainly not in the near future, but whisky can be like that. When you taste one you really like, there is always the option of trying others similar. In this case, I’ll refer you to Robertsons of Pitlochry. It is run by Ewan McIlwraith, a man of considerable experience in the whisky industry. He is also a judge for the World Whisky Awards, so he obviously knows his carrots from his onions when it comes to whisky.
I happened to have to go down to Pitlochry to pick up some auction winnings. Pitlochry is a nice, Highland Perthshire village and is a tourist trap. There are a couple of whisky shops there and it made perfect sense to visit them all. Ewan was serving that day in the shop and invited me to have a sample of a Single Cask Benrinnes. Of course, with Benrinnes being one of my go-to Speysides, I obliged. Now, this one had a bite, and while I cannot remember the tasting notes, it was superb. I bought a bottle straight away.
And that was my mistake. I put that bottle into store, and I still wish that I’d bought two in order to taste one. Of course, I can always open up the one I have but, but, but, but ….. I want to save it. What a bummer. And so it came to pass that into a wormhole I fell, as I have now kept an eye on any Robertsons Of Pitlochry cask releases.
Fast forward to August 2020. Once again I was looking to see if anything had appeared on the Robertsons of Pitlochry website. And once again the hook was there. A single cask, cask strength Allt Dour at 8 years old. Wasn’t sure what distillery it was so did a wee bit of research. It turns out for this bottling, the distillery have not allowed Ewan to use the distillery name on the label. I’m going keep you in suspense for a bit longer, suffice to say I have reviewed the core release whisky from this distillery before.
For those of you who do not know about Pitlochry, it is a nice small town in Highland Perthshire. It sits in the shadow of the 841m high Ben Vrackie, and has the River Tummel flowing to the west side. Loch Faskally was created when a Hydro Electric Dam was placed across the river, construction being between 1947 and 1950. There is a salmon ladder to allow spawning fish up the river and is part of the tourist attraction at the dam. Of course these are currently closed due to Coronavirus but worth a visit when they reopen.
There are also two whisky distilleries, one slightly outside town, Blair Athol and Edradour are both located at Pitlochry. Both have visitor centres, but as usual it is worth checking they are open before going.
The local area is quite beautiful and worth looking into, but this whisky cannot wait any longer so it is time to move on.
Allt Dour 8 Year Old (Robertsons Of Pitlochry)
Region – HighlandAge – 8 years old Strength – 59.2% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – 1st Fill Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Rich sweetness – creamy caramel, dried fruit raisins, prune. Very more-ish. Adding water, I got a small note of mint toffos. That’s showing my age somewhat. Palate Quite a hit of spirit. Oily mouth feel. Rich dark fruits, toffee and blackcurrant for me dominate. Water tempers the arrival somewhat with a tantalising sweet hit as the whisky goes over the taste buds. The blackcurrant is somewhat reduced and there is an increase to the toffee note. Plum and blackberry are also present in this party on the tongue. Finish – Long. quite a bit of heat when taken neat. A quick burst of blackcurrant, wood spice, ginger. Even with water, there is still a lovely oily coating, leaving with a fruity sourness and a hint of sulphur. Very pleasant.
If you haven’t already worked it out, the distillery in question then I’ll let you know it’s Blair Athol. The distillery takes water from the Allt Dour Burn, and was a good choice of name for when the distillery name could not be used in this case.
This is the 2nd youngest dram I have reviewed, the youngest being the Octomore 9.1 at 5 years old. Younger whisky doesn’t mean bad whisky necessarily. If done correctly it can mean lively, exciting whisky and this certainly meets that benchmark. I had wondered if this would have tasted better at 10 or 12 years old but at first fill Sherry, the cask may have demolished the spirit character. It’s an engaging dram with a good level of complexity which the water will help you tease out. I feel I need more time with this dram to get the full benefit, but on first taste, wow!
This is a great dram that marks all the presentation boxes. Age Statement, Cask Strength, Non Chill Filtered, No added colour. What’s more, it’s only £55 on theRobertsons of Pitlochry website (click on link). That’s a lot of whisky for small money. I gather one of my page followers has already bought three for export to England. Good choice Sir!
It turns out I’m not the only one that thinks it’s great. Well done Ewan!
So, I didn’t learn my lesson from the Benrinnes. I only bought one. However 618 bottles were made so hopefully by time I am ready I can get another…..
…..or it’s back down the wormhole.
Yours In Spirits
To be honest, if it wasn’t for the fact this is a limited release, it would easily be my whisky if the year 2020. Since I’ve been away from home, the memory of the dram is so powerful I cannot wait to get back for another one.
Being an Aberdonian comes with some hardships. It’s a grey city with often grey humoured people. Many of my work colleagues know Aberdeen as “Aberdoom”, perhaps because they have to hang around the city while waiting to go offshore. It’s not that bad really. Often it’s worse. Only joking, it’s a fantastic small city which is much misunderstood and is on the doorstep of some of Scotland’s most beautiful scenery and attractions. Visit the castles, especially Dunnottar and you’ll soon get what I mean. Plus, going to Dunnottar puts you close to the Carron Chipper, birthplace of the legendary Deep Fried Mars Bar – two historical superlatives in one day! Aberdeen and Shire are rocking!
The local football team have been successful in the past with two European trophies in 1983, the most European Cup success of any Scottish football club so far. Take note Rangers and Celtic fans. Two stars on the breast. Things haven’t been so successful since the departure of Alex Ferguson, but as a local lad I have to say I keep an eye on their progress, despite leaving the city some years ago.
To be fair, I don’t follow football that closely. Once upon a time when I was a student with an obligatory long fringe in my eyes and walking through the St Nicholas Centre I was pounced upon by a local reporter asking my opinion on who would win the Scottish Cup. I didn’t care who was playing in the 1991 Scottish Cup as it was only Dundee United and Motherwell. Aberdeen had won it the previous year, so I brushed him off by saying I was a Clachnacuddin supporter, an Inverness based Highland league team that is probably the lowest professional level in Scottish football. Little did I realise my photo had already been snapped. Wished I had known as it had been raining, I was sodden in my student camouflage jacket and my hair was a mess. The next day I had my moment in infamy when my quote and photo appeared in the local newspaper. Since then I’ve followed Clachnacuddin out of sympathy after the extensive ribbing I received after the publication of my comment. They join Aberdeen as a team that often gives me cause to wince when I see the scores from their latest games, though I always wish them well.
Scoring may be important when it comes to sports competition, but what about for whisky? We often see reviews of whisky giving a score out of a hundred, but what does it mean or even matter to us whisky geeks?
What seems to be the most popular way of allocating a score is analysing the different stages of whisky tasting, namely nose (aroma), palate (taste), body (weight – is the whisky light and watery or thick and heavy), mouthfeel (Is it oily, waxy? How does it coat your mouth? For me this ties into body), finish (sensations after swallowing) and balance (do any of the flavours or sensations overpower the others?).
Unlike sport where scoring follows well defined criteria, tasting doesn’t and I’d propose that can’t ever do so because it depends on too many factors, some physiological and some subjective. As we are all unique, each one of us will have a different ability to taste due to our unique set of tastebuds, our experience of taste and smell sensations, our medical history and current state of health. A drinkers preference can be influenced by what they’ve recently consumed, altitude, their mood and their perceptions of the whisky that can subconsciously creep in from the appearance of the liquid, hence why many blind tastings are done with coloured glasses.
For instance, I like sherried and peaty whiskies, though not necessarily both at the same time. In theory I might not take to a more delicate Lowlander from a bourbon cask and mark it down accordingly. Or, I might sample a whisky after a curry earlier on in the day and thus miss the subtle notes.
There is a fact that you can’t identify a smell or taste if you haven’t experienced it before. By all means you will be able to explain what a sensation reminds you of, but you have to wonder what has gone into the mouths of whisky tasters that describe the tastes of the more weird and wonderful taste descriptors.
I’m a bit guilty of this – I do believe that I described the TBWC Invergordon 42 year old as reminding me of polished wood. I’ve got a memory of standing idle in the older part of my primary school with my head against a varnished and heavily polished old door frame. I can’t remember if the smell was so strong the vapours were also landing on the back of my tongue as I breathed in, or if I licked it – both are possible but in my defence I was no older than 9 years old at the time. However it is a taste / smell sensation that has stuck in my head for close to 40 years. I can still picture that part of my old school in my minds eye as I type, and this illustrates a way we build up our memory bank of taste profiles as we move through our lives and taste whisky.
Getting back to scoring, we can see that there is not really a fool proof method to decide a score for whisky. If you can’t determine flavours, it can be harder to accurately assess a whisky. And with each of us being biologically different and with different outlooks, it is potentially less possible to get a reliable score based on so many variables across so many opinions. Plus, how do we set each criteria? We’d need a point of calibration to decide what was bad and good in each situation. I guess most people will describe the level of pleasure in each stage of their experience of a dram and that is the most reliable yet still subjective point we have.
A National Geographic article that I read in the past while waiting in a doctor’s surgery suggested that if you can taste more than six flavours in your drink at any one time, then you are perhaps not being honest with yourself based on the ability of the human body to experience flavours. However a lot of reviews are given based on experience over several drams while the bottle lasts. Even in my reviews where I often use miniatures, I’ll drink it in two distinct sittings to get a better idea of the dram. Adding water changes the spirit again and can unlock hidden gems of taste explosions within a single sitting so we have to look at a dram over a period of time to get more accurate knowledge to be able to give a score.
In the journey towards a summary before I meander more than the River Spey, whatever score you give it, that is just your score and your opinion. The person that it will be most useful to is you. Using your scores over the life of a bottle, or each time you buy the same whisky again, you can track your experience. The trouble is that it is all relative. You need to establish a baseline of what you find a competent whisky of that style, as there is no point of comparing a heavily peated Islay against a delicate triple distilled Lowlander. By setting a baseline for each style, you can perhaps score relative to that. Problem is that your baseline preference could also change over the years.
Any baseline has to be middle of the road. If you pick one too high, then other whiskies may unfairly not compare favourably. Same goes for picking too low a benchmark. Most other whiskies will taste brilliant after that.
And this is why I personally don’t like scoring whiskies, as it’s one more thing to concentrate on when we should be just enjoying a drink. I prefer to comment on value for money, whether I liked the whisky or not, whether I’d buy it again or recommend it. This should be enough, though that is just my opinion.
If you want help picking a new and tasty dram, scores can be helpful if you look across a broad range of opinions. That will give you a general idea of whether it’s good or not. Consistently high scores are a good indicator that the whisky isn’t rubbish. Even then, I’ve bought and enjoyed a whisky that regularly scores in the low 70’s. The recent official release of Allt-a-Bhainne is the one that sticks in my mind. I’ve recommended it to others who have also enjoyed it, but also one or two that haven’t. It’s opinion, not fact. For further guidance then look at the cask type, the peat level, ABV, not to mention price when considering a purchase based on review scores.
Above all else, this is YOUR whisky journey and nobody else’s. If you want to score whiskies, please do. Just remember a highly scored whisky by others doesn’t mean that you’ll like it. In my opinion scoring doesn’t have to be that important in the bigger scheme of things. Unless it’s for Aberdeen or Clachnacuddin football team.
Since my impromptu declaration of support of Clachnacuddin, I’ve gone as far to buy a replica Clach football shirt. They’ve even managed to win the Highland League since my impromptu declaration of support. Ironically, they’ve won the Highland League more times than any other club – 18 times. Since I’ve moved to the Highlands they’ve seemed to have resumed their position at the lower ends of the league table. But I will still support them. C’mon the Lillywhites!
As an aside and still within a whisky relevance, prior to 1993 there used to be three football clubs in Inverness – Inverness Caledonian, Caledonian Thistle and Clachnacuddin. Caledonian Thistle played at Telford Street Park, which backed onto the Glen Mhor distillery. After a merger of Caledonian and Caledonian Thistle, the new team Inverness Caledonian Thistle moved to Caledonian Stadium, beside the Kessock Bridge. In 1996, Caledonian Stadium was demolished and joined Glen Mhor and the adjacent Glen Albyn distilleries in becoming a retail park.
Aberdeen are one of the most frustrating Scottish teams to follow. However you need to support the team from your city of birth. I still have my 7” single from the successful 1983 Cup Winners Cup campaign. You can relive the classic song and reminisce on YouTube by clicking here Plus like those who remember where they were when JFK was shot, I remember what I was doing on 11th of May 1983. Watching a victorious Aberdeen side beat Real Madrid on the television. For many Aberdonians this was probably a more important point in their life timeline.
The very first review I published at the start of Scotty’s Drams was a Dalwhinnie. In fact it was two Dalwhinnie drams in one – the Winter’s Gold and Distillery Exclusive. By using the links at the bottom of this review you will be able to back track and see what I wrote. So much has changed since I wrote that review – I’ve smartened up the blog format a bit, attempted to take better photographs and have made many more friends in the whisky world, both in the industry and other enthusiasts. Things that haven’t changed are my lo-fi production values (necessary when attempting to upload a blog on the internet equivalent of a 56k dial up modem) and the fact my dog is still not any better behaved. I’ve come up with a term to describe him accurately. “Hyper-social” would adequately describe my friendly old Labrador who still acts like a puppy despite being 9 years old. I’m quite sure the local canines would more relevantly call him “dog nonce”. I guess there is always room for improvement, and we won’t quite give up on Maks for now.
Dalwhinnie is one of my local distilleries, certainly the closest owned by a global enterprise, the other being Tomatin. Tiny Speyside distillery which can be seen from my house if you know where to look when the leaves are off the trees doesn’t have a look in compared to the output of these two monsters.
Dalwhinnie has this thing about being the highest distillery, which having checked with a hand held GPS I can confirm is not true; Braeval (Braes Of Glenlivet) was a metre higher, but Dalwhinnie is the highest distillery in Scotland with a visitors centre and a damned fine one at that. Standing just on the northern outskirts of the village of the same name, Dalwhinnie is a also few miles north of the Drumochter Pass, the place where the A9 trunk Road and Highland Mainline Railway squeeze between a narrow mountain pass which can be treacherous in winter time.
Funnily enough while Dalwhinnie proclaims itself to be a Highland Malt, it actually does belong in the Speyside Whisky Region, being the most southerly of all the Speysides. It is actually closer to the River Spey than its height rival with Dalwhinnie being as close as 8.1km from the Spey opposed to Braeval’s effort at 17.5km. Remember that every Speyside whisky is a Highlander, but not every Highlander is a Speyside. For the record, Macallan still show themselves as a Highland whisky too.
The location of the distillery gives a welcome sight when heading home, and looks picturesque whether you see it from the road, or while passing behind it when you travel by train. It’s hard to believe you are over 350m above sea level.
Dalwhinnie was founded in 1897 and was originally called the Strathspey distillery, and was owned by the same people who owned the original Speyside distillery in the village of Kingussie some 14 miles further north. The Strathspey Distillery Company went bust in 1898 with both distilleries sold. Eventually Dalwhinnie went on to be the first Scottish distillery to be sold to foreign company in 1905. By 1911 the Kingussie distillery fell silent and was demolished in 1920’s. Only one building still remains between the Duke Of Gordon Hotel and the Ardvonie Road car park. Rumour has it a lot of the local houses constructed soon after used stone from the demolished distillery, which was a similar size to Dalwhinnie. In 1926 after a couple of changes in ownership, the Dalwhinnie distillery eventually was bought by DCL, which went on to become Diageo.
Dalwhinnie distillery only has 2 stills, so is not a major producer compared to some. However it does still use worm tubs to condense the spirit coming out from the stills. Due to the average temperature of Dalwhinnie being quite low throughout the year (I’ve read somewhere it averages 6C, but as a local I think that’s a little too high!) the worm tubs ensure a rapid condensation of the spirit vapor from the stills. In 1986, whilst the distillery was getting an upgrade, the worm tubs were replaced by more modern shell and tube condensers but this changed the character of the spirit too much, and the more expensive to run worm tubs were reinstalled.
In 2018 the distillery experienced a shut down of production during an extended period of hot weather. Not due to the lack of water from the Allt an t-Sluic burn, but because the temperature of the water in the cooling system was too high and the worm tubs were not able to condense the spirit effectively changing the property of the spirit.
Diageo announced in 2018 that the Dalwhinnie visitors centre would be undergoing an upgrade. I haven’t been there since 2018, so I’m not sure if it has been carried out, but even if it hasn’t, the visitor centre is excellent as are the staff. But let’s see if the whisky is….
Region -Speyside Age – 15 years Strength – 43% Colour -Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Mostly Bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Strong green apples, wallpaper paste, lemon peel, sawdust. Oily. Palate – Sweet on arrival with oak spices. Caramel, vanilla, chocolate, unripe pears, lemon zest. Finish – medium long, fruity, warming hint of sulphur.
Quite a decent dram, and certainly one worth having in your drinks cabinet. There is good reason why this formed the original Classic Malts selection in 1988 as I found it to be such an easy drinker. Nothing too complex but enough to keep it interesting. The sulphur was well controlled. Funny that, as the out of favour whisky writer (who one fellow blogger made an anagram of the writers name to be ‘Jura My Rim’)* is often banging on about sulphur, yet awarded it 95 out of 100.
I’ve seen online many people complain about this dram being too light, too delicate and possibly being a victim of poor quality casks but I disagree. Nobody knowingly makes a poor whisky, especially when it concerns a single malt that has had quite a long lifespan. Perhaps like my attitude with Maksimus, a bit of perseverance is needed if you think this is a poor malt.
All in all this is an inexpensive, good value easy drinker at a price of £43-£46 in shops. If you are looking for something a little more challenging to drink, this isn’t it. Definitely recommended, especially for those starting out on a whisky journey.
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.
Whisky Myths Examined – Whisky of a Different Era Tastes Better – Or Does it?
This week coming sees the start of an occasional series in which I start to turn my attention onto one thing that has been niggling me a wee bit. Each person has their own opinion on this matter and I am no different, yet I feel with a building collection of miniatures that I need to get rid of, it is time to investigate this potential myth a little bit closer. Do whiskies of a different era taste any better?
This is a subject that could open a whole new carton of worms, as everybody will be adamant in their own belief whether or not this will be the case. I’m sort of already convinced I know the answer, and I believe the myth is true but this is based on my experience of the old style Macallan versus the newer releases. I’ve also been tasting more whiskies from a different era on account of purchasing a few whiskies from Cheaper By The Dram, the company that enables you to be able to drink whisky from the bottles of a different era that would otherwise be unobtainable due to high auction or retail values.
Let’s be up front. This series will not be strictly scientific. As far as possible I have chosen to compare whiskies from individual distilleries with the same age statement and cask types. However in some cases there has been a need to compare a 12 year old from the 90’s to a 10 year old of the up to date version; but I have checked they use the same cask types. I’ve made sure that I’m not just comparing varying batches; there will be at least a 10 year gap between the releases to help assess if there is a significant difference between the two.
As far as possible I have tried to get at least one sample from every region and to vary the styles a little. I feel I don’t have to keep you in suspense and I can reveal the distilleries I am reviewing in a list below. The list may get added to if I am able to source other samples but as of the end of September I currently held pairs of whiskies of differing eras of
Springbank, Glendronach, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Macallan, Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan, Clynelish, Auchroisk, Highland Park, Glengoyne and Glen Keith.
My aim is to do 2 comparison reviews a month, so I can continue to review contemporary whiskies, but this will depend very much on my work schedule. However if I have no article for a weekend, a whisky challenge may be in its place.
I’m pretty excited about this. My first review will be released this following Wednesday, it’s already written and I can’t wait to share this with you. Of course, I’d love to hear your views on this matter or responses to my review, on any of the social media platforms I use – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even a comment directly on the blog. Maybe you have whisky you could do this with as well? I’d be interested to hear your experiences in the matter.
How the mighty have fallen or may fall. Certainly there is a large fall from grace in the case of whisky writer Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible. This tome has been released on an annual basis since 2003 and many look to it as a guide to what’s good to drink in the wide world of whisky. The 2021 release has become a bit controversial, thanks to fellow whisky writer Becky Paskin calling out some of what can be considered lewd or sexual comments. Apparently comments like this have been made throughout the past 25 years, but according to Becky this edition she managed to count 34 questionable sexual statements. She made a post on social media saying how she felt it was unacceptable and now was the time to call time on it.
Indeed, it seems this is the time to call time on questionable behaviour. This summer has seen protests about Black Lives Matter in response to police brutality in the United States though in the UK this has mutated to also question the reverence paid to people who were involved in the slave trade of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. This was followed by protests and vandalism throughout the UK, with the statue of slave trader Edward Colston being thrown into Bristol Harbour.
Lets look at some of Jim’s quotes in the whisky bible by looking at this thread of Becky’s Twitter Feed. Click on this linkBecky Paskin’s Initial Tweet to see the full thread.
While none of this is particularly dirty, there seems to be a general sexualisation of whisky, which to be honest I have to say is becoming more and more unacceptable as time goes on. It is juvenile humour at best and venturing into creepy old man territory at the other end of the scale. As a male, even I find it a bit distasteful. I don’t want to have images of a man in his mid sixties speaking about sex come into my mind when I am having a dram.
Jim himself, from what I have read on social media feeds almost seems dismissive in his defence of his comments, going as far to accuse the subject being pushed by those jealous of his writing and talent. But in my mind, this dismissal could well be Jim’s downfall.
Becky Paskin is not just another run of the mill whiskyphile or blogger such as myself. She was the editor of a great website scotchwhisky.com, a great resource for those researching whisky and industry news. She’s also a whisky journalist, consultant, presenter and currently is a co-founder of OurWhisky which aims to provide education about the industry while recognising the modern face of the drink. Becky is also a Keeper of the Quaich, so you can safely say that she would seem to have an excellent grasp of the industry. You can almost feel that Jim Murray’s accusation of jealousy may have been founded by the fact the person calling him out is a woman. Would have been any different if the whistle blower was male?
I don’t know either person, but to read what has been said by both of them, it would seem that Jim has become a dinosaur from a previous age. I think the fact that 50% of potential readers of his books would be female should give enough motivation to be careful in what he may be saying; many women wouldn’t be particularly happy in reading the various smutty comments that are in his latest publication. It may also have passed him by that a growing proportion of talent in the industry have XX chromosomes, with many distillers, blenders, brand ambassadors, distillery guides being of the fairer sex. I learnt something from this debacle that Penderyn Welsh Whisky is made by an all female distilling team. Just goes to show that what is between your legs doesn’t and shouldn’t affect how you progress in the industry.
What is more enlightening is the amount of female responses to Becky’s post, applauding her stand and letting their own struggles being known. Jim’s response to saying in the previous 20 odd years that he had not received a single complaint. Dismissal like this does not excuse any ill considered comments. Most people will just read, move on and get on with their day, but when it is consistent and throughout a publication then one has to ask what is the mindset to the author, especially when it adds nothing to the primary content which in this case is whisky. Have we forgot that many people don’t report sexual crime because they don’t want the fuss but once others start, then they feel encouraged and enabled to speak about their experiences. It may be unfortunate that Jim might also be facing the wrath of people affected by the actions of others and not just what has been written in his publications. He isn’t the first person to make questionable comments offensive to women in the industry, but he’s certainly being made the poster boy for the whisky world equivalent of #MeToo.
It’s been a couple of months at least since I’ve reviewed a Flora and Fauna release. Since I’ve managed to bottle kill my full size Benrinnes Flora and Fauna, it was time to move onto the next one and I had a choice – Pittyvaich or Inchgower. It was a simple decision in the end as I’d already reviewed a Pittyvaich thus Inchgower it was.
Inchgower is one of those distilleries that has quite an anonymous life. Currently owned by Diageo, the distillery provides most of its output for blending, although independent bottlings are much more available. This malt is a constituent part of the Bells blend, but don’t let that count against our single malt experience.
The distillery sits just outside the Morayshire coastal town of Buckie and was founded in 1871 by Alexander Wilson. The Wilson family went bankrupt, leaving the Buckie Town Council to purchase the distillery in 1936. As far as I can tell this is the only example of a local authority in the U.K. owning a distillery. In 1938 the site was bought by Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd to provide malt whisky for its blends. Arthur Bell & Sons were later bought by Guinness and after various takeovers and mergers, the distillery came a part of the Diageo empire.
Inchgower isn’t a big distillery – it has 2 wash and 2 spirit stills, and only outputs 1.99 million litres annually. It has quite a short fermentation of 46 hours which should give a more nutty sort taste to the spirit. The distillery location isn’t that far away from the mouth of the River Spey, giving this Speyside whisky a coastal tang.
Inchgower unfortunately does not have a visitors centre, but the local area has some great scenery. The weather in coastal Morayshire experiences a local microclimate, something that was instrumental in setting up the nearby RAF bases at Kinloss and Lossiemouth as training bases. Buckie a fishing town and although there isn’t that much to do there, it is one end of the Speyside Way, a long distance trail that follows the River Spey, often utilising the former railway line that ran between Craigellachie and Aviemore. The Moray Coastal path also passes through the town, and it’s a short walk to the impressive Spey Bay Railway viaduct if you are in the area.
Let’s now take a wander to taste the whisky in question.
Region – Speyside; Age – 14 y.o; Strength – 43%; Colour– Pale Straw; Nose – Quite light and fresh. Malty, biscuity, straw, soft oak with a touch of brine there in for good measure. Vanilla, light toffee notes; Palate – Grapefruit, tannic, apple, ginger, grapes / white wine. Nutmeg. Vegetal in places, but this disappears with the addition of water. Lightly waxy in mouthfeel but not consistent – felt a bit light on occasion. ; Finish – Quite short with a nicer balance of fruit at the end to counteract the bitter tannins from the wood. Notes of brine at the end. Tempers nicely when water added.
Just because it is a component of Bells, don’t judge it by the same yardstick. I’ve been lucky and enjoyed this dram from the start, but samples given to friends have been a bit of a mixed bag. Some didn’t like it, some did. Although it is not that a complex malt, it can be quite light, and the vegetal note I found could put people off. This could be due to the sharply inclined Lyne arms between the still and condenser allowing the meatier parts of the spirit to leave the still. I added water and let it sit for 10 minutes and this took a lot of the less desirable notes away.
Being a coastal distillery, the brine is present, and coupled with a light waxiness this reminds me of another Diageo coastal distillery on the opposite side of the Moray Firth, Clynelish. That too was bottled as a part of the Flora and Fauna range and also as a 14 year old, but has been re-released as a stand alone bottle and the abv upped to 46%, which may give Inchgower a boost if they decide to do the same.
I enjoy the lightness of this dram; in the past I’ve had grassy notes from this which I didn’t get this time. I did get a straw note which although that’s dried grass, it isn’t the same. It leads me to ask myself what has changed – my sense of taste as I age or is it the whisky making process? Whiskies do change over time, so it’s a point worth considering.
Available at less than £50 a bottle, this isn’t an expensive dram, and is worth what I paid for it. There are bitter components in here that may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s not that bad. I’d suggest trying this alongside an independently produced bottle to get a decent comparison.
Inchgower isn’t that rare but it’s not one you will see in every whisky shop, but a specialist retailer should be able to get it for you. At 43%, chill filtered and a dose of colouring means you may find better value from an independent bottle, as these are much more likely to have a higher strength, be non-chill filtered and have no colouring added.
I do recommend this dram, but I acknowledge it may not be something everybody will love. The title is a play on the phrase if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile, and while you may get the Inch(gower) but you might not enjoy the full mile of this whisky journey. It shouldn’t stop you giving it a go. After all, I like it, and surely others do. Try it in a whisky bar if you see it is available or alternatively you can get 3cl miniatures from the Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt websites.
It’s Wednesday and you may be wondering where this week’s whisky review has gone. Well, I’m amazed to tell you that I’ve run out of whisky to review. I’ve been at work since 24th April (that is not a typo!) and while I’d built a considerable backlog of whisky reviews, this has now run out. I guess I didn’t realise that I’d still be offshore in August. By time I got off this vessel, I’ve done 110 days away from home and 105 without touching dry land.
I think this gives me a good excuse for running out of reviews.
And now, I realise after such an abstinence that probably drinking one dram will leave me in a state that will leave me unable to write a review. So there may be a small hiatus before the reviews start again. Don’t worry, they will start again as soon as possible.
Just because I’ve been at sea doesn’t mean that I haven’t been able to advance my whisky journey. I’ve been keeping an eye on the whisky world and have thought through a couple of articles that should be of interest. I have also been continuing to gather more whisky for tasting and sharing, including my first Scotch Malt Whisky Society full size bottlings which were purchased at auction for reasonable money.
I’ve also bought a couple of historical drams from Cheaper By The Dram, which includes the first Highland Park edition that was released as a single malt and a dram from the long deceased Glenury Royal distillery. This has led me on to thinking about the theory of older whisky being superior than contemporary whiskies. This I think needs investigating and I may require some volunteers to either prove or disprove this concept.
As you may have seen on my Facebook page, Scotty’s drams has also been listed in whisky broker Mark Littler’s blog as one of the Whisky Blogs to keep track of, as well as my Instagram page. I’m grateful to Mark for his recognition, so I must be doing something right. You can see the entries by clicking on these links –Scotty’s Drams Instagram Page Reviewand Scotty’s Drams Page Review
All in all, despite being a busy summer for me work wise, it still has been successful in several ways.
Lastly, I cannot end this article without hoping that all of you had a good summer under the current circumstances the global community finds itself. The Coronavirus pandemic has caused great disruption to life as we know it and I hope you have all kept safe. It was my intention to have a Scotty’s Drams meet up at the tail end of the year but I do not think that this will be possible but keep 3 days free for sometime in the next year.
As you may have seen on my other social media channels, the storage locker that I keep the majority of my collection in suffered flooding to knee level on 11/08/2020. Unfortunately the facility flood prevention barrier was overcome. I have not been able to get access to the site but needless to say it is not looking good for some of my rarer drams. While I did have shelving, some of my boxes were on pallets.
It may be some time before I am able to review again, but will try and keep things going on Scotty’s Drams.
As one door closes, another opens and this may give me the opportunity to start with a new focus.
As has been mentioned in the past when I’ve been writing about whisky, especially those I collect, I tend to steer away from Independent bottlings. These are because I feel that these may not be as worth as much when I come to sell. In the past I’ve even seen them as inferior, which is not the case at all. This meant that I mistakenly did not give them much attention but recent experiences in my whisky journey over the past year have come to educate me that this is a gross error on my part.
One of the great things about this whisky community is that you are often able to experience different whiskies thanks to sample swapping or a generous gift from a fellow enthusiast. In this case for this weeks double review we have to thank Tobi of Barleymania.com (another great blog – perhaps even better than mine hahahah!). After a conversation with him online about how much I enjoy Benrinnes, Tobi sent me a sample of the Douglas Laing’s Old Particular 16 year old Benrinnes. It didn’t end there. Tobi also sent the Dailuaine which has been bottled by Grindlays that I am also writing about today. This was sent as an apology for not sending the Benrinnes quicker! If you are reading this Tobi, I am very grateful and I will return the generosity with another independent Benrinnes soon but be assured I move with the speed approaching that of continental drift.
Both today’s whiskies are from Speyside, and are relatively close to each other, just to the south of Aberlour. Benrinnes sits on the lower slopes of the hill that holds the same name, whereas Dailuaine is closer to the Spey and the village of Carron. Benrinnes is the older of the two distilleries with the original being built in 1826, and rebuilt in 1829 after being destroyed in a flood. Going through a handful of owners, by 1925 it came into the possession of DCL who later morphed into the current owner Diageo.
Opened in 1851, close neighbour Dailuaine had the privilege of being connected to the Speyside Railway, even having its own railway halt and small locomotive (known as a puggie) for shuttling its freight to the goods yard at Carron Railway station and Imperial Distillery. The locomotive still survives at the Aberfeldy distillery, and the engine shed still survives at Dailuaine, although the Speyside line closed in 1968, and all other traces of the puggie branch line have gone.
Dailuaine was also the first distillery to have a pagoda style roof over the kiln, more correctly known as a Doig Ventilator, which was designed by the architect of many distilleries Charles Doig. It was installed in 1884 but sadly was lost when the distillery burnt down in 1917.
Dailuaine has one or two things in common to Benrinnes. In 1925 it was also bought by DCL, later to become part of Diageo. Both distilleries were part of the Flora and Fauna releases in 1991, and continue to be so. How long this will continue is anybody’s guess. Benrinnes is quite common as an independent bottle but Dailuaine not so common, mostly being used to provide filler for blends.
Both whiskies have a meaty, heavy style similar to Mortlach, especially those releases that have been matured in a Sherry cask. But what will these independent releases be like?
Dailuaine 19 (Grindlays)
Region – Speyside Strength – 57% . Colour – Ripe Corn Nose – Malt, sawdust, nuts, honey, vanilla. Palate – waxy mouthfeel, slightly drying. Not such a big hit when considering it is cask strength. Honey, orange. Water intensified the spice and made the honey more apparent Finish – Medium. Spice notes, honey and a slight tannic dryness of tea. The addition of water intensified the spiciness
Ex Bourbon Cask, Natural Colour, Non-Chillfiltered.
Benrinnes 16 (Douglas Laing Old Particular)
Region – Speyside Strength – 56% Colour – Deep Gold Nose – Deep Creamy fudge, vanilla. Ginger nuts, caramelised sugar, apple crumble Palate – Oily mouthfeel, but not overly heavy. Gives a nice coating. As with any sherry casked whisky there are an abundance of fruity flavours, but also nuts in there too. Raisins, Blackberries, Hazlenut, Cocoa, leather, figs. Cinnamon, Finish – Whoaaa There – wasn’t expecting this. Oak spices, I get a tobacco note / dry wood. Dark chocolate. Warm, medium – long and more-ish.
Ex SherryButt, Natural Colour, non chill filtered.
Both drams were fantastic. I spent a whole evening with these whiskies, allowing a respectable amount of time between them. I have to say that on an initial blind tasting that I preferred the Benrinnes, but this is not a surprise. For me it had a pleasant smoothness coupled with the rich fruit flavours.
Both are still available online if you look, despite being limited edition. The Grindlays Dailuaine can be found at Tyndrum Whisky for £94. The Benrinnes is a bit harder to get as I could not find any source online other than auctions – quite a feat considering it was only bottled last year. Keep an eye open for it – you will not regret buying this.
Lastly, thanks go again to Tobi. You can visit his blog by clicking on this linkBarleymania.com
Taste Review #65 – Black and White Blended Whisky (1950’s Bottling)
How many times have we heard that things were better in days gone by? It’s certainly something that I’ve heard plenty of times and in some cases there may be a bit of justification in that statement. As a child of the early 70’s, I have very happy memories, but then again I also remember strikes, power cuts, uncollected trash and expensive fuel – so not everything was better. As we have propelled ourselves from the 20th century into the 21st, things are much improved. But is whisky?
Getting us into a sense of perspective, I’d suggest that this may not be true. Having a greater selection doesn’t mean that things are better for the whisky world than they were. Pressures of shareholders and demand have accelerated the need for production resulting I would say there a rising blandness in the whisky world and while none of the whiskies are bad as such, I feel there is much of a muchness.
This week’s sample has come from Cheaper By The Dram, managed by Whisky and Antique specialist Mark Littler. You might remember that I have done a series on cask purchases with his help and have also reviewed one of his other releases, the 12 year old Glenturret. This dram has come as a thank you for some help that I had given Mark – I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was overjoyed to be given a sample of whisky from the 1950’s – Black and White Blend. It has always been my ambition to taste a whisky from that era. An abortive attempt to do so occurred a couple of years ago with the purchase of a Glen Spey blended whisky at auction. I had questions over the provenance and authenticity of the bottling once I received it so had decided to keep it as an oddity rather than a drinking bottle.
Regular readers have probably noticed a relative lack of blends in my reviews and I give no apology for the fact that I don’t drink them often. That’s because I strive to find a character in a distillery through its single malt and that’s something that I look for. I’m not a snob and do not think that blends are inferior, but they don’t appeal to me so much. A telephone conversation with Mark led him to put the supposition ‘that a single malt is like a virtuoso violinist, yet a decent blend is like a whole orchestra’ with all the components in its correct place for maximum enjoyment. So I had to smile when I saw the cover note with this latest CBTD delivery. See below.
And I have to say there may be a grain of truth in that, but we will see later whether or not this will be true in this case. Speaking of cases, this one arrived in its usual secure packaging with minimal information contained within. This is partly to discourage re-sale of these bottles at auction and to me it helps provide focus to the whisky itself, partly like a blind tasting where few if any details are known about the spirit.
Black and White is amongst of the oldest whisky blends still being produced . It’s owner, James Buchanan supplied blended whisky that was made by Glasgow blenders W.P Lowrie. It was initially marketed as Buchanan’s, and was packaged in darkened bottles with white labels and was commonly known as Black and White whisky (which was to become the official name of the blend from 1902.) From 1885 this was supplied to the House Of Commons and was renamed Buchanan’s House of Commons Fine Old Highland whisky.
By the early 1900’s the logo of the whisky was to become an Aberdeen Terrier (also known as a Scottie Dog) and a West Highland Terrier. To help provide more whisky for his popular blends, Lowrie and Buchanan founded the Glentauchers Distillery beside Keith and also eventually obtained Convalmore Distillery in Dufftown when Buchanan bought out Lowrie in 1906. The whisky that Buchanan was producing was good enough to obtain Royal Warrants from Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York in 1898.
By 1915, Buchanan had joined forces with Dewars, becoming known as Buchanan Dewars in 1919. By 1925 they merged with John Walker & Son and Distillers Company Limited (DCL), now part of Diageo.
As we know, blended whisky was made as an alternative to low quality single malts. Blended whisky was smoother, more consistent and easier to drink. After the invention of the Coffey Continuous Still, grain whisky was easier and more efficient to make. When the law changed in 1860 to allow the sale of blended of malt and grain whiskies, single malt fell out of favour. Even now, blended whisky outstrips consumption of single malt. It may shock you to know that roughly 90% of Scotch whisky goes into blends.
So, is this whisky any good now, and how does it compare to current blends? There is only one way to find out….
Region – BLEND Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished.Nose – Old linen, vanilla, strawberry, apple, walnut. Palate – Very light. Slight smoke in the back ground. Apple, oak, slightly tannic. Finish – Wood spices, light peat, brine, lemon, slightly drying and warming.
I started this article by wondering if things were truly better in the past. I’m still none-the-wiser as to whether this can be verified. What I can tell you is that this is a dram that is definitely unlike a lot of whisky that I have drunk recently. It definitely has that old fashioned feel to it; light but with a certain amount of meatiness. Fruit is in the fore, and one wonders if this is an influence of stock from Convalmore, a now silent distillery that had long fermentation and slow distillation.
And it is when I think of Convalmore, I had a slight epiphany. This is a blend made in the 50’s. The whisky in it may have been made in the 1930’s or 40’s. As a consumer we do not know exactly what whisky is actually in the blend, but I got a slight Highland peat (as opposed to Islay) and a brine note. It is highly likely we are drinking a blend that contains substance from more than one silent distillery and using a process long consigned to history. At this point nearly every distillery would have been using traditional malting floors, so perhaps it does make a difference. Other whiskies that are known to be in this blend are Dalwhinnie, Port Dundas, Glendullan and Clynelish. Perhaps the latter gave the brine note?
The nose of old linen takes me back to my first review of a CBTD whisky, the 12 year old Glenturret from the 1980’s which had a musky taste about it too. It took a bit of getting used to, but once I realised it was just a more traditional style, I really enjoyed it. The nose in this case was just a linen note that provoked evocative memories of my childhood visiting my great-grandparents in their croft on the outskirts of Aberdeen. This old style whisky conjured up happy memories of a bygone age and that is sometimes what tasting a whisky as an enthusiast is about – letting the aroma and tastes play in your mind as you try to describe them as you recall the occasions you last experienced these sensations.
Putting my thoughts into a neat package, the only recent whisky that I can truly compare this whisky to is the Lost Distilleries Blend. While that was a cask strength blend consisting only of silent distilleries, not all of the whisky in that blend is likely to be relatively old, circa the 1980’s. I didn’t really enjoy that blend for what it cost – a full bottle is £300+. But it’s been blended for modern tastes. Black and White is from a different era – where men were men and didn’t have top knot hairstyles or man bags, children were supposed to be seen and not heard and wives only had to do housework and have their husbands tea ready for when they come home. Yes, not everything in the past was better, but this relatively uncomplex blend gives us modern whisky drinkers a glimpse into whisky past – something that is essential to do for those of us on a whisky journey of discovery. For it is true that it is harder to appreciate the present and the future without a good grasp on what has gone before.
And that is not a bad thing.
Availability of this 3cl dram which costs £14 fromCheaper By The Dram is now limited. Given the full size bottle can be around £300 on the auction sites, this is very little to spend to enhance your whisky experiences. Black And White does not seem to be available for sale in the U.K. at the moment, but the modern equivalent is available cheaply in Europe, in some cases only £12-£15 a bottle. Keep an eye out for this at auction, but if you are quick, you may just get the last samples at Cheaper By The Dram store. Perhaps Mark / CBTD may obtain more in the future and for those of us who want to compare old style whisky to new style, this would make a most excellent comparison. Should more become available I’d certainly be willing to drink it again. As I don’t score my whisky, this would get a “recommended and would buy again” comment instead. And that is definitely high praise.
Thanks go to Mark Littler for supplying this sample. I wasn’t that optimistic about a blend to start with when I saw it arrive, but I’m really glad I did not miss out as it was delicious and a worthwhile journey into the past. Remember, sip don’t flip!