18 and (a) Life.

Taste Review #144 – Speyburn 18

Today has been a time for reflection.

The dram I have sampled for you today was bought for a special occasion, but there never seemed to be a special time for it. While I was purchasing world whisky samples for my previous reviews, I saw this Speyburn and thought it would do to make up the numbers, though it just joined a long queue of sample swaps and other miniature bottles I thought I’d buy. One of my followers very generously gave me a Glenugie 32 year old old over two years ago and I’ve still to try it, but I’m wanting the perfect moment when I can sit and savour the dram rather than just gulp it and think “Oh well.”

It was by pure accident that this dram was opened on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. I’m no monarchist at all, preferring to hold an ambivalent view of them. However I’ve had respect for Queen Elizabeth, as she held standards from an era gone by, plus was often in Aberdeen for the annual trips to Balmoral. I also understand the feelings of many servicemen past and present who have sworn allegiance to the Crown to defend our country. I’ve not felt comfortable about those saying that people are venerating our monarch now are bootlickers, as would they rather give an oath to our politicians? One former leader has certainly been found wanting as has his immediate replacement. Plus, politicians are much more temporary than a monarch, only being there by the whims of the electorate.

However, I’m no republican either although I’ve found a wee sympathy for this cause. To see how much has been lavished on a state funeral when we have people struggling with energy bills, etcetera, it’s hard to argue against. But in the end you have to accept that Queen Elizabeth has had an admirable reign, and as she’s the only monarch I’ve known, I’ve little idea how things will move forward. With King Charles already being 73, I can foresee change again in my lifetime.

A very reflective time indeed.

And we turn to this Speyburn 18 year old. This distillery is owned by Inver House distilleries, in turn a subsidiary of InBev; a Thai corporation that also own the Old Pulteney, Balblair, An Cnoc and Balmenach distilleries. Speyburn was opened in 1897, the diamond jubilee year of Queen Victoria. Founded by John Hopkins, the distillery is nestled into a steep sided glen through which the Granty Burn flows. Interesting fact though is that the Ordinance Survey Maps show it to be the Broad Burn by time it reaches the distillery, although the Granty Burn is still part of the same watercourse, but further north towards Rothes. Due to the topography of the small glen that Speyburn sits in, the legendary Charles Doig had to build his distillery a bit taller. Often all you see of the distillery as you drive past on the A941 Elgin to Rothes road is the Doig ventilator poking up above the trees.

Speyburn Distillery (Andrew Wood)

The other thing that goes past the distillery is the remains of the Speyside line from Elgin to Craigellachie. What is unusual is that Speyburn never had it’s own railway siding, unlike Glenlossie, Benromach, Longmorn and Coleburn. The only other distillery in the area that didn’t have a siding despite the railway going right past the buildings is Glen Elgin. This is confirmed by looking at historical maps. Rothes distilleries used the station goods yard. It wasn’t until 1950 that the distillery horse and cart were replaced by a tractor and trailer. Sometimes when driving on the A95 and A9 I wish that the Speyside line was still operating. When you consider that the majority of the distillery lorry traffic destined for any of the Speyside distilleries has to go on this route, thats a heavy load. Plus there’s few places to overtake.

Speyburn used pneumatic drum maltings until 1967, when these were removed in favour of bought in malt. It wasn’t until 1992 that DCL sold Speyburn to Inver House. At that time the only official release was the 12 year old Flora and Fauna, which as the deal included the stock, brought the production of that bottling to an abrupt end and is now probably the most expensive of all the 26 Flora and Fauna range. A whisky that used to cost less than £35 now costs anywhere between £2000 – £3000 at auction plus the usual fees. I own a couple of them, but the problem is that the whisky in the bottle is never going to match the price tag, so they are expensive paper weights. If you want to taste a contemporary Speyburn, then you have to either find an independent bottling or try the 10 year old in the core range, which is at 40%. I’ve reviewed this before and found it acceptable given its often sub £30 price, the only other core range that is cheaper is the NAS Bradan Orach, but that’s never really stood out to me.

If you want to try Speyburn as an enthusiast, your only real options in my opinion is to get one of the many tempting travel retail options, where even the 10 year old is bottled at 46% or you can get the 15 or 18 year old. In my last review of Speyburn I suggested that while the 10 year old core range was ok, I think I’d be buying a full size bottle of the 15 year old. That never happened as I detailed above. I did end up buying a 2004 13 year old Shinanoya cask from auction, but this was an accident, as I was actually meaning to bid on the 25 year old, but ended up bidding and winning a bottle which was EU based. I guess having an EU based mother in law has its advantages all of a sudden.

I suppose that I’d best get around to tasting.

Speyburn 18

Region – Speyside Age – 18 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Wine Gums, toffee, strawberries, honey, Palate – not a very aggressive introduction, rich mouth feel. Sweet, raisins, slight oak, touch of malt, cocoa powder. Strawberry, plum, cinnamon with a hint of ginger. Finish – dried fruit, smoky malt, wood spices.

Conclusions

This dram is spot on. It wasn’t very complex but there was a little bit there, which was opened up with a drop or two of water. It was an easy dram to drink, and you could feel that this one may go down the throat a little bit too easily. But here is the reason I really think this is spot on – the price. While there maybe better 18 year olds to had, you have to have a fairly large wallet to afford them. We’re looking at you Talisker – £185 is scandalous, as this could in theory buy 2 bottles of Speyburn 18 year old and a bottle of Bradan Orach. The cheapest I have seen the 18 year old online was £74.95, but Master of Malt or TWE have it for a smidge under £79. Amazon were one of the more expensive, at £82, but this is still good value for an 18 year old dram. Inver House do produce good whisky at reasonable prices, one other example has to be its other Speyside core range from An Cnoc.

This can easily be recommended, and if I am wrong, you can take solace that you haven’t broken the bank to break your heart.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

PRICES CORRECT AT TIME OF WRITING (30/10/2022)

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Speyburn Distillery Andrew Wood (Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Gone but the memory ‘Still’ remains.

Taste Review #66 – SMWS 38.24 Princess Street Gardens in Summer (Caperdonich 26 year old)

I’m not a big fan of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I guess it’s because the tight Aberdonian in me sees no point in joining a society just to get independent bottles. Every pound wasted in membership fees is money that could have gone on bottles. Add in the fact that I’d rarely be able to take advantage of the facilities then it’s almost a no-brainer that I’m never likely to be a member. There is another issue. Any out-turns are limited and usually snapped up straightaway so availability isn’t great either. You can see that there isn’t a lot to attract me to membership.

But…. (and there is always a but) the SMWS has always reliably released decent bottlings. The few that I have tried have been really good, and I’d never write off buying one at auction should the price be right. Unfortunately due to lack of availability, it is rarely right.

Those who have been reading my reviews know that I have a predilection towards unicorn drams will not be surprised that this week is another one that has been bottled by the SMWS. While Caperdonich isn’t rare by any standard, it is a distillery that has been consigned to the history books as it was demolished in 2011, making remaining supply finite which means at some point it will get rarer.

Caperdonich was built at the wrong time; 1898 wasn’t a good year for the Scottish Whisky Industry thanks to those Pattison rogues whose forgery pretty much collapsed the industry. The distillery was built as a sister plant to the Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside village of Rothes, yet closed in 1902. The malting floor, kilns and. warehouses were kept in use and it wasn’t until 1965 that the stills started to wake from their slumber. A whisky boom started that saw Glen Grant rise in popularity in Italy and Caperdonich was activated to help provide spirit, but times had moved on and so had U.K. law which forbade two separate distilleries sharing a name. Caperdonich is named after its water supply.

In 1977, the distillery was sold to Seagrams and by 2001 it was then sold to Pernod Ricard. Sadly by 2002 the distillery had been mothballed and demolition started in 2010. It’s not all bad news, as Forsyths expanded their company on the site of the old distillery. If that name isn’t familiar to you, then I can tell you that they are the company responsible for the manufacture of a good deal of the stills currently used in the Scotch Whisky industry.

Caperdonich is slowly starting to gain a premium on prices and it now is the time to try it before the price gets out of reach of the enthusiast drinker. I was lucky and spotted this cheeky little sample at auction and snapped it up pronto. Let’s see what I thought.


SMWS 38.24 – 2.5CL

Details

Region – Speyside Age26 y.o Strength – 51.2% Colour Yellow Gold

Nose

Light malt, creamy, pineapple, dried out lawn, caramel, puff pastries. Almonds. A smell that reminds me of a dusty dunnage warehouse.

Palate

Sweet. vanilla custard slices, tropical fruit salad with apricot, apple, warming spices after the arrival. Still getting the impression of that warehouse. Adding water gave a bit more of a citrus prominence

Finish

Spicy polished wood, black currants, hints of cocoa with a pleasant slightly tart taste in the mouth with a medium length finish.


The dram

Conclusions

I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed and thankfully I got exactly what I expected. A very easy to drink cask strength whisky that gave a pleasant experience of a light, old style malt from a different era. From the experience I’ve had just now I’d definitely look forward to trying other Caperdonich drams and for a moment I wondered if my position on the SMWS should change.


Caperdonich Distillery Reserve 50CL

Don’t worry, the tight Aberdonian in me will ensure I keep my money in my pocket considering how many other independent bottlings of Caperdonich are available. Original bottles are also available occasionally at the Aberlour, Glenlivet, Scapa and Strathisla distilleries, as I’m sure that Pernod Ricard still have a sizeable stock remaining. You can find it bottled as part of the distillery reserve collection and should my memory serve me correctly I paid around £75 for a 500ml bottle.

My 25ml nip was not cheap. It was almost £44 after auction fees etc were added. Let’s face it though, you may pay more in a bar to drink the same dram. The price certainly brings tears to a glass eye, but the experience made it more than worthwhile.

Keep an eye on the internet for cheaper Caperdonich whisky – they can vary in price at auction for £100 – £300 per bottle but often more. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Of course, your local friendly specialist whisky retailer may be able to advise you of the retail availability of bottles.

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Speyburn Surprise

Taste Review #45 – Speyburn 10

This review has gathered a wee bit of attention already. I just put out a few clues on the Facebook page as what the next review would be and the traction it gained was a wee bit of a surprise. None of you got it right, not even close! Perhaps we want a wee competition like this every now and again?

On my holidays over the festive season, I took a bundle of malt miniatures with me so I could continue building my backlog of taste reviews for when I was offshore. One of the bottles I picked up happened to be this Speyburn. There was an inwardly groan as it was yet another 10 year old, but it’s in the pile and review it we must!

John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”, and in my case this was so true, as on Boxing Day I went down with a severe bout of man flu and couldn’t smell or taste a thing. We are now well into the first week of January and this will be my first dram of 2020. God knows when the review will be published, but such is life. That I can’t plan.

Speyburn distillery sits to north of the village of Rothes, in Speyside. Just to the east of the A941 Elgin – Craigellachie Road, you can see the pagoda roof stick up from amongst the trees. It is said that is is Scotland’s most photographed distillery but I doubt that is the case as there isn’t a good place to stop and take a picture, and it fades into insignificance compared to Strathisla distillery.


Speyburn Distillery, just to the north of Rothes

Speyburn has been one of those malts that have been below the UK whisky radar for some time and is almost as hidden as thet building itself. As a whisky that has mostly been used for blends in the past, it doesn’t seem to have a great deal of exposure over here in Scotland. However the current owners, Inver House Distillers have been making some good, award winning whisky. They also own Old Pulteney, Balblair, Knockdhu (AnCnoc) and Balmenach distilleries, most of which are very highly regarded whiskies in their own right. Only Balmenach doesn’t produce a branded single malt, but is also the location where Caorunn gin is produced.

The Speyburn distillery started production in 1897, which was Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee year. It is one of Charles Doig’s designs, and is marked by the pagoda style ventilator. One of Doig’s other inventions, the pneumatic drum malting was also installed here, and was in use until 1968 when malting stopped at the site.


Flora and Fauna. Possibly first official bottling but had very limited run and now worth a kings ransom.

The village of Rothes had a further 4 distilleries, 3 of which are still in production – Glen Grant, Glen Spey, and Glenrothes. Sadly, Caperdonich closed in 2002, and was demolished in 2010. It is now the site of Forsyths, who manufacture distillery equipment, and are well known for their stills. Speyburn has fared better than most, having only been silent for 4 years from 1930. It survived the Pattison Crash and also the 1980’s whisky loch, unlike its neighbour to the north, Coleburn.

Speyburn is a malt you don’t see a lot of in the UK, but that is starting to change. I believe it’s first official release was the Flora and Fauna Speyburn 12 in 1991. This is the holy grail of whiskies, as it was only produced for reportedly one run before the distillery was sold to Inver House. It is the rarest of all the Flora and Fauna bottlings, and prices are now starting to go above £2000 a bottle. Not bad for a release that only cost around £35 when available on the shelves! I’m quite happy as I have a couple in my storage unit, but obviously can’t afford to drink them, so a modern Speyburn is as close as I’ll get.

There isn’t too much to do in Rothes itself, but you can visit Glen Grant distillery, and the Macallan distillery is very close. To the north you have the option of the Glen Moray distillery to visit.

Despite its relatively unknown presence in the UK, it has done quite well in International spirit competitions, and is a top ten single malt in the US. Without further ado, let’s crack on and see what the fuss is about.


Our dram for tasting


Region

Speyside

Age

10 years

Strength

40% abv

Colour

Pale gold

Nose

Honey, creamy lemon, citrus, green apple. Some floral and herbal aromas in there. Quite a fresh smell. I got reminded of freshly laundered linen.

Palate

Quite timid on the arrival. Medium bodied, not as thin as some other 10 year old whiskies I’ve tried recently. Subtle malt notes, a hint of a toasted cereal giving a slight sweet taste. Vanilla, pineapple, herbs and a light bit of sweet liquorice.

Finish

More malt in the finish, which for me tended to be short to medium. I got some spicy oak there too which was very pleasant which rounded out to be sweet in the conclusion.


The dram under test

Conclusion

Quite a surprise. I felt that my taste and smell senses may not have returned to normal after my cold, but there was flavour aplenty in this dram. I didn’t find it that complex at all, but then maybe my cold is hiding other taste and smell sensations, but going on what I did taste I enjoyed it considerably. It has all the essences of a decent Speyside whisky. It has been matured in American Oak Bourbon casks and some ex-sherry casks, and although I couldn’t say that I picked up the sherry influence, it was still sweet enough.

What is also amazing that this is a cheap whisky. You can pick this up for mid 20’s €/$/£ which is a total bargain. Yes, there may be cheaper bottles but you are getting a well built Scotch Single Malt for the money. In my mind I wasn’t expecting a lot and the price point was what was swaying me, but this is because it isn’t that popular a malt in the UK. Despite being widely available (Pretty sure I’ve seen it in Tesco) it doesn’t seem to have a lot of marketing spent on it in the UK which is a shame. As it seems to be a distillery that produces mostly for blends don’t let this distract you from the fact that there is also a NAS whisky as well as a 15 and 18 year old available.

If I was to pick fault with this, it’s solely because I suspect there is colouring added but not a lot. I’d also say it has been chill filtered, but most malts at this price point have. A higher abv would be a great leap forwards, but still there is nothing wrong with this whisky.

I don’t think I will go out to buy a bottle of this, but not because there is anything wrong with it. Indeed, I can recommend this whisky and if I do find myself with a Single Malt shortage combined with a tight bank account, this malt definitely hits the mark. I won’t be buying this as it has opened my eyes to Speyburn and will definitely be buying one of the older age statements. I also recommend this dram to people as is well made and would be perfect as an everyday sipper or even as a present. In this case, budget does not mean bad.

For me this presents a problem. I’m now looking at pictures of my Flora and Fauna bottles and wondering even more how they would compare. Thank god I store my stash in a different city!

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo credits

Speyburn Distillery – Anne Harrison under Creative Commons Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Other photos – Authors own.