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

Speculate to Accumulate

Do not be afraid of the not perfect.

The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.

The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.


The four drams. Only Coleburn is silent, having closed in 1985. Only one official bottling was released – the 1979 Rare Malts. Most production went into Ushers or Johnny Walker Red. The other distilleries are still producing.

The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.

  • Coleburn 1965
  • Dailuaine 1971
  • Speyburn 1971
  • Tomatin 1970

I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.


The fill levels

Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.

Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.

Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.

One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.


A good way to taste long gone distilleries. Linkwood still going, Glenury Royal closed in 1985 and was demolished soon after. Imperial was silent more often than it was operational, falling silent in 1998 for the last time and was finally demolished in 2013 to be replaced by the Dalmunach distillery.

As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?

The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?

As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.


Banff – bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII didn’t survive the 1983 whisky loch and was closed that year. Convalmore fell two years later but is growing in popularity. Royal Brackla has changed hands since this distillation but is still going.

As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!

Yours In Spirits.

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.