Have you ever tasted a whisky, then realised that you’ll never get it again? I have, quite a few times, although the wise amongst us will know that while whiskies are pretty much unique, the chances of getting something very similar is quite high. Well, I had that moment last year when I was stuck in London for 10 days in September last year. I took the opportunity to meet a fellow whisky enthusiast in Milroys of Soho, and I had a great time, as any whisky enthusiast would in a specialist whisky bar. Of course I wrote a blog about it, but the great regret was one of the whiskies I had was one I’d likely never get again. A search of the internet the morning after made it clear that I’d be more likely to find a mouthful of hens teeth in a pile of unicorn turds than find this whisky. Therefore I’d have to find an alternative.
They say that time stands still for no man, and that’s precisely what happened. Before long we were into March 2022, and I had all but given up hope of finding this whisky unless I was fortunate at auction. In desolation I paid a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop, where I was invited to smell a sample of a whisky and to guess what it was. And to my surprise, I smelt all the key notes of the whisky I was mourning. When I was informed that this was to be their bottling for the Spirit Of Speyside Festival in May, I immediately intimated that I would love to buy at least a bottle.
Fast forward to the end of May when I was finally able to purchase it, unusually for me I was straight into the bottle. Was it the same as the whisky I yearned for? No. But it was darned close. Having a wee bit more abv, a decade less maturation and a different sherry cask finish meant it would never be the same but it was enough to cheer me up enough to realise that I could probably now relax and end my search for the whisky I was never likely to find.
I’m quite comfortable in admitting that I probably don’t have the best of palates, especially due to sinus problems brought on by having my nose broken (also known as talking when I should have been listening), though I can taste enough and still I’m able to learn and educate my palate by tasting many whiskies like everybody else. It’s easy to observe that many people in the whisky orientated social media drink quite a spread of whisky, which will develop their palates too, but how well will it develop their memory?
Due to my employment patterns interrupting my enjoyment of whisky, coupled with the fact that once home I don’t want to spend every evening with alcohol when I do have time to drink results in the fact I may lack the practical tasting experience of others. However there are a handful of whiskies that I do remember the profiles pretty well, despite some of them only being sample size. I just can’t picture me remembering every single whisky I have ever tasted. While I might recall the general distillery profile, the exact taste I won’t. Hardly surprising, for I am the person who walks into a room then wonders why they went there in the first place. I joke that it’s not so much Alzheimer’s but more ‘auld timers’ that caused it. However, in spite of the variety of whiskies as I have managed over the years (mostly pre-fatherhood), I have to admit that I’m starting to see many as pretty much of a muchness, where only the truly standout whiskies for me stand a chance of being remembered. Am I alone in this?
Plenty of others are able to consume at will and search for the whisky-de-jour, but will they remember much more than the approximate profiles of those gone by in the past, other than an obvious distillery style? The restless cynic in me means that I personally doubt it. While the mind is a wonderful thing, I prefer to think unless it’s a dram they really identify with, in all honesty most people will only remember general profiles, unless they work in the industry and this have a vested interest in having such recall. That’s just my opinion, and of course everybody has a different whisky journey behind and before them. We can refer back to tasting notes, but I am of a mind that we can’t really always rely on them unless it’s a dram you have spent a lot of time with. Tasting notes can often represent that snapshot in time you had that bottle, which if you only got one or two, may not be a long time depending on how quickly you drank it. Our taste buds change over time too, so that whisky you tasted once then coveted could well be a disappointment if you have it again.
Food for thought? I’ll have probably forgotten this by time I publish this anyway, so don’t be afraid to remind me.
Anyway, this Auchroisk that was bottled for the Speyside Whisky Shop is my little aide-memoir to that early autumn evening in Soho.
Region – Speyside Age – 9 y.o Strength – 55.3% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Oloroso Hogsheads Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dark fruit. Dates, figs, toffee, dark chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Palate – creamy mouthfeel, with a prominent toffee and coffee note. Develops into a sticky toffee pudding taste with sultana and dates. The spirit starts to make an appearance with peppery heat appearing. Finish – The peppery heat dissolves back into a spiced fruit loaf with a hint of nutmeg. Medium long finish.
A cracker of a whisky. Extremely enjoyable but unfortunately after a few glasses I have to concede that it just wasn’t the same as my memory remembered from last year. Close, but not close enough. The purchase price of £62-ish was good enough value for this dram.
Unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to buy this one, unless you are lucky to get one at auction, though I think I’m safe to assume that everybody that bought this bought it to consume. I managed to get two bottles and while I told myself one would be stored, I think I’ll be opening that one too. After all, the main takeaways from this article will be:-
1/Chasing whisky is part madness – there will always be another whisky which is close to what you seek.
2/ Does rare really matter? While there are some genuinely rare whiskies based on availability of stock, it seems that some whiskies are artificially made rare through the choices of the bottler to limit releases by only partially bottling a cask. If for example an IB releases a 12 year old “Glenbollox” finished in an Octave, then while it may only yield around 70 bottles, then there is still the rest of the Hogshead somewhere in the trade to be released with another finish. And unless it’s a unique cask and a rare vintage; it’s not really genuinely rare to the drinker – there will be other whiskies that taste similar that won’t have the same premiums, be they genuine or manufactured attached to them.
You’ll just have to find it.
And lastly, being totally contrary to my points above, did I really give up the search for that mythical whisky? No, not really. While I believe it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, my OCD decided not to let go. After all, sometimes you never find something, but it finds you.
Made In Taiwan or Made In Hong Kong. That seemed to be the manufacturing location of a good proportion of the plastic toys I had as a kid. Back in the 70’s, this was the indication that your toy was most likely to be mass produced crap. But without casting aspersions over the quality of these goods, even though the vast majority of Christmas presents that originated from there were broken by Easter, that isn’t always the case with everything now.
Of course, Hong Kong has now returned to China, and Beijing still has eyes on Formosa, which it sees as part of its empire whereas the rest of the world knows its Taiwan. And the quality of produce from there has certainly taken an upward swing from the toys of the 70’s and 80’s to the adult beverages of the new millennium.
Kavalan is a new distillery, built in 2005 and had its first spirit out by 2006. I’ll be upfront here as I’m being lazy and just regurgitating Wikipedia, as I’m trying to kill my backlog of pending reviews. But according to that most reliable resource of fact (or opinion), Kavalan did well enough to beat Scotch whisky in a Burns Night blind tasting in 2010. Jim Murray of sexy whisky infamy gave Kavalan Solist Sherry cask malt his award for new whisky of the year. I’d already heard on the grapevine that this was a distillery to sit up and take notice of, so z zzz who am I do doubt the behatted one?
As usual for now, I’ve no real tales to tell about this distillery, so let me refer you to the distillery website
Region – Taiwan Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – wood polish, bananas, mango, vanilla, egg custard. Coconut and freshly cut green grass. Palate – light to medium mouthfeel. Vanilla, foam banana, dry white wine – possibly Chardonnay. Mango in background, along with creamy vanilla. Finish – short finish, quite unremarkable. Walnuts and a slight brine note. Drying towards the end.
Kavalan Sherry Oak
Region – Taiwan Age – NAS Strength – 46% Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask Type – Colouring – Chill Filtered – Nose – strawberries, blackberries, tobacco, puff pastry, cherries, almond. Quite sweet with a slight vegetal note. Palate – bitter oak, blackberries, raisins, unami, orange peel, caramel, slight malt there. Finish – drying. Medium length. Raisins, dark chocolate, slight note of hops and salt.
Not a lot to say here. To be short and sweet neither won me over. Having said that, these weren’t bad drams – just not for me. I got the cask notes without a problem I feel but for me there were notes in both that I didn’t resonate with. Starting with the classic, there was a white wine note there that was a bit too dry for me and brought back memories of drinking white wine at Christmas as soon as my family thought me old enough. It was usually Chardonnay and that’s a wine I avoid. Give me a good German Spätlese or Auslese, even a delicious Eiswein. Now we’re talking.
While I can be a bit of a colour-tart, regularly giving into the dark sherried whisky (because that is usually the flavour profile I crave; I know it doesn’t mean premium whisky) , I was surprised not to enjoy the sherry Kavalan. Again, a bit of dryness from the sherry wood; unmistakably Oloroso, the dry dark fruit was marred by the sourness and saltiness I picked up. The savoury note on its own was fine, but I was expecting something with a more prominent dark fruit note which was not as forward as I had hoped.
It’s always a disappointment when something you have looked forward to doesn’t float your boat, but that’s just the way it is. However I’d say there is enough there to try some more Kavalan in the future.
The next world whisky in my sights is a bottling from the Netherlands. It’s not a country that you’d instantly associate with whisky distilling, but why not? After all, the busy wee cloggies aren’t just keeping their fingers in Dykes, chasing mice in windmills and making large red round cheeses. They distill a plenty considering all the genever and gin they make, so why not whisky?
I’m not the world’s biggest gin fan, and the only Dutch drink I miss is Advocaat, that having been a regular drink for the underage drinker at Grandmas every new year coupled with lemonade to make a snowball. Yummy! I notice a few of you on social media were enjoying a snowball or two at the time I was drafting this, so perhaps it’s coming back in fashion.
The sample I have to try today is a Millstone 6 y.o whisky. The Zuidam distillery was started in 1975 and is one of the few independent distillers in the Netherlands. The malted barley is milled by windmills, which is pretty cool and traditional. I was gifted this sample by SmileySmoggy, a fellow member of the Whisky Twitterati.
Millstone 6 y.o (TBWC)
Region – Netherlands Age – 6 y.o Strength – 48.9% abv Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring -Not Stated Chill Filtered – No Nose – Coffee, Chocolate, Red Apple, caramel, slight hint of liquorice. A floral note is present but I can’t place it. Palate – Quite creamy and peppery, orange peel with cloves, slightly sweet but spicy. Medium mouthfeel Finish – Quite long, spicy. Peppery and sweet. Slightly drying towards the end. With water, there was a continuation of the chocolate theme, but for me water really shortened the finish.
I like the Dutch. While they can appear arrogant, (and sadly some of them are, but us Brits can’t throw stones in that greenhouse) the vast majority of them are really open and friendly as well as being direct. You always tend to know where you are with the Dutch. They also have some awesome food, even just the basic French fries and mayonnaise based saus. Don’t get me started on the food that has come from their imperial conquests in the Far East such as Loempia and Nasi Goering or other street favourites such as shawarma and Frikandel sausage with the sweet curry ketchup. If you haven’t tried these things then you need to.
That’s the same with Millstone. It wasn’t the same style as I am more used to, but it grew on me. I would recommend you try some if you see it on the shelf. It wouldn’t be a go-to whisky for me, but I’d be delighted to receive it as a gift and would drink again.
The only downside is that the That Boutique-y Whisky Company only bottle in 50cl size. This RRP of £54.95 I feel pushes the sense of value, so it wouldn’t be a regular purchase should I be tempted.
It’s amazing how often you can drive by something and not realise the treat you are missing. Being somebody who works away from home, I get used to missing things as deadlines and events pass me by. But this month I was going to make a stand and take action about some things that I’ve passed by for years.
The first thing that that I regularly pass by is the Bridge of Avon at Ballindalloch castle. If you are familiar with the A95 road that runs through Speyside, you’ll know of the hairpin like bend that descends past the Delnashaugh Hotel, towards Ballindalloch Post Office and Filling station. There is a modern bridge going over the River Avon, and out one side, you may see the gatehouse for one of the Ballindalloch Castle entrances, but it’s hard to see the old bridge.
The other thing that is easy to pass by is some whitewashed steadings, but not just any old steadings – these contain the Ballindalloch Distillery, which started production in 2014. I have to admit that I don’t pass it by, as I have visited before and completed the ‘Art Of Whisky Making’ day that was run before the advent of the Coronavirus pandemic. This time I was going to be able to stop and take part in my first Spirit of Speyside Festival event in many years.
The Spirit of Speyside festival is probably the largest whisky festival in Scotland, if not the UK. Starting in 1999, the festival can ordinarily have over 700 events spread out over 6 days. Over the past couple of years, the festival has been impacted by the pandemic and the normally springtime event in 2021 was moved to the late autumn. This was great news for me. Normally the spring through to summer periods are a busy time at work due to the fact a lot of projects kick off at sea when the weather is more conducive to oil industry operations so I normally miss out, but the rescheduled festival this year meant I could take part once again.
As part of the Spirit of Speyside Festival this year, the distillery opened its doors once more. Not only would you get a detailed tour of the very compact distillery, but you would also get the chance to taste their single malt some two years before its official release.
Our party of 8 for this event included Richard Forsyth OBE, the former managing director of Forsyth’s of Rothes, the company famous for the manufacture of distilling equipment. Mr Forsyth told the story how he and some golfing chums used to play on the Ballindalloch Golf course. One day they had been playing and had met the Laird of Ballindalloch Castle at the time, Oliver Russell. Mr Russell had been mentioning to Mr Forsyth and his friends that he didn’t know what to do with the ruined buildings, which were listed, and means they could not be demolished, so the story goes that Mr Forsyth had suggested a distillery.
It is a good job that this advice was taken, for by 2014 the Ballindalloch distillery had started production. One of the issues in the construction was that the buildings could not be modified externally due to listing regulations, therefore any distilling equipment had to be fitted within the available space.
The distillery has a copper topped mash tun, with a charge of 1 ton of grist, the process then flows through the building beyond with 4 wooden washbacks followed by the single wash and spirit stills. All the equipment is on an upper mezzanine which makes the process easier to understand. While the majority of those present had been to the distillery before, the distillery manager Colin Poppy gave us a detailed yet unhurried tour and the opportunity to ask whatever questions we wished.
Previously, tours usually ended in the tasting hall or sitting room where there were comfortable sofas to sit and relax while drinking whisky from some of the family Cragganmore whisky casks, on account of there being no Ballindalloch whisky to taste. This time was going to be different.
I’m not going to beat around the bush; the highlight of this trip was to sample the Ballindalloch whisky. For the tasting we were able to try two 7 year old samples of Ballindalloch. One was from cask 5, which was a bourbon cask, and the second one was from an Oloroso sherry cask number 130.
Due to the nature of the tasting, I wasn’t able to take detailed tasting notes of any of the whiskies at the time as I was not able to take the time to really analyse the drams but I can give you the following: –
7 Year old Bourbon Cask – 60.3%
Nose: – Black pepper, Apples, slightly acidic – lemon. Hint of vanilla.
Palate: – Sweet – vanilla fudge, Apple jolly rancher candies, pastry notes. Became more spicy once water added, and the apple became less prominent and more like an apple pie with cinnamon and ginger. Light to medium mouthfeel with little spirit burn.
Finish: – Long but gentle finish with the apple, ginger and vanilla notes fading gradually.
7 Year Old Oloroso Cask – 60.2%
Nose: – Raisins, Fig, Christmas cake sponge, Red Apple.
Palate: – Much more Raisins and Fig, Plums, Sultanas, Nutmeg. Sweet, light to medium body, excellent mouthfeel with little spirit burn.
Finish: – Again, became a little spicier when water added. Another gentle fade with the Christmas Cake Spices and dried fruit dominating.
These drams both have something in common – at no point would you have guessed you were drinking cask strength spirit at such a young age. I found both these spirits to be immediately drinkable. Water was not necessary, though did open the spirit. Indeed, everybody at the tasting had the same opinion of the Ballindalloch spirit. It was agreed that the whisky that we were provided was exceptional. In my opinion the fact that Ballindalloch had made the decision not to release whisky as soon as they could legally do so was the correct one. I’ve tasted a few younger drams from some of the recent crop of recently opened distilleries and they come nowhere close to this.
The three Cragganmore that followed were also very delicious, ranging from a 28 y.o Bourbon Cask at 53.1%, a 28 y.o 2nd fill Bourbon cask at 42.6% and a 29 year old PX cask at 43.2%.
Ballindalloch will always be a distillery with limited supply of whisky when they eventually release. All the barley for the distillery is grown on the Ballindalloch estate, and the distillery was never designed with 24 hr operation in mind. If they were to up production, they would also likely need more washbacks to maintain the long fermentation times that are required to give the light and fruity spirit that is produced at Ballindalloch. And here is where the problem lies is that there is no room for extra washbacks.
With Ballindalloch not having a large output and not able to expand, it is likely that releases of Ballindalloch will have the same buzz that is seen when a Daftmill is released. And it deserves this accolade, if not more than Daftmill. I’ve had early Daftmill and at 12 years old it came nowhere near to the levels of enjoyment I got with the Ballindalloch whisky. Colin and his team have done an excellent job in developing the Ballindalloch distillery right from the start. The unrushed approach to the distillation of the whisky has paid off, and I can’t wait to taste the final spirit.
We were told that Ballindalloch is not likely to release its spirit until 2023, this will be as an 8 year old. Colin informed those present that the plan would ideally to be to progress to a 10 and 12 year old once stocks allow. Of course, one does hope for single cask releases too.
Based on this experience, I don’t think anybody should have any sleepless nights over the quality of this whisky. The only sleepless nights I will get will be because I just can’t wait.
Hopefully the Ballindalloch distillery will get back to allowing regular tours next year, as well as the day long ‘Art of Whisky’ making course. I can personally recommend this, as you can see the passion in the Ballindalloch team in their distillery, the care they take with their spirit, and hopefully now the smiles they will have now the public have had a taste of their work and have loved it.
Thanks also to Fiona and Andrew at the Delnashaugh hotel just around the corner from Ballindalloch distillery. I stayed here when visiting for the Art Of Whisky day and again for this trip as I could not drive after drinking.
A great family run hotel with delicious food and large comfortable rooms. I slept well and the breakfast the next day was outstanding. I thoroughly recommend that anybody visiting Ballindalloch consider staying here.
Hiding in plain sight. Thats often what I think when I essentially ransack my study or bedroom looking for something that is sitting innocently on a shelf in full view when I am doing my mental calculations as to where I last saw it. Before I left for my last offshore trip I couldn’t find my head torch. I always have a dirty one for work, yet also carry a clean one if I am going to be staying in a hotel or have one in my cabin. Should there be a fire, you never know when you will need help. After wasting a day and a half looking for it and realising that I could have left it in a hotel in Borneo, I was only able to start to end the mental anguish by ordering a new one. And 6 hours after ordering, I found the old one tangled up in the lanyards of my memory sticks. I shook my head, as I tipped that bag out twice. It’s never easy being me sometimes.
The dram that I am going to review just now is the similar, although I haven’t had to waste a whole day looking for it. Sitting on the shelves of whisky retailers and even sitting on the shelves of my local Tesco Extra from time to time, Finlaggan was another of those whiskies I kept clear of because I did not know what distillery it was from and I’ve plenty of other drams to keep going on with. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the Whisky Shop Duffown, plus in their 5cl range, but I decided against it. “I’ll stick to what I know of” I kept saying to myself.
It was a trip into Inverness to a kilt makers of all places that also had a range of tourist souvenirs that prompted me to look in by. It was actually a recommendation of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill across the road, which incidentally also have a good range of miniatures. I know what I said about going into the touristy places in my Loch Lomond review, but it was in the EWM that I found a 16 year old Glentauchers G&M miniature for £7. You just need to be careful but bargains can be had.
Finlaggan is an anonymous Islay Single Malt which is released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, formed by Brian Crook in 1992. Brian was a former director from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Finlaggan was one of its launch brands, which were updated in 2014. Currently the core range is Finlaggan Old Reserve at 40%, Eilean Mor at 46% and a cask strength one at 58%.
As the whisky distillery is anonymous, the brand is named after Finlaggan Castle, which sits on an island in Loch Finlaggan, Islay. There isn’t really a lot to write about it, so I’ll just proceed with the tasting.
Finlaggan Old Reserve
Region -Islay Age – NAS Strength -40% ABV Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Peat, hard cheddar, iodine, toasted wholemeal bread, citrus. Palate – Light mouthfeel, brine, lemon, peat, nutmeg. Finish – medium short. Peat, brine, sweet. Strong wood spices going down the throat, but a small splash of water brings it into control. Drying in the end
I don’t like judging things on first tastes, but my first taste of this to be honest was not positive. Not too bad a nose, a calm palate with spice building and the insanity breaks out once swallowed. Hot spices and a weak peat, the sweetness turning to dryness. It became more balanced with a splash of water.
I like peaty whisky, so it’s not that I don’t like peat. In my opinion this is a young Caol Ila. I’ll base that thought on that it is the closest distillery to Loch Finlaggan and it is probably the distillery most likely to have the capacity to keep up with demand for the independent sales. It doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as other Caol Ila’s I’ve had and that’s being kind. I hate to admit this, but I couldn’t finish it and sadly had to dispose of it down the sink. You can’t like everything unfortunately.
It may be cheap, but I’ll be leaving this one on the shelf though in my opinion it’s best left in a dungeon, never to escape. I’ll be continuing to hunt for something more tasty. However if I see a mini of one of the other drams, I’d love to try for a second go, but this dram was definitely not for me.
*** There will be a following article about this review in the very near future. Be sure to catch it ***
There is always somebody who wants to go one better. We all know that person. When you’ve been to Tenerife for your holidays, then they have gone to Elevenerife. They have the guitar amplifier that goes all the way to 11. You know the sort. They are really annoying to work with, as you end up feeling that you can’t say a thing without some sort of oneupmanship or some sort of belittling comment.
How annoying is it when somebody claims to be one better, yet only this time they aren’t trying to belittle you, their claim is actually true? As Winston Churchill said “I find humble pie to be a most edifying diet”, yet some people seem to have gone on hunger strike.
If you have the pleasure of visiting Dalwhinnie distillery, nestled on the northern reaches of Drumochter Pass, given the remote and desolate landscape around you, it is hard to conceive that there could be a distillery higher above sea level than this in the UK. But there is. And nobody in Dalwhinnie speaks about it. For if you were to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, but travel a bit further south, and you will come to a small settlement called Braes of Glenlivet. Travel through the hamlet and on your right will be the 1970’s distillery called Braeval. Despite the green farmland around you, believe it or not, if you stand beside the still house with a hand held GPS, you will find that you are 2 metres higher than Dalwhinnie. Of course, this could be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the satellites available and who our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are bombing, so lets not offend anybody any further and allow Dalwhinnie to not lose any face by saying they are the highest distillery with a visitors centre.
The Braes of Glenlivet was built in 1973, constructed for Seagram, a Canadian based distiller. The distillery was one of the first to be built as a fully automated distillery, requiring only one operative. It was also one of the first to be built as entirely open plan. There is a rumour that the first mash took place before the roof was put on so the incoming Canadian chairman could be impressed, but that’s likely to be a part of distillery folk lore that each distillery has its own tale. The other thing that is a bit fake about the distillery is the pagoda roof. Due to the age and automation of the distillery, there has never been any malting taking place on site, but it does help it’s brutal 1970’s architecture blend in with the local area.
If you think that the architecture is bad, then look a bit further north to its sister distillery in the shadow of Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhainne. It also was constructed by Seagram, opening in 1975, and bought by Chivas in 2001. Allt-a-Bhainne was eventually given a single malt release in 2018, which while I thought it was ok, wasn’t going to set the world on fire, despite all of the marketing cliches that accompanied its release.
The distillery changed its name to Braeval in 1994, to avoid any confusion with its much more famous neighbour in the glen. Not that there would be much confusion, as Braeval as a single malt is quite hard to get a hold of. As far as I know there has never been an official bottling, other than the Distillery Reserve bottles released by Pernod Ricard who took over the distillery in 2000. The distillery was mothballed a year later, not resuming production until 2008.
If you want to taste a Braeval, then your best bet is going to be through an independent bottler, and for this we have to be thankful that Douglas Laing has done just that with their Old Particular brand. Given the hot mess of the Allt-a-Bhainne release, I’d dread to think of what PR would do with Braeval. So it comes to be that I ordered some time ago a 3CL sample from Master Of Malt in order to make up a tasting set. I’d never tasted Braeval before but thought the time had come to set this right.
Old Particular Braeval 18 (Douglas Laing cask 11205)
Region – Speyside Age – 18 yr old Strength – 48.4% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite light, Honey, apple, walnuts, spices, a hint of malt. Palate – oily, apple continues, honey, slightly sweet. Finish – medium/long. Warm and drying, sweet. Apple peel, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, a hint of raisin. Water smoothed things out a bit, but shortened the finish.
Not a bad first venture. Definitely very pleasant to drink, and despite it’s slightly higher ABV, the spirit doesn’t seem very forward; there isn’t any great spirit arrival here, it is all gently warming, with a surprising dryness that thankfully doesn’t cause your mouth to pucker. There is a bit more of a spirit burn as it goes down your throat, but burn is a bad word to use here – heat and warmth is probably the best description. This is a malt you could seek out and enjoy if it wasn’t just for one catch – it’s discontinued.
By all means you could look around at auction to see if it turns up, but you’d be better off keeping an eye on what independent bottlers are releasing. If you can find a Braeval from a sherry cask with the same sort of age, I’d definitely recommend it.
If you are a regular follower of my blog, (and if you aren’t, then you should be!) you will know that over the past four months I’ve been doing taste tests of drams that are generations apart. The reason for doing this is to confirm or deny the saying that whisky was better in the olden days.
It is often the habit of people of previous generations that proclaim things were better in times gone by in their era. I used to scoff at them, but now as I approach a certain age, I can tell you that this may be the case. When I look back on tales of my own job, this is certainly the case. I remember the days when a ship would dock and there would be a herd of ‘Gangway Gazelles’ leaving the ship to head to the nearest bar. Times have changed now, and these things are frowned upon more and more, probably because they got tired of police arriving at boats, people just not turning up at the boat on time, or people just not turning up at all. It’s always an immediately sobering feeling waking up to see your ship sitting at anchor in the bay wondering how on earth you are going to get onboard. Only happened to me once…..
Whisky seems to have the same process. So many times you hear of people reminiscing about drams of yesteryear, the claim of how Macallan isn’t as good as it used to be, or even the qualities of discontinued drams in comparison to their replacement. Everybody has an opinion, but I decided it was time to maybe look a bit closer at this thought, to determine if it was a myth or if the various opinions had some traction. Thankfully, after a time of buying batches of miniature whiskies at auction to get one of the bottles contained within, I’d been left with quite a selection of older miniatures which had prompted me to investigate further and compare them to their contemporaries.
Let’s look at how I assessed the drams.
1/ I endeavoured as much as possible to compare like with like. That isn’t as easy as it sounds as core ranges change. Even, as in the case of Auchroisk, the age may be the same, but the Flora and Fauna is upped to 43% and is exclusively bourbon cask maturation, unlike the Singleton’s sherry cask finishing. In the case of the Benromach, there wasn’t a comparable 12 year old in the modern range, apart from a cask strength, so I used a 10 year old. As far as possible I used a contemporary dram if like for like wasn’t available.
2/ I never tasted blind. I know this may seem to invalidate my testing, but I don’t have coloured glasses, and besides, having seen the bottles before I tasted, it was often easy to see what one was the older or younger sample.
The other thing that made blind tasting pointless was the fact that I was using miniatures for a lot of my tastings. Due to the seal area / liquid volume ratio, plus the older drams suffered on occasion from old bottle effect, which made the older dram easy to identify. I mitigated this in most examples by letting the dram rest for 30 mins or adding water. It has to be said the usual taste was a musty, cardboard taste. I think that is common for older screw top seals, as a Glenturret 12 y.o sample I’ve had from a full sized 1980’s bottling was similarly affected. So if I was always able to easily identify the old or new bottlings by taste or smell, being tasted blind would make no difference.
3/ I’m fully aware that I cannot say that one is better than the other. That is because taste is subjective. However, my plan was if I could perhaps establish a pattern across the 43 samples I tried, there would be more grounds for coming to a conclusion whether whisky was better in the past or not
4/ I tried as hard as I could to get at least one whisky from each region, however Campbeltown and the Lowland regions have had tiny amount of distilleries for some time. This means it is harder to get old and new samples without purchasing full size bottles. This was going to lead to expense that I just could not justify. The reason I tested more Highland or Speyside malts is solely because samples were easier to obtain. Plus that’s where the majority of Scottish distilleries with visitor centres are located, thus more likely to have a 5cl release.
Cost has been a limiting factor. Some of the older minis were expensive. I had seen the older Aberlour 10 retail at £40 for 5cl. The Springbank I had to pay £40 for a batch of minis just for this one and another £60 for a full sized modern bottle so I could have one Campbeltown sample. The Highland Park 1980’s sample was £46 all in, but being 10cl, I’m going to be able to share that with a whisky friend who probably hasn’t tasted much, if any early Highland Park.
The 10 year old Macallan wasn’t cheap either. I had planned to use my 70cl bottle from the 1990’s that was damaged in a flood at my storage locker. It is still worth about £350 as a drinking bottle. In one way, I’m glad COVID restrictions stopped me retrieving it from the locker, as I’ve been able to get a 1980’s 10 year old sample instead. However, that was the same price as the Highland Park and only 5cl. So my whisky loving friends are going to have to wait a bit longer before they gets a sample of my damaged bottle.
So, no expense spared.
You can get links to each review by clicking on the distillery name which will open in a new page.
It can be seen that if you read each review that there were 14 wins for the older drams, 2 for the newer drams, three draws and one void. However it is not as simple to say that older drams are definitely better just looking at tally marks, as we have to take into account the subjective nature of taste. In the majority of times I picked the earlier era of whisky, this is due to the whisky in the older sample being more accessible, easier to drink, more pleasant notes or a better mouthfeel or finish. In the cases where it was hard to decide, it was often a gnat’s knee cap of difference, but a notable difference at least that I feel I’d be able to pick out on subsequent tasting.
Whisky and its distillation does change over time; it’s almost inescapable. There is little way of guaranteeing absolute continuity when staff come and go, changes in barley or yeast, changes in the time to ferment or distill, or even the temperature in the worm tubs can all have subtle differences. An example which you may not find likely but is 100% true occurred in the heat experienced during the summer of 2018. Dalwhinnie distillery had to stop production not because they had a lack of water, but they could not cool the spirit properly in the worm tubs due to the warmer water source, making the spirit character change too much. It makes me wonder how the spirit that was created just before they decided to stop will show through in bottling, though most likely it will end up in a blend.
One of the things I really noticed was that a couple of the newer drams had a very thin mouthfeel, or less intensity of flavour. The Glenlivet 12 totally seemed to lack a finish. I was able to communicate with a distiller who was able to give me a few pointers. Being honest, this is not limited to one distillery and it is unfair I suppose to name Glenlivet who have produced and continue to produce some great spirit. The answer confirmed a lot of my thoughts, but was put in a more succinct way. I’m going to add a bit more meat to the bones of what he told me so this is not quoted verbatim, but is also reflecting a situation that hasn’t exactly been a secret.
It has been no great surprise to hear that the distilleries have been facing a rapid demand for stocks, and as thus older stocks have been depleted. Aged whisky just cannot be produced on demand, so brands have had to make decisions on meeting that demand with stock available. A source in the industry once told me last year that a well known premium brand had a 12 year old whisky that once had an average age of 14-15 years old when you looked at the vatting. Nowadays its average age is 12 years old, and lacks the richness that it once had. Clue: – it is one of the distilleries that I tasted as part of this series. It isn’t limited to that brand either, as the distiller I spoke to while doing a review of one of these spirits said that this is common throughout the industry; a detail that has been mentioned to me by a few people in the industry. This may explain why so often the new era whiskies don’t have the same depth of character that older whiskies can provide. Distilleries just don’t have the same catalogue of aged barrels to pull from, and may preserve the older and higher quality stock for their more premium releases.
In my research, it was hinted that the quality of wood used has taken a backward step. When tasting whiskies of previous eras, most notably the sherry cask ones, the casks are not the same as before. Sherry ceased to be exported in casks in the early 1980’s meaning that source of casks was no longer available. Solera casks are not suitable for whisky production, as the Bodegas want as little wood influence as possible. Distilleries have been forced to season casks with sherry, and while you may get the taste, it is my belief that it isn’t as successful as having the real thing. Of course, some distilleries spend a lot of money getting their wood right, but some also may not concentrate on this to the same level.
The cask quality issue continues when it was mentioned to me was the general make up of casks in a vatting isn’t as good as it used to be. In order to perhaps lower production costs and increase the amount of whisky available, there are probably not as many first fill casks in the vatting of single malts. There are probably a lot more 2nd and 3rd fill casks getting used in any vatting. This may not be noticed in some whiskies, but most notably I noticed that the newer Aberlour and the Glenlivet I had tasted seem to have very thin bodies and next to no finish. The distiller I spoke to mentioned the fact less 1st fill casks being used will probably explain it. The wood has less to give, with less and less flavour components being imparted to the spirit. Indeed, I was recently shown a 9 year old 4th fill cask sample from a well known Speyside distillery, and to be honest it wasn’t much more than dirty dishwater in colour. One can assume next to no cask influence unless it is left for a couple of more decades at least.
It often leaves me wondering if production times have changed too, with fermentation and still times being made shorter to increase the production capacity where physical alterations are not possible or too expensive. With the boom in whisky sales showing little sign of slowing at the moment, the pressure is on distilleries to produce or lose market share. The more traditional distilleries also have the burden of having to supply produce for blends, which are in just as much, if not more demand than single malts.
A Personal Choice?
It is obvious if you look through the results of my reviews, that I do think there are good grounds for suggesting that whisky from previous eras are better in some cases. Of course it could be argued that this statement is dependent entirely on my own subjective point of view and taste, but that is why precisely why I deliberately tried as many whiskies as I could across each of the Scotch whisky regions. I also tried to pick some malts that I was unfamiliar with, so any bias could be ruled out. As alluded to in some of the reviews, I have always tried to find an identifiable flaw or difference that I could recognise in a blind test, in order to try and reduce the effect of simple preference. It’s not perfect but the best I could do in that circumstance.
I knew that bias would creep in. I had made my mind up that in the last comparison I did of Macallan 10 that the older Macallan would easily beat the newer dram, but I had to be honest and say that this just wasn’t the case at all. I would be telling lies if I said that one was much better than the other and doing a disservice to the quality control at Macallan. But I’ve heard from a friend who is involved in the industry that Macallan 10 was one of those whiskies that had an average age significantly higher than the age statement, so that made it expensive to produce. It was a good decision by Edrington to withdraw the age statement rather than continue with what may have been a much inferior product.
What mostly drew me to the older whiskies that I thought were better was just the depth of flavour, the length of finish, the mouth feel or just the fact that I was instantly drawn to it – that the whiskies were just so easily drinkable.
One thing that I noticed that in some cases the distiller had changed the ABV when producing the newer edition. Both Bruichladdich and Clynelish increased their core bottling to 46%, which removes the need for chill filtering. Auchroisk only upped their core to 43% in the Flora and Fauna bottling, but this also was supplemented by a change to exclusively bourbon maturation. There wasn’t a lot in the drams, but I felt the sherry finished Singleton had more character and mouthfeel than the Flora and Fauna dram. Interestingly enough, Auchentoshan had dropped their ABV to 40% from 43% but lengthened the maturation period. I personally think this was a backward step, as while I didn’t mind the 10 year old dram, I found the 12 year old was nowhere near as good and eventually was so undrinkable to me that it went down the sink.
There is one issue that we have to take into consideration was that the old bottles often suffered from the ‘old bottle effect’. I found that by leaving the drams to breathe for a while and adding a drop of water often mitigated this phenomenon but never eliminated it.
Drams that I liked or disliked
The one thing that my blog was designed to do was to encourage me to try different drams, and in this series it has forced me to drink a few whiskies that I wouldn’t normally drink. It is important to know what has gone in the past so we have a yard stick to judge the future. But is that really important? Because when it comes down to facts, all that matters is whether WE like it or not and definitely not as a result of others telling us we should like it.
The top drams that I tasted as a result of this series would definitely be –
Glenfarclas 10 (old)
Clynelish 14 Flora and Fauna
Glenrothes 8 (2007 – The Malt Cask Co.)
The drams I did not really enjoy
Auchentoshan 12 – so bad I couldn’t finish it
Aberlour 12 (New) – no finish whatsover
Glenlivet 12 (New) – poor mouthfeel and no finish.
The Final Caveat
Of course, this cannot be the final word. We have to keep an eye on what is happening in the whisky world. As I type this out, Glendronach have reportedly already removed the Non Chill Filtered Statement from their 15 year old bottling. Why they would need to do this when it is not necessary to chill filter a whisky at 46% I don’t know, unless they are thinking about lowering the ABV or are actually going to chill filter at 46% which will result in a change in flavour. It is a backward step, so this is why I maintain it is always good to keep an eye on the past so we can know that we indeed have tasted good whisky.
The final caveat is that we cannot stop here; we need to compare the whisky of the future to the whisky we have now to see if there is a progression. I think it is increasingly obvious that the production of whisky is in the hands of accountants as much as it is in the care of Master Blenders. We have to see that producers maintain or increase standards, or we risk going down the route that Auchentoshan went or that Glendronach seems to be heading. The internet has made information much more easier to obtain and share, with the result that today’s whisky enthusiast is much more informed and will not easily accept a reduction in standards.
Whoever wants to do the comparison of the next era of whisky against this era is welcome to do it – I’m done!
I’d like to thank everybody who has helped or encouraged me to complete this series. It has been an expensive labour of love, both financially, on time and emotionally. If you liked this article, can I ask that you share it, so it makes my work seem more worthwhile. And of course I will welcome all comments about this; it would be great if this generated some discussion in the community.
We’ve come to the last in my old vs. new reviews and I’ve saved what is one of the best known name in whisky until last. Macallan. This has been one of the hardest comparisons to be organised, as COVID got in the way of me reaching my old 1990’s bottle of 10 year old Macallan which was damaged in a flood. As I had consigned this to a drinking bottle it would have been perfect for this cause. Conveniently I had managed to pick up a 1990’s miniature at auction, as the 70cl Macallan 10 year olds are now reaching £400 at auction, and I am not paying that just to do a review.
The newer bottle was also procured at auction, and it is currently easy to purchase, despite being discontinued as an age statement. It is in a much different box, with the white Easter Elchies box being discontinued mid 2000’s. The range was rebranded slightly in 2004 with the introduction of a second 10 year old in the core selection with the addition of the Fine Oak edition, which introduced spirit also matured in American Bourbon casks. As to the Sherry Oak, sometimes when there is a rebrand, this is a chance to do a slight recipe tweak, so we’ll see if this is the case in this instance.
The 10 year old Sherry Oak was discontinued in 2013 and the 10 year old Fine Oak was discontinued in 2018. The youngest Sherry Oak is now the 12 year old.
With old and new bottles procured, it was then a case of finding time to taste them, Given I realised that this would be probably the closest comparison out of all the drams in this series, I wanted to give this time, so I could fully appreciate both drams. You can probably guess what happened next – at each attempt to get some adequate time to do any tasting, I never got my days chores finished in time or my daughter would decide that she didn’t want to settle in the evening. On one occasion I shot myself in the foot by having a strong curry, thus knocking my tastebuds out. This wasn’t boding well for getting the old versus new series completed.
But, as I am fond of quoting, John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” And indeed that is the case. It’s also quite appropriate to quote a member of the Beatles, as my feelings towards them are similar to Macallan – I feel both are overrated. I know that I will have lots of people shooting me down over this statement, either for the musical or whisky assumption or perhaps both, but I just don’t see the quality in Macallan when I can taste similar whisky (or better) for a lot less money. Glenallachie 15 is my preference to the Macallan 18 and it has the bonus of being much, much cheaper.
I’ve reviewed the Macallan old style before and have also visited the distillery. You can see my last review of the old style Macallan by clicking on this link. In this review, I had also the samples given by the distillery, the 12 year old double cask and the 15 year old triple cask which I didn’t review due to the small amounts, but the sherry cask 10 year old blasted both drams way out of the park. Since then it has been my intention to compare the old version of the 10 year old with a like for like modern equivalent, which has also been discontinued since 2013.
As a bit of a laugh, during my research for this review, I came across this on a website speaking about the history of Macallan. I am sure that you will spot the error straight away.
The miniature bottle I have was bottled in the 1990s and shows the Easter Elchies farmhouse. The 70cl bottle of the newer spirit was released around the mid 2000’s. This particular bottle was released pre 2010, before Macallan started using Hologram stickers to deter forgeries.
Macallan 10 (1990’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, raisins, dates, tobacco, butterscotch, apricot, slight funk from the bottle. Palate – All components in the nose were in the palate. Mouthfeel had a medium body, slightly oily. Finish – Medium – Toffee, dried fruits, slightly drying, gentle oak notes.
Macallan 10 (mid to late 2000’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, milk chocolate, marmalade, tobacco, raisins. Hint of acetone. Quite a light nose. Palate – thin mouthfeel, sweet on arrival, the raisins appear along with a bitter oak tannin Finish – medium / short The alcohol disappears quite quickly, leaving chocolate, raisins and a bitter note on departure.
Confession time – I seriously expected the old one to totally romp home on this one. So much so, I was worried that this preconception would affect my judgement. However, nothing could have prepared me for how close both these drams were. I have often poured scorn on Macallan in the past, which has to be said now was unfair and unjustified in this instance. The fact is that both drams tasted very similar is testament to their focus on quality. My surprise was compounded when I looked back to the review I wrote last year and found I nearly got exactly the same tasting notes.
So perhaps I should chastise myself a little bit and loosen the belt of cynicism that I have around brand promotion and give into the fact that 1990’s Macallan and 21st century Macallan of this bottling are not too much different. But before we give into back slapping and high fives, there were a few small details that need to be taken into account, as to my palate they were different.
The mouthfeel on the newer bottling was very slightly thinner. The overall experience was more bitter and sharp compared to the older expression. The older expression also had it’s issues, but the only one I could find that stood out was that there was a slight funk to the sample, which was definitely caused by the fact it was in a miniature bottle. Therefore I predict that this was caused by the seal. Had I been able to taste from my damaged 70cl bottle that is currently languishing in a store 70 miles away, the presence of a cork seal would have maybe improved the sample experience for the better.
I can definitely say the newer example has a slightly lighter mouthfeel as well as a shorter finish, but it isn’t a bad whisky in any sense of the word. I found it had more bitter oak in it, something I didn’t get in the miniature sample, nor the sample I had in my last review which had came from a 70cl bottle with a cork seal.
I spent a few minutes discussing this with one of my friends who is a bit of a Macallan fan. He correctly told me that the distillery will try as hard as possible to keep the same flavour profile, so there is unlikely to be a big difference in the recipe. What he did say is that he’d heard that the 10 year old age statement was retired due to it being so expensive to keep producing as there were more and more older barrels being needed to maintain the flavour profile, so it was axed and the 12 year old age statement continued from that point.
I’m going to enjoy the rest of this 10 yr old bottle; the miniature got finished in this review. The 70cl bottle was £120 at auction including fees. The miniature was £40 at auction so this hasn’t been the cheapest of reviews as well as not being the cheapest. But it needed to be done. Perhaps once I get access to my store, it will give me and my friends a chance to compare like for like with both drams having been sealed by a cork.
Was the older dram better? I have to say yes, but I think it is due more to my preference. £120 is expensive for a ten year old whisky yet the 10 year old releases in the white boxes that show the Easter Elchies farmhouse painting now regularly sell at auction for over £400 including fees. There must be a reason for that, and perhaps it is that others also agree with me that the older one is better. However I think that eventually when supply of the older dram tightens due to them being drunk, the price of the more recent bottling will rise in value.
My final opinion is that if you aren’t really studying the drams, it would be hard to tell the difference. You will get a good experience regardless of what expression of the Sherry Oak you try. The Fine Oak reportedly is not as good, and I’m not opening my bottle to find that at out – not just now anyway.
This is my final review in my old versus new whiskies. It’s now time for me to mull over some conclusions and I look forward to publishing them. I hope that you have enjoyed this series, please consider looking at the index of my tastings using the link below to let you see my other reviews of this series.
In the last review I tasted two drams from Aberlour in which the earlier expression won the head to head. I now turn my attention to the two 12 year old samples that I have in my store. One was a sample from Matteo at The Speyside Whisky Shop of an early – mid 80’s Aberlour 12 he had in store for customers. In a recent auction win, I found that I have another old Aberlour, this one probably from the late 80’s – 1990’s. I really don’t know and am just going by what I can research on the internet. I’m not expecting a big difference, but they were samples to be cleared and could also help us find out if the extra two years in the cask made any difference.
I didn’t go into the history of Aberlour distillery much in my last review, and I won’t really go into too much depth now either, but here is a quick overview. It’s not really a large distillery, situated at the southern end of the village, and sits beside the Lour burn. Aberlour is the anglicised version of the Gaelic name Obar Lobhair, which basically translates as ‘Mouth of the Lour’. The formal version of the village name is Charleston of Aberlour. It got its name from the current village founder Charles Grant of Elchies (we’ll be hearing of that location again before the end of the series) who named it after his son.
Aberlour was formerly a stop on the Speyside railway line, passenger services ending in 1965, and freight continuing til 1968 when the Beeching axe finally fell. A very limited freight service did continue from Dufftown until November 1971, and I am led to believe it was to a coal merchants in Aberlour who supplied the local distilleries. There are a handful of distilleries nearby, Craigellachie and Macallan to the north of the village, and Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Dailuaine, Imperial (replaced by Dalmunach) and Glenfarclas not too far to the south. And of course the Aberlour distillery itself.
James Fleming was the man who started the Aberlour distillery in 1879, with distillation taking place in 1880. Fleming was previously involved with Dailuaine distillery, close to the village of Carron, so had distilling experience. A man of many talents he was also a banker, Chairman of the School Board, County Councillor and even the Town Provost – the Scottish Equivalent of a Mayor. The distillery was sold in 1892, and James Fleming died in 1895 at the age of 65. But by that time he had really made his mark on the town through his philanthropy. He gifted the town its first meeting place in 1889 – the Fleming Hall. His legacy extended to the building of the local Cottage Hospital in 1900, and a suspension bridge over the Spey to Knockando Parish in 1902. All of these gifts are still fully operational over 100 years later. He is buried in the cemetery directly opposite the distillery entrance.
The distillery since 1974 has been owned by Chivas Brothers, now part of the Pernod Ricard drinks giant. I visited the Aberlour distillery in Oct 2019 when I finally got fed up of continually driving past when travelling between Aberdeen and home. It’s a good tour, mine being led by Nicola Topp, a young lady who’s family had an extensive history in the distillery. The tour was fantastic, and I’m happy to hear that Nicola has now moved to be involved in the production side at the Dalmunach distillery.
Compared to some of its near neighbours, Aberlour isn’t a large distillery. It has two wash stills and two Spirit Stills, and only 6 wash backs. In September 2020, Moray Council approved plans to almost completely rebuild the Aberlour distillery in phases, which can be seen by clicking HERE in an article that was published in the regional newspaper, the Press And Journal.
Aberlour 12 (Early 80s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, citrus, orange peel. Slight hint of dark fruit, quite sugary sweet, almost like candy. Palate – Quite tame on arrival. Not overbearing, no great spirit rush. Gentler than the nose would suggest. Creamy caramel, apple, bitter orange. Sweet candy note. Finish – medium long, spicy honey, nice gentle warming, hints of coffee, chocolate and raisin. Slight floral note found when a small sip taken and rolled around in the mouth. (Due to being only a 25ml sample, I did not add water)
Aberlour 12 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Honey, Toffee, Quite a dark fruit sort of flavour, ripe plums raisins, definitely a sherry cask has been used. Fresh pipe tobacco, slight smoke. Palate – Oops. No real alcohol present, no buzz at all. Oh dear. It does give a nice sugary feeling at on the tongue, kind of like candy floss. A slightly bitter citrus (orange) is there as is the toffee and honey with a hint of dark fruit but oh so muted. Finish – Medium. Burst of peppery and cinnamon spice when the spirit does decide to appear, then goes into pineapple, coffee, then back into bitter wood notes, slightly drying. This gets shortened and the spicy burst goes with the addition of water, although there does have a slight caramel note left lingering.
Well, a wee bit of a disaster really. I can see why this is classed as a beginners single malt, as for me there is not really a lot going on here. Of course we can use the argument that these were older bottles, but yet to be honest for the first time in this series, I didn’t notice any of the usual tell-tale signs of old bottle effect, or having been exposed to the waxed cardboard seal of a screw top. Both drams were pretty even if it had to be said but the older expression was definitely the most consistent one.
What really surprised me was the newer one’s palate was just not really there. I had to do some research to see if I was missing something. I’ve seen descriptions such as ‘Full Bodied’, ‘Rich’, ‘Intense’. I have to wonder if they were drinking the same whisky as I was, or if perhaps 40% is perhaps a little too strong for them. Because if I have to be honest, on the younger expression, the palate is as flat and smooth as a dolphins bum. It’s like the beard on a 13 year old – barely there. I could go on with the metaphors. With the absence of a palate and a shorter finish, I thought it was another clear win for the older expression. However, I decided to do something that I hadn’t done yet, and that was bring on some of the big guns.
You see, sitting in my study as a present for somebody I haven’t yet met since I came home on Christmas Eve was a bottle of the brand new, up to date double cask Aberlour 12. I’m not really a fan of opening 70cl bottles when I have so many open already, but I thought that in the interests of research I should get that seal off and try. Besides it only cost me £30 in the Co-op, so not exactly a big loss. I’m sure I will see it on special again, and if I’m lucky, when I go back in the next couple of days it still might be at the lower price.
So – tasting #3 for the Aberlour 12 year old.
Aberlour 12 (2020)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite Fruity. Strong note of Moray Cup (explanation later), orange fondant, mint, honey, almond. Strawberry jelly cubes prior to melting. Palate – Quiet, a bit more oily than the previous two, wood notes pretty non- existent with a hint of bitterness at the end. Slight taste of almond, perhaps the red fruits and bitter orange. Perhaps a hint of ginger in subsequent sips. Finish – medium / short. Slight wood spice and alcohol burn as swallowed and I get reminded of Cointreau, bitter citrus. Nutty at the end. Disappeared quickly.
Conclusions (Part 2)
Well. I am glad I did not give that as a gift. The person would have thought I had hated them. You know, the colour and the nose excited me. I mean, Moray Cup…… For those who aren’t in the know because they have never lived in God’s Country (The Scottish North East) is a now defunct soft drink that was fruit flavoured, produced by Sangs of Banff. To look at it, you just knew it was artificially coloured, and a look at the range of E numbers in the ingredients list would confirm it. Such as it was, the label also had the warning to be careful in giving to young children. I am sure that a litre of that would give them AHAD so badly that they could be mistaken for a Springer Spaniel in a tennis ball and bone factory. Quite why it had two Caribbean gentlemen on the label I don’t know as Banff is normally as sunny and pleasant as a Siberian Gulag. Anyway, such is my lament for this drink I’ve gone and spouted off a load of rubbish, but those in the know would never bother with Irn Bru to cure a hangover – a bottle of Moray cup and and couple of rowies and away you go.
Sadly the palate was maybe slightly more prevalent than the early 1990’s bottling. But if I was to be honest, it wasn’t really there either, so that rules out any question that the older bottling had evaporated. It was almost perhaps as flat and smooth as before, but perhaps this dolphin has pimples on his bottom.
In summary, I was erring onto the inconclusive, but let’s look at plain facts. Its a basic 40% abv dram produced in massive volumes. You can’t expect it to be competing with some of the more exclusive brands or higher abv drams. I’m definitely not going to say these drams are rubbish – they are not, and will be a good bet for anybody starting on their whisky journey. Or even as an easy drinker, though I prefer other Aberlour expressions. A’Bunadh is a good start. However, in analysing the three whiskies had just now, taste is really where it is at, and despite the great nose, the lack of a defined palate and short to medium finish rules out the two younger expressions. Old expression wins by a gnat’s hair. Of course this is just my personal opinion. I’m going to enjoy the rest of the 12 year old as a wee nightcap and maybe stick to Aberlour’s more premium expressions which are very delicious in the future.
Oh, and I checked the price at the local Co-op this morning – back up to £40. I think I’ll pass.
Aberlour. It’s one of those places I just can’t avoid. Due to its location, when I’m travelling home from Aberdeen, the choices are limited. I’ve got the heady decision to go from Huntly to Dufftown, then head to Craigellachie. Before reaching Craigellachie village, turn onto the Bluehills Quarry road that leads past the Speyside Cooperage. I’ve often thought of stopping the truck and helping myself to a barrel, but knowing my luck I’d pick the barrel that collapses the stow. Resisting the temptation of petty larceny and a horrible death under a collapsing pile of casks, you end up on the A95 just to the north of the village of Aberlour.
Alternatively, you can continue from Huntly to Keith, then past Glentauchers (see what speed you can get round the bend outside the distillery at while keeping a clean pair of underwear), then up to Craigellachie, passing by two legendary bars – the Fiddichside Inn, closed since the death of the publican Joe Brandie in 2017 though reputedly has been bought and reopened in 2020. Coronavirus has stopped me dropping in. And of course the world famous Highlander Inn, owned by Tatsuya Minigawa. It’s a great wee pub, and has a full Flora And Fauna set on display. I’ve often wondered if he would open the Speyburn for me…. Regardless, you still end up on the A95 just to the north of the other route, having travelled an extra 5 miles.
Don’t underestimate the heady excitement of the decision I face when I approach Huntly and have to make that split second decision whether I want to go through Dufftown or Keith. It’s how I roll. The only other way home is via Tomintoul with the risk at this time of year being stuck behind a snow gate. That’s not exciting. It’s a much longer journey and unpleasant to do in the dark.
If you are a frequent flyer (or were a ‘frequent flyer’ before the days of Coronavirus) you too probably couldn’t escape Aberlour. You may not realise this, but the tiny Speyside village has two main exports – whisky, of which we will soon come to, and Shortbread. I am a frequent traveller, and I have to say in many airports around the world, and even in many foreign supermarkets, you often can’t avoid seeing the familiar red boxes with the buttery, biscuity snack. I’ve seen it in America, Canada, Poland, Indonesia, India, Singapore, France, Cyprus, Germany and the Netherlands to name a few. They’ve missed a trick, as being an eating enthusiast, I can tell you Deans of Huntly is a far superior shortbread.
As you drive through Aberlour from the north, the first thing you come to is the Shortbread factory, and the depots of Carntyne and McPherson haulage companies. If you are a regular visitor to Speyside, you will know these lorries well, especially if you are on the A95 as you are normally stuck behind them as they take ingredients, waste and produce in and out of the distilleries. Continuing on, there is the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Mash Tun pub that has a great Glenfarclas family cask collection, and lastly, there is Aberlour distillery.
I’ve visited this distillery before, lastly in 2019, but I won’t go onto say much about the distillery right now, as I’ve already rambled enough. Founded by James Fleming in 1879, the distillery has been owned by Chivas (Pernod Ricard) since 1974. I’ve got a couple more old/new drams from this distillery and I thought I would make two posts, and would enable me to kill 4 samples in quick succession. And we could also see in this case if the extra two years maturation made any difference in the next review.
Aberlour 10 has been known as a decent whisky at a very good price. Indeed if you search on Amazon (boo, hiss!) you can get it for £32, and if you are a prime member you’ll get it delivered for free. I bought a full bottle at the Speyside Whisky Shop in September for £33, and it’s now in my store. The 12 year old has recently been on sale at my local Co-op supermarket for £30, and at that price you’d be foolish not to, but both whiskies can often be seen on offer from time to time.
The value of Aberlour 10 is important. It is seen as an easy going whisky that is not particularly strong, well balanced and therefore suitable for beginners to start their adventure into Scotch Whisky. I’ve had it in the past and have to agree with this assessment, and if it is only £30-ish a bottle, what does a learner really have to lose? Aberlour also has a good reputation, so you know you aren’t drinking some random blend that could be used as a substitute for drain cleaner that is on offer at the local Costcutter. Passport Blend springs to mind.
The old 10 y.o sample I have here to taste is from an auction win during January 2021 that also included a 1990’s 12 year old. I already had a 12 year old sample from the 1980’s, but felt the generation gap wasn’t sufficient, and wasn’t wanting to open a full sized bottle to get a more adequate gap. I did however have a modern 10 year old mini which was bought in September 2020 from the Speyside Whisky Shop. I am not sure about the bottling date, as the Aberlour 10 is a dram that was always supposed to be getting discontinued since 2017, yet there is absolutely no problem in obtaining a bottle. Perhaps that shows how much production there has been, as this has been replaced in the core range by the 12 year old double cask.
Aberlour 10 (Late 80’s / Early 90’s)
Region – Speyside Age – 10y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Quite rich, Malt, Honey, Raisins, Vanilla, McIntosh Red Apples, Caramel Palate – Well balanced. Sweet on arrival. The wood spices are restrained into the development. Nutmeg, Pepper, Malt, Butterscotch, Apricot, Sultanas Finish – medium long, with fruit, caramel and the oak spice fading off gradually. Adding 2ml of water increases the caramel and honey for me, also intensified the spices in the finish.
Aberlour 10 (2017ish)
Region – Speyside Age – 10y.o Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Malty, Tablet (Scottish Toffee) Sultanas, Currants, Sugar Mice, Strawberry Jam Palate – a tad thin on the mouthfeel, slightly oily, creamy malt with a light toffee note and light oak spices (cinnamon) Finish – short, kind of missing in action. Toffee after a while, but mostly cinnamon. Adding 2ml of water drew out a lemon citrus for me, intensified the spice burst on the finish, but did pretty much nothing else.
I’ve often been wary of how I compare these drams. Often it is impossible to compare them blind, as I don’t have coloured glasses and often the colour of the drams lets me know whether I am currently drinking the older or newer sample. I’ve already confessed in previous blogs that I am often swayed by the colour of the whisky, which can be a big mistake. There was only a slight difference in the colour of these whiskies, but I got a pleasant confirmation to my opinion.
As most of you long term followers of my blog may realise (and if you aren’t a long term follower, then why not???) this blog is fairly basic as I write this on my mobile phone. This is an necessity when working offshore where having a laptop out during shift may be a bit awkward. Anyway, typing it out on a phone is also pretty awkward. I had just added some water to the newer sample and decided I was giving up on the phone and would swap over to the laptop. Unfortunately, I didn’t watch where I put the glass, and when I came back, to look at both drams, I couldn’t tell which one was what. My nose told me the most likely situation, but a taste gave me instant confirmation which one was what
This may not seem like a big deal, as many of you people reading this are very used to doing this, however as much as I am as well, it is also nice to have that confirmation that your assessment of the whisky was correct.
Both these whiskies are matured in the same way – Bourbon then finished in Oloroso butts I believe. However there was a pronounced difference in the two. The older dram had a much more defined sherry nose. The richness of dried fruit was there, unmistakeable signature of a sherry cask. It wasn’t as rich on the newer dram, and I have to say there was a lot more sourness in the newer dram when water was added,
The biggest downfall for the newer dram was the lack of a finish. I’m sorry, it was just not there. In my research for this dram, I’ve seen opinions that say that this particular bottling from Aberlour has been prone to batch variation, so I am not sure if my miniature has suffered from the same issues. However, I can only judge on what I have, and to be honest the combination of a richer nose, deeper palate and longer finish means that I have to award the older dram the winner of this tasting.
We’ll see if the 12 year old is any better in the next review, with a 1980’s sample against a 1990’s miniature.