Whisky Myths Examined – Whisky of a Different Era Tastes Better – Or Does it?
This week coming sees the start of an occasional series in which I start to turn my attention onto one thing that has been niggling me a wee bit. Each person has their own opinion on this matter and I am no different, yet I feel with a building collection of miniatures that I need to get rid of, it is time to investigate this potential myth a little bit closer. Do whiskies of a different era taste any better?
This is a subject that could open a whole new carton of worms, as everybody will be adamant in their own belief whether or not this will be the case. I’m sort of already convinced I know the answer, and I believe the myth is true but this is based on my experience of the old style Macallan versus the newer releases. I’ve also been tasting more whiskies from a different era on account of purchasing a few whiskies from Cheaper By The Dram, the company that enables you to be able to drink whisky from the bottles of a different era that would otherwise be unobtainable due to high auction or retail values.
Let’s be up front. This series will not be strictly scientific. As far as possible I have chosen to compare whiskies from individual distilleries with the same age statement and cask types. However in some cases there has been a need to compare a 12 year old from the 90’s to a 10 year old of the up to date version; but I have checked they use the same cask types. I’ve made sure that I’m not just comparing varying batches; there will be at least a 10 year gap between the releases to help assess if there is a significant difference between the two.
As far as possible I have tried to get at least one sample from every region and to vary the styles a little. I feel I don’t have to keep you in suspense and I can reveal the distilleries I am reviewing in a list below. The list may get added to if I am able to source other samples but as of the end of September I currently held pairs of whiskies of differing eras of
Springbank, Glendronach, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich, Macallan, Bruichladdich, Auchentoshan, Clynelish, Auchroisk, Highland Park, Glengoyne and Glen Keith.
My aim is to do 2 comparison reviews a month, so I can continue to review contemporary whiskies, but this will depend very much on my work schedule. However if I have no article for a weekend, a whisky challenge may be in its place.
I’m pretty excited about this. My first review will be released this following Wednesday, it’s already written and I can’t wait to share this with you. Of course, I’d love to hear your views on this matter or responses to my review, on any of the social media platforms I use – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even a comment directly on the blog. Maybe you have whisky you could do this with as well? I’d be interested to hear your experiences in the matter.
It has been a challenging time trying to get Scotty’s drams restarted after the drama of my wee flooding. To be fair it’s pretty easy to get the blog back on keel, all I have to do is drink whisky and write about it, not exactly a hardship. However trying to find the time in doing so when looking after a four year old means this is more easily said than done. Once the wee one is in their bed, all I can think of is having a coffee and looking to see what is on TV. I just want to switch off and not have to review a whisky or write about it.
Looking over my boxes of miniatures, I can see that I have quite a few pairs of different whiskies, one older and one more recent. Back in the day when I started Scotty’s drams I thought about thinking about some preconceived ideas and challenging them, such as blends are inferior to single malts, and the best whisky is old whisky. Well, there is one idea that I have been thinking about for some time and that is whisky from a different era is better than the whisky we have now. This is relevant to me in some way, as one of the bottles that got damaged in my flood was an old bottle of Macallan from the 90’s I’ve tasted this 10 year old before and I have to say I feel having compared it to Double Oak, the 90’s Macallan trounces it.
Now there is several reasons for this to be, but is it the same across the whisky spectrum and can it be proved? With those several doubles of differing eras sitting in my study, this not only gives me the chance to perhaps try and determine if this theory is true, it also gives me the chance to clear out a few bottles relatively quickly.
I’m planning to do one of these comparisons a month minimum,with whisky from every Scottish region. I only lack a spirit of yesteryear from Campbeltown, with the mass majority being from Highlands and Speyside. Samples include Benromach, Glenfarclas, Clynelish, GlenDronach, Auchroisk, Glen Keith, Auchentoshan, Bruichladdich, Highland Park, Glengoyne, Glenrothes and Linkwood. As close as I can, I’ve managed to secure whisky of the same age statement or cask type. However the Benromach is an old style 12 year old with a new style 10 year old. That might not be comparing Apples and Oranges, but a bit like comparing a Ford Sierra with its replacement the Mondeo.
I’m not convinced I’ll get a definitive answer, but there is a definite direction of travel on the three pairs I’ve tasted so far. I’m not going to reveal what it is until I post the relevant reviews.
This week has seen a bottle kill in the collection, the infamous Beinn Dubh from the Speyside distillery. Despite what many may think about it, I quite like it. I’m not rushing out to buy a bottle in the near future as I’ve quite a few more on the go that need to be cracked open, but I’m glad I tried it and would buy another in time. The bottle definitely improved as it went down as oxidisation took effect. The other whisky that I have looked forward to killing is the Glen Keith distillery edition. My earlier review “Giving Keith a Kicking” was perhaps a wee bit unkind. I’ve tried it in the best of the worst single malts to include in a hot toddy and it still failed miserably. The winner in that wee experiment was Jura Journey believe it or not. Anyway, as part of an effort to move some bottles closer to being killed, I tried some Glen Keith again.
It was surprising. It still isn’t really my taste, but was a lot more palatable after being open for over 6 months. I have to say I enjoyed it. Therefore after finding an old style Glen Keith in my miniature pile, I’m quite happy to perhaps review this one once more. It goes to show you that sometimes you just need to be in the mood for second opinions, or some whiskies really need a bit of time to open up and to be given a second chance. However, unlike the Beinn Dubh, I will not be buying a second bottle. The Coop sold it for £20 for a reason!!
Ergo – always give something second chance. I have rarely disliked a whisky but always have gone back to make sure. I’m kind of pleased I did this time.
Anyway, hopefully I can get another few reviews done for you soon. I’ve 2 weeks of isolation coming up in the near future so I’ll have no excuse not to write something down before I go back offshore. There is a host of drams to have, some older, some recent and some newer distilleries. Amongst them are Highland Park, Glenury Royal, Kingsbarns, Tamdhu, Braeval and Allt-a-Bhanne. There may also be whisky that isn’t Scottish….. and as I type some other samples have arrived from a Scottish exile in Belfast. My friend Nick has sent me some Glenugie, Cask Strength Benrinnes and Edradour along with the chocolate malt from Fettercairn. These go into the sample pot as well and will be reviewed as soon as I can.
It’s better late than never. I didn’t plan to run out of reviews in the summer, but an extended trip offshore of 16 weeks meant that I would have to be going some to have that amount of back dated reviews. I fear that this may happen again in the future, so keep yourselves braced for a period of inactivity here – however just because I may be down, I am most certainly not out.
As you will know from previous articles, my storage locker in Perth got flooded the same day that I came home from my last offshore trip and I sustained a considerable amount of damage. As I write this, I am still none-the-wiser as to what the insurance settlement is likely to be. I had already ordered some whisky online while offshore, and the morning after the flooding I realised I could not pick this up in person, so asked the retailer to ship it to me. When I contacted them they said if I added one more thing to my basket, they would ship the whole lot to me with no extra charge. As I had not seen the damage at my locker, and fearing for my Glenfarclas bottles from BP Magnus Platform 25 and 30 year anniversaries, I decided to order another Glenfarclas – this one the 2005 14 year old that was destined to be released as part of the now cancelled 2020 Spirit of Speyside. The retailer mentioned he had an open bottle, and if there was still some left when I next called by, I would be able to get a sample.
They say bad fortune often happens in threes, and I already had been stuck offshore, flooded whisky and a few days later, my wife had an accident in the car when she hit a small deer, damaging the bumper that had only just been replaced in March from a previous accident. Spirits were low, but the day after the accident I receive an unexpected parcel – a sample of the 14 year old Glenfarclas. It was a certainly well timed boost to morale.
In all, within the whisky community (although I prefer to hover around the edges) I have not experienced such an outpouring of sympathy for my phlight with my storage unit. Even my insurers so far have been brilliant and I await the outcome of my claim. But time waits for nobody and it’s time to look and move forward with the blog and look to the future. So without further ado, let’s move onto the tasting.
Region – Speyside Age – 14 y.o Strength – 58.2% Colour – Brown Sherry Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Figs, rum and raisin ice cream, dark, berry fruits, blackberries, slight leathery nose. There is a note of dark roast coffee powder too. Palate – quite tame without any water considering the abv. A pretty smooth arrival with a gradual rise in heat through the development. Waxy mouthfeel, with dried fruit flavours as is typical with sherried whiskies. This has the Glenfarclas DNA all over it. A hint of stone fruit, perhaps cherries. Finish – quite mellow while neat with a medium to long finish. A slight sulphur note, but this was quite pleasant, a good meaty malt. Water intensified the spicy wooden character for me, and was slightly tannic, giving me bit of a dry mouth.
This bottling left a bit of a sour note. It is / was only available through 2 retailers – The Whisky Shop Dufftown and the Speyside Whisky Shop in Aberlour. One of these retailers had a bit of a situation where somebody buying a bottle complained about the dispatch and shipping only it was getting sent straight to an auctioneer. That is pretty sharp for a flipper – at least let it reach your hands. It’s only £150 and despite being limited, it’s not sold out so it’s a bit of a risk trying to flip so early. Thankfully, the two I saw at auction only realised £140. Accounting for fees, the flipper only made £123 – a £27 loss minimum as the shipping hasn’t been accounted for.
As an aside, I feel for special releases that specialist retailers and auctioneers could refuse to take such consignments, as this is something that often pushes limited whisky out of reach of the genuinely interested in the liquid. But that’s a conversation for a different day and seeing how specialist retailers have been battered by the effect CV-19 on the economy, who can blame them for taking a sale?
The other sour side was that I had a wee bit of a conversation with somebody on twitter who reckons this bottle at £150 is over priced, as you can buy the 25 year old at Costco for £99. In fact the guy’s post I felt was quite arrogant, suggesting anybody who knew anything about whisky would know the 25 year old is a superior dram. Well, that’s fine if you have a Costco card. Even if I did, by time I drive back and forth to my closest Costco, I’ve lost the savings in the price of diesel getting there.
Plus, the guy made the mistake of assuming I had bought the 2020 release and hadn’t tasted it. Well I had – and while I never proclaim to know everything, I know that the other mistake the guy was making was getting hung up on the idea older is always better. It isn’t. I’ve tasted the 25 also and in my opinion the 14 is better. The higher price reflects the fact the bottling is limited. The 25 year old is freely available. I personally think anybody who knows anything about whisky would also realise the 25 year old is only 43% while this is cask strength at 58.2% and a true whisky lover won’t shop for it in Costco but support their specialist retailers. Touché.
To complete the verbal tennis match, the 25 year old is also available at the same price on Amazon. That would save the young man wasting their time and fuel in driving to Costco, but we all know what I think about shopping for whisky on Amazon. Game, Set, Match.
Moving on, I did really enjoy this whisky. The high abv was very easy to drink neat with very distinct sherried notes. Adding water for me spoilt it as it accentuated the spiciest parts of the profile and killed the fruity notes I had been enjoying. I felt it matched the experience I had last year with a 1973 Family Cask, likely to have been about 40 years old. As I never saw the bottle, I didn’t know what year it had been bottled.
Whether or not it’s over priced, well that’s subjective as it all comes down to the taste and everybody will have an individual opinion. It’s certainly not a bottle for every day drinking, and while I can say you won’t be disappointed £150 is a bit much for many people to drink on a regular drinker. What auction prices do remains to be seen but I doubt that it will go up that much in value unless a few get drunk. Initial low auction values may encourage a few to get cracked open. It’s meant to be drunk really.
The last few bottles are still available from the Speyside Whisky Shop, the Whisky Shop Dufftown having sold out. It should be a good bottle to have in a collection as if bought at £150 or below, should it not go up in value then it’s still an affordable bottle to drink and really enjoy.
I’m grateful to Matteo for the kind gift. The milk of human kindness isn’t dairy – it’s definitely distilled!
It’s been a couple of months at least since I’ve reviewed a Flora and Fauna release. Since I’ve managed to bottle kill my full size Benrinnes Flora and Fauna, it was time to move onto the next one and I had a choice – Pittyvaich or Inchgower. It was a simple decision in the end as I’d already reviewed a Pittyvaich thus Inchgower it was.
Inchgower is one of those distilleries that has quite an anonymous life. Currently owned by Diageo, the distillery provides most of its output for blending, although independent bottlings are much more available. This malt is a constituent part of the Bells blend, but don’t let that count against our single malt experience.
The distillery sits just outside the Morayshire coastal town of Buckie and was founded in 1871 by Alexander Wilson. The Wilson family went bankrupt, leaving the Buckie Town Council to purchase the distillery in 1936. As far as I can tell this is the only example of a local authority in the U.K. owning a distillery. In 1938 the site was bought by Arthur Bell & Sons Ltd to provide malt whisky for its blends. Arthur Bell & Sons were later bought by Guinness and after various takeovers and mergers, the distillery came a part of the Diageo empire.
Inchgower isn’t a big distillery – it has 2 wash and 2 spirit stills, and only outputs 1.99 million litres annually. It has quite a short fermentation of 46 hours which should give a more nutty sort taste to the spirit. The distillery location isn’t that far away from the mouth of the River Spey, giving this Speyside whisky a coastal tang.
Inchgower unfortunately does not have a visitors centre, but the local area has some great scenery. The weather in coastal Morayshire experiences a local microclimate, something that was instrumental in setting up the nearby RAF bases at Kinloss and Lossiemouth as training bases. Buckie a fishing town and although there isn’t that much to do there, it is one end of the Speyside Way, a long distance trail that follows the River Spey, often utilising the former railway line that ran between Craigellachie and Aviemore. The Moray Coastal path also passes through the town, and it’s a short walk to the impressive Spey Bay Railway viaduct if you are in the area.
Let’s now take a wander to taste the whisky in question.
Region – Speyside; Age – 14 y.o; Strength – 43%; Colour– Pale Straw; Nose – Quite light and fresh. Malty, biscuity, straw, soft oak with a touch of brine there in for good measure. Vanilla, light toffee notes; Palate – Grapefruit, tannic, apple, ginger, grapes / white wine. Nutmeg. Vegetal in places, but this disappears with the addition of water. Lightly waxy in mouthfeel but not consistent – felt a bit light on occasion. ; Finish – Quite short with a nicer balance of fruit at the end to counteract the bitter tannins from the wood. Notes of brine at the end. Tempers nicely when water added.
Just because it is a component of Bells, don’t judge it by the same yardstick. I’ve been lucky and enjoyed this dram from the start, but samples given to friends have been a bit of a mixed bag. Some didn’t like it, some did. Although it is not that a complex malt, it can be quite light, and the vegetal note I found could put people off. This could be due to the sharply inclined Lyne arms between the still and condenser allowing the meatier parts of the spirit to leave the still. I added water and let it sit for 10 minutes and this took a lot of the less desirable notes away.
Being a coastal distillery, the brine is present, and coupled with a light waxiness this reminds me of another Diageo coastal distillery on the opposite side of the Moray Firth, Clynelish. That too was bottled as a part of the Flora and Fauna range and also as a 14 year old, but has been re-released as a stand alone bottle and the abv upped to 46%, which may give Inchgower a boost if they decide to do the same.
I enjoy the lightness of this dram; in the past I’ve had grassy notes from this which I didn’t get this time. I did get a straw note which although that’s dried grass, it isn’t the same. It leads me to ask myself what has changed – my sense of taste as I age or is it the whisky making process? Whiskies do change over time, so it’s a point worth considering.
Available at less than £50 a bottle, this isn’t an expensive dram, and is worth what I paid for it. There are bitter components in here that may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s not that bad. I’d suggest trying this alongside an independently produced bottle to get a decent comparison.
Inchgower isn’t that rare but it’s not one you will see in every whisky shop, but a specialist retailer should be able to get it for you. At 43%, chill filtered and a dose of colouring means you may find better value from an independent bottle, as these are much more likely to have a higher strength, be non-chill filtered and have no colouring added.
I do recommend this dram, but I acknowledge it may not be something everybody will love. The title is a play on the phrase if you give an inch, they’ll take a mile, and while you may get the Inch(gower) but you might not enjoy the full mile of this whisky journey. It shouldn’t stop you giving it a go. After all, I like it, and surely others do. Try it in a whisky bar if you see it is available or alternatively you can get 3cl miniatures from the Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt websites.
As has been mentioned in the past when I’ve been writing about whisky, especially those I collect, I tend to steer away from Independent bottlings. These are because I feel that these may not be as worth as much when I come to sell. In the past I’ve even seen them as inferior, which is not the case at all. This meant that I mistakenly did not give them much attention but recent experiences in my whisky journey over the past year have come to educate me that this is a gross error on my part.
One of the great things about this whisky community is that you are often able to experience different whiskies thanks to sample swapping or a generous gift from a fellow enthusiast. In this case for this weeks double review we have to thank Tobi of Barleymania.com (another great blog – perhaps even better than mine hahahah!). After a conversation with him online about how much I enjoy Benrinnes, Tobi sent me a sample of the Douglas Laing’s Old Particular 16 year old Benrinnes. It didn’t end there. Tobi also sent the Dailuaine which has been bottled by Grindlays that I am also writing about today. This was sent as an apology for not sending the Benrinnes quicker! If you are reading this Tobi, I am very grateful and I will return the generosity with another independent Benrinnes soon but be assured I move with the speed approaching that of continental drift.
Both today’s whiskies are from Speyside, and are relatively close to each other, just to the south of Aberlour. Benrinnes sits on the lower slopes of the hill that holds the same name, whereas Dailuaine is closer to the Spey and the village of Carron. Benrinnes is the older of the two distilleries with the original being built in 1826, and rebuilt in 1829 after being destroyed in a flood. Going through a handful of owners, by 1925 it came into the possession of DCL who later morphed into the current owner Diageo.
Opened in 1851, close neighbour Dailuaine had the privilege of being connected to the Speyside Railway, even having its own railway halt and small locomotive (known as a puggie) for shuttling its freight to the goods yard at Carron Railway station and Imperial Distillery. The locomotive still survives at the Aberfeldy distillery, and the engine shed still survives at Dailuaine, although the Speyside line closed in 1968, and all other traces of the puggie branch line have gone.
Dailuaine was also the first distillery to have a pagoda style roof over the kiln, more correctly known as a Doig Ventilator, which was designed by the architect of many distilleries Charles Doig. It was installed in 1884 but sadly was lost when the distillery burnt down in 1917.
Dailuaine has one or two things in common to Benrinnes. In 1925 it was also bought by DCL, later to become part of Diageo. Both distilleries were part of the Flora and Fauna releases in 1991, and continue to be so. How long this will continue is anybody’s guess. Benrinnes is quite common as an independent bottle but Dailuaine not so common, mostly being used to provide filler for blends.
Both whiskies have a meaty, heavy style similar to Mortlach, especially those releases that have been matured in a Sherry cask. But what will these independent releases be like?
Dailuaine 19 (Grindlays)
Region – Speyside Strength – 57% . Colour – Ripe Corn Nose – Malt, sawdust, nuts, honey, vanilla. Palate – waxy mouthfeel, slightly drying. Not such a big hit when considering it is cask strength. Honey, orange. Water intensified the spice and made the honey more apparent Finish – Medium. Spice notes, honey and a slight tannic dryness of tea. The addition of water intensified the spiciness
Ex Bourbon Cask, Natural Colour, Non-Chillfiltered.
Benrinnes 16 (Douglas Laing Old Particular)
Region – Speyside Strength – 56% Colour – Deep Gold Nose – Deep Creamy fudge, vanilla. Ginger nuts, caramelised sugar, apple crumble Palate – Oily mouthfeel, but not overly heavy. Gives a nice coating. As with any sherry casked whisky there are an abundance of fruity flavours, but also nuts in there too. Raisins, Blackberries, Hazlenut, Cocoa, leather, figs. Cinnamon, Finish – Whoaaa There – wasn’t expecting this. Oak spices, I get a tobacco note / dry wood. Dark chocolate. Warm, medium – long and more-ish.
Ex SherryButt, Natural Colour, non chill filtered.
Both drams were fantastic. I spent a whole evening with these whiskies, allowing a respectable amount of time between them. I have to say that on an initial blind tasting that I preferred the Benrinnes, but this is not a surprise. For me it had a pleasant smoothness coupled with the rich fruit flavours.
Both are still available online if you look, despite being limited edition. The Grindlays Dailuaine can be found at Tyndrum Whisky for £94. The Benrinnes is a bit harder to get as I could not find any source online other than auctions – quite a feat considering it was only bottled last year. Keep an eye open for it – you will not regret buying this.
Lastly, thanks go again to Tobi. You can visit his blog by clicking on this linkBarleymania.com
Taste Review #66 – SMWS 38.24 Princess Street Gardens in Summer (Caperdonich 26 year old)
I’m not a big fan of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I guess it’s because the tight Aberdonian in me sees no point in joining a society just to get independent bottles. Every pound wasted in membership fees is money that could have gone on bottles. Add in the fact that I’d rarely be able to take advantage of the facilities then it’s almost a no-brainer that I’m never likely to be a member. There is another issue. Any out-turns are limited and usually snapped up straightaway so availability isn’t great either. You can see that there isn’t a lot to attract me to membership.
But…. (and there is always a but) the SMWS has always reliably released decent bottlings. The few that I have tried have been really good, and I’d never write off buying one at auction should the price be right. Unfortunately due to lack of availability, it is rarely right.
Those who have been reading my reviews know that I have a predilection towards unicorn drams will not be surprised that this week is another one that has been bottled by the SMWS. While Caperdonich isn’t rare by any standard, it is a distillery that has been consigned to the history books as it was demolished in 2011, making remaining supply finite which means at some point it will get rarer.
Caperdonich was built at the wrong time; 1898 wasn’t a good year for the Scottish Whisky Industry thanks to those Pattison rogues whose forgery pretty much collapsed the industry. The distillery was built as a sister plant to the Glen Grant distillery in the Speyside village of Rothes, yet closed in 1902. The malting floor, kilns and. warehouses were kept in use and it wasn’t until 1965 that the stills started to wake from their slumber. A whisky boom started that saw Glen Grant rise in popularity in Italy and Caperdonich was activated to help provide spirit, but times had moved on and so had U.K. law which forbade two separate distilleries sharing a name. Caperdonich is named after its water supply.
In 1977, the distillery was sold to Seagrams and by 2001 it was then sold to Pernod Ricard. Sadly by 2002 the distillery had been mothballed and demolition started in 2010. It’s not all bad news, as Forsyths expanded their company on the site of the old distillery. If that name isn’t familiar to you, then I can tell you that they are the company responsible for the manufacture of a good deal of the stills currently used in the Scotch Whisky industry.
Caperdonich is slowly starting to gain a premium on prices and it now is the time to try it before the price gets out of reach of the enthusiast drinker. I was lucky and spotted this cheeky little sample at auction and snapped it up pronto. Let’s see what I thought.
Region – Speyside Age – 26 y.o Strength – 51.2% Colour – Yellow Gold
Light malt, creamy, pineapple, dried out lawn, caramel, puff pastries. Almonds. A smell that reminds me of a dusty dunnage warehouse.
Sweet. vanilla custard slices, tropical fruit salad with apricot, apple, warming spices after the arrival. Still getting the impression of that warehouse. Adding water gave a bit more of a citrus prominence
Spicy polished wood, black currants, hints of cocoa with a pleasant slightly tart taste in the mouth with a medium length finish.
I wasn’t expecting to be disappointed and thankfully I got exactly what I expected. A very easy to drink cask strength whisky that gave a pleasant experience of a light, old style malt from a different era. From the experience I’ve had just now I’d definitely look forward to trying other Caperdonich drams and for a moment I wondered if my position on the SMWS should change.
Don’t worry, the tight Aberdonian in me will ensure I keep my money in my pocket considering how many other independent bottlings of Caperdonich are available. Original bottles are also available occasionally at the Aberlour, Glenlivet, Scapa and Strathisla distilleries, as I’m sure that Pernod Ricard still have a sizeable stock remaining. You can find it bottled as part of the distillery reserve collection and should my memory serve me correctly I paid around £75 for a 500ml bottle.
My 25ml nip was not cheap. It was almost £44 after auction fees etc were added. Let’s face it though, you may pay more in a bar to drink the same dram. The price certainly brings tears to a glass eye, but the experience made it more than worthwhile.
Keep an eye on the internet for cheaper Caperdonich whisky – they can vary in price at auction for £100 – £300 per bottle but often more. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Of course, your local friendly specialist whisky retailer may be able to advise you of the retail availability of bottles.
Last week I did something on Scotty’s drams that I hadn’t done in some time, and that was review two whiskies in the same article. So pleased was I with the result, I decided to do the same again this week, as I still have a shelf of a kitchen cabinet absolutely ‘stappit fu’ (that’s the Doric dialect for stuffed full) with miniatures. In an attempt to clear things out, I am going for it again.
Once again, this review of two minatures from the Talisker distillery were part of a three bottle set of which I have already reviewed the Talisker Dark Storm. It was a present from my wife, and reminds me of our last visit there in 2013. I’ve actually been there twice, and am quite familiar with the spirit that the distillery produces. For years Talisker was the only whisky distillery on Skye, and this is proudly proclaimed on the bottles I have before me. However there nothing worse in an age where things are changing so rapidly that what is fact and gospel one minute becomes outdated the next. There is another whisky distillery on Skye at Torabhaig which started producing in 2017, so hopefully soon we will be seeing spirit from there. When will we see Diageo update the Talisker labelling will remain to be seen.
The Talisker Distillery has existed since 1830’s, but wasn’t always a success on account of its remote location – even in today’s times it is still a pretty remote location. It wasn’t until it was taken over by Roderick Kemp and Alexander Allen in 1880 that things started to turn around. Kemp sold his share in 1892 to purchase the Macallan distillery, and in 1895 Allen died and it passed onto his business partner Thomas Mackenzie who was already involved in the Dailuaine distillery on Speyside. It was three years later when Talisker, Dailuaine and Imperial were merged into a single company. Mackenzie himself died in 1916, and control of the distillery was eventually gained by DCL which eventually evolved into the modern day drinks giant Diageo. It is a very important single malt for them, and by 1998 it became part of the Classic Malts selection.
The distillery has a visitors centre, which is very similar to other Diageo visitors centres, but I can recommend the tour very much. It is a beautiful journey to the Isle of Skye, travelling up from Glasgow on the A82, then cutting away from the Great Glen on the A87 all the way to the Isle of Skye, passing the Five Sisters of Kintail, Loch Duich and Eilean Donan Castle (Highlander Movie) and then over the Skye Bridge. The journey across Skye on a good day is little short of breathtaking when you get the view of the Cuillin Hills. Well worth the journey.
It is now time to continue with our whisky journey and proceed with the tastings.
Strength – 45.8%. Colour – Amber. Nose – Smoke, Slight Peat, Brine, Citrus, Seaweed, a shell fish note too. A caramel toffee note appears after adding water with a light vanilla in the background. Palate – Not as agressive as the nose may suggest. Quite a full body with a very pleasant mouth feel. It coats the mouth very satisfactorily. Smoke, light peat. Malted cereal, sweet and peppery. Finish – Medium – long. Quite spicy and peppery with an explosion of oak spices and a nice sweet peppery note continuing.
Strength – 45.8%. Colour – Amber. Nose – Smoke and light peat. Less than the 10year old. Stewed orchard fruits, toffee, a hint of liquorice allsorts. Palate -Not as full a body as the 10 year old. A good bit lighter, but still lightly oily. Smoke and peat levels are much more subdued here compared to the 10 year old, yet is still unmistakably a Talisker. The brine is more noticeable due to the lower smoke levels and there. Finish– Much shorter than the 10 year old and not as much spice, but still the smokey sweet peppery finish.
There is a reason that Talisker is important to Diageo. It is such a pleasant drink to have. Yes, it may be a mass produced whisky but that is something that should be disregarded as we should be judging on our experience alone. It has been some time since I have tasted Talisker 10, especially since I took a shine to Laphroaig 10, but I would say if you are wanting to experiment with peaty whiskies, I’d start with some Highland Park 12 then move onto Talisker 10. It has such a lovely mouth feel, and what is really beneficial to the drinker is the smoke and peat aren’t too strong. The underlying sweetness rescues you from any residual phenolics so you don’t feel as though you are drinking a bottle of TCP.
Moving onto the Skye – it is a little brother to the 10 year old. Much more approachable and if you are a bit of a peat and smoke virgin, then this would probably be better than simply leaping into the 10 year old. The mouthfeel is still familiar, but has less body, and for my palate a bit less satisfying, but I prefer the more heavier peated whiskies when we have moved into the peated styles.
Thinking back to my previous review of Talisker Storm, I remember that being quite aromatic in the smoke and peat departments, with a long finish which became quite tedious in the end. Plus the aroma was as such I could smell the glass of whisky from the other side of the room. It was an average whisky, but I wouldn’t rush to recommend it. However, these two that I have reviewed above I can recommend, as they are very easy to drink and not overpowering in any sense, but still give a quality drinking experience. Of course, there will be plenty of other whiskies that may be challenging, but if you are just looking for an easy going experience with medium smoke and peat, then these two will hit the spot.
However, there are down sides to the equation. Both of these whiskies have colour added, which makes me sad, as I’d like to see a difference between the two to help me realise without tasting that these two are different spirits. Only one of the spirits tasted this time have an age statement, and this was the better of the two with the fuller mouth feel. Whether this is coincidence and the NAS Talisker has a majority of younger whisky which gives a lighter feel is just a guess, but I don’t think its far off the mark.
We have to end on a positive though, and after how good it tastes, we then have to think of how much it costs. While I cannot comment on the cost of the three miniature set at the time as it was a kind gift from my wife to reminisce of our time on Skye, you can pick these up at a whisky retailer for around £16 mark. The full size bottles of each bottle can be picked up for around £43 (10 y.o) and £45 for Skye. As Diageo are moving away from 5CL miniatures at their visitor centres, the 10 year old can also be bought in 20CL size for around £16. To be honest, I think these prices represent good value, and if I fancied a change from Laphroaig, Talisker would be where I’d go to.
It may come as no surprise to some of you that I may eventually find myself in a wee bit of trouble regarding whisky and it is so that this has eventually come to pass. During the lockdown and a short period of illness, I decided that it was time to clear out my study for it was starting to look a little bit like there had been a World War 2 bombing raid. There are a few bottles of whisky in there to go into storage, and the special bottles that are yet to be opened for review, but most of all there is my stash of miniatures that I have purchased so I can do my usual taste reviews. These miniatures are what is causing my problems, for I have found out that I don’t have the odd one or two, I’ve got about 80.
Now, 80 miniatures is not a lot, especially for those of us who collect them, but it was never my intention to collect miniatures though I have to admit I do have one or two of sentimental value that I will be keeping. 80 miniatures is a lot of reviews, and that doesn’t even count the whiskies that I have in full size bottles to be tasted either. It leads me to the problem that I have to overcome somehow and this I am going to do by cheating a little bit and do a vertical tasting. Fortunately I have a few distilleries in my miniature box where I have more than one vintage, so a vertical tasting is probably the most efficient way of dealing with things.
Within my stash of miniatures, I have the remains of 2 gift boxes, one was actually a gift from my wife, but the other one was bought from Wood Winters in Inverness, and was from the Balvenie distillery. The set originally contained the 12 and 17 year old Doublewood whiskies and also the 14 year old Caribbean Cask Balvenie which I reviewed last year. I think enough time has gone by and I can now review the other two, and start cutting down on the number of bottles in my collection
It is said that while the city of Rome was built on Seven Hills, Dufftown was built on Seven Stills built in the late 19th Century – These were Mortlach, Dufftown, Glendullan, Convalmore, Parkmore, Glenfiddich and Balvenie. The distillery of Pittyvaich was built within the Dufftown distillery complex in 1974 and Kininvie was built within the Balvenie site in 1990. Parkmore distilery closed in 1930 due to water quality problems, Convalmore succumbed in 1985 during a turbulent time for the whisky industry and Pittyvaich closed in 1993 when it’s output for blends was no longer required.
Balvenie is a distillery that still retains a malting floor, although this does not provide all the malt required for production. The stills utilise shell and tube condensers instead of the traditional wooden worm tubs. It is also a malt that you will not see as an independent bottle – owners William Grant and Sons (who have owned Balvenie since its construction in 1892) ‘teaspoon’ their casks that they sell on to ensure that it cannot be sold as Balvenie (or Glenfiddich for that matter) in order to preserve their market share. Balvenie has a small amount, reportedly 1% of Glenfiddich added to it, and is known as Burnside. Vice versa, Glenfiddich has 1% Balvenie added to it and is known as Wardside. Both Glenfiddich and Balvenie are present in the blend ‘Monkey Shoulder’ along with Kininvie, and nowadays Ailsa Bay may also be part of the mix.
Balvenie has a visitors centre nowadays, but it is very hard to get a tour, which often need to be booked months in advance – I’ve tried and failed! It is reported to be an excellent tour and it is one that I really want to visit, having already been to the Glenfiddich distillery some years ago. It is also on the pricey side (£50) but is limited to 8 people and is reported to be one of the best tours that you can get in a distillery.
The two whiskies that I am going to taste for you are from the Doublewood range, and have been matured in refill American Oak barrels and Hogsheads that have contained bourbon They have then been finished in 1st fill European Oak Oloroso Sherry casks, then married in an oak tun for another 3-4 months to allow individual barrels to marry together. Wood finishing was a process that was developed by Balvenie Malt Master David Stewart in 1982 and is now a very popular process throughout the industry. The 17 year old has just been given an extra 5 years maturation.
All this typing is making me thirsty, so it is time for me to get cracking on with the tasting.
Balvenie Doublewood 12
Strength – 43%. Colour – Honey Gold. Nose -Sweet. Stewed Fruit. Raspberry Jam. Brioche bread. Elements of citrus. Digestive biscuits Palate – Medium body, Note of astringency. Vanilla, honey, walnuts moves to a bitter finish. Finish – medium, drying. Tannic with a sour note. For me water smooths the astringency a bit, but increased the sour notes.
Balvenie Doublewood 17
Strength – 43%. Colour – Old Gold. Nose – Quite sweet on the initial nose. Candy, Icing sugar, Apple peel, a light aroma of freshly cut wood. Raisins. Palate – Quite a light body, Spicy – polished wood, vanilla, dried fruit. Finish– Medium, spicy, cinnamon, slightly drying.
In all honesty I wasn’t really expecting that much having the 12 year old. I have had this before, and it didn’t float my boat, and the only reason for buying this set was to try the Caribbean Cask without committing to buying a full bottle. I think this was the wise choice.
As is usual, I always do my taste tests without doing any research into tasting notes, but do compare afterwards, as I want to see if I was far off the mark. I was surprised to see so many other people saying that this was a sweet whisky, but I only got the sweetness in the nose, but not the palate and certainly not the finish. In the case of the 12 year old, adding water only increased the sourness for me. In all I was quite disappointed.
The 17 year old was different. Between the two I felt that this was the lighter whisky. Perhaps being in the wood mellowed it a bit. I didn’t find the wood quite so strong here, and the nose was less fruity but had a much more pleasant sweetness. I felt that this dram did not need water, although I was pushed towards adding water to the 12 year old spirit. I definitely feel that the extra 5 years in the cask has made the spirit mellow out somewhat into a much more pleasurable experience.
While people speak of complexities in these drams, I didn’t get that. For me the sourness of the 12 year old drowned out any subtle flavours for me, and the mouthfeel on the 17 year old was just a bit too light for my preference. But this doesn’t mean to say it’s a bad whisky, as plenty of other people rate Balvenie as a brand, but not everybody can like everything.
The one thing that I noticed is that my miniatures were both at 43% whereas a full sized bottle of the 12 year old doublewood is only 40%. Both these drams appear to have been chill filtered and both have the addition of E150a colouring. I was a little disappointed in the latter – the alarm bells were ringing when I placed the drams side by side and they were the same colour, despite the 5 year age difference.
The 12 year old can be found in your local friendly whisky retailer for around £39 and the 17 year old is around the £110 mark. I would suggest that I do not find this a price I would pay for the 17 year old, although while I did not enjoy it, the 12 year old is more reasonably priced. I would however suggest to seek out miniatures of these drams before you pay such sums of money to see if you will like it or not, as had I paid for full bottles I would currently be disappointed. Your taste experience may be different to mine, but in this case I will be trying something else from the Balvenie warehouse in the future.
This blog has already been responsible for the disclosing some secrets. Most notably it has been my short lived career as a flipper and hypocrite, not to mention the confession that seems to have flown well under the radar about one of my go-to blends that features the image of a well known bird. But let’s move on from me and move onto the whisky I’ll be reviewing this week which also has a dark secret, with the emphasis on dark.
The Mannochmore distillery was opened in 1971 by DCL on the same site as Glenlossie. These distilleries sit within a small pocket of distilleries that straddle the A941 Elgin to Craigellachie road which also includes BenRiach, Longmorn and Glen Elgin distilleries. It uses the same water source as Glenlossie, the Bardon Burn, although Mannochmore is by far the larger producer, capable of producing 4.5 million litres of spirit a year, compared to the much older Glenlossie’s 2.8 million litres.
Mannochmore is one of those distilleries that isn’t that well represented by its current owners, Diageo. There are very few official releases available, mostly limited to Manager Dram bottles or the occasional Diageo Special release – another thing in common with Glenlossie. Indeed, the only official release for both distilleries is the Flora and Fauna bottling and I am away to review the 12 year old Mannochmore for you now. However, a quick look online reveals that Mannochmore is easily available from many independent bottlers.
But before we go any further, we have to move onto that dark secret I mentioned. In 1996, Diageo released a whisky that was controversial to say the least. I don’t know how many of you have heard of a whisky called Loch Dhu, but this was a whisky that was dark beyond belief, marketed as a ‘Black Whisky. It was clearly beyond doubt that this was the result of some heavy use of artificial colouring. The result was a Marmite style whisky, which means like the yeast based spread it was something you either loved or hated. Unfortunately for Loch Dhu, most people hated it and the bottling was soon withdrawn. It is becoming a bit of a collectors item, but I am convinced that most people won’t be drinking it.
Speaking of drinking, it is time to move onto the whisky I have chosen for this week’s review. Hopefully this one is going to taste a lot better than Loch Dhu is reported to be.
12 years old
Slight whiff of alcohol, Buttery, honey, floral notes, straw, toffee
Oily mouthfeel, but not too heavy. A quick burst of wood spices, then quite creamy and sweet. Ginger, Vanilla and Lemon.
Medium Sweet, spiced wood, continues a ginger theme with added pepper. Slightly astringent, creamy lemon zest at the end.
If you are looking for a complex whisky, then this is not it. However it is quite a decent dram but I soon found out that it is not one to set the world on fire. I can tell you that it has most likely been chill filtered and the chances of it having colouring within are quite high, but the pale colour would seem to suggest that this is probably a minimum amount. But then again, Flora and Fauna whiskies were never intended to be world beater premium whisky, and for all the short comings this whisky has, it was a very pleasant pour.
The spicy wood notes are quite pleasant and controlled, and do not hide a floral nose nor the creamy vanilla and floral notes in the palate.
This whisky is one I have a couple of bottles of as part of my Flora and Fauna collections. It was one of the 17 out of the original 22 that were also produced with a white cap to denote the 1st Edition. This however was a dram from one of the sample bottles that were available on The Whisky Exchange for around £5, but I can’t remember as I have had this sample for some time.
A full sized bottle should cost you about £50, but its availability may not be the greatest. Your specialist spirit shop should be able to source this if they don’t already stock it, or you can find it online easily enough. Based on paying £50 for a 43% whisky that is only 12 years old with colouring and chill filtered, it may not represent the best value. Although it is a pleasant sipper, I don’t think I can tell you it is an interesting enough dram to be good value at that price. At some point you might just have to take a chance and take the plunge to try it. I can assure you that if a purchase of this bottle is made, you will probably enjoy it if you are not seeking a challenging complex drink. There is no doubt in my mind that you will not have an extreme reaction that you may have had in drinking the Loch Dhu black whisky, so if you do see it, why not take a chance and try it?
Glentauchers is one of those distilleries that flies beneath the radar. I have to say that it doesn’t seem to be well known at all. And in all fairness, I fly past it on a regular basis as it is right beside the A95, halfway between the Morayshire town of Keith and the hamlet of Mulben. Flying past it is maybe stretching it a bit. There is a bend right beside the distillery houses where a bridge also narrows the carriageway slightly. Up until 5 years ago or so, there was also a strange camber on the road as you went over the bridge which used to force you out into the middle of the road as you went round the bend. I’ve lost count of how many times I have passed it and almost needed a change of underwear. Yet still have to sit and review one of its whiskies.
The Glentauchers distillery was another of those distilleries built at the end of the 1890’s, and was established by James Buchanan & Co. to provide fillings for its Black And White blend. This was to become a role that the distillery was to play for its whole life so far, as one of those distilleries whose main purpose is to provide whiskies for blends. As was the case for so many distillery companies, James Buchanan eventually merged with DCL, which would eventually become part of Diageo, although this was not the fate for this distillery – it wasn’t to survive the whisky downturn in the 1980’s and was mothballed at the same time as Convalmore which was also formerly owned by Buchanan / DCL. However, fate was kinder to Glentauchers than it was to Convalmore, and it was bought by Allied Distillers in 1989, with full production resuming in 1992. By 2005, Allied Distillers became part of the Chivas empire, whose parent company are Pernod Ricard.
Today, Glentauchers still carries on, and has been used as a training distillery by Pernod Ricard. Apparently it is a distillery that has limited automation, ensuring that staff have to learn how to distill whisky manually. The malting floors are not part of this as their operation ceased in 1969.
The Glentauchers distillery despite sitting right beside a main road does not have the have the same visibility, yet finding bottles of Glentauchers is not hard. There are plenty of bottlings available from independent bottlers. I own a couple, one being from First Cask, and another being a bottle in the Dancing Stag range from Robert Graham. A quick look online sees that there are bottles available from many of the well known independents such as That Boutiquey Whisky Company, Signatory, Douglas Laing, Berry Bros, but most notably is Gordon & Macphail, probably the oldest continually operating independent bottler, based in the Morayshire town of Elgin, and it is from this bottler we have this week’s sample.
Finding original bottlings of Glentauchers are few and far between. As mentioned above, it is a spirit usually for providing for blends, notably Ballantines. There has been official bottlings – there was a 12 year old released in the 1980’s and in 2000 it was part of a set of 6 different whiskies released by Allied Distillers – all at 46% and 15 years old, meaning that in the case of Glentauchers they were using the DCL distillate. In 2017 an official bottling was released at 15 y.o under the Ballantines brand.
Age / Vintage
1991 / 16 years (Bottled 2007)
Peaches, Honey, biscuity cereals, vanilla, slight apple note. To start with I got a hint of solvent, but that disappeared after I left the glass to sit and breath.
Slightly oily mouthfeel, yet still quite light. No real overpowering flavours. Spicy oak note with a little fizz on arrival. Sweet, apples, honey, toffee, hay. Hint of lemon peel. Spicy notes soften with the addition of water.
Short to medium. Oak, slightly bitter, lemon. After water added very slight vegetal taste on departure.
This was a long time coming and I am disappointed in myself that I waited so long to taste this whisky. I’ve always liked the appearance of the G&M distillery bottlings. They look bold and classic, even reminiscent of a bygone age. You see I am a bit of a romanticist about Scottish Malt Whisky, and I prefer to think of it as just a wee industry and not the global behemoth it has become. The diagonal distillery name sloping up to the right reminds me strongly of that other Buchanan owned distillery, Convalmore. If you look at the Diageo Special releases from 2006, 2013 or 2017 you’ll see why.
But we have to move away from the labels, as they do not make whisky taste any better. I didn’t know really what to expect from this whisky, as it is one I have not had before, and I have to say I was very impressed. I drank most of my sample neat, but as towards the end of typing this out, I noticed time was marching on and it was nearly bed time. So, rather than neck it, I decided to see how things would play out with water.
As it was 43%, I didn’t really think it needed water. I really enjoyed the dram neat. I am sure that if it was delivered at a higher ABV, I would definitely be adding water to maybe soften it to get a great easy drinker. My dram from the previous night was a Lagavulin 16, and at 43% that was also drunk without water, and was fully enjoyable, yet I didn’t get all the complexity that you can find in Lagavulin. However getting back to Glentauchers, I don’t feel that there is a complexity there to find in this bottle, but that’s ok. Not everything has to be a challenge and it is important that we remember that we drink whisky because we enjoy it. Constantly seeking for something that isn’t there is just going to lead to a disappointment and spoil what is actually a decent dram.
I paid £7.80 for my 5CL sample in the Edinburgh Woollen Mill in Inverness. It’s a very touristy shop, and I was only in there to conduct some business connected to my wife’s business. It was when walking past the till I noticed the miniatures for sale. Of course, in a shop like this, you know that you are probably paying over the odds, but this is a bottle I always wanted to try. I had the chance to buy the 1996 bottle, but I noticed this 1991 hiding behind a few others. Going by the flawed mantra of older is better, I dug this one out – if I remember rightly it was also cheaper, so it satisfied the needs of my inner Aberdonian. Result!
A little bit of research into the bottling codes on the label reveal that this was bottled in 2007, which makes it 16 years old. I had seen something about the 1991 vintage also being bottled in 2010, but this is unconfirmed. This means the distillery was definitely producing before coming out of mothballs in 1992, and this must be some of the first spirit created by Allied Distillers.
While this bottle is discontinued, a quick look on auction sites reveals that it is available under £50, and if you are lucky this will also include auction fees, though you might have to add a little more to also cover the P&P. I think that this represents good value, and I would be happy to pay that for this dram. Therefore you will not be surprised to find out that I do recommend this whisky and if I see this as a 70cl bottle, I would be happy to buy it for my drinking collection. It would be sad to miss it, just as I miss the hair raising adrenalin rush of going round the bend next to the distillery now the camber has been sorted. My undercrackers are more grateful though,
One last tip before I go – I forgot to mention that there is no such place as Glentauchers. The distillery was built on the site of Tauchers Farm, and Tauchers Wood is on the other side of the road. Thought I’d better mention it in case you want to have a pilgrimage up a non-existent Glen.