18 and (a) Life.

Taste Review #144 – Speyburn 18

Today has been a time for reflection.

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

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

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

A very reflective time indeed.

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

Speyburn Distillery (Andrew Wood)

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

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

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

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

Speyburn 18

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

Conclusions

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

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

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

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

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

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

All Other Photos – Authors Own

Good things can come from bad.

Taste Review #69 – Glendronach 18 Allardice.

When I was a child, the Aberdeenshire area used to have a good handful of distilleries. Ardmore, Banff, Fettercairn, Glenugie, Glenury Royal, Glendronach, Glen Garioch and lastly Royal Lochnagar. Sadly, three of these distilleries have now not just fallen silent but have been wiped off the face of the earth following the cull of distilleries in the 1980’s. Ardmore, Fettercairn, Glen Garioch and Royal Lochnagar mostly produce liquid for their corporate owners to use for blending and aren’t as prominent in the whisky landscape as some others. That just leaves Glendronach. Up until I became interested in single malt whisky it was a distillery I had not even heard of, despite it being under 30 miles from my house as the crow flies. Its exposure was increased to me when they opened a visitors centre – the brown tourist sign at the A96 / A97 road junction was a clue, but this wasn’t enough for me to get some of their liquid down my throat.

One of the issues that caused me to be blind to Glendronach is that it used to be one of those distilleries that had an relatively anonymous existence as a distillery producing whisky for blends, formerly being part of Pernod-Ricard empire. As most other distilleries owned by large corporations, it did release its own single malts from time to time but with no great fanfare. This was to change when the distillery was sold to a consortium of which the master distiller Billy Walker was a part. Billy has had a great deal of success with buying former Pernod-Ricard distilleries with also rejuvenating BenRiach, and after selling these two along with Glenglassaugh to Brown Forman, has bought the Glenallachie distillery, also from Pernod-Ricard. It is in his style that the letter after Glen or Ben is capitalised to distinguish it from the former owners. I’ll just stick to writing Glendronach and not GlenDronach.

I’ve always had a soft spot for sherried whiskies, with Macallan playing a large part in it as once upon a time nearly every bottle of Macallan was superlative in quality to any other sherried whisky. However, well before I considered a whisky journey such as this blog, I was also on familiar terms with Glenfarclas and Tamdhu, two other Speyside whiskies that have excellent sherried expressions, yet Glendronach evaded my attentions. It wasn’t until an unpleasant encounter that my gaze fell upon the Glendronach range.


GlenDronach 18 Allardice 5CL

It all started when I had to work occasionally with a guy who turned out to be a bit of a bad apple. He could be a great work mate one minute and nasty the next, and for all of the rest of the small team I work with we never knew what version we were getting that day. During one of his good days and before I realised what a menace this guy could be, the discussion turned to whisky. He told me that the only whisky he really drunk was the Glendronach 12. It had occurred to me that I’d been passing the signs to the visitor centre for years and had never visited or really had concentrated on any of their produce. Quite obviously as somebody who has an interest in whisky, I felt it was imperative that I paid more attention to the spirit that Glendronach was making.

The Glendronach 18 year old Allardice that I am going to review for you was the first Glendronach that I actively paid attention to and all I will say at the moment is that I wish I had tried it sooner. It took me another three years to visit this distillery, and during the tour I had last year, I left my guide Ann in no doubt what I thought about it. My previous review of the visit Glendronach, along its history and a tasting can be read here. The Allardice refers to the founder of Glendronach, James Allardice, who started the distillery in 1826.

I’m not planning on saying much more, so let’s have our whisky and see what we think. I do hope you can join me in tasting this little beauty.

Details

Region – Highland; Age – 18 years old; Strength – 46% ABV; ColourTawny. Nose – Christmas Cake in a Glass. Rich sherry overload – Raisins, Plums, Cherries, Figs, Spicy Oak – Nutmeg and Ginger; Palate – Medium body, slightly oily. Leather, Raisins, Cherries, Oak, Orange peel, chocolate, hint of treacle toffee; Finish – Medium to long. Drying, syrupy taste that clings to the mouth, touch of sulphur, sticky toffee pudding, instant coffee powder.


The dram

Conclusions

I am hoping that you realise that I liked this a lot. I fell in love with the Allardice from the first time I tasted it. To my palate, this is a lot better than some of the insipid modern Macallan that has come on the market in the past decade or so, and thus I had changed my allegiance. I’m just disappointed that I didn’t review this some time ago. Due to my work pattern and my inclination not to keep several whisky bottles open at a time, it will be a while before I open another full sized bottle. Perhaps I’d better reconsider this. I’m definitely convinced that this is better than a lot of modern Macallans, but I’m also aware it is a different style of whisky, being a Highland Malt.

The range of aromas and smells I got from this spirit included many of my favourite things; treacle toffee, cherries, raisins, coffee powder, sticky toffee pudding to name but a few. It was a no brainer that I was going to enjoy this.

Most modern single malts are likely to have the vast majority of the liquid in the bottle at the age stated on the label. This one is likely different. It is a thing to note is that with some Glendronach whiskies is that the distillery was silent for around 5 years from the mid 90’s. This means that this 18 year old bottle has spirit in it that will be considerably older, as will the 21 year old. Anything bottled between 2014 and 2020 will have to include spirit that can be as much as 24 years old and in larger amounts than might be found in a normal marrying of casks for a production run. It is my opinion the content of older spirit is indeed evident. I’ve never particularly compared batches as I am not convinced that I have that sharp enough of a palate, plus I am extremely unlikely to have two full sized bottles open at a time. Nonetheless the richness and depth this dram has would easily convince me there are older casks in there.


70cl Bottle

Is this good value? Here I start to swither. Depending on what bottle you got, I could surprisingly suggest it is not at the moment. My first bottle of Allardice was £74, a not unreasonable cost for a decent sherry whisky of that age. However prices have been creeping up so much that you don’t get a lot of change from £100. I don’t know if it is because of rising production costs, the fact that older spirit is playing a major part in the blending, or we are getting charged what the producer thinks the market can sustain. However let’s review facts. 46% ABV, Natural colour, non-chill filtered, age statement. It is an honest malt with nothing to hide. Sherried whiskies can command a higher price, partly because the casks are a lot more expensive, in this case it is an Oloroso cask.

Let’s not dwell too much on price. You have to try it if you like sherried whiskies. Keep an eye out for miniatures or see if it is in your local whisky bar if you don’t want to cough up a sizeable amount of cash up front without trying it. I’d suggest that you will not be disappointed though. This sample was bought from Amazon about a year ago and cost me £10 if I recall correctly.

If that isn’t enough to convince you that you need to try this whisky then let’s add a sprinkle of context – Macallan pump out NAS whisky at 40% with chill filtration, partially bourbon matured and then release it in a funny coloured box and still expect you to fork out £100ish for the privilege. The fanboys lap it up but I know many grumble about the lack of value for money in many of these drams. I know what my preference would be and it wouldn’t be the Macallan for the same money.

Keep an eye out for this at auctions. It is entirely possible to get this at less than RRP, even when auction fees are taken into account, but be wary of shipping costs; perhaps consolidate shipments. I have a few bottles of this with various date codes and I will be drinking them eventually, so I will be able to get the benefit of the older whisky. If you want a guide to what bottle dates are most likely to contain the oldest whisky, see this handy web page here. There is a handy PDF embedded into it.

Lastly, this proves that often being in a bad situation can often lead to good. I’m grateful for being recommended Glendronach, although I wasn’t as fond of the 12 as this. If the person I referred to is reading this, then thank you, I owe you a drink.

Yours In Spirits,

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Photo Credits

Glendronach 18 Allardice 70CL BottleWhisky World.

All Other Photos – Authors Own