Made In Taiwan

Taste Review #138 – Kavalan Classic / Sherry Cask

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.


I’m being erroneously swayed by the colour!

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

www.kavalanwhisky.com


Kavalan Classic

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 TypeColouringChill FilteredNose – 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.


Conclusions

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.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

It’s the season to be jolly.

The festive (or festival) season is here.

No, don’t panic, it’s still over three months until that season at the time of writing. It’ll be some time before your kids will be getting excited by a fat man in a red suit carrying a large bag. My kid gets that any time of year I put on an old pair of work overalls to do some tidying up in the garden. Just need the reindeer to finish the look.

The season that I refer to is my whisky season, where I get a free pass from her that must be obeyed to enjoy myself by doing some tours and sampling some whisky. Traditionally it is a bit busy for my work over the summer months, so I always tend to try and take breaks in September or October when the weather in Scotland can still be settled before the onslaught of winter. Whisky season for me this year involved three distillery visits and a small whisky festival.

Distillery 1 was the small and very scenic Speyside distillery. It’s on the opposite side of the River Spey from me, a short 5 minute drive. Despite living in the village for 8 years, I’ve never actually been. The tour was good enough, but I found myself as pretty much the only person on the tour who had been around a distillery before, so I just absorbed the atmosphere and the sights, plus chatted to one of my former work colleagues who is now a senior operator on the site.


Waterwheel that forms part of Speyside distillery.

Distillery 2 was Ballindalloch. I’ve visited a few times in the past and this time I redid the Art Of Whisky Making experience. Pricey at nearly £200 but still a great experience to see first hand exactly how whisky is made. Questions are encouraged, with each staff member being very knowledgeable about the process. On Thursdays it is casking day, so you get the experience of filling casks of the previous weeks spirit and then getting them stored in the warehouse. Can you master the art of ‘clocking’ your casks to ensure the bungs are always at the top? That is certainly an art!


The perfect mash. By me. With a wee bit of help.

My final distillery visit was Cragganmore. I nearly first visited this distillery in 2019, but never managed to fit it into my schedule. The tour is about an hour long, but much better than my last visit to a Diageo distillery. The tour guide this time knew a lot about the process and she kept the tour fun, interesting and engaging without pushing the company line. I even got extras from the gift shop of the rarer malts, one of which was the distillery 2016 special release of which I have a bottle. A really nice touch, one I’m very grateful for. I’d definitely recommend this tour.


I like big butts. Sherry butts of course.

Well, I’d love to say this was my last distillery visit, but I’m lying as I popped into Strathisla for a bit of retail therapy and purchased I a couple of distillery reserve collections, both the produce of sherry butts. One was a Longmorn, and another local malt that I dare not speak its name. The disappointing thing about the Pernod-Ricard distillery reserve is the fact they are often 50cl bottles. However, they are usually at cask strength and single cask. The non-single cask ones are often 70cl.

And on to the National Whisky Festival, Aberdeen. The main reason for taking the month of September off, to ensure that I got a chance to meet Nick (twitter – @ayewhisky); a fellow Aberdonian who has exiled himself to Belfast. But it doesn’t end there as I also bumped into a couple more of the Twitterati. It goes to show that it is indeed a small world. Firstly it was Steve Gray and his pal Alan, who I first met on a tour of Glendronach in June 2019, then Paul Dempsey (twitter / @whiskyweegie) who was formerly a brand ambassador for Speyside distillery but is now working for Brave New Spirits. It was also a pleasure to meet Colin Sim (Twitter @distillerybikes).

Alan, self and Steve. Oh, and THAT shirt.

There were plenty of drams to try but I’m not even going to attempt to remember all of them but I’ll have a go –

Murray McDavid – Glenburgie 13. Sherry butt with a Sauternes 1st fill finish. 58.2%

Murray McDavid – Cambus 30. Cognac finish. 47.8%

JG Thompson Sweet Blended Whisky NAS 46%.

Brave New Spirits – The Nailed Puppet. Tormore 11. 1st and 2nd fill a bourbon. 52.6%

Benromach 10 Cask Strength. 2012 vintage. 60.2%

Speyside Distillery – Spey Tenne CS NAS Batch 4. Tawny Port Finish. 57.7%

Glenallachie – 8 y.o 46%. Sherry, Red wine matured.

White Peak – Wireworks Inaugural release 50.3%

Dalmore – cigar malt. 44%. American White Oak, Matusalem Oloroso and Cabernet Sauvignon casks.

Balblair – 15 y.o Bourbon with 1st fill sherry finish

SMWS – 4.311 “Tiptoe Through The Heather* Highland Park 13. 1st fill bourbon. 61.1% (*this is a guess as it was a scrum to get to the stand as some idiots were treating it as a public bar, and I only got a glimpse of the bottle as it was being poured. I had no chance of speaking to the guys pouring).

If anybody can help me out with the ID of the Highland Park, I’ll be grateful.

So only 10 drams. It wasn’t a lot but you do try to savour as much as you can to get the flavours and aromas, but after so much cask strength spirit, it’s impossible to really appreciate some of the drams. Plus I was constantly getting interrupted due to positive comments on my sartorial excellence with one of my specialist Hawaiian shirts. The way I’m going to choose to look at it is that we say whisky is a social drink, therefore it’s probably more important to focus on people rather than solely the whisky and trying to drink as much as you can in the allotted time.

People being friendly with liquid social lubricant.

Any stand out drams from the festival? No, not really. I was surprised at this. I was however pleasantly surprised by the Tormore, really enjoyed the sweetness of the Glenburgie and the smoothness of the Cambus. Dram of my night was probably the Tormore.

A quick pint before going our separate ways in the Howff (where I had my first proper Bourbon at age 18!), saw me back into the hotel before 10pm and thus the curtain was drawn on this years festival of whisky. Old friendships renewed, new ones made. A perfect end.

What’s your perfect festival?

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

The Power Of Negative Thinking

Why look up when you can look down?

A battle of the booze.

Some people just love negativity.

I hasten to add that I am fond of a bit of a black mood but in no way am I going to start becoming hypocritical for one second. Every silver lining has its cloud and so on and so on. However some sectors aren’t immune from using negative or incorrect statements to make themselves look better. As much as this pains me to say this, it has to stop.

I chose this topic because I’ve noticed a few things that made me sit up and think that something wasn’t quite right. If you are going to have a dismal outlook then it’s always better to have it based on fact or something quantifiable that you can show on why you’ve come to an assumption. It’s all very well making statements about whisky, but at least make it fair and be prepared on back it up.

I will say how this particular rant started by feeding back something that was passed onto me from one of my whisky brothers. This is person who I keep in contact to chew the fat, swap the odd sample and also just have a good old burst of negativity in private so I’m not so much a gurning git online. He had visited an Irish distillery where the person doing the tour had mentioned how Irish whisky had to be matured for 3 years yet Scotch only had to be matured for 2 years. This seems to be common amongst proponents of the Irish Whisky Industry where many mistruths are either intentionally or unintentionally propagated. The problem is that sometimes the falsehoods are believed by those who know no better and the erroneous statement keeps going.

Of course, unintentionally making an error is fine, and this can be corrected by education, but needs to be done ASAP. Even I’m not immune, haven fallen foul of misinformation myself with regards a couple of times, sometimes based on a certain year book or a flat capped vBlogger. Best make the correction and move on.

For some strange reason there is some sort of misconception I seem to be aware of, whether it’s anecdotal or something I have directly heard, I can’t remember but there is a tendency for some people supporting the Irish Whiskey industry to say things like “Scotch is peated and smokey, whereas Irish is smooth because we triple distill and they only double distill.” That is obviously a gross misrepresentation of the facts, as the majority of Scotch is not peaty and smokey and at least two distilleries triple distill and a few have utilised a partial triple distillation method.

Why say negative stuff like that? It’s a pretty poor show when you have to knock down another product just to make your own look better. My source revealed that Scotch gets mentioned at a few of the Irish distilleries he’s visited and not always in a positive light. Yet when I visit a Scottish distillery, I’ve yet to hear mention of Irish whiskey.

Yes, there is a difference between Irish and Scotch whisky due to the subtle difference in production. But for some, here is a newsflash – Irish whiskey has traditionally used peat in the past. Even the light and floral Speysiders did, as once upon a time the distilleries would have used the fuel available to them. I mean, how likely is it a nation that has nearly a fifth of its landmass covered by peat not use it as fuel? The Irish weren’t given the nickname ‘Bogtrotters’ because the lived on a land entirely of loamy soil.


Did somebody mention different soil types?” One brand that often gets unfair negativity, though we will skip on before the Dark Lord of terroir springs into life.

The Irish distilled whisky before the Scots. That’s a fact. However the Scots were the ones who where arguably to become more successful in a commercial sense with it – for now at least. That doesn’t make Scotch any better than Irish Whiskey either.

Reddit on Irish Whiskey use of peat

Here’s a thought. Why not just get on producing your whiskey without worrying what other distilleries are doing and just concentrate on making the best whiskey you can? The Irish scene is certainly flourishing now with new craft distilleries coming on line, so if you are wanting to get into Irish whisky now is the time. And a few are making peated spirit.

I’ve been doing an occasional series on different world whiskies. Not once have I compared them to Scotch. It just wouldn’t be fair as everything about them is different from barley sources and water sources, climate and production practices. Just take your whisky as you find it. Let the liquid do the talking and ignore preconceptions. I’ve found the whisky from Scotland’s historical foe to be quite good so far. That doesn’t bother me; all that matters is that I am enjoying what is in my glass. And yet it seems yet another Battle Royale could be in the making. A recent article was published in the Telegraph. The article is paywalled but you’ll get the drift. English Whisky Rivals Scotch

Might be more worthwhile listening if the author was a Wines And Spirits writer?

Anyway. To conclude the battle of whether Irish is better than Scotch, I decided to pitch two common blends against each other, one from each country. As Scotland has more whisky distilleries I thought I’d give the Irish a more fighting chance by allowing it a partner.

In the Red Corner we have Famous Grouse, the most popular blended whisky in Scotland. In the Blue Corner we have Jamesons and his companion Tullamore Dew. Let battle commence!

Famous Grouse

Famous Grouse. Not a lot to grouse about.

Region – Scottish Blend Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Amber 0.7 Cask Type – N/A Colouring – Not stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Malt, Buttery, Caramel, Werthers Originals, a hint of grain, Orange peel Palate – Quite sweet. Light to medium mouthfeel. Burst of alcohol burn on first sip but quickly subsides to leave flavours of malt, sultana, butterscotch, hint of ginger nuts and a very slight smokiness. Finish – Medium and pleasant. Malt continues with a slight drying in the mouth. Digestive biscuits with a suggestion of grain whisky

Jamesons Blended Irish

Jamesons

Region -Irish Blend Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour -Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type -N/A Colouring – Not stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Sweet Malt, almost like a frosted breakfast cereal. Stone fruit, Apricot, tinned peaches, chocolate raisins. Palate – quite mild and approachable. Slightly oily mouthfeel with the grain components being immediately available. Sweet biscuity taste, a little spice from ginger and nutmeg. No strong burn, the sweetness reminds me of a candy that I can’t quite remember the name of. Almond also in there. Finish – Not that long and complex. The sweet components hang on in there. Nutty, candied almonds rings a bell, possibly the candy I was thinking of in the palate. A bit of grain remains with apricot in the finish and a hint of mint.

Tullamore D.E.W

Tullamore D.E.W. Why is it legendary? Maybe because this sample wasn’t great.

Region – Irish Blend Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – N/A Colouring – Not stated Chill Filtered – Not stated Nose – Buttery biscuits, custard cream, honey Palate – Harsh alcohol, grains, Malt, vanilla, pink peppercorn spice, blackcurrants, slight citrus Finish – hot finish with more tannic spice, burning alcohol, drying, hint of lemon in the end.

Conclusions

Did Ireland beat Scotland? No. Not at all. It was like comparing oranges to a combine harvester. However in the battle of the blends, the Tullamore was like the mate who can’t fight trying to help you in a square go. Why is it legendary? Well perhaps to cut it down to brass tacks, is it because this bottle was totally pish. In its defence it was an old bottle and slightly evaporated but it only just missed going down the sink. As I drunk it while in quarantine in Colombo I was just grateful for the booze.

The Grouse had more body, the Jamesons was lighter and smoother, and to my palate was boring and bland. But that’s just me. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t great either. The competition it faced was Grouse. Hardly the best in the world either.

While technically Scotland should win on points as Jameson was founded by a Scot, the true result is a draw. Just go where your palate takes you as the best whisky of the time is the one you enjoy the most. Be it Bourbon, Scots, Japanese, English, Welsh, Irish or even Icelandic, it really doesn’t matter.

Negativity has its place. Just not here.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Bringing Home The Bacon.

Taste Review #131 – Stauning Rye Whisky – Floor Malted and Mezcal Finish.

Once again I find myself looking at another world whisky as I endeavour to try whisky other than my preferred option of Scotch. And this time the pin in the map has landed on Denmark. Its not a country you really associate with whisky production but believe it or not there are a handful of distilleries in Denmark. It’s something that I have never tried before, so it was on my list to try for some time.

At one time I used to do tastings at a hotel my wife used to run, with one of the best customers was a Dane called Ulrik. It was he that introduced me to the fact that Denmark had a burgeoning whisky scene. According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook there are 16 whisky distilleries within Denmark, which came as a surprise to me. And here is me thinking that all Denmark was famous for was Danepak Bacon and the delicious butter cookies we often get offshore. I guess there is a reason for the Danish nation topping polls of who is the happiest nation. With biscuits, bacon and whisky. That is a country that has a lot going for it!



The Stauning distillery was founded in 2005 by nine friends and had a somewhat unconventional beginning. While it was quite normal to source your barley from somebody locally, perhaps the fact (according to the distillery website) they malted on a butchers cold room floor and used an old mincer as a grinder to make their grist. However it wasn’t until 2011 that the first commercial bottlings were released. There is absolutely no point in me telling you things you can read for yourself, so please take a look at their website at stauningwhisky.com

Stauning Floor Malted Rye


Region – Denmark (Rye) Age – NAS Strength – 48% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – New American Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose– Lime zest, Rye bread, malt, honey, fruit jelly candies, freshly crushed black peppercorns, Palate – Sweet and subdued with an oily mouthfeel, for me the taste is dominated by peppery oak, there is a hint of cherries and blackberries / Forest fruits, but not as sharp as a a raspberry. Finish – medium and drying – peppery oak and citrus peels. I get a taste of sour beer at the end as well. Adding water really balanced out the peppery oak in the palate and made the citrus sour taste in the finish more prominent and pleasant.

Stauning Bastard


Region – Denmark Age – NAS Strength – 46.3% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – American Oak with 6 months Mezcal Finish Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Honey, Rye cereal notes, smokiness like toast crusts, Apple, strawberries, quite fruity under the grain and honey notes. Saline note also Palate – Medium body. No real spirit burn on arrival. Oaky, spicy, drying. Ginger, dry well fired toast gives a slight smokey note. Brown sugar. Finish – Spicy and hot on the way down. Quite a surprise given the lack of a spirit burn in the mouth. The finish is quite short and addition of water doesn’t do that much for the heat. Dry finish, brine, oaky spice ending in a brown sugar note.

Conclusions

I felt that the floor malting version slightly unbalanced with the peppery oak on arrival, but having added only a few drops of water from the pipette, this steadied the ship a lot more and it became a decent dram much to my liking. While I wouldn’t rush out to buy it, this would be happlily received as a gift, and should I know somebody who appreciates a rye whisky, I’d consider recommending it or giving as a gift. I do not know the age of this whisky. I would recommend this to people who want to experiment and try Danish spirits.

Given there was quite a gap between publishing this post and it’s writing, within this time I received a wee dram from one of the page followers of some Stauning Rye. It’s a bonus that I’ll enjoy this whisky straight away as I’ll know to add water to it.

The Bastard whisky? Well, it was an expletive that I nearly expressed when I swallowed for the first time. There was a sudden burst of heat that was unexpected given the lack of spirit tingle on the tongue while I held it in my mouth. This has been in a new American Oak cask for three years prior to a six month spell in a Mezcal cask. As I have never tasted Mezcal, I can’t say for definite if I could identify it, but I wonder if the sudden spirit burn was as a result of this. To counter that unpleasant spirit burn, I had to add a good dose of water to the glass. It then became a lot more drinkable but to be honest I wouldn’t recommend it. I think I’ll just stick to the Danish butter cookies and bacon in the future rather than have this again.

It wasn’t so long ago that I have tried a rye whisky that was similar, in that it needed water to become more palatable. Due to my relative inexperience of such grains in whisky compared to malted barley, it’s hard for me to say if this is just a general rye characteristic or if it’s just my personal preference. it’s worth noting that these two whiskies also have malted barley in the mash bill, meaning it’s not all the fault of the rye. I’m going to guess it’s just my preferences that may be why I’ve felt that these whiskies need water.

As for Stauning? I’d certainly be looking at more of their produce in the future, but will have the water on standby.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Don’t Mention The War!

Taste Review #130 – TBWC – Slyrs Batch 3

What is the first thing you think of when you think of the Germans?

It’s unfortunate that most people think of the Second World War, but Germany is much more than that. You can’t tar them all with the same brush because one Austrian goes mental and tries to take over Europe. I’ve just finished working with a German supervisor and on the one night we had nothing to do, it was suggested that we watch a movie. I had asked my colleague what he fancied watching, adding “I bet you don’t want to watch a war movie!” I was right. I followed it up a couple of days later by replying when asked what was happening that day “I don’t know – I was thinking of invading Poland.” Yes, the Germans aren’t known for their sense of humour, but this is a mistaken stereotype. So is the idea that Germans don’t have a word for fluffy; they just don’t use it much.

I like Germany. Nearly every German I’ve met has been very friendly and extremely hospitable. The country has many really beautiful sights and it’s unfortunate that many fixate on something that happened in the last century. It truly is worth going out and about and seeing what surprises Germany has to offer.


Less than an hour south of Munich. On the autobahn to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Makes the Cairngorms look like molehills.

You might also be amazed to find out that Germany has more distilleries than the UK. It surprised me to find out that Germany has some 29,000 distilleries. Most of these distilleries produce fruit spirits, but they surprisingly have more whisky distilleries than Scotland. There are up to 800 dealing with whisky in Germany, far surpassing the Scottish total, though according to deutschland.de, 130 of these are expressly whisky distilleries, slightly short of the Scottish number.

I’ve always been tempted to try whisky made in Germany, but haven’t been able to get a full sized bottle, as well as not wanting to risk the money on something I may not like without trying first. Thankfully Drinks By The Dram have come to the rescue and I’ve been able to get a mini of German whisky, this being from the Slyrs Distillery and bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company.

The Slyrs Distillery is based in Bavaria, to the south east of Munich in a town called Schliersee Neuhaus, and is owned by the Stetter family who have a connection to the Lantenhammer distillery to the north in Hausham. This is due to the marriage of Anneliese Lantenhammer and Sigfried Stetter. It was their son, Florian Stetter who founded the Slyrs distillery. He had joined the Lantenhammer distillery in 1985. The distillery made brandy, but it was during a study trip to Scotland in 1994, had noticed similarities with his home in Bavaria – Mountains, fresh spring water and clean air. He felt that it would be possible to produce a whisky in Bavaria.

Florian had bet his friends a crate of beer that he could distill a Bavarian whisky and by 1999 his dream had been realised and the first whisky had been distilled. The result was a release of 1600 bottles of whisky in 2002. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Slyrs distillery was completed and a mountain store warehouse was completed on Mount Stümpfling.

Nobody I know personally has tried a German whisky, other than people I have met online through my blog and social media interactions, so I thought it best to just go ahead and try for myself.



TBWC Slyrs Batch 3

Region – Germany Age -3 y.o Strength – 52.6% Colour – Russet (1.3) Cask Type -American Oak, Crocodile char Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Apricot jam, vanilla, fresh croissants, mandarin peel, coconut. Palate – Sweet arrival, honey, coconut, butterscotch, orchard fruit – possibly pear slightly nutty note too. Finish – Still a bit sweet but hot on departure. Honey with peppery heat, Sichuan peppers possibly. Sense a wee bit of the char coming through. Honey



Conclusions

I have to say that I have enjoyed this whisky. Despite being at what I suspect is an undiluted cask strength, it was an extremely easy drinker. It was on the fruity side with a funk to the nose, but sweetness continued throughout the dram, with various flavours coming through, with no note particularly overpowering any other.

There was a bit of heat that started in the mid palate which continued through to the finish and didn’t overpower the sweetness. All in all quite pleasant. Water subdued the heat a bit and allowed the honey to show on the finish which was of mid to long length.

This is still available at the Master of Malt Website for £74.95. I won’t be buying one right now, but would recommend if anybody was thinking of trying a German whisky, then this is one I’d recommend to try. It won’t be around forever, as only 395 bottles were produced, but I’d imagine TBWC will have more casks in waiting. If you want to dip your toe in before you commit to a whole bottle, 3cl samples are available for £6.90.

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

‘Rye’ In The Sky Prices?

Taste Review #125 Arbikie 1794 Rye

The price of whisky. If you were to compare the amount of times people complain about the prices of bottles compared to those who praise the low prices of some well regarded value drams, you are going to find the quantity skewed to one side. Whisky it seems is getting more and more expensive and you’ll not find many aficionados praising that current trend. At the time I started to draft this blog (mid Feb), we are maybe only days away from Diageo raising some of its prices, most notably the cost of Talisker 18 year old. Available for around £75 to my mind this not a bad price for an 18 year old whisky. By end of Feb 2022 it will suddenly cost way north of £100. But is that still too expensive for a mass market whisky? And it isn’t the only Diageo brand getting this treatment, it’s also Lagavuilin 16, Oban 14 and Mortlach I’m led to believe and possibly more.

Looking elsewhere, as an appreciator of Glendronach 18 Allardice, I’ve noticed a subtle yet quite visible rise of this bottle from £75 to what is around the £100 mark and over at some retailers, so Diageo aren’t alone. So what gives? Why are prices rising? Are we seeing quality maintained as the prices rise or is that also slipping? Where is the transparency in the price change? Let me just tell you now, if you think it is going to get better, then think again.


Yours for £149.90 at an online retailer.

Recently it’s noticed that retailers (or resellers) have been guilty of jacking up prices. Just cast your mind back to Springbank Local Barley where one retailer was charging £150 a bottle yet if I am right in remembering only cost £100. Even now, Hard To Find Whiskies are charging £700 for a pop of the 2021 bottle. Some of the resellers are taking the mickey, yet it is the mugs that buy it that are to blame. If there wasn’t the demand, the price would fall. 8500 of these bottles released, so not exactly rare. The whisky itself cannot stand up to that several hundred pounds price tag , but if people will pay that, can you blame a manufacturer from getting more of a share of the perceived worth? Of course all that could be set in motion would be an increase on reseller or secondary market costs and a upwards spiral would be created which will eventually inflate prices far beyond what the actual liquid is worth.

Just to add onto the perfect storm of a prices increasing, there has been the small matter of a pandemic, increasing not only production costs but also staffing costs as there is a shortage of staff in many workforces that has interrupted production and made raw materials hard to get or expensive. People being at home and ordering lots of stuff has helped create a shortage of shipping containers, raising the cost of getting casks shipped into the UK, if not just the availability of new stock. The cherry on top comes with the short sighted decision of the UK to break away from its largest trading partner, further increasing the cost of doing business by additional red tape and the exodus of EU lorry drivers back to Europe. If you want to get your Christmas presents for 2022, you may be better off shopping on the M20 motorway in the queues of lorries.

Let’s also point to a large elephant in the room that Europe may be on the brink of war in light of recent violence conducted by Russia against the Ukraine. Much of Europe’s energy supplies come from Russia and the Ukraine. If you think your petrol prices are expensive now, just wait. And if the cost of energy goes up, so does everything else. Soon the tree huggers will be begging us to drill West of Shetland oil fields as the costs for their smashed avacado on toast and mochachocolatte hits sky high prices.

While having spoken of shooting ourselves in the foot, some whisky buyers not only vote unwisely in referendums but also don’t know what on earth they are doing in whisky auctions. I’m not going to debate the absurd money that gets thrown at flippers to obtain the new releases, but just take a look at many limited or premium bottles in some auctions reach prices well in excess of RRP. While the auctioneers are rubbing their hands with glee, so must another bunch of observers be smiling – the producers. It surely cannot be unnoticed what prices are potentially able to be sustained with a quick glance at the secondary market. If people are prepared to pay it, then it can’t be a rip off, right?


I agree. Stupidity abounds at the auction here.

I suppose that it is value that drives the majority of the average whisky geek. We want to know we are getting a proper bang for our buck and while age of whisky is not really an accurate guide for quality, I feel it is still a benchmark for what to expect. With many young whiskies now also being released at prices that rival or exceed the cost of a Glendronach 18 or even the 21 y.o, which has jumped from the £120 mark to close to £160 in some cases during a similar timeframe, are these new whisky prices just pie in the sky due to producers knowing there is a market there that will sustain it? I think it’s a dangerous strategy if it is.

Let me turn my attention to the dram in question for today – Arbikie 1794 Highland Rye. Arbikie is a farm distillery close to the North East coast of Scotland. It is located to the north of Inverkeilor in the county of Angus. It owned by brothers David, Iain and John Stirling. While I have been following Iain on Twitter for some time now, I haven’t been paying close attention to Arbikie distillery. There’s a few reasons for that, the biggest one being that I’ve not been engaged with a brand that so far only has released rye whisky as it’s brown spirit offering, but that’s possibly an error on my part.


At least it’s 70CL.

What turned my head towards Arbikie was a minor stooshie on social media with regards another release from the distillery, the Highland Rye 2 which was a 4 year old Scottish Rye that had spent time in Armagnac casks. At £250, it certainly made me take a sharp intake of breath. Even the 1794 Highland Rye I bring to you now was £130 a bottle, with the 2021 release being a still expensive but more accessible release at £95, given that some distilleries market their inaugural releases of the same age have been half the price. Yet that isn’t the whole story in this almost unique case, as Arbikie are the first Scottish distillery to make a Rye whisky in a very, very long time. Speaking of long times, I’ve been writing quite a bit now, so let me wet my whistle.


The sample.

Arbikie 1794 Highland Rye 2020 Release

Region – Highland Age – 3 y.o Strength – 48% abv Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – New Charred American Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dusty Barn, Toffee Fudge, Nutmeg, Egg Custard Tart, Fresh Oak. Palate – Earthy. Medium mouthfeel, slightly oily, nicely controlled spicy burn, pink peppercorns, cinnamon, touch of honey and more fresh wood. Cherry notes. Finish – medium length. Sweet cherry note continues but turns sour with a taste that tastes like the dregs of a pint of hoppy beer. For me this then turned soapy and citrus like, almost like I’d expect a urinal block to taste like.

Having said that, water brought the finish into more positive territory. The palate became more floral and the finish developed into something a lot less sour, sweetening to something more like cherry cola.


The dram

Conclusions

Straight away I’d like to point out a couple of very important points.

  • I do not know what urinal block tastes like. It’s a memory of primary school toilets with blocks so strong the smell went up your nose and coated your tongue. Especially more so if you are a mouth breather.
  • I am not a mouth breather
  • I am in no way suggesting this whisky is bad and is equal to drinking out of a public toilet.

With those important disclaimers in place, I can move forward. Keeping it short and sweet, while I have experienced rye whiskey before (obviously not Scotch rye as Arbikie are the first to have done this in years and years) I have to say it wasn’t for me. For me the finish was not to my taste and that’s as much as I can say. It did have some good points, like not burning my throat but ultimately not for me just yet. That shouldn’t detract from the good work done at Arbikie. Perhaps a different cask or age may make a difference and it is very important to keep an open mind. Just as I haven’t liked Jura Journey, I do like one or two other Jura. I only paid about £10 for the sample from Master Of Malt so I avoided the hit of £130 for a bottle I would not have enjoyed in its entirety.

In Arbikie’s example however, I think they may be justified in having high prices. They run a small operation where they grow their own grains, they distill, mature and bottle on site. In the future they also hope to malt their own grains as to close the circle and be a complete single location operation. Arbikie can trace all the provenance of their ingredients and having farmed the land at Ardbikie since the 1920’s they will have a better idea of the terroir their grains are planted in than most. As customers start to demand to know provenance, traceability and all sorts of other geek stats, it’s worth knowing that these things come at a cost above that which a mass produced whisky will have.

I had a short but very informative chat on Twitter with Iain Stirling from Arbikie who points out that to produce such a whisky is expensive. Growing rye in Scotland isn’t easy as it really depends on the weather, and while the weather on the east coast of Scotland can be less wet than that of the west, it can still hamper crops. Arbikie became pioneers as they had nobody to follow in growing and distilling Scottish rye, although Iain did say that 200 years ago this would have been more common.

The expenses also build when you factor in that Arbikie are growing their own heritage barley crops, and have invested in good quality casks. I got the impression that they did want to do things to the best of their ability. In my opinion they are quietly going about their business and doing something similar to a certain Irish Distiller without having to concentrate on the smoke and mirrors of pushing the terroir aspect. While it is still very much something that is important to Arbikie, there is at the moment less fuss about it. Let the whisky do the talking when it arrives.

Like some other young distilleries they also make vodka and gin on site also to generate income, this being a climate positive operation which led to the world’s first climate positive spirits. Nàdar (Scots Gaelic for nature) gin and vodka have base spirit made of peas, which does not require soil fertiliser in the same way as other crops as peas get nitrogen from the air, not the ground. So eco friendly as part of their operations. Are they tree huggers there? Well, Iain informed me they are also growing their own oak trees which take 50 years to maturity. But imagine a Scotch whisky where even the wood for the barrels is grown on site? That’s amazing to me, definitely a cut ahead of others! Iain added (and I’ll paraphrase a little bit) “we are trying to do things right in the context of being a self funded entity while also building a legacy family business.”

Chew that over. Legacy. More importantly sustainability. Trust me, my friends, sustainability will be more and more important in the coming years. We do need to address this.


Are all young drams destined to be this dear? It may be justified if it uses expensive ingredients but that’s a lot of money. However given that I didn’t like the “Dream to dram” release, I’ll pass on this.

Prices like Arbikie’s Highland Rye might not be Pie In The Sky for what you are getting once you dig deeper. They are providing what some of us whisky geeks have been crying out for – traceability, provenance, heritage grains, experimental distillates, quality casks – some of which will be built from wood grown on their land. Of course some of these things we will not see the benefit of until they release their malt whisky, which as they plan to give it a decent length of maturation before release may not be marketed until 2029. And some things we won’t see, for example as by time the wood is ready for the casks I’ll be about 100 years old. Regardless, if geeks want all these things, be prepared to pay.

If you want the low down on what Arbikie are about why not visit their site? http://www.ardbikie.com or why not subscribe to their mailing list to find out when you can visit them, as their visitor centre opens in the spring.

So what about higher whisky prices in general? This has been a brief look at them, and while opinion is that prices are higher – in some cases as business costs increase, then the prices will too. But some people think that some whiskies have been underpriced for years. Taking a look at a recent Malt article, the author puts this opinion forward but to me it is a nonsense. A business will sell at a price it can make a sensible profit on. Too high and it won’t sell. To suggest a whisky is too cheap is madness, unless the producer is not making enough of a fair margin, given the rises in expenses recently. Are the Diageo rises fair? In my opinion, not entirely. Would that MALT writer prefer to be ripped off with underpriced whisky undergoing caviller price hikes? For me it’s the seemingly arbitrary nature of these massive increases. I suppose we all have a different take on things but pricing things to manoeuvre your product into a market bracket rather than based on cost to produce seems another way of saying to consumers it’s no longer the best value.

Looking forward, my prediction is that eye watering prices across the industry are just beginning and it isn’t going to get better. Perhaps with buyers spending more carefully (if at all) could herald the start of a deflation of the whisky market rather than an actual bubble bursting. Boom times never last forever and will eventually reach saturation. I’ve already noted softening auction prices in some areas of the secondary market, which perhaps point to the current whisky craze faltering as a glass loch in cupboards builds or people can no longer afford the prices expected. Or people are moving to something else? A sharp rise in the cost of living will certainly focus minds on both sides of the consumer – producer relationship, especially for luxury goods. Or perhaps it is time to spend time trawling the auctions for the bargain bucket bids, a sure fire way of getting cheap whisky.

So, in starting to come to a conclusion, perhaps in some cases higher prices are justified. Independent distilleries are more likely to be doing what the consumer wants in the case of higher ABV, better wood, experimental distillates, environmentally friendly production, heritage barleys. It all it takes is someone to take that financial risk, as it can be expensive and risk of failure may be high. But on a personal level, I’d now rather give my cash for whisky to a bespoke or craft producer than a big corporate entity who seems to think a hefty price rise to satisfy shareholders is necessary. I accept prices have to go up, but don’t take the mickey. And when sustainable processes become more and more mainstream, both producers and consumers will be affected when it comes to prices.

For my last comment, if you feel it’s too expensive, don’t buy it. The price will soon drop or the item will be discontinued. There is always more whisky. Exciting whisky, innovative whisky experimental whisky, sustainable spirits. If we want a new wave of that, then we have to look at independent producers who will give customers what they want. Just be prepared to pay for it while remembering it’s often small businesses taking big risks that we are talking about, not charities.

I think I’ve given many things to unpackage and think about. What happens is anybody’s guess and I’m certainly no expert but just another whisky consumer with an opinion and an internet connection. Certainly don’t expect whisky prices at retail to drop much any time soon, yet be braced for higher prices across the board.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Take Heed Of A Red Flag

Taste Review #121 Penderyn Red Flag (Icons Of Wales)

As I meander through the whiskies of the world, I have to make time for the Celtic cousins of the Scots, the Welsh.

Penderyn was established in 2000 and was the first whisky distillery in Wales since the 19th century. There has been a resurgence of whisky distilling in Wales with a small handful of distilleries starting up. Aber Falls released their inaugural whisky in May 2021 to much fanfare, not only because its reported to be a good whisky but the low price of their first release. New startups take note – you don’t need to be greedy for what is only a three year old product.

The whisky I am tasting for you today is the Penderyn Red Flag from their Icons Of Wales series. It commemorates the first use of a red flag as a symbol of protest which took place over the execution of a miner during the 1831 Merthyr Rising. The miner was called Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) and was hung for the stabbing of a soldier during the riots.



Penderyn Red Flag

Region – Wales Age – NAS Strength – 41% Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Madeira Finish Colouring – Not stated on box Chill Filtered – No. Nose – Caramel, Stewed Rhubarb, Raspberry, Orange citrus. Palate – Medium mouthfeel, obviously young whisky. Grassy, dried herbs that are long out of date, tarragon, unseasoned cashews, orange citrus, Apple Sourz. Finish -Medium. Creamy and nutty. A taste of petrol at the end.



Conclusions

I hate to say this, but in my opinion this whisky was truly awful. Not completely awful as I really appreciated the nose, but it went downhill rapidly from there. The dried grassy herbs note was not pleasant at all, as though I’d necked a jar of out of date Schwartz. I managed to finish the sample but had I bought a full bottle I suspect it would have become a very expensive drain cleaner.

The finish left me feeling as though I’d been syphoning the fuel out of a Rover Metro which for me was just the icing on the cake.

I’ve had a few people tell me that Penderyn wasn’t to their taste. I have given them the benefit of the doubt. But red flags usually signify danger and I’m wishing I had paid attention to my friends and even Clarky on Four in a Bed.

Clip from Channel 4’s Four In A Bed. Clarky gives an honest appraisal

I would have thought a fortified wine finish would have had more body, more sweetness but while this was present in the nose, it was missing in action everywhere else. I cannot recommend this particular bottle. However it has let me know that if I was to try further Penderyn, a sample first before buying will be required.

Of course I will give Penderyn another try, but not in the near future.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

An Indian Winter

Taste Review #119 – Amrut Fusion

When I thought of doing a wee run of world whiskies for review and to expand ones horizons, one of the natural choices was Indian whisky. This is most appropriate at the time of writing I am currently working offshore the east coast of India, working from the port of Kakinada.

India is for me one of these countries of extremes. It can be filthy, yet colourful. It has many rich people within, yet sees the extremes of poverty when you do an excursion around the Dharavi slums, made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire. You can experience the mountains of the North, leading onto the Himalayas, or have a beach holiday in Goa, and everything between.


Cows everywhere in the streets of Kakinada – I think this one is interested in seeing a moo-vie

When I last worked in India during 2009, we used to fly from an airport called Rajahmundry, about an hours drive from the port of Kakinada in Andra Pradesh. The journey between the two towns was in a rural area giving the opportunity to see some very pastoral scenes. The city sits on the eastern bank of the sacred Godavari river, and we’d often get a night in a hotel there before flying out the next day. One of the hotels I remember sat on the riverside and we used to have our well deserved beer after 6 weeks of abstinence. Forget the ideas of Kingfisher lager – we were in India and the brands we were offered were Haywards 5000, Royal Challenge, Knockout and Maharaja. If you know the Scottish sit-com Still Game, you’ll understand when I say images of Fusilier lager came to mind!

And so it comes to pass that Indian whisky has always been in my head as an unknown quantity. Totally incorrect I will have to admit. As I am writing this, I don’t have any facts and figures to hand, but I’m sure that I remember that Indian whisky is the largest seller worldwide. You’ll need to check the Malt Whisky year book to confirm, but I’m sure Johnny Walker is the highest selling Scotch brand but only manages third place. So, if Indian whisky can sell so much, it can’t be bad, eh?

Because I didn’t want to invest in a whole bottle that I may not take to and I already have a surplus of open 70cl bottles, I chose to buy a variety of world whiskies using the Perfect Measure from The Whisky Exchange and Drinks by the Dram from Master Of Malt. The Indian sample I chose was from The Whisky Exchange and is Amrut Fusion.

Amrut Distilleries started out in 1948 after the British Colonising forces withdrew the previous year. Based in Bangalore, the current distillery was built in 1987. It came to more attention when whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murray gave their whisky a 82 out of 100 in 2005 and 2010. These were in the days when many Indian whiskies were made up of cheap imported Scottish whiskies blended with local spirit, so the bar had been raised for Indian whisky.

Maturing spirits in a hot and humid climate is totally different to doing it in Scotland. The higher temperature gives a much higher evaporation rate of around 10-12% compared to 2% in Scotland. Therefore I doubt we’ll ever see significant age statement Indian whiskies in quantity.

The whisky I chose was Amrut Fusion. This was originally launched in 2009 and it is made with 25% peated Scottish barley and 75% Indian unpeated barley. While some of the ingredients have Scottish provenance, it is very much still an Indian Whisky. So let’s see if the fusion of Scottish and Indian barley makes a taste sensation on my palate.


Amrut Fusion – a fusion of Scottish and Indian Barley

Amrut Fusion

Region – India Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Barley, wood shavings, light smoke, peaches, orange peel, runny honey, barley sugar. With water added got an ozone note of distressed electrical equipment. Palate – gentle arrival, light / medium mouth feel. Pineapple, wood, barley, chocolate (?), smoky peat. Creamy caramel. Orange rind. Finish – medium / long. Peat smoke, astringent, brine, woody taste (oak). Fades into a marmalade-esque sweetness and a bit of a spicy burn. Water takes away most of the spicy finish.


The Dram

Conclusions

Not too bad is my conclusion. I’m not a regular drinker of world whisky, so my experience of this is limited. I’d drink this again, but not sure if I’d buy a bottle. I’d say I much preferred this with a drop of water.

I don’t understand how Jim Murray can say this was the third best single malt whisky in the world in 2010, as I can think of many more that I’ve enjoyed more than this, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad whisky at all. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to pick some Indian whisky up on the way home…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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All Photos – Authors Own

The Tale of Two Towns

Taste Review # 116 – Banff 1974 CC / Glen Deveron

When you go to a whisky distillery or read the rear of the packaging, there is usually some story or legend connected to the distillery. For this review I manage to review two Highland whiskies from the North East of Scotland. One distillery has been wiped from the face of the earth, while one continues producing almost anonymously. One has the sad epithet of perhaps being the unluckiest distillery in Scotland and the other seems to have little story at all. But in the absence of an industry created legend, there is a story which connects the two communities associated with these whiskies. These distilleries were part of two towns on either side of the mouth of the River Deveron, namely Banff and Macduff. This tale not only connects both these towns, but also the Badenoch area in which I currently live, and later involves Scots literary titan Robert Burns. It is a tale of illegitimacy, prejudice, outlaws, treachery plus a hanging. It will also include a fiddle and a well known Scots folk song.

So, if you are intrigued, pour yourself a dram, put your feet up and let me tell you a story.

For over 300 years, Macduff residents don’t tell people from Banff the time.

While there is only a river that separates the two towns, Banff and Macduff are very different places. Both fishing towns, for over three centuries there has been a now largely forgotten feud that has been part of Scottish folklore ever since. For if you are to look at the tower of the Doune Church in Macduff which houses the town clock, you will observe that there is a face to the east side, and one facing out north to sea. There can’t be one to the south due to the building construction but unusually there is no clock face on the west side for the people on the Banff side to see. The reason that Macduff people traditionally do not give people from Banff the time is all down to the hanging of Jamie Macpherson on the 16th November 1700.


Doune Church, Macduff (Stanley Howe)

The link to Badenoch area which happens to be the southernmost reaches of the Speyside whisky region comes from the illegitimate birth of James MacPherson (Jamie), the product of a tryst between one of the land owning Invereshie MacPherson clan and an attractive gypsy traveller woman. When his father died, the young Jamie returned to his mother’s travelling folk and soon became the Scottish equivalent of Robin Hood, embracing the vagrant lifestyle and robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Tales attest to his popularity and his skill with a sword and a fiddle, but he had a few powerful enemies – namely Lord Braco.

The Lord Braco was a rich landowner that had property around 5 miles east of Keith, in the region of Bracobrae. He’d have plenty of reasons to be vexed by Jamie Macpherson when his livestock or that of his tenants was robbed, as there is evidence that Macpherson was a reiver, a Scots word for Bandit. Being a traveller or a gypsy made it worse as since 1573 it was illegal to be a Gypsy (called Egiptians / Egyptians) in Scotland and when he was captured by Braco at the St Rufus fair in Keith, this was the charge to be put against him. At the fair, there was a skirmish to capture Jamie, and the legend was that a woman threw a blanket over him from an upstairs window ledge disabling his fighting ability for long enough that he could be captured.

Unfortunately for Jamie, the blanket was only the start of the treachery against him. The jury for his trial in Banff courthouse was never going to be unbiased, as the jury was full of people sympathetic to Braco. Judge Dunbar, also a friend of Braco, quickly found Macpherson guilty. For the charges of being an Egiptian and a vagabond the penalty was death and MacPherson was scheduled to be hung on the gallows tree along with three others.

The story goes that MacPherson played a lament on his fiddle before he was hung and once he was finished, he offered his fiddle to his fellow clan members. Nobody took it as it would betray them as being part of MacPherson’s band of vagabonds, so he smashed it over his knee, proclaiming nobody else shall play it.


Banff Town Clock Mechanism in Clan MacPherson’s Museum, Newtonmore

It is now we come to the part where the issue of the time comes. Upon the sentence being pronounced, a friend of MacPherson rode to Aberdeen to the High Court to get the sentence overturned. Prior to the hanging, Braco saw the rider coming with the pardon, so had the town clock advanced 15 minutes so the hanging could legally take place. And this is why people in Macduff traditionally never give people in Banff the time, as they remember the injustice served to Jamie MacPherson.

The remains of the fiddle were recovered and returned to the MacPherson clan at Cluny Castle, between Newtonmore and Laggan on the A86. The fiddle is now on display in the Clan Macpherson museum in Newtonmore.


The fiddle of James Macpherson in the Clan Macpherson Museum, Newtonmore

To cement the place this story has in Scots folklore, the words of the lament Macpherson played before he was hung were worked into a song by Robert Burns in 1788, known as MacPherson’s Farewell.

MacPherson’s Farewell

Farewell, ye dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch’s destinie!
McPherson’s time will not be long,
On yonder gallows-tree.

Chorus (after each verse)
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play’d a spring,
and danc’d it round,
Below the gallows-tree.


O what is death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I’ve dar’d his face, and in this place
I scorn him yet again!


Untie these bands from off my hands,
And bring me to my sword;
And there’s no a man in all scotland.
But I’ll brave him at a word.


I’ve liv’d a life of sturt and strife;
I die by treacherie:
It burns my heart I must depart,
And not avenged be.


Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!


Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play’d a spring, and danc’d it round,
Below the gallows-tree.


I remember it from the popular Scots Folk singers The Corries. This was a regular tape that was played in the family car which formed at the time what I imagined to be the forerunner to modern child abuse by music, but in what may be a case of Stockholm Syndrome, I find myself tapping my foot to this. Here’s a link to the song on YouTube – MacPhersons Rant


View of Macduff from Banff (Xavier Laffitte)

And back to whisky!

The whisky distilleries in Banff and Macduff are also very different. One has sadly fallen silent and now no longer exists whereas the other is a more modern distillery and is still in production.

The original Banff distillery was situated at Mains of Colleonard just to the south west of Banff. In 1823 the Excise Act was passed and the first distillery at Banff was established by Major James McKilligan, who lived at Mains of Colleonard, along with two others, Mr Alex McKay and Mr William Hodge. The distillery was known as the Mill of Banff distillery and in 1826 was producing 3230 gallons of spirit.

The 2nd Banff distillery from which my sample comes from was built closer to the village of Inverboyndie and had a more reliable water source from springs on Fiskaidy Farm. Also the recently built Great North Of Scotland Railway built a branch line to Banff which passed the distillery site which made it easy to get raw materials in and whisky out. James Simpson built the new distillery in 1863, but this distillery had a very unfortunate existence involving fire and explosions. The distillery had a major fire that destroyed much of the distillery in May 1877. The distillery was rebuilt by October that year, and a fire engine was then stationed at the distillery. In 1921, a portion of the distillery was sold to Miles End Distillery Company, but by 1932, DCL bought the distillery outright for £50,000 and closed it immediately.


Banff Distillery (unknown photographer)

On the 16th of August 1941, a Luftwaffe Junkers JU88 bomber operating from Sola (now called Stavanger airport) attacked the distillery, suspecting it to be a military target associated with the nearby RAF base at Boyndie, which destroyed warehouse 12. Much stock was lost and spirit flowed into the local streams which resulted in reports of very intoxicated livestock in nearby fields. RAF Banff would be an important target as Mosquito fighter bombers based there were used for the hunting down and destruction of German shipping in the North Sea and along the Norwegian coast. In 1943, 248 Squadron moved into the distillery and remained there until the end of the war.

After the war, the distillery resumed production but its relationship with catastrophe was reignited when in 1959 an explosion happened when a coppersmith was repairing one of the stills. DCL were fined £15 for safety breaches but thankfully nobody was seriously hurt.

But by 1964, the adjacent branch line stopped carrying passengers and by 1968 had also closed completely to freight, making transport costly as at the time the distillery was still coal fired. In 1963, the coal fired stills were converted from being fed by hand to a mechanical feed. In 1970, the distillery stills were converted to oil firing.


Site of Banff Distillery 2011 (Anne Burgess)

One can only guess why DCL selected Banff for closure during the 1980’s whisky glut. Being a small distillery of a single wash still and two spirit stills, possibly needing investment and higher transport costs, the distillery closed its doors in 1983. By the late 1980’s much of the site had been dismantled with only some warehouses being left. It’s kind of appropriate for such an unlucky distillery that the last of the warehouses were destroyed by fire in 1991. Pretty ironic don’t you think? The site is now derelict with limited remains of the former buildings, and is a site begging for development. Sadly this will likely be housing. So we should maybe have a moment of remembrance as we move to take a sample of Banff whisky.

Banff 1974 Connoisseurs Choice

Banff 1974, Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice

Region – Highland Age – VINTAGE Strength – 40% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Nutty, malty, green apple, pineapple, runny honey Palate – Medium mouthfeel, apples, honey, hazelnuts, slight woody notes with a fizz on the tongue. Finish – Not as short as I thought it would be. Honey, Ginger, Malt, hint of oak spices. After leaving in the glass for a while, there was a spirit burn on swallowing.

This whisky opened up quite a bit over the evening. It took me three hours to drink and by the end I could say that with the burn that developed, it was hard to believe that this sample had been so evaporated.

Macduff Distillery

Macduff distillery was one of a few of ‘new’ distilleries that appeared in the early 1960’s, slightly after Tormore and Glen Keith and just before the mini boom in the mid 60’s. Unlike its closest rival, it has never suffered any similar catastrophes.

Founded by brokers that included Brodie Hepburn who also had involvement with Deanston and Tullibardine, the distillery eventually came into the ownership of William Lawson, which is the whisky making arm of Martini & Rossi. The distillery eventually expanded to have 5 stills by 1990 and two years later, Martini merged with Bacardi. This resulted in the distillery becoming part of the Dewars stable in 1995.

Traditionally, the original bottlings from the Macduff distillery have been labelled as Glen Deveron or Deveron. Independently bottled spirit is normally named Macduff. The output from this distillery is normally unpeated, with a large majority of it destined either for blending or to export. It’s apparently quite popular in Italy.

Glen Deveron 12

Glen Deveron 12 1980’s distillation

I took the opportunity to put the remains of the sample into the fridge to see if there was any Scotch Mist that would appear. None did, so chill filtering is effectively confirmed.

Region – Highland Age – 12 y.o Strength – 40% abv Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Not stated, likely Bourbon Colouring – Not Stated, probably Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Nutty, almond like marzipan, custard, pear, salty air Palate – cream crackers, apricot, unsalted potato crisps, stewed fruit, brine. Really watery mouth feel. Finish – Short and disappointing. Brine, bitter. Stewed fruit with wood spices. Slight burn.

I have no idea of the age of this bottle but it’s contents are not that attention grabbing. I’d go as far as say this whisky tastes flat.

Conclusions

This was never a taste comparison. Both were whiskies from distilleries of different eras and was a good way of killing two samples in one review. It was also a good opportunity to tell a wee story of the area both distilleries originate from. Great tales are often told while nursing a dram and I hope that I be have done these stories justice.

I doubt I’ll ever own a full sized bottle of Banff whisky. It may happen if I see one at the right price but as the years go on, the remaining spirit will be diminishing as bottles get drunk. I would be amazed if there are many more complete casks in existence so this will be more and more a unicorn whisky. It made no sense to keep my sample in its bottle only to evaporate to nothing, so the best thing to do was drink it. A dram has finally made its destiny and whisky history has been drunk. And the world’s stock of Banff has decreased by 40ml or so. Another true moment of whisky history consumed.

When it comes to the Deveron I have to say that I got a shock at how flat the dram was. Of course the purpose of the distillery is mainly to provide malt whisky for blends but the dram had no strong character. It was almost as though I’d drunk an alcohol free whisky. Despite the bottle being properly sealed and no sign of evaporation with a good fill level, there was just something missing. I suppose you can’t like everything.

Without a doubt the evaporated Banff which was originally bottled at 40% also was the far superior dram.

Scotty

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Photo Credits

Doune Church – Stanley Howe – (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

Doune Church, Macduff – Xavier Laffitte (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

Banff Distillery– unknown photographer/ public domain

Banff Distillery Site – Anne Burgess (Creative Commons Licence CC-BY SA 2.0)

All other photos – Authors Own

ALL PHOTOS ARE SUBJECT TO COPYWRITE AND SHOULD NOT BE REPRODUCED WITHOUT PERMISSION

The Luck Of The Draw?

Is gambling for whisky worthwhile?

Probably Not.

We all know the reputation of Scotsmen supposedly being tight with their money. Apparently us Aberdonians are supposedly able to take this to a much higher level. Because if I have to tell people my favourite word in the English language, it has to be the word “free”. “Gratis” will also do, but that’s an extra two letters and I’d want to be economical with those as well. Yeah, getting something for nothing, it really is attractive to us Doric speakers.


Looking down Aberdeen’s Union Street.

Aberdonians and those from the North East of Scotland really appreciate economy, probably best illustrated by the apocryphal story of a farmer from the Peterhead area wanting to place the death notice for a recently deceased family member. He learns of a special offer in the Press & Journal, the daily provincial newspaper of NE Scotland, where the first 7 words of the death notice are free. He phones the classified ads dept, and tells the lassie at the other end of the phone of his intended notice.

He wanted it to say “Sandy Reid, Peterheid, deid.”

The lady at the end of phone is puzzled by the brevity of the notice and asks if he wants to say anything else as he hasn’t even used all of his 7 free words.

After much thought he says “Aye lassie. Make it say – Sandy Reid, Peterheid, deid. Tractor for sale.”


So it goes to say if we can’t get something for nothing, we’ll definitely be looking for a bargain. While I am not able to confirm if my second favourite words are ‘sale’ or ‘discount’, you’ll get the gist. And to be fair, it’s not just the likes of me who prefers to get something for a lot less than the RRP. It’s often human nature to be interested in obtaining things without needing much effort and if you could get something hard to source, rare or expensive it becomes even more alluring, but how would you feel if your quest for easy winnings isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be.

For those who collect whisky or are interested in obtaining bottles that aren’t available in the retail market or are beyond their normal price range, there are growing numbers of opportunities to get those relatively unobtainable bottles. But these come with a catch.

I’m getting bombarded with advertising on social media for whisky raffles. Well, they aren’t raffles as raffling a prize for a non-charity profit is illegal in the UK, so they are termed as a competition. To make it legal to perform a draw, you are required to answer a skills based question prior to buying a ticket, which according to the law is supposed to be able to prevent the majority of people who attempt the question being able to enter. I’ve yet to see a question that is difficult at all, and some of them have the answer on the bottle right beside the question! A case in point was I asked a friend who had no specialist knowledge of whisky to answer some of the questions on a couple of sites and he scored 10/10. So essentially most of these sites are still running raffles.


No need for tickets for on line prize draws

To me, these competitions are possibly fun, but in my opinion they are a rip off and cause damage to the whisky community at large. Here is my reasoning.

1. The chances of winning the bottles is quite low. Ticket prices are often not that expensive but if you buy ten, then even if there are only 500 tickets for sale, your chances of winning are still quite dismal relatively speaking. That is simple statistical fact, also driven by the opinion I have that if I shell out some of my hard earned cash then I’ll be wanting a return.

2. It is my opinion that some of the people running these competitions source the rarer whiskies from auctions. This is based on some of the whiskies involved. They don’t worry about overpaying as all they have to do is adjust the price of the ticket so enough profit is generated. One example was of a site raffling a Hibiki 17. To be honest, I have no real knowledge of how they came to source this prize, but there aren’t a lot on the open market. This was a popular and now discontinued blend though and it is still sought after. Average auction prices were at the time £550. Retail price was around the same or slightly lower in some cases. The gross takings should all the tickets be sold was over £1100. See what I mean about a rip off?

A limited Glenfarclas. Ripe for exploitation

3. Another issue about sourcing these whiskies at auction is that if they continually overpay to get the desirable bottles, this could contribute to the increasing price distortion prevalent in sectors of the secondary market. What it actually does is put more whiskies out of reach of the dedicated whisky drinking enthusiast. They are little better than flippers.

One such site says that they were fed up of losing out on inaugural releases and wanted to improve peoples chances of accessing rare or desirable whiskies. This cannot be further from the truth. Let’s return to that Hibiki – at the time of the auction concerned, there was a Hibiki 17 available at retail for £440. All you had to do was walk into the Speyside Whisky Shop or go on their website and hey presto! A prestige whisky could have been yours.

Now, just think how many tickets you could have bought before you win a bottle which will probably be worth a lot less than you have ‘invested’ in these prize draw sites. I personally have to think as a comparison about how many times I’ve played the UK National Lottery scratch cards then inwardly sob when I realise how many bottles of Macallan 18 year old I could have bought with that money compared to the couple of bottles of Famous Grouse I would be able to buy with the winnings I’ve had so far. If I start reviewing 1926 Macallan, then you know I’ve eventually hit the jackpot.


Might be true, but what are the chances and the real cost?

In conclusion, easy access questions and making it appear you have a chance may make it more tempting to enter, and why not? If a little flutter is your thing, it may not concern you. In my mind however, the low odds, the fact that many sites are potentially helping to distort the secondary market further, plus putting limited releases increasingly out of the hands of those genuine enthusiasts have made me think they aren’t good for the whisky community as a whole and are best avoided.


No potential raffle prizes at Scotty’s Drams HQ. Just getting them ready for storage down south. Octomore, Ardnamurchan, Macallan, Glenmorangie and Waterford all been seen on various prize draws. You’re better off buying them financially rather than supporting the Whisky Industry Bottom Feeders.

The thrill of gambling and the potential to win big for relative little outlay is understandable but you’ll likely spend a lot more than any return, which means you will not be able to buy as much whisky.

That can’t be a good thing, can it?

Scotty

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