The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret

Taste Review #150 – Linkwood Madeira Cask (Murray McDavid Cask Craft)

Have you ever had something so precious or important to you that you won’t share it with anybody else? I’m sure that most of us have that little secret that we don’t want to share. There is always in the background that little pleasure that you know of something that nobody else does and for one moment you have got one up on your contemporaries and peers. These small bits of internally held glories can often be as a result of hard work and perseverance and not something you want to give away too readily, lest that wee advantage you have is lost. It is something that I have experienced in two social groups of people I mix in and in both of them this feeling has been building again.

As I live in the Highlands of Scotland, there are plenty of opportunities to get out into the wide outdoors. Camping and hillwalking are great activities and for those who aren’t aware, there exists a type of remote accommodation called bothies. A bothy for the uninitiated is usually an old farm or estate cottage in a remote area that has been abandoned. These are often restored enough to provide a basic shelter for hill walkers. These can be just four walls and a roof, to well maintained buildings with sleeping platforms and a fire place or stove. Almost none have running water and there is no electricity. The best you can expect is that there maybe a couple of seats and a table to get out of the elements.

Ryvoan Bothy, Cairngorms

Bothies are free to use, many being in the care of the Mountain Bothy Association. Until the dawn of the MBA, knowing the location of bothies was very much down to local knowledge, or just looking at a location on a map and walking in to see if the building there exists or is even habitable. Tents were always advisable and still are just in case the bothy is full. If you were lucky, then you might meet a fellow walker and around the fire exchange stories of experiences which may include the locations of other bothies if your fireside companion has deemed you worthy of the knowledge.

Fast forward to the digital age. Now bothy locations that are in the care of the MBA are now published on their website. One member of the MBA went further and published a book detailing the best bothies and how to get to them. No longer did you need to put any effort into finding a doss when out walking. It’s as though bothies for some had lost their magic, as now everybody could find them. Some people wanted to keep “their special bothy” secret and all to themselves without more hordes descending to spoil the wilderness and peace they thought they would have forever. There were also worries about unsavoury characters using bothies as party houses in the wild or vandalising them.

The book of the devil according to some, surrounded by more wholesome literature

It’s a bit of a double edged sword, as more people interested in bothies also means more people exposed to the MBA and in turn more potential people joining and taking part in the maintenance. Anyway, the misuse of bothies has been going on for years and I don’t believe it is appropriate to blame the Bothy Bible for all this as there is no proof this book did cause a quantifiable rise in problems. I have to say that I was against its publication and still am, although my views have softened somewhat and I’ve allowed myself the slight hypocrisy of buying a copy to see what the fuss was about. Being of a grumpy traditionalist nature, I feel you should earn your stripes and get out there and look for bothies yourself, but prepare to use your tent if you are out of luck. Conceivably that same concept could exist in whisky to a certain degree, as I feel that whisky has many parallels to these issues, generating internal quandaries in people who often have what would be described as misplaced ideals in what whisky represents. I’d even include myself in that potential moral misalignment but experience is telling me I may actually be right this time.


The vast majority of us will have a preference for a distillery or bottling. Even if you don’t, then I do. It is my wee holy grail, my top trump, my little bit of experience that I may have that you don’t and keeps me feeling warm and fuzzy inside. I haven’t ever had a bad bottle or nip from this distillery. It isn’t that well known, yet hides in plain sight. I pass it’s location every now and again, giving me a small bit of anticipation for when I taste it’s golden nectar once more. It was my inquisitive nature that discovered this distillery, not by looking at social media or taking others opinions into account, indeed my first taste was when social media was only physically talking to each other in the pub, well before smart phones and tablets. So let’s just call this distillery Glen Blabbermouth, as I did tell somebody my little secret and advised them to keep quiet about it. Before I knew it, my wee hint was all over the internet circles we share. I see it mentioned more and more, and while this gives me a smug feeling of being ahead of the curve on realising how good it is, I feel worried the name of one of my favourite distilleries is now receiving more exposure in social media.

Is the secret dram in this haul from a recent study reorganisation?

And here is where whisky forms a dichotomy. It’s supposed to be a social drink, it’s supposed to be shared. Don’t we (I) take part in whisky social media to pass on our experiences and learn from others? By holding something back then do we start to remove more from the community than we contribute? I feel that in my attempt to keep the secret I have from the wider community that I’m doing something wrong, yet the need to share experiences of a delicious and consistent performer burns more of a hole in the mental pocket than currency in the hands of a child staring at the shelves of a toy shop.

It’s not the oneupmanship that drives this feeling towards a veil of secrecy. Forget the days of FOMO, there is a new fear lurking in the mind of this whisky enthusiast, probably even more of us if we’re to be completely honest. Fear of Missing Out will become old hat. FOBO is its new companion – Fear Of Being Outed. It’s a fear that once the whisky that you hold dear becomes more in the community consciousness, that it will become more difficult to get and / or will become as expensive as a jar of Unicorn urine. Let’s face it – some of the bottles that have rocketed into the spotlight as flippers and other assorted parasites have decided are now part of the current whisky zeitgeist may as well be unicorn wee-wee as neither will be drunk due to the insane prices paid. This happened to Springbank – remember when it was relatively easy to get a bottle at RRP without queuing or ballot?

While supplies of Glen Blabbermouth are sustainable, it isn’t as common as some, with only a few official bottlings over the years, it’s mostly available from low volume independent bottle sales. It is maybe understandable why some people keep some whisky secrets to themselves. While I might be wrong to express this feeling, I am currently hoping the heat dies down eventually and I can live my life secure in the knowledge that my favoured whisky is not rising in price due to a sudden popularity when my secret gets out.

As for my indiscreet friend – is he in trouble? No, not really. When you hear of others enjoying bottles from your favourite secret distillery, there is a sense of satisfaction that you may have saved somebody from drinking sub-par whisky. I have also taken the precautionary steps of making another malt one of my secret go to drams. Only this one is definitely being kept secret.

One distillery that I am starting to pay a little more attention to is Linkwood. In common with a lot of distilleries in the Diageo portfolio, it’s not a brand with a massive presence due to mostly being used to provide spirits for blends. But it is unique on my blog, for I have already reviewed it twice and as it turns out, the last time wasn’t so long ago. While the only official bottle is the Flora And Fauna, there are plenty of independent bottlers releasing some very good editions. Gordon and MacPhail do a nice bottle in their distillery labels range at 15 years old. But another whisky bottler that has really made me sit up and take notice is Murray McDavid (MMcD). Both their Spirit of Speyside editions of Auchroisk and Inchgower that I tasted from last year were great, so when Aberdeen Whisky Shop advertised the MMcD Cask Craft range, I was standing up like a meerkat. These were marketed by flavour profile, and it was just coincidence that fruity and sweet happened to be a Linkwood. No age statement, only a cask type (Madeira Barrique), but at £32 a pop I felt it stupid not to. And here is what I found.

In front of the most famous toaster on WhiskyTwitter. Need to review some rowies!

Linkwood Fruity & Sweet (MMcD Cask Craft)

Region -Speyside Age – NAS Strength – 44.5% abv Colour – Old Gold, (0.6) with a hint of pink Cask Type – Madeira Barrique Colouring – No Chill Filtered No

Nose – Raspberry ripple ice cream, hint of vanilla and cereal. Could almost be Cranachan. Sweet white wine. Floral note (rose water) which was similar to Turkish Delight appeared when I rubbed some spirit onto the back of my hand.

Palate – Light oily mouth feel. Quite spirit forward to begin with but not aggressively so, though can be a bit bitter. Raspberries, red currants delivers a small measure of astringency that I find in medium dry white wines. Toasted peanuts and honey. Not very complex at all.

Finish – warming medium finish, sweet with a burst of spices and milk chocolate. Vegetal notes appear, like kale.

The Dram.

Not the best Linkwood I have ever tasted. I quite like a Madeira cask whisky, but this one didn’t light my fire as much as I thought it would. It’s undoubtedly a young whisky, with a spirit forwardness, a lack of depth and also noticeably lacking an age statement. But let’s not get too picky. Here we are easily seeing the distillery character of a light, fruity and slightly grainy spirit, which I got more in the nose than the palate. To be disappointed is a valid point but perhaps the cask craft here is the subtlety in which the finish has been applied. It isn’t a bad dram, despite being a little thin. £32 wasn’t a bad price to pay for this but there are better value drams out there.

As I’ve reviewed this distillery now, it’s not my new secret favourite distillery, though it does have a tenuous link to the one that is. There’s one thing sure and certain – I won’t be telling you what is!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Hope Is Important.

Taste Review #145 – Auchroisk 9 y.o (Murray McDavid)

Have you ever tasted a whisky, then realised that you’ll never get it again? I have, quite a few times, although the wise amongst us will know that while whiskies are pretty much unique, the chances of getting something very similar is quite high. Well, I had that moment last year when I was stuck in London for 10 days in September last year. I took the opportunity to meet a fellow whisky enthusiast in Milroys of Soho, and I had a great time, as any whisky enthusiast would in a specialist whisky bar. Of course I wrote a blog about it, but the great regret was one of the whiskies I had was one I’d likely never get again. A search of the internet the morning after made it clear that I’d be more likely to find a mouthful of hens teeth in a pile of unicorn turds than find this whisky. Therefore I’d have to find an alternative.

They say that time stands still for no man, and that’s precisely what happened. Before long we were into March 2022, and I had all but given up hope of finding this whisky unless I was fortunate at auction. In desolation I paid a visit to the Speyside Whisky Shop, where I was invited to smell a sample of a whisky and to guess what it was. And to my surprise, I smelt all the key notes of the whisky I was mourning. When I was informed that this was to be their bottling for the Spirit Of Speyside Festival in May, I immediately intimated that I would love to buy at least a bottle.

Auchroisk 9 y.o.

Fast forward to the end of May when I was finally able to purchase it, unusually for me I was straight into the bottle. Was it the same as the whisky I yearned for? No. But it was darned close. Having a wee bit more abv, a decade less maturation and a different sherry cask finish meant it would never be the same but it was enough to cheer me up enough to realise that I could probably now relax and end my search for the whisky I was never likely to find.

I’m quite comfortable in admitting that I probably don’t have the best of palates, especially due to sinus problems brought on by having my nose broken (also known as talking when I should have been listening), though I can taste enough and still I’m able to learn and educate my palate by tasting many whiskies like everybody else. It’s easy to observe that many people in the whisky orientated social media drink quite a spread of whisky, which will develop their palates too, but how well will it develop their memory?

As you can see, this bottle has been raced through, but there has been a few samples shared.

Due to my employment patterns interrupting my enjoyment of whisky, coupled with the fact that once home I don’t want to spend every evening with alcohol when I do have time to drink results in the fact I may lack the practical tasting experience of others. However there are a handful of whiskies that I do remember the profiles pretty well, despite some of them only being sample size. I just can’t picture me remembering every single whisky I have ever tasted. While I might recall the general distillery profile, the exact taste I won’t. Hardly surprising, for I am the person who walks into a room then wonders why they went there in the first place. I joke that it’s not so much Alzheimer’s but more ‘auld timers’ that caused it. However, in spite of the variety of whiskies as I have managed over the years (mostly pre-fatherhood), I have to admit that I’m starting to see many as pretty much of a muchness, where only the truly standout whiskies for me stand a chance of being remembered. Am I alone in this?

Plenty of others are able to consume at will and search for the whisky-de-jour, but will they remember much more than the approximate profiles of those gone by in the past, other than an obvious distillery style? The restless cynic in me means that I personally doubt it. While the mind is a wonderful thing, I prefer to think unless it’s a dram they really identify with, in all honesty most people will only remember general profiles, unless they work in the industry and this have a vested interest in having such recall. That’s just my opinion, and of course everybody has a different whisky journey behind and before them. We can refer back to tasting notes, but I am of a mind that we can’t really always rely on them unless it’s a dram you have spent a lot of time with. Tasting notes can often represent that snapshot in time you had that bottle, which if you only got one or two, may not be a long time depending on how quickly you drank it. Our taste buds change over time too, so that whisky you tasted once then coveted could well be a disappointment if you have it again.

Food for thought? I’ll have probably forgotten this by time I publish this anyway, so don’t be afraid to remind me.

Anyway, this Auchroisk that was bottled for the Speyside Whisky Shop is my little aide-memoir to that early autumn evening in Soho.

Auchroisk 9y.o

Region – Speyside Age – 9 y.o Strength – 55.3% Colour – Russet Muscat (1.3) Cask Type – Oloroso Hogsheads Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Dark fruit. Dates, figs, toffee, dark chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. Palate – creamy mouthfeel, with a prominent toffee and coffee note. Develops into a sticky toffee pudding taste with sultana and dates. The spirit starts to make an appearance with peppery heat appearing. Finish – The peppery heat dissolves back into a spiced fruit loaf with a hint of nutmeg. Medium long finish.

Perfect tone for the colour slave that I am.

Conclusions

A cracker of a whisky. Extremely enjoyable but unfortunately after a few glasses I have to concede that it just wasn’t the same as my memory remembered from last year. Close, but not close enough. The purchase price of £62-ish was good enough value for this dram.

Unfortunately you are unlikely to be able to buy this one, unless you are lucky to get one at auction, though I think I’m safe to assume that everybody that bought this bought it to consume. I managed to get two bottles and while I told myself one would be stored, I think I’ll be opening that one too. After all, the main takeaways from this article will be:-

1/Chasing whisky is part madness – there will always be another whisky which is close to what you seek.

2/ Does rare really matter? While there are some genuinely rare whiskies based on availability of stock, it seems that some whiskies are artificially made rare through the choices of the bottler to limit releases by only partially bottling a cask. If for example an IB releases a 12 year old “Glenbollox” finished in an Octave, then while it may only yield around 70 bottles, then there is still the rest of the Hogshead somewhere in the trade to be released with another finish. And unless it’s a unique cask and a rare vintage; it’s not really genuinely rare to the drinker – there will be other whiskies that taste similar that won’t have the same premiums, be they genuine or manufactured attached to them.

You’ll just have to find it.

And lastly, being totally contrary to my points above, did I really give up the search for that mythical whisky? No, not really. While I believe it is better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all, my OCD decided not to let go. After all, sometimes you never find something, but it finds you.

To be continued…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

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 Elgin. It doesn’t really matter and the Granty Burn has a better sound it. Another interesting fact is that 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 £1800 – £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 so far, therefore I haven’t bought it.

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 great value, 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 the most complex to me 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

Coming out of the closet.

Taste Review #141 – Wild Turkey Rare Breed

I guess there will be a few people that know me will be wondering if I’ve suddenly decided that my lifestyle choices have been re-evaluated. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but even if you think that from time to time I’m more queer than a bottle of crisps; this closet isn’t where I keep my sexuality but rather one where I keep my whisky.

One of the oldest bottles in my closet, one bought pre-Louisiana visit. It’s still there.

A long time ago, before I became a total whisky nerd, (instead of just a techy nerd), the company I had just started working for sent me on a trip for a month in the USA to learn all about ROV’s. As you might already know, I work offshore as Remotely Operated Vehicle pilot, but back then this was a job you learnt as you went. My then company decided this was a bit backwards and developed quite an intensive course on the equipment they had designed and built. The idea behind it was that you could hook somebody out of a Macdonalds restaurant and change them from flipping burgers to operating ROV’s. In reality, it didn’t always work that way. I only got to do the electrical part of the course, then never saw the equipment for another two years. Some of the geniuses that had graduated from the university where Ronald MacDonald was the chief lecturer weren’t the freshest patties ever on the hot plate either, failing open book exams.


The Americans loved their decals. I think on this job in Morgan City the only things I feared were running out of beer or being told I had a pretty mouth a la Deliverance.

For the record, I got 97% and only used an hour of the allotted three hours. But this isn’t the education I remember the most. For we were sent to Morgan City in Louisiana and I started my bourbon education. At this point I was already a Wild Turkey drinker, but got to try others. However, on the way home I decided to stick to my first love and took home a bottle of Rare Breed. it was something that I never saw in the shops or bars back home. The internet was still in relative infancy back then, so I couldn’t rely on online retailers.

Well, I guess us Brits on that course did!

Anyway, the bottle was opened and sampled with friends then got stuck in my drinks cabinet. And there it stayed, as at the time I lived alone and preferred to go out to drink. This bottle survived 3 house moves before I realised I still had it, hidden behind the other Wild Turkey in the cabinet. After nearly 24 years since I bought it, it would be a foregone conclusion that the cork wasn’t good and I wasn’t surprised when the impressive wooden stopper came away in my hands.


After a nifty bit of decanting, we got the cork out and the whiskey back into its original bottle. But was the whisky as bad as the cork? Only one way to find out…

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (1997)

Region – USA (Bourbon) Age – NAS Strength – 54.4% Colour – Mahogany (1.6) Cask Type – American Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Dusty wood, acetone, dark fruits, vanilla, creamy fudge, Macgowans Highland toffee. Palate – Quite sharp on arrival. Caramel, wood, dark fruit (Blackberries, Cherries). Aniseed Peppery heat with some cinnamon in there. Finish – Heat well controlled and doesn’t increase until you swallow. More cherries, dusty wood, bit of cinnamon, vanilla and tannins, drying on the mouth. Dusty vegetal aftertaste.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed – 1997 Bottling

After drinking some of it and passing on my thoughts to a fellow whisky geek, there was a suggestion that perhaps I should compare it to a modern edition to see if the older bottle was really faded compared to an original. Only one way to find out. At least I now had the luxury of online retail rather than a trip to the US.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (2021)

Region – USA (Bourbon) Age – NAS Strength – 58.4% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – American Oak No.4 char Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Wood, vanilla, caramel, honey, orange rind, cherry. Palate – Immediately sweet on arrival. Caramelised brown sugar, vanilla, cherries, milk chocolate. Wood notes with a peppery heat. Finish medium length finish, a bit of solvent, with more sweetness followed by cherries, oak, slightly floral towards the end.

Wild Turkey Rare Breed 2021 bottling

Conclusions

I think I got away with the older bottle. I suspect there has been some deterioration but not too much. While the newer bottle had a bit more kick, it was bottled at a higher abv. Tasting both side by side revealed a close similarity but not quite. The older bottle had a more vegetal finish which I suspect could be a hint of old bottle effect. Both bottles still pleasant to drink, although the older bottle benefited more from water.

Both needed a bit of water, though I did also enjoyed both neat. The newer one was obviously brighter on the palate but not overly so. I’d say these are going to be my winter drams as quite warming. However the older dram was more astringent and left my mouth very dry afterwards.

While I don’t recommend leaving open bottles of whisky 24 years before drinking again, it’s safe to say you can get away with it if the bottle has been kept properly.

This concludes my planned sampling of world whisky and it will be back to Scotch next time. Or will it? I still have some German, Danish and South African whisky left that was given to me by followers on Twitter. There might be a wee mini review in the future, but next I return to Speyside for a pleasant change.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

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

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