Times are hard, and I have to economise. After the potentially financially crippling Old vs New Series, the cost of which will be revealed in another article, I can no longer afford a decent article title. So this is it. If your name is Tam or Thomas, I’m not specifically saying hello to you, although you are welcome to join me, but just shortening the name of our next dram – Tamdhu.
Tamdhu sits in the parish of Knockando, not too far away from the Knockando distillery, and right beside the railway station for the parish. The Speyside line was instrumental in the genesis of many Speyside distilleries, such as Dailuaine, Imperial, Knockando, Tamdhu, Cragganmore and Balmenach, not to mention other distilleries within easy reach. Dr Beeching did the area a disservice by cutting this and the Boat Of Garten to Forres line, as it means I have to sit behind so many lorries on the A95 carrying casks, malt, yeast and waste products.
The original Knockando station was known as Dalbeallie, named after a farm in the area, was built after the distillery was constructed in 1899, long after the 1863 opening of the line. This name has enjoyed a resurgence as a special edition in commemoration of the railway in the Tamdhu story. The name changed to Knockando in May 1905, to avoid confusion with Dalbeattie Railway Station in Dumfries And Galloway. A similar problem existed further south in Strathspey when Abernethy Railway Station was renamed Nethybridge. Imagine landing up in the Highlands when you expected to be in north Fife!
The Knockando station goods yard was where the distillery used to take in its sherry casks. I’ve heard unconfirmed stories that they used to be unloaded in ships in Lossiemouth harbour, then taken on the railway to Elgin, then down to Knockando via Craigellachie railway station. Sadly the station closed in October 1965. The station and it’s signal box have survived, thanks to the distillery renovating them, and it is hoped that they will form the basis of a visitors centre in the future. Whisky and railway geeks unite!
The distillery has been owned for the majority of its life by Highland Distillers, later to become Edrington. They already had a sherry monster distillery in the form of Macallan, and I wonder if that was the reason that little known Tamdhu was chosen to be mothballed. Thankfully it wasn’t mothballed for long with Ian Macleod Distillers purchasing it in 2011, opening it again in 2012. The first release was the 10 year old with a more Victorian look to the bottle, now synonymous with the distillery.
Much is made of its former owners’ dedication to quality, but Tamdhu has just the same passion for their wooden casks. Using imported American Oak or native European Oak from Galicia in North Western Spain, their wood is dried then filled with Oloroso Sherry from the Vasyma Bodega in Jerez. The casks sit for 6 years, slowly absorbing the sherry into the wood fibres, ready to play its part in the maturation of whisky. And it isn’t just the cheap sherry that goes on to be used to make sherry vinegar – this far exceeds the 2 year minimum maturation that cheaper sherries may experience.
The dram I am going to try for this review was released as a 15 year old in 2019 as a limited annual release, with about 24000 bottles being produced. I have had this dram before, but I wasn’t in a place I could take notes to review. That’s a casual way of saying I was in the right physical place (a bar) not in the bodily correct place (on the way to being tipsy.) I do remember enjoying it, so I have purchased a nip so I can sample again to relay my experiences.
Region – Speyside Age – 15 yrs old Strength – 46% ABV Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Oloroso Sherry (American + European Oak) Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Classic Sherry aroma, but not too powerful, balanced. Raisins, sherry, red apple peel, mint choc chip ice cream Palate – Raisins, honey, then the wood spices hit with pepper and ginger. A light alcohol tingle, drying, dark chocolate. Finish – medium. chocolate orange, biscuity, slightly bitter but not in an unpleasant way.
Tamdhu is always the sherried whisky I mention first if people are wanting a recommendation of a sherried whisky that isn’t Macallan, followed quickly by Glenfarclas and GlenDronach. I’ve never really had a bad dram from these distilleries, with the exception of an experience I had with a Glenfarclas 15 mini. I really do wonder why Edrington gave up this distillery when they were just on the cusp of a whisky boom. Perhaps they wanted more money to finance the Tellytubby land distillery they’ve made up in Craigellachie. Yes, I know that the building is impressive, but while the Macallan does make good whisky, they aren’t the only ones. Others do to, and they make it cheaper.
With the investment in good casks showing at Tamdhu, I really rate this distillery, even though on the global stage it is still a bit of a sleeper. Definitely one to watch and I cannot wait to see what will be replacing the 15 year old. With GlenDronach possibly edging towards the start of Chill Filtration on the 15 year old, if this does come to pass, I will certainly be looking at changing where I spend my money. If they do turn the old railway station into a visitors centre, I cannot wait to visit the distillery.
Tamdhu can be found in a 10 year old expression, which has been discontinued with the 12 year old replacing it. There are other limited editions as well as regular Batch releases of cask strength spirit.
The 15 year old costs around £82 in specialist whisky shops, and I’d say for that price, the quality you are getting from your dram is well worth it.
There is always somebody who wants to go one better. We all know that person. When you’ve been to Tenerife for your holidays, then they have gone to Elevenerife. They have the guitar amplifier that goes all the way to 11. You know the sort. They are really annoying to work with, as you end up feeling that you can’t say a thing without some sort of oneupmanship or some sort of belittling comment.
How annoying is it when somebody claims to be one better, yet only this time they aren’t trying to belittle you, their claim is actually true? As Winston Churchill said “I find humble pie to be a most edifying diet”, yet some people seem to have gone on hunger strike.
If you have the pleasure of visiting Dalwhinnie distillery, nestled on the northern reaches of Drumochter Pass, given the remote and desolate landscape around you, it is hard to conceive that there could be a distillery higher above sea level than this in the UK. But there is. And nobody in Dalwhinnie speaks about it. For if you were to visit the Glenlivet Distillery, but travel a bit further south, and you will come to a small settlement called Braes of Glenlivet. Travel through the hamlet and on your right will be the 1970’s distillery called Braeval. Despite the green farmland around you, believe it or not, if you stand beside the still house with a hand held GPS, you will find that you are 2 metres higher than Dalwhinnie. Of course, this could be accurate or inaccurate, depending on the satellites available and who our friends on the other side of the Atlantic are bombing, so lets not offend anybody any further and allow Dalwhinnie to not lose any face by saying they are the highest distillery with a visitors centre.
The Braes of Glenlivet was built in 1973, constructed for Seagram, a Canadian based distiller. The distillery was one of the first to be built as a fully automated distillery, requiring only one operative. It was also one of the first to be built as entirely open plan. There is a rumour that the first mash took place before the roof was put on so the incoming Canadian chairman could be impressed, but that’s likely to be a part of distillery folk lore that each distillery has its own tale. The other thing that is a bit fake about the distillery is the pagoda roof. Due to the age and automation of the distillery, there has never been any malting taking place on site, but it does help it’s brutal 1970’s architecture blend in with the local area.
If you think that the architecture is bad, then look a bit further north to its sister distillery in the shadow of Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhainne. It also was constructed by Seagram, opening in 1975, and bought by Chivas in 2001. Allt-a-Bhainne was eventually given a single malt release in 2018, which while I thought it was ok, wasn’t going to set the world on fire, despite all of the marketing cliches that accompanied its release.
The distillery changed its name to Braeval in 1994, to avoid any confusion with its much more famous neighbour in the glen. Not that there would be much confusion, as Braeval as a single malt is quite hard to get a hold of. As far as I know there has never been an official bottling, other than the Distillery Reserve bottles released by Pernod Ricard who took over the distillery in 2000. The distillery was mothballed a year later, not resuming production until 2008.
If you want to taste a Braeval, then your best bet is going to be through an independent bottler, and for this we have to be thankful that Douglas Laing has done just that with their Old Particular brand. Given the hot mess of the Allt-a-Bhainne release, I’d dread to think of what PR would do with Braeval. So it comes to be that I ordered some time ago a 3CL sample from Master Of Malt in order to make up a tasting set. I’d never tasted Braeval before but thought the time had come to set this right.
Old Particular Braeval 18 (Douglas Laing cask 11205)
Region – Speyside Age – 18 yr old Strength – 48.4% Colour – Jonquiripe Corn (0.4) Cask Type – Sherry Butt Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Quite light, Honey, apple, walnuts, spices, a hint of malt. Palate – oily, apple continues, honey, slightly sweet. Finish – medium/long. Warm and drying, sweet. Apple peel, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, a hint of raisin. Water smoothed things out a bit, but shortened the finish.
Not a bad first venture. Definitely very pleasant to drink, and despite it’s slightly higher ABV, the spirit doesn’t seem very forward; there isn’t any great spirit arrival here, it is all gently warming, with a surprising dryness that thankfully doesn’t cause your mouth to pucker. There is a bit more of a spirit burn as it goes down your throat, but burn is a bad word to use here – heat and warmth is probably the best description. This is a malt you could seek out and enjoy if it wasn’t just for one catch – it’s discontinued.
By all means you could look around at auction to see if it turns up, but you’d be better off keeping an eye on what independent bottlers are releasing. If you can find a Braeval from a sherry cask with the same sort of age, I’d definitely recommend it.
It has been noticed that perhaps I have a tendency towards the negative.
I’m sure that if you are a regular reader then this will come as no surprise. Being Aberdonian it could be argued that this is a genetic trait, and that’s a hard argument to disagree with. As an example there is an apocryphal story of two Aberdonians talking about their holidays. One is showing the other their holiday snaps. The Aberdonian viewing the snaps sees them all, thinks for a minute and points to one of the photos and says “that’s the worst one.” Every silver lining has a cloud.
But don’t think we’re all gloomy all of the time. It is worth remembering no matter how dour the day is, the sun still rises behind the clouds. Inside I’m a ray of sunshine, though at the moment I’ve got every reason to feel less than delighted. Without revealing too much which could land me in bother, I’m currently sailing in what has been described as a ‘High Risk’ or ‘War-Like’ zone. Research a region called Cabo Delgado in Mozambique and you’ll get the picture, so any bit of good news will easily brighten my mood, even for a short while.
It was one of my fellow crew members on board that supplied the reason (plus some of the material for this article). One of the purposes for starting this blog was because of people at work knowing about my whisky geekery and them wanting to ask questions. Unfortunately I don’t often have the time to continually talk about whisky while at work, though I have the occasional burst. One of the contractors who regularly returns to this ship had mentioned that he had a few older bottles of whisky and was showing me the pictures. I was asked if they were worth anything. It’s often the case in these situations that normally there will be a handful of 1970’s Johnnie Walker Red bottles or some Bells, but the first bottle was a 1980’s Bowmore 12. While there also were a couple of 1980’s blends, my eyes were opened when a 1990’s Macallan 10 y.o popped up. Then a Highland Park 12 in the 1980’s dumpy bottling. I was fully paying attention when a Port Ellen 21 appeared in the photos. There’s a few 1980’s single malts also which may raise a few pounds, yet there are more whisky bottles to be photographed.
You can bet your bottom dollar it was a great feeling to be able to give my colleague the good news. If they chose to sell, they would get a tidy sum for the whisky they may never drink, or alternatively they would have quite an impressive small scale whisky collection to start with. But despite this, thoughts of an overcast nature were gathering on the horizon. I remembered how I started collecting whisky and wondered what I would do differently now. Unlike my colleague, I started from ground zero.
My first collectable bottles were two Glenmorangie 1993 Truffle Oak Reserve bought at the distillery for £150, which are now worth considerably more, but until I developed a focused collection policy I was buying bottles that I felt may realise some value. It turned out that I was buying the same sort of bottles everybody else was. I’m now starting to think that this may not have been the best plan. There are a few of reasons why this may be the case.
If everybody else is collecting them and not drinking them, the bottle will not be truly rare. It’s just not easily available. Unless it’s in the high demand / low production category, the residual demand will not be that great. Even some of the collectible bottles from Macallan are released in the order of tens of thousands.
If supply is not that limited, the bottle will not necessarily increase that much in value from the point you bought it. The bottles such as Springbank local barley aren’t rare, yet the hype surrounding them is what is driving the price. Ditto committee release Ardbeg. The increases in price on the secondary market is just down to us. We do it to ourselves.
It is also likely that should there be an economic event that may persuade people to sell (such as mass unemployment or recession) then everybody is going to be selling the same stuff at the same time. Ergo, the price gets suppressed due to higher availability.
What I’m trying to say is perhaps it is all well and good to buy new releases as they could well earn a bit of money for those of you who have the prime concern of realising a profit Or at least you would hope they hold their value with inflation. But truly, beyond the initial flipper craze there is no saying any of these bottles are a reliable investment. I personally think the best thing to do is look for the older classics, which may have a track record of increasing prices or take a chance on lower key bottles. Who would have thought an investment in a £40 bottle of standard 10 year old Macallan would reach £400+?
To find out what is worth keeping aside, maybe ignore the plethora of new releases that people buy and put straight into a cupboard. They’ll probably never taste them unless one of their dram swap buddies has two bottles and shares one. Instead, look at what is popular, good value and potentially getting discontinued. One example I went for was the Old Pulteneny 17. At one time it was only £70 a bottle. Now if you can find one at retail, expect to pay £100 – £140. One more recent prospect is the Glendronach range, before the decision to remove the Non-Chill Filtered statement.
Often it is said in whisky you often have to speculate to accumulate, but I prefer to paraphrase a verse from the Good Book which says “Do not conform but be transformed”. Don’t follow just because everybody else is buying this and that. Make informed decisions in order to pave your own road on which to continue your whisky journey.
Ostensibly, whisky is for drinking so go forth and make your discoveries. Perhaps keep back something for a rainy day. Don’t just focus on the potential profit, but perhaps look on it as being a whisky custodian. Carve your own path and don’t merely follow the crowd. If you do your research and the whisky is truly great and not just another insipid inaugural release, then it will be just as valuable in the future, if not more. If the whisky doesn’t perhaps meet your financial expectations, you will still have a whisky you enjoyed from yesteryear which can be savoured or shared in decades to come. That will be a moment of untold riches and is probably the most positive thing I can advise you to do. That is exactly why I advise only to buy whisky at a price you would be willing to drink it at. That’s what it may come down to.
I am sure you can guess that I’m never likely to get mobbed at any event and certainly I am able to do my shopping without being mobbed by fans. God forbid that ever happens. I’m just quite happy plugging away at what I want to do, and living in an area with not a lot of people in it when we are outside normal tourist season suits me fine. To be honest, lockdowns haven’t really made a lot of difference to me during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m not often doing anything that interesting if I am at home from my normal job. Indeed, part of me doesn’t want pandemic lockdown to end, as it means having to face more and more people.
I’m not as social as you may think.
The distillery from which the dram for this review hails from has a similar sort of circumstance. It just isn’t that well known at all. Firstly, there is no Glen Spey. The River Spey rises in streams that flow into Loch Spey, a small loch situated in the southern edge of the Monadhliath Mountains, just to the north of the Creag Meagaidh nature reserve.
Despite being so unknown, it may surprise you that Glen Spey, which is located in the Speyside village of Rothes is not a young distillery, having been built in 1878, around the same time as Glenrothes. It was initially named Mill Of Rothes distillery, but changed to Glen Spey in 1887 and the distillery was sold to the London gin makers W.A. Gilbey. This would be one of the three distilleries owned by Gilbey, the other two being Strathmill in Keith, and Knockando further to the south. Gilbey eventually merged with Justerini and Brookes, a London wine merchant. This formed International Distillers and Vinters, eventually becoming part of Diageo in 1997. Over 120 years of existence and only been sold once – remarkable for such an old distillery that is part of the big four distillers in Scotland.
While in the care of Gilbeys, this became the home of their blend made from the three distilleries they owned. The blend was known as Spey Royal, and was produced into the 1970’s. I actually own a bottle of this but I’ve got doubts over its provenance. Despite being reassured it is not a fake, there are a few things about it that mean I am going to just keep it as a talking piece.
Glen Spey was not one of the original Flora and Fauna releases. The range that started in 1991 originally only had 22 bottles, all of which had wooden boxes and 16 had white capsules to show they were 1st releases. Another Rothes distillery with a Flora & Fauna release – Speyburn. Due to the very short time it was in production, this is now the holy grail of collectors, now regularly seeing £2000+ hammer prices at auction. By 2001, a lot of the Flora and Fauna range had been discontinued due to Diageo selling or closing the distilleries. Aberfeldy, Aultmore, Balmenach, Bladnoch, Dufftown, Clynelish, Craigellachie, Glendullan, Pittyvaich, Rosebank, Royal Brackla and Speyburn had been either sold or a new distillery expression created with Flora and Fauna being withdrawn. Mortlach would also follow. So in 2001 four new releases were introduced – Auchroisk Glen Elgin, Glen Spey and Strathmill. The new four were not released with any packaging. Later on Glen Elgin would also be discontinued in favour of a distillery branded bottle.
So, despite its relative invisibility, does Glen Spey shout out its credentials? Only one way to find out.
Glen Spey 12 (Flora & Fauna)
Region – Speyside Age – 12 yrs old Strength – 43% Colour – Pale Gold (0.3) Cask Type – Not known, suspect bourbon Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose -Green, light, grassy, pineapple, light malt and barely perceptible smoke. Palate -Sweet, Light, slightly oily. Apple, sour lemon, nutmeg, slightly soapy Finish – short. earthy finish, bitter and soapy with a bit of aniseed right at the end. Gives a rough burn down the throat when swallowed.
Glen Spey is a gentle Speysider. Quite a pleasing nose, but that is for me where the pleasure ends. So many times I have been switched on by an aroma, but only to be let down by palate or finish. In this case both. While I for many years have championed the Flora and Fauna range, this is one that I haven’t tasted until now. Lets just say I won’t be tempted to open either of the full sized bottles I have. While this distillery may play a great part in Diageo blended whiskies, this example of it as a single malt is disappointing.
If you are tempted to buy this, make sure it is only to complete your Flora and Fauna collection. You can buy this for £43 online but you may be better spending your money on something a bit better. Speyburn 10 is also from Rothes and is not only tastier, but cheaper as well.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining. The larger demand making some whiskies harder to get has been tempered by the fact that there has been a massive influx of new distilleries on the scene. Not so long ago, there were only 3 operational single malt distilleries in the Lowland region; Auchentoshan, Bladnoch and Glenkinchie, but now this has been expanded by a handful more becoming operational. The most famous arguably being Daftmill which released its first whisky at 12 years old in 2018. Also releasing its first whisky in 2018 was Eden Mill Distillery, and the Kingsbarns Distillery with its first Founders Release. Following on in the same year was the Dream To Dram bottling.
Dream to Dram was quite an appropriate name for such a whisky, as the concept of a distillery was born through the dream of former caddie Douglas Clement. Funding was initially gained through contacts he had made during his time as a caddie, but funding still fell short, so the project was sold to the Wemyss family to see the project through to conclusion. The distillery has been built in a former farm steading on the Cambo Estate, which the Wemyss have historical family connections to.
Dream to Dram was the first publicly available bottle from Kingsbarns. I’m not in the habit of chasing first releases, especially those which have been released at a young age. However just because a whisky is young, doesn’t mean that it will be a poor whisky. In this case, rather than buy a full bottle I decided to use Drinks By The Dram, which offered the chance to purchase a 3cl sample. And, this is a dram that has won several awards such as – World Whisky Awards 2020 – Best Scotch Lowlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky, World Whisky Awards 2020 – Category Winner, Lowlands Single Malt Scotch Whisky (12 Years & Under), Spirits Business Scotch Whisky Masters 2019 – Silver, International Spirits Challenge 2019 Taste – Silver, Scottish Whisky Awards 2019 – Highly Commended. It seems that there is little chance of getting a duff dram, so lets find out.
Kingsbarns Dream To Dram
Region – Lowland Age – 3 years old Strength – 46% Colour – Pale Gold (0.2) Cask Type – 90% 1st Fill Bourbon, 10% 1st Fill STR Barrique Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Bananas, Pears, Green Apple, Lemon, Honey, light cereal note. Palate – Light body, quite thin. Creamy taste, vanilla, honey, peppery spices, ginger Finish – Medium – Short, towards the short side. Alcohol burn on the way down the throat, lemon, honey, ginger, pepper.
Well, in my life in the oil and gas industry, I have seen many great things promised and yet fail to deliver. To rework the saying in the first paragraph of this review, ‘Every Silver Lining has a Cloud’. I do realise that this dram has won multiple awards, but I don’t see anything in this dram to take it above average. The mouthfeel is light and watery, the finish has a firey alcohol burn which I didn’t experience when tasting my last cask strength whisky neat.
The one thing that many new distilleries seem to do is release whiskies as soon as it is possible and it could be that the drive behind it is to get income into the business. I really think if this was case, it wasn’t the best plan. The whisky lacks any really definitive character in the palate and the finish is short and rough in my opinion. Personally I think the approaches taken by Daftmill and Ballindalloch are much more realistic to release a whisky when it is truly ready and not just when it is drinkable. If your spirit is good, then waiting a bit longer would definitely be worth it. That’s my honest take on it, though I am aware many would disagree.
It’s not to say that this is a bad dram just because I didn’t take to it at all. Taste is indeed subjective. The spirit is good – they’ve bottled at a decent strength, no added colour, no chill filtration. Long fermentation and clear wort will fill the spirit with ester-y goodness. But for me I think it needed longer in the cask. It crosses my mind that when thinking of ‘Dream To Dram’ I’d suggest that a lie – in was needed.
I’m sure however this is definitely a distillery to watch out for with older releases. I can’t wait.
If you are a regular follower of my blog, (and if you aren’t, then you should be!) you will know that over the past four months I’ve been doing taste tests of drams that are generations apart. The reason for doing this is to confirm or deny the saying that whisky was better in the olden days.
It is often the habit of people of previous generations that proclaim things were better in times gone by in their era. I used to scoff at them, but now as I approach a certain age, I can tell you that this may be the case. When I look back on tales of my own job, this is certainly the case. I remember the days when a ship would dock and there would be a herd of ‘Gangway Gazelles’ leaving the ship to head to the nearest bar. Times have changed now, and these things are frowned upon more and more, probably because they got tired of police arriving at boats, people just not turning up at the boat on time, or people just not turning up at all. It’s always an immediately sobering feeling waking up to see your ship sitting at anchor in the bay wondering how on earth you are going to get onboard. Only happened to me once…..
Whisky seems to have the same process. So many times you hear of people reminiscing about drams of yesteryear, the claim of how Macallan isn’t as good as it used to be, or even the qualities of discontinued drams in comparison to their replacement. Everybody has an opinion, but I decided it was time to maybe look a bit closer at this thought, to determine if it was a myth or if the various opinions had some traction. Thankfully, after a time of buying batches of miniature whiskies at auction to get one of the bottles contained within, I’d been left with quite a selection of older miniatures which had prompted me to investigate further and compare them to their contemporaries.
Let’s look at how I assessed the drams.
1/ I endeavoured as much as possible to compare like with like. That isn’t as easy as it sounds as core ranges change. Even, as in the case of Auchroisk, the age may be the same, but the Flora and Fauna is upped to 43% and is exclusively bourbon cask maturation, unlike the Singleton’s sherry cask finishing. In the case of the Benromach, there wasn’t a comparable 12 year old in the modern range, apart from a cask strength, so I used a 10 year old. As far as possible I used a contemporary dram if like for like wasn’t available.
2/ I never tasted blind. I know this may seem to invalidate my testing, but I don’t have coloured glasses, and besides, having seen the bottles before I tasted, it was often easy to see what one was the older or younger sample.
The other thing that made blind tasting pointless was the fact that I was using miniatures for a lot of my tastings. Due to the seal area / liquid volume ratio, plus the older drams suffered on occasion from old bottle effect, which made the older dram easy to identify. I mitigated this in most examples by letting the dram rest for 30 mins or adding water. It has to be said the usual taste was a musty, cardboard taste. I think that is common for older screw top seals, as a Glenturret 12 y.o sample I’ve had from a full sized 1980’s bottling was similarly affected. So if I was always able to easily identify the old or new bottlings by taste or smell, being tasted blind would make no difference.
3/ I’m fully aware that I cannot say that one is better than the other. That is because taste is subjective. However, my plan was if I could perhaps establish a pattern across the 43 samples I tried, there would be more grounds for coming to a conclusion whether whisky was better in the past or not
4/ I tried as hard as I could to get at least one whisky from each region, however Campbeltown and the Lowland regions have had tiny amount of distilleries for some time. This means it is harder to get old and new samples without purchasing full size bottles. This was going to lead to expense that I just could not justify. The reason I tested more Highland or Speyside malts is solely because samples were easier to obtain. Plus that’s where the majority of Scottish distilleries with visitor centres are located, thus more likely to have a 5cl release.
Cost has been a limiting factor. Some of the older minis were expensive. I had seen the older Aberlour 10 retail at £40 for 5cl. The Springbank I had to pay £40 for a batch of minis just for this one and another £60 for a full sized modern bottle so I could have one Campbeltown sample. The Highland Park 1980’s sample was £46 all in, but being 10cl, I’m going to be able to share that with a whisky friend who probably hasn’t tasted much, if any early Highland Park.
The 10 year old Macallan wasn’t cheap either. I had planned to use my 70cl bottle from the 1990’s that was damaged in a flood at my storage locker. It is still worth about £350 as a drinking bottle. In one way, I’m glad COVID restrictions stopped me retrieving it from the locker, as I’ve been able to get a 1980’s 10 year old sample instead. However, that was the same price as the Highland Park and only 5cl. So my whisky loving friends are going to have to wait a bit longer before they gets a sample of my damaged bottle.
So, no expense spared.
You can get links to each review by clicking on the distillery name which will open in a new page.
It can be seen that if you read each review that there were 14 wins for the older drams, 2 for the newer drams, three draws and one void. However it is not as simple to say that older drams are definitely better just looking at tally marks, as we have to take into account the subjective nature of taste. In the majority of times I picked the earlier era of whisky, this is due to the whisky in the older sample being more accessible, easier to drink, more pleasant notes or a better mouthfeel or finish. In the cases where it was hard to decide, it was often a gnat’s knee cap of difference, but a notable difference at least that I feel I’d be able to pick out on subsequent tasting.
Whisky and its distillation does change over time; it’s almost inescapable. There is little way of guaranteeing absolute continuity when staff come and go, changes in barley or yeast, changes in the time to ferment or distill, or even the temperature in the worm tubs can all have subtle differences. An example which you may not find likely but is 100% true occurred in the heat experienced during the summer of 2018. Dalwhinnie distillery had to stop production not because they had a lack of water, but they could not cool the spirit properly in the worm tubs due to the warmer water source, making the spirit character change too much. It makes me wonder how the spirit that was created just before they decided to stop will show through in bottling, though most likely it will end up in a blend.
One of the things I really noticed was that a couple of the newer drams had a very thin mouthfeel, or less intensity of flavour. The Glenlivet 12 totally seemed to lack a finish. I was able to communicate with a distiller who was able to give me a few pointers. Being honest, this is not limited to one distillery and it is unfair I suppose to name Glenlivet who have produced and continue to produce some great spirit. The answer confirmed a lot of my thoughts, but was put in a more succinct way. I’m going to add a bit more meat to the bones of what he told me so this is not quoted verbatim, but is also reflecting a situation that hasn’t exactly been a secret.
It has been no great surprise to hear that the distilleries have been facing a rapid demand for stocks, and as thus older stocks have been depleted. Aged whisky just cannot be produced on demand, so brands have had to make decisions on meeting that demand with stock available. A source in the industry once told me last year that a well known premium brand had a 12 year old whisky that once had an average age of 14-15 years old when you looked at the vatting. Nowadays its average age is 12 years old, and lacks the richness that it once had. Clue: – it is one of the distilleries that I tasted as part of this series. It isn’t limited to that brand either, as the distiller I spoke to while doing a review of one of these spirits said that this is common throughout the industry; a detail that has been mentioned to me by a few people in the industry. This may explain why so often the new era whiskies don’t have the same depth of character that older whiskies can provide. Distilleries just don’t have the same catalogue of aged barrels to pull from, and may preserve the older and higher quality stock for their more premium releases.
In my research, it was hinted that the quality of wood used has taken a backward step. When tasting whiskies of previous eras, most notably the sherry cask ones, the casks are not the same as before. Sherry ceased to be exported in casks in the early 1980’s meaning that source of casks was no longer available. Solera casks are not suitable for whisky production, as the Bodegas want as little wood influence as possible. Distilleries have been forced to season casks with sherry, and while you may get the taste, it is my belief that it isn’t as successful as having the real thing. Of course, some distilleries spend a lot of money getting their wood right, but some also may not concentrate on this to the same level.
The cask quality issue continues when it was mentioned to me was the general make up of casks in a vatting isn’t as good as it used to be. In order to perhaps lower production costs and increase the amount of whisky available, there are probably not as many first fill casks in the vatting of single malts. There are probably a lot more 2nd and 3rd fill casks getting used in any vatting. This may not be noticed in some whiskies, but most notably I noticed that the newer Aberlour and the Glenlivet I had tasted seem to have very thin bodies and next to no finish. The distiller I spoke to mentioned the fact less 1st fill casks being used will probably explain it. The wood has less to give, with less and less flavour components being imparted to the spirit. Indeed, I was recently shown a 9 year old 4th fill cask sample from a well known Speyside distillery, and to be honest it wasn’t much more than dirty dishwater in colour. One can assume next to no cask influence unless it is left for a couple of more decades at least.
It often leaves me wondering if production times have changed too, with fermentation and still times being made shorter to increase the production capacity where physical alterations are not possible or too expensive. With the boom in whisky sales showing little sign of slowing at the moment, the pressure is on distilleries to produce or lose market share. The more traditional distilleries also have the burden of having to supply produce for blends, which are in just as much, if not more demand than single malts.
A Personal Choice?
It is obvious if you look through the results of my reviews, that I do think there are good grounds for suggesting that whisky from previous eras are better in some cases. Of course it could be argued that this statement is dependent entirely on my own subjective point of view and taste, but that is why precisely why I deliberately tried as many whiskies as I could across each of the Scotch whisky regions. I also tried to pick some malts that I was unfamiliar with, so any bias could be ruled out. As alluded to in some of the reviews, I have always tried to find an identifiable flaw or difference that I could recognise in a blind test, in order to try and reduce the effect of simple preference. It’s not perfect but the best I could do in that circumstance.
I knew that bias would creep in. I had made my mind up that in the last comparison I did of Macallan 10 that the older Macallan would easily beat the newer dram, but I had to be honest and say that this just wasn’t the case at all. I would be telling lies if I said that one was much better than the other and doing a disservice to the quality control at Macallan. But I’ve heard from a friend who is involved in the industry that Macallan 10 was one of those whiskies that had an average age significantly higher than the age statement, so that made it expensive to produce. It was a good decision by Edrington to withdraw the age statement rather than continue with what may have been a much inferior product.
What mostly drew me to the older whiskies that I thought were better was just the depth of flavour, the length of finish, the mouth feel or just the fact that I was instantly drawn to it – that the whiskies were just so easily drinkable.
One thing that I noticed that in some cases the distiller had changed the ABV when producing the newer edition. Both Bruichladdich and Clynelish increased their core bottling to 46%, which removes the need for chill filtering. Auchroisk only upped their core to 43% in the Flora and Fauna bottling, but this also was supplemented by a change to exclusively bourbon maturation. There wasn’t a lot in the drams, but I felt the sherry finished Singleton had more character and mouthfeel than the Flora and Fauna dram. Interestingly enough, Auchentoshan had dropped their ABV to 40% from 43% but lengthened the maturation period. I personally think this was a backward step, as while I didn’t mind the 10 year old dram, I found the 12 year old was nowhere near as good and eventually was so undrinkable to me that it went down the sink.
There is one issue that we have to take into consideration was that the old bottles often suffered from the ‘old bottle effect’. I found that by leaving the drams to breathe for a while and adding a drop of water often mitigated this phenomenon but never eliminated it.
Drams that I liked or disliked
The one thing that my blog was designed to do was to encourage me to try different drams, and in this series it has forced me to drink a few whiskies that I wouldn’t normally drink. It is important to know what has gone in the past so we have a yard stick to judge the future. But is that really important? Because when it comes down to facts, all that matters is whether WE like it or not and definitely not as a result of others telling us we should like it.
The top drams that I tasted as a result of this series would definitely be –
Glenfarclas 10 (old)
Clynelish 14 Flora and Fauna
Glenrothes 8 (2007 – The Malt Cask Co.)
The drams I did not really enjoy
Auchentoshan 12 – so bad I couldn’t finish it
Aberlour 12 (New) – no finish whatsover
Glenlivet 12 (New) – poor mouthfeel and no finish.
The Final Caveat
Of course, this cannot be the final word. We have to keep an eye on what is happening in the whisky world. As I type this out, Glendronach have reportedly already removed the Non Chill Filtered Statement from their 15 year old bottling. Why they would need to do this when it is not necessary to chill filter a whisky at 46% I don’t know, unless they are thinking about lowering the ABV or are actually going to chill filter at 46% which will result in a change in flavour. It is a backward step, so this is why I maintain it is always good to keep an eye on the past so we can know that we indeed have tasted good whisky.
The final caveat is that we cannot stop here; we need to compare the whisky of the future to the whisky we have now to see if there is a progression. I think it is increasingly obvious that the production of whisky is in the hands of accountants as much as it is in the care of Master Blenders. We have to see that producers maintain or increase standards, or we risk going down the route that Auchentoshan went or that Glendronach seems to be heading. The internet has made information much more easier to obtain and share, with the result that today’s whisky enthusiast is much more informed and will not easily accept a reduction in standards.
Whoever wants to do the comparison of the next era of whisky against this era is welcome to do it – I’m done!
I’d like to thank everybody who has helped or encouraged me to complete this series. It has been an expensive labour of love, both financially, on time and emotionally. If you liked this article, can I ask that you share it, so it makes my work seem more worthwhile. And of course I will welcome all comments about this; it would be great if this generated some discussion in the community.
Taste Review #104 – Glen Garioch 15 old style bottling.
They say that time waits for no man and for me that is so true. Events always pass me by, as life for me often seems to move at the speed of continental drift as everything speeds past. This can have some very positive effects. Due to being fashion unconscious, I’ve found that I can use my wardrobe of walking gear, Levis and 8 hole Dr. Martens to drift in and out of fashion as it ebbs and flows around me. And I have both the black and cherry red variants so can mix it up a bit. Being a canny Aberdonian, this also has the effect of not wasting money on frivolous pursuits such as clothes and leaves more cash for whisky. However, this review isn’t a new release at all, but a bottling from the middle part of the first decade of this century. It is from my former local distillery, Glen Garioch in Oldmeldrum.
You may be surprised (or not as the case may be) to find out that this is a sample that I have had sitting in my wee kitchen display cabinet for over two years. I received it from a work colleague as an exchange for a wee dram of Bruichladdich Yellow Submarine; after all, wee yellow submarines are our trade. I’ve bought a handful of these bottles on his recommendation but have yet to open one. I’ve been itching to try it, but told my colleague I’d do it when I had time to really concentrate on it. Well, as is the case with offshore workers that have a child, that moment doesn’t come around too often. This poor sample was sitting on the shelf for longer than it should have and now that I have completed my course of antibiotics for an infected knee joint, this is my first dram of 2021. Publishing the review has been postponed due to my old vs new series, so it’s had a little longer to wait, but after 2 years in a cabinet, it’s hardly a problem, right?
I used to live a little more than 15 minutes drive away from here, but it was only in March of last year that I managed a visit to the distillery. It was worth it, although I didn’t take to the Founders Reserve sample given out.You can read my review here. There was nothing wrong with it other than it not being to my taste, and had several things going for it, not least the 48% bottling strength. But you can’t like everything that a distillery releases, though I am hoping that my colleague’s recommendation is a sound one. Let’s find out.
Glen Garioch 15 Year Old (2007 bottling)
Just for clarity, Garioch is pronounced Gear-ie and rhymes with dreary.
Region – Highland Age – 15y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Chestnut Oloroso (1.2) Cask Type – Not known. Suspect Bourbon with a sherry finish Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated but likely. Nose – Honey, slightly nutty, heather, caramel, quite sweet. Slight whiff of smoke suggesting peat, but that’s all it is; a suggestion. Palate – Sweetness all the way, with a heathery honey with that whiff of smoke in the background. There is more citrus appears when water added. The sourness increases and there is a mild lemon note occurring. It’s oily, and the legs on the glass are absolutely fantastic. Finish – Long, warming, sweet, with a slight citrus sourness building and a hint of wood spice. A bit more spice builds as time goes on as more is drunk. Smoke still there but continues to be subtle.
It’s a pity I left it so long. It’s a great easy going sipper. There is little complexity to this dram, but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes you just need something you can drink and isn’t challenging. To put it into the Doric language which is used all around the North East of Scotland, it’s a dram that gives you a ‘bosie’ (at’s a hug t’ aa iv youse ‘at cannae spik i Doric wye). Now I’m faced with the decision of what to do with the other dram, as I did say I might pass it on once I’ve done my review. Just not sure if being half full will rapidly change the dram due to dissipation, evaporation and oxidation.
And yet in that vein, I have no idea how long the bottle my sample was taken from was open, so it could be well ‘rested’ so to speak, but if it is, it has done the dram no harm.
You can pick one of these full sized bottles up at auction for a hammer price of between £55 – £70, plus fees. It’s not a bad price for an enjoyable whisky, but has been discontinued for some time now, so you may struggle to get it anywhere else than auction.
I’d recommend trying this if you see it going about. Maybe a bit on the expensive side for its age and abv, but a worthwhile experience.
What remains to be seen is if this standard of whisky returns to Glen Garioch. In mid March 2021, the owners of the distillery, Beam Suntory, announced a £6m refurbishment which would include a return to more traditional methods of distilling. The news that the malting floors were being reopened was a surprise, though a welcome one. Whether or not they will process their entire malt requirement is unclear though it can only be a good thing that this will be happening, whether it is a fraction or the entire amount. Exciting times are ahead and I’d mark this distillery as one to keep an eye on.
Yours In Spirits
Cheers to Ritchie Keith for the sample. Very enjoyable.
We’ve come to the last in my old vs. new reviews and I’ve saved what is one of the best known name in whisky until last. Macallan. This has been one of the hardest comparisons to be organised, as COVID got in the way of me reaching my old 1990’s bottle of 10 year old Macallan which was damaged in a flood. As I had consigned this to a drinking bottle it would have been perfect for this cause. Conveniently I had managed to pick up a 1990’s miniature at auction, as the 70cl Macallan 10 year olds are now reaching £400 at auction, and I am not paying that just to do a review.
The newer bottle was also procured at auction, and it is currently easy to purchase, despite being discontinued as an age statement. It is in a much different box, with the white Easter Elchies box being discontinued mid 2000’s. The range was rebranded slightly in 2004 with the introduction of a second 10 year old in the core selection with the addition of the Fine Oak edition, which introduced spirit also matured in American Bourbon casks. As to the Sherry Oak, sometimes when there is a rebrand, this is a chance to do a slight recipe tweak, so we’ll see if this is the case in this instance.
The 10 year old Sherry Oak was discontinued in 2013 and the 10 year old Fine Oak was discontinued in 2018. The youngest Sherry Oak is now the 12 year old.
With old and new bottles procured, it was then a case of finding time to taste them, Given I realised that this would be probably the closest comparison out of all the drams in this series, I wanted to give this time, so I could fully appreciate both drams. You can probably guess what happened next – at each attempt to get some adequate time to do any tasting, I never got my days chores finished in time or my daughter would decide that she didn’t want to settle in the evening. On one occasion I shot myself in the foot by having a strong curry, thus knocking my tastebuds out. This wasn’t boding well for getting the old versus new series completed.
But, as I am fond of quoting, John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” And indeed that is the case. It’s also quite appropriate to quote a member of the Beatles, as my feelings towards them are similar to Macallan – I feel both are overrated. I know that I will have lots of people shooting me down over this statement, either for the musical or whisky assumption or perhaps both, but I just don’t see the quality in Macallan when I can taste similar whisky (or better) for a lot less money. Glenallachie 15 is my preference to the Macallan 18 and it has the bonus of being much, much cheaper.
I’ve reviewed the Macallan old style before and have also visited the distillery. You can see my last review of the old style Macallan by clicking on this link. In this review, I had also the samples given by the distillery, the 12 year old double cask and the 15 year old triple cask which I didn’t review due to the small amounts, but the sherry cask 10 year old blasted both drams way out of the park. Since then it has been my intention to compare the old version of the 10 year old with a like for like modern equivalent, which has also been discontinued since 2013.
As a bit of a laugh, during my research for this review, I came across this on a website speaking about the history of Macallan. I am sure that you will spot the error straight away.
The miniature bottle I have was bottled in the 1990s and shows the Easter Elchies farmhouse. The 70cl bottle of the newer spirit was released around the mid 2000’s. This particular bottle was released pre 2010, before Macallan started using Hologram stickers to deter forgeries.
Macallan 10 (1990’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, raisins, dates, tobacco, butterscotch, apricot, slight funk from the bottle. Palate – All components in the nose were in the palate. Mouthfeel had a medium body, slightly oily. Finish – Medium – Toffee, dried fruits, slightly drying, gentle oak notes.
Macallan 10 (mid to late 2000’s)
Region – Speyside Age -10 yr old Strength – 40% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring -No Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Sherry, milk chocolate, marmalade, tobacco, raisins. Hint of acetone. Quite a light nose. Palate – thin mouthfeel, sweet on arrival, the raisins appear along with a bitter oak tannin Finish – medium / short The alcohol disappears quite quickly, leaving chocolate, raisins and a bitter note on departure.
Confession time – I seriously expected the old one to totally romp home on this one. So much so, I was worried that this preconception would affect my judgement. However, nothing could have prepared me for how close both these drams were. I have often poured scorn on Macallan in the past, which has to be said now was unfair and unjustified in this instance. The fact is that both drams tasted very similar is testament to their focus on quality. My surprise was compounded when I looked back to the review I wrote last year and found I nearly got exactly the same tasting notes.
So perhaps I should chastise myself a little bit and loosen the belt of cynicism that I have around brand promotion and give into the fact that 1990’s Macallan and 21st century Macallan of this bottling are not too much different. But before we give into back slapping and high fives, there were a few small details that need to be taken into account, as to my palate they were different.
The mouthfeel on the newer bottling was very slightly thinner. The overall experience was more bitter and sharp compared to the older expression. The older expression also had it’s issues, but the only one I could find that stood out was that there was a slight funk to the sample, which was definitely caused by the fact it was in a miniature bottle. Therefore I predict that this was caused by the seal. Had I been able to taste from my damaged 70cl bottle that is currently languishing in a store 70 miles away, the presence of a cork seal would have maybe improved the sample experience for the better.
I can definitely say the newer example has a slightly lighter mouthfeel as well as a shorter finish, but it isn’t a bad whisky in any sense of the word. I found it had more bitter oak in it, something I didn’t get in the miniature sample, nor the sample I had in my last review which had came from a 70cl bottle with a cork seal.
I spent a few minutes discussing this with one of my friends who is a bit of a Macallan fan. He correctly told me that the distillery will try as hard as possible to keep the same flavour profile, so there is unlikely to be a big difference in the recipe. What he did say is that he’d heard that the 10 year old age statement was retired due to it being so expensive to keep producing as there were more and more older barrels being needed to maintain the flavour profile, so it was axed and the 12 year old age statement continued from that point.
I’m going to enjoy the rest of this 10 yr old bottle; the miniature got finished in this review. The 70cl bottle was £120 at auction including fees. The miniature was £40 at auction so this hasn’t been the cheapest of reviews as well as not being the cheapest. But it needed to be done. Perhaps once I get access to my store, it will give me and my friends a chance to compare like for like with both drams having been sealed by a cork.
Was the older dram better? I have to say yes, but I think it is due more to my preference. £120 is expensive for a ten year old whisky yet the 10 year old releases in the white boxes that show the Easter Elchies farmhouse painting now regularly sell at auction for over £400 including fees. There must be a reason for that, and perhaps it is that others also agree with me that the older one is better. However I think that eventually when supply of the older dram tightens due to them being drunk, the price of the more recent bottling will rise in value.
My final opinion is that if you aren’t really studying the drams, it would be hard to tell the difference. You will get a good experience regardless of what expression of the Sherry Oak you try. The Fine Oak reportedly is not as good, and I’m not opening my bottle to find that at out – not just now anyway.
This is my final review in my old versus new whiskies. It’s now time for me to mull over some conclusions and I look forward to publishing them. I hope that you have enjoyed this series, please consider looking at the index of my tastings using the link below to let you see my other reviews of this series.
Meteorological Spring is here, and the Crocuses and Snowdrops have arrived and the daffodils are on the way. It hasn’t been the hardest of winters here in the southern part of the Speyside Whisky region and it was nice not to see the mess of my grass thanks to a month of snow and ice, but you can’t beat the sunny spring bulbs, the longer evenings and the warmer temperatures. Spring has sprung and the title of this article is taken from a song by one of my favourite bands, British Sea Power.
And I am also excited because it’s the penultimate review in which I compare old vs new whiskies and this time we take the only visit to the Campbeltown Region that I was able to obtain an older generation whisky for. To be totally honest, getting the new version wasn’t so easy either, as produce from this distillery does tend to disappear quite quickly. While I could get my hands on it reasonably easy over the internet, I found that many of the suppliers were taking the mickey with some of the delivery charges. With prices for the most recent bottling of the 15 year old Springbank online being over £70, some retailers were going to charge me over £20 to get it delivered to my house in southern Speyside.
Fortunately I just happened to check my friendly (sort of local) independent spirits retailer with only one actually having it in stock – the Speyside Whisky Shop. Not only that, at £63 for the bottle, he was cheaper than Amazon. Result. The older dram was sourced from auction as part of an auction lot. I have reviewed this bottle before in Review #53 – you can visit it by clicking on this link. Since that article will tell you all you need to know about Springbank, I’m just going to move onto the whisky.
Springbank (1990’s / Early 2000’s)
Region – Campbeltown Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour -Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Caramel, orchard fruit – pears, honey, slight malt. dried fruit Floral note, cut grass. Palate – Oily dram, great mouthfeel, the sweet hits right away, closely followed by spicy wood tannins, raisins, slight citrus sourness, creme brulee. Finish – Sherry notes, linger, chocolate, brine, vanilla, and a hint of wood spice.
Springbank 15 (2020)
Region – Campbeltown Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour -Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered -No Nose – Toffee, almonds, worn leather, raisins, clootie dumpling, mushrooms. Palate – Oily, raisins, not quite as sweet and certainly more sharp. Bursts into a quick hit of wood spices, with ginger, pepper and nutmeg. Cherries and plum. A noticeable hint of smokey salt. Finish – medium dried fruit, brine, oak, creamy milk chocolate. Slight sulphur note.
With both drams being the same strength and age statement, this will make it easy to pass judgement without having to make allowances for differences. I am not familiar with Campeltown whiskies at all, so it makes a decent bit of sense to try at least one as I can approach this without any preconceptions.
Both drams were good. Let me tell you I could not find fault with either of them. However when it came to taste, there were one or two differences between the two. Of the two to drink, I have to say that I preferred the earlier era bottle. This is because there was more depth to the sweetness, the wood notes were bright but lower in intensity than the up to date version. There was a funk to the latest edition that wasn’t present in the older bottle. – while I have described it using worn leather and mushrooms, the savoury note was a little bit of a turn off for me. Given that I’ve enjoyed a few bottles in this series that have had an ‘old bottle effect’, this is a shame. Old bottle effect I have found usually subsides after being allowed to breathe or water added. In this case, the funk of the newer bottle didn’t disappear. Coupled with the hint of sulphur at the end, to me it’s an old dram which wins my preference.
Rebirth. The chance to start anew. And in this dram’s case it has had a couple more re-awakenings than Lazarus. As we are now into the top three of the drams to be compared to old vs new, I turn my head back to the GlenDronach distillery, which I last reviewed in July 2020. I have to tell you that if I was to call myself a fanboy of any distillery, GlenDronach would be there. Only I detest the term fanboy, makes me think that I should be devoid of body hair from the nose down and wearing latex underpants and little else. That is a sight you do not want to see. It’s just that I really appreciate the Glendronach 18 Allardice, which was the subject of my last review from this distillery. I do like a sherry bomb if I am not getting my head blown off by island peated whiskies, and GlenDronach fits into this very category very well, same as some GlenAllachie, Glenfarclas and Tamdhu, but we’ll skip over the Aberlour for now due to some fairly disappointing reviews of young age core range.
Glendronach distillery (let’s dispense with the Billy Walker signature capitalisation for a moment) has been operational since 1826, and was owned by Allied Distillers when it was mothballed in 1996. The older sample I have to try tonight is from that era, and was purchased from the Speyside Whisky Shop. By 2002, the distillery was reopened, while Allied Distillers eventually became part of Pernod Ricard. In 2008, the distillery was sold to a business consortium that included Billy Walker, who’d already bought the BenRiach Distillery in 2003 and would go on to buy the Glenglassaugh distillery in 2013. All three were sold to Brown Forman, the parent company of Jack Daniels in 2016, and in 2017, Billy was involved in the purchase of Glenallachie distillery to work his magic there and spread some more seemingly random capitals into a brand name.
From what I could gather from the internet after my taste test that this 15 y.o dram was released in 1996, just before the distillery closed. It was the best seller in the limited range available at the time, although I do not know when it was discontinued. It wasn’t until 2009, under the watchful eye of Mr Walker, the GlenDronach 15 Revival was released, though by 2015 it had ground to a halt, in order to preserve older stocks. Re-introduced in 2018, this time by Rachael Barrie, I’d be hoping that stock management will ensure it will not have to have a hiatus again in the future, for this is a whisky that I’ve heard a lot of rave about, but never managed to wean myself off of the 18 yr old bottling. It’s time to find out if I can be persuaded to look beyond the 18 year old Allardice offering.
Region – Highland Age -15 y.o Strength – 46% abv Colour – Chesnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – PX and Oloroso Sherry Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Sherry, Strawberry, Vanilla, canned peaches, citrus peel Honey Nut Cornflakes. After sitting for a while and after water added a more pronounced sour citrus (lemon peel) became apparent. Palate – Oily, coats the mouth. Spicy wood arrival, Slightly sweet, dried dark fruit, orange peel, gingernuts, milk chocolate Finish – medium – wood tannins, slightly astringent, raisins, apricots, milk chocolate truffle. Needed water to calm down the wood spice and bring out more of the flavours.
As much as these two drams may be similar in age, they do have enough differences to almost say that they are different whiskies. Looking at the two just in the bottle, we can see that the Revival bottling proudly states no colouring and no chill filtering. However the previous era bottle says nothing much apart from what it is legally obligated. So what do I think?
Let’s delve into cliches. The cliche about first impressions matter comes immediately into mind. When sampling the two whiskies neat, the older version was instantly drinkable and had so much more pleasant aroma. It would be remiss to write off the Revival at this point, as it was also presenting a decent nose, but yet had a slight sourness to it. And there I stick my hand back into the bag of cliches to find that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Of course, I take a look at the cover of my Revival bottle to see the magic numbers of 46% written. So I’m not really comparing like for like, and by dropping the the ABV down by adding some water, the playing field has been levelled somewhat. I am mindful as I write this that if somebody is playing cliche bingo, you may have a full house by the end of this review.
Because I was wanting to conduct as accurate a comparison as possible, I poured a new dram of 25ml and added 3.5ml of water, thus taking the sample down to 40%. This changed things a bit, the Revival has become more calm, the wood spice has subsided somewhat, and the flavours, although I didn’t find any more, came into a clearer focus. I also felt the mouthfeel change somewhat to be less viscous, even than the undiluted 40% sample of yesteryear. The spices were still dominant for me, and I had to add even more water (1ml) to make it as pleasant as I felt the older sample was, then we have to realise that we have taken the dram down to just under 39% abv.
And here is were we have to face an elephant in the room. And for a change it isn’t me making the trumping noises. There is a lot of noise made about alcoholic strength, and how more is better as you can dilute to how you like it. That is an undeniable fact. The other fact about having a stronger abv is the need to chill filter is removed, as the fatty esters that make a cold whisky go cloudy will remain in solution, and by not chill filtering, more of the goodness is retained within the spirit and transferred into the bottle for your drinking pleasure.
But let me suggest this, as we try to back the jumbo into the corner. Remember the earlier era sample was chill filtered, yet to me tasted better than the undiluted 46% Revival. In order to get the Revival to taste as pleasurable, I had to dilute it to a lower abv than the older sample, which left it with a thinner mouthfeel. Therefore, what sample is better? This is something that caused me a bit of consternation as it was obvious that it would look as though I am just expressing a personal preference. I reached out to one of my #Whisky Twitter colleagues Mick as part of the @Whiskychaps who review a lot of whiskies and asked his opinion. The advice was sound I feel, as he said that it is MY preference that matters whether or not the whisky was better. What do I get most enjoyment out of? He also made a very fair point that impressed me quite a bit when he pointed out that few, if any people who will read this will have tasted the pre-Billy Walker whisky and in my opinion that I can add probably even fewer can remember it. After all, it was in the times of Allied / Pernod Ricard ownership that this was distilled, pre 1996.
It is while thinking of this point that I can bring another strong argument to the table. I said in my exchange with Mick that I can compare the older dram to the 18 year old Allardice. It is an hour later after that exchange that I just thought of checking my notes for that review that I see a general similarity. It is worth remembering that some people are raving about the fact that the Glendronach 18 and 21 were using significantly older spirit than the age statement that was distilled not by Billy Walker, but by the former owners pre-1996. The Revival I have now is likely to be using spirit that was distilled entirely after the distillery re-opened in 2002. Remember that the initial Revival release was discontinued for 3 years, and the original revival was also using Allied distilled spirit. I think this forms a pattern that leads me to a definite conclusion. Perhaps I need to try the original Revival to be sure, but with auction prices being adventurous just for a quick taste, this is not a realistic option.
While I can honestly say that both whiskies are good whiskies, I’m not going to rush out to buy another GlenDronach Revival, but if I saw a pre Billy Walker era 15 on sale, I would snap it up. Controversial? Possibly, but what matters is taste, and I could enjoy the older dram straight off, the flavours seemed more balanced. While I have a lot of time for what Billy Walker and now Rachael Barrie produce, but I wonder now that the distillery is using spirit made since the re-opening, will the 18 and 21 head the same way going forward? I realise that this may not be a popular opinion, but we will see what happens. Will people start harking back to the Allardice and Parliament produced in the pre 2020 period in the same way they refer to the original Revival?
For me, this is an older spirit win. Thanks to Mick for raising some good points that helped me focus on what really mattered. I bought both drams from the Speyside Whisky Shop – thanks to Matteo for shipping to my ‘remote location’ as deemed by DHL. I paid £25 for the old miniature and £63 for the full sized bottle of the Revival.