The Hunt for Untold Riches

In my previous post where I outlined what value in whisky means to me, as well as in previous videos on the channel, I’ve always been honest and pretty realistic about my whisky budget. I try to stick to no more than £75 for a particular bottle where I can and historically have kept this below £50 as recently as 5 years ago.

I still feel that budgeting in whisky is important; saying that it’s pretty important in any walk of life. Debt is never going to be a fun ride so I don’t overstretch my means and I’m OK with that. I’ve still fallen foul of FOMO this year despite saying I wouldn’t, and have now officially entered a self imposed 3 month whisky buying embargo. This is in part due to a purchase driven by the aforementioned FOMO. This not only stretched my whisky budget, it pummeled it into a fine powder which was then reformed into a paste and used to sculpt a copy of Michelangelo’s David – before finally being smashed with a wrecking ball.

I spent the most that I have ever spent on a single bottle of whisky. Ever. I’ve been lucky enough to have been gifted special and costly bottles by relatives and colleagues previously for various life events that otherwise would have been out of my reach, but this time? This time it was all me and my debit card.

The whisky in question is the latest release from Wemyss Malts, ‘Untold Riches’ a 28yr old sherried single Malt from Bunnahabhain distillery. Wemyss (pronounced Weems) are a well renowned blender and independent bottler. Whilst ‘Untold Riches’ does make me think of piles of cash á la Scrooge McDuck, it does give you a sense of what’s to come too.

A Bunnahabhain of such an age is always a joy to see. Come to think of it any whisky of this age will always get some attention. They’ll also be at the higher end of a pricing spectrum that in itself has increased considerably in the last 5 years. Let’s first take a look for a second at some other Bunnahabhain releases from an official bottling point of view which theoretically is where aged stocks will be found more consistently. The closest age comparison is the 30yr old. The 30 retails at an eye-watering £500. ‘It’s 2 years older though’ I hear you cry. In that case remove 3 years and the 25 sits around the £270 mark.

So based on the above what does Untold Riches cost? £250? £300? £400? No – Untold Riches retails at £149.95. One hundred and forty-nine pounds and ninety five pence. Now that (comparatively) is a bargain and another example of why I prefer using independent bottlers.

So yes I landed £150 on a bottle of whisky for the first time in my life. I broke out into a cold sweat as I hovered on ‘Pay Now’ and was positively shaking when the confirmation email came through, but there was also a thrill that I’ve not experienced for a while. I’ve played it safe for a while in terms of budget and bottle buys, sticking to what I know and who I know does it well for what I know is a good price. But let’s be frank, £150 is still a huge sum of money for a bottle of whisky and isn’t always going to be within everyone’s ability to purchase. I feel lucky to currently be in a position to do so and I had the gut feeling that I couldn’t overlook this.

Untold Riches marks a significant milestone for Wemyss. This is their first ever vatted single malt release on any scale. Their core range consists of blended malts such as the Hive, and Spice King, but they also bottle single casks under various descriptive labels. This 28yr old does in fact have whisky from casks from as far back as 1987 which even precedes my own birth year (just). A vatting of 31 casks across hogsheads and sherry butts bring together this deeply copper hued single malt which has been bottled at 49.1% and is non-chill filtered and presented at natural colour.

When the bottle arrived I was sorely tempted to bury it in a cupboard and forget about it for a while given how many other open bottles I have on the go at the minute. If I did this with every new bottle I’d end up being some sort of whisky Smaug, so I decided to live in the moment and pop the cork.

The packaging and bottle itself look very nice and I like how the exact cask breakdown and % they contributed to the final product is shown. One thing to point out (that you may have noticed already either from the pictures here or online) is that there is a slight mistake on the labels. Mistakes are part of human nature and that Bunnahabhain has been misspelled as ‘Bunnahabain’ is an example of that. The importance of proof reading is key and possibly amplified for such a high profile release, but genuinely; I don’t care. Not one bit. Bunnahabhain is difficult to spell at the best of times and I’ve got to give credit to Wemyss how they’ve handled it. They’ve decided not to throw all of the labels and boxes away and live with it. If they’d had everything reprinted and re-shipped, this would have an impact on both their carbon footprint as well as a wider environmental impact.

Wemyss Malts ‘Untold Riches’ Bunnahabhain 28yr Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £150

As mentioned above, this release has been put together using a parcel of 31 casks made up of hogsheads and sherry butts.

The colour is a deep copper. A bit reminiscent itself of old but well looked after wooden furniture, which considering how much old but cared for wood was used in the making of this dram it seems quite appropriate.

I hope you’ve bought your ticket because we’re boarding the sweet train. The nose is initially very rich and instantly comforting carrying with it a really rich and oily sweetness that reminds me of fresh fairground/seaside doughnuts, still warm and covered in sugar. There’s also old, worn and softened leather. Briefly back to baked goods there’s Chinese cocktail honey buns too which I’m now craving as I write. Over time it opens up to browning butter in a hot pan. There’s something of a comforting kitchen vibe here with polished wood, warm chocolate chip cookies, walnuts and Bakewell tart with it’s marzipan and tart cherry too followed by orange zest.

There’s a lot going on here but the layers are so well aligned that the richness doesn’t overpower or overlap. This is the kind of dram that you can sit and nose for hours, which in this case I did.

The consistency on the palate is lovely and oily and already slightly warming.

Back to the bakery where we’ve picked out some cinnamon buns from the counter. That chocolate is back but this time it’s a good quality dark chocolate alongside black earl grey tea, and in a different beverage direction – a flat white coffee. This coffee note comes in at the same time as some more traditional sherry flavours including fruit cake, brandy butter and honey roast nuts. Finally there’s treacle tart or possibly treacle/bonfire toffee.

I’m smiling as I write this as my gums are still warm and tingling many minutes into the long and warming finish that continues with that lovely ensemble of honeyed nuts and toffee from the palate.

This whisky is quite frankly a triumph. This is amplified by the fact that this is Wemyss’ first larger scale single malt release. This isn’t a small feat given the scale and skill required to put such a release together.

This was a joy to drink and screams quality from start to finish.

Score: Unbelievable

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is comes courtesy of Glaswegian post rock group Mogwai. Their music is all about deep and rich tones with an underlying bass led sense of presence. This song is one of their more recent releases – Dry Fantasy.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good 
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid 
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine 
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh
 – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear 
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
 – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

Disco Cow or Funky Pigeon?

The Glen Scotia distillery has had something of a turbulent past. I feel it’s fair to say that it has changed hands more times than the ball in a rugby match. Add into the mix a global financial crash, the frankly bizarre ban of alcohol sales in what is now a world superpower, an unfortunate suicide and one of the strangest branding moves in recent memory, and what you have is one of the most interesting whisky distilleries in Scotch whisky history.

Campbeltown was once the centre of the Scotch whisky industry, the crown jewel of distilling in Scotland with 30 distilleries operating on the small peninsula in the early 20th century. However, given the severe impacts of the Pattison Crash, the Great Depression and prohibition in the USA, Scotch whisky found itself in a spot of bother. Nowhere near enough whisky was being exported due to reduced demand meaning that not only were there backlogs of unused stock but finances were severely impacted. So much so that out of those 30 distilleries back in the 1920’s, only 10% of this number remain in the region today in the form of the highly regarded Springbank distillery, the recently revived Glengyle (Kilkerran), and Glen Scotia.

Image courtesy of GlenScotia.com

The latter has for decades been used as blend filler which means it also carries a surprising level of flexibility for it’s size. We’re not talking Loch Lomond levels of flexibility, but they produce spirit both on long and short fermentations as well as peated, unpeated and lightly peated styles. The mention of Loch Lomond is also fitting given the earlier iteration of the Loch Lomond group have been the owners of the Glen Scotia distillery since the mid 1990’s and have seemingly invested heavily in the future of the distillery.

If we think back to 2014 (which at the minute feels like a distant memory), Glen Scotia was trying to make inroads into the single malt market with a core range that carried one of the most bizarre and colourful branding choices in Scotch whisky. I am of course talking about the Dulux-esque ‘disco cows’. A core range that in hindsight would probably have been better suited in the Tate gallery than next to a Gordon and Macphail Mortlach in the whisky cabinet. I tried a few of these expressions ‘back in the day’ and I’ll be honest; they weren’t great.

This initial interaction with Glen Scotia put me off a bit. At the time many other distilleries and bottles were crying out for my affections, however it was a chance encounter with a bottle of 21yr old Glen Scotia bottled by Cadenhead’s a few years later that made me give it a second chance. Look forward again a few years and another rebrand and core range was brought in. Now we have bottles such as Double Cask, the 15yr old, 18yr old and more and they have, quite rightly, won both myself and a lot of other whisky nerds over and picked up awards and critical acclaim in the process. Things have changed at Glen Scotia. A recent focus on quality casks and being more centered in the public eye have given the distillery and brand some real impetus.

I own and have owned several of the Glen Scotia range. I’m a big fan of both the Double cask and 15yr old, the latter of which I feel is one of the best value for money 15yr olds on the market. Also, the annual releases from Glen Scotia for the Campbeltown malts festival have built an almost cult following, with the latest expression in the form of a 14r old tawny port finished dram getting justifiably rave reviews.

This brings me on to one of the more recent releases from Glen Scotia. Bottled in late 2020 this is an 11yr old single malt called ‘Sherry Double Cask Finish’. not to be confused with the standard NAS double cask. This sherried dram was produced utilising both Pedro Ximinez and Oloroso sherry casks. The spirit, hailing from 2008, was then bottled at a healthy 54.1% and is non-chill filtered and benefits from the honesty of natural colour.

For full disclosure, I was kindly provided this sample by Glen Scotia for review. Thanks to Glen Scotia and Loch Lomond Group and as I always say on the YouTube channel: Just because a sample has been provided to me does not mean this will receive a favourable review as a result.

Glen Scotia 11yr Old Sherry Double Cask Finish 54.1% Non-Chill Filtered and Natural Colour. RRP £56.

Image courtesy of the Whisky Exchange

I always find it nice to see both the NCF and natural colour tags on a bottle of whisky. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing it because ultimately this means this has been produced and targeted at us, the whisky geeks, the small and die hard corner of the spirits world.

The colour itself is a relatively light hue considering it’s sherry origins. What I’d probably describe as chardonnay.

On the nose it’s pure, unadulterated haylage! This reminds me of some Bruichladdich bottlings and takes me back to helping out on the farm near to where we live. Very nostalgic and incredibly vegetal. Turning almost to cabbage if we’re being honest with one another, which I am. This then opens up to show sugared cereals, vanilla, candied lemon and a Cornish harbour at low tide on a windy day. There’s salty sea spray/air sure, but there’s some of the drying seaweed funk in there too.

Good mouthfeel.

Wow. I wasn’t alive during the 70’s so I’m no expert but this is funky. Immensely oaky up front and there it remains throughout with a constant vein of bitter and heavy wood. I’d say there’s still some haylage in there but I personally don’t make a habit of eating it if I can avoid it. I’d probably say instead that there remains an intense and quite frankly unwelcome level of vegetation. On top of this there are small pockets of vanilla and burned pancakes covered in salted butter. Heavily roasted nuts and bitter, drying dark roast coffee.

There is little to no smoke but it becomes hot and spicy heading into a long finish that is incredibly dry to the point where I may need to apply Vaseline to my gumline.

I’m sensitive to sulphur. I’m not being dramatic but I’ve thrown several full bottles away due to intense and instantaneous rotten egg flavours and smells that I can’t look past. This dram is, in my opinion at least, a victim of sulphur but a differing type to the one mentioned in the previous sentence.

This dram is so far removed from the rest of the other modern Glen Scotia’s that I’ve tried that if this had been presented to me blind I genuinely couldn’t have pinpointed not only the distillery from which it hailed but also the country.

I’d caveat this with the fact that nobody goes out of their way to make bad whisky. The people involved in it’s production are heavily invested not just from a financial level but an emotional one too, meaning that it’s never easy to give negative feedback on a dram that somebody worked so hard to make a reality. A lot goes into making a single malt get onto the shelves. This in my opinion is just an unfortunate occurrence. Will this put me off Glen Scotia for life? Of course not, we all have our bad days.

Score: Oh dear…

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good – I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid – No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine –  There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear – Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

The Fasque and the Fior-ious

The Fettercairn distillery is an interesting one. Founded in 1824 by the owner of Fasque estate Alexander Ramsey, Fettercairn remains one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland.

Part of the Whyte and Mackay group, which includes well known distilleries such as Jura and Dalmore; Fettercairn has always been quietly in the background doing its thing by supplying malt for blends across the industry for which it was highly regarded. A few years back two single malts were released called Fior and Fasque to bring a new single malt option to the mass markets. Fior was my preference of the two but they didn’t really capture anyone’s imagination at the time and were eventually discontinued.

Fettercairn has recently undergone another re brand but this time have been releasing age statements at higher strengths, including 12yr old, 16 yr old and a 22 yr old, which is the bottle that I’ll be looking at in this review. There are older bottles out there at 40, 46 and 50 years of age but these are at, what are in my opinion, mindboggling prices. I’ve noticed this a lot recently and this isn’t exclusive to Fetttercairn or the wider W&M group. Don’t get me wrong, 50 years is a long time, 18 years more than my existence on this spinning ball of rock in fact (at the time of this article) but £19k!? In the words of Mugatu in 2001’s Zoolander – “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills”.

In the last couple of decades there haven’t been many official expressions aside from the aforementioned F’s but you do come across Fettercairn in independent bottlings from time to time. Whilst this is the second rebrand of the last 10 years, one thing has remained consistent throughout the branding; the fabled unicorn. The unicorn, as well as being the national animal of Scotland (can we call a mythical creature an animal?), has a close association with the distillery. No, there isn’t a unicorn sanctuary on site I’m afraid. The unicorn is seen as representing purity and strength and also forms part of the founding Ramsay clan crest. Now a 50yr old whisky sold in a box made of unicorn horn? Then we might be talking £19k…

Image courtesy of Whyte and Mackay

The distillery has a bit of a reputation for having a unique, and in some senses sporadic spirit. There are generally some core notes in their bottles such as orange, chocolate and an inerrant earthiness, but they veer wildly between bottlings and age ranges, more so than other comparable distilleries. In short and to quote another Hollywood epic, you never know what you’re going to get.

Going back a bit in time again, historically fires were not uncommon in the Scotch whisky industry. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the HSE (Health & Safety Executive) didn’t exist and neither did the more recent controls around building regulations, electrical installations or fire protections. Add to that the burning of peat, the heating of stills via direct fire, coupled with the presence of several thousand gallons of spirit and you have yourself a tidy tinderbox. Fettercairn was certainly no exception to the rule when the distillery burned down in the 1880’s and was rebuilt in 1890.

Moving forward a few years and the distillery was mothballed between the mid 1920’s and 1939 due to various liquidations, but has run pretty consistently in the following decades. However, it has changed hands a few times along the way.

I was fortunate enough to be included in the Whisky Wire’s Greg Glass Tweet Tasting, celebrating W&M’s master blender and the whiskies he has created, which is where this sample came from. Thanks to both parties for the inclusion and as I always say on the YouTube channel: Just because a sample has been provided to me does not mean this will receive a favourable review as a result.

Fettercairn 22yr Old 47% Chill Filtered and contains added E150a colouring. RRP £170

Image courtesy of Whiskybase

The 22yr old is matured exclusively in American oak casks. In terms of the strength its always great to see a higher than usual number and at 47%, this tops even the generally preferred 46%. On the flip side, a whisky of this stature containing E150a is a disappointment but also not a huge surprise given Whyte and Mackay’s penchant for adding it to the vast majority of it’s portfolio. Chill filtration, again if I was landing 170 notes on a whisky, which is already above other established competitors in the 21yr + range, I’d be a bit gutted to see this.

Given the colour isn’t natural I won’t comment on this in this review.

On the nose there are cola cube sweets, a tart raspberry jam and an intense spice. There’s a touch of vanilla sponge cake before a prominent sour black cherry note comes to the fore. After this there is warm banana bread and polished wood.

On the palate the mouthfeel is good despite the chill filtration but I can’t help but feel wistful as how good it could have been without it. 

Initially there’s a big hit of black pepper and spices. This mellows out to plum crumble and vanilla custard. There’s some Terry’s Chocolate Orange alongside a fleeting hint of dark roast coffee. There’s something of a woody funkiness that comes in mid palate that really does remind me of Jura, another in the W&M stable.

The finish is long and warming with a well balanced sweetness and cinnamon.

Have we stumbled across a ‘unicorn’ here in the 22yr old Fettercairn? This is a good whisky, is it a £170 whisky? That’s for you to decide, and like the Glenturret 12 review I haven’t factored price into the overall score. I felt a bit underwhelmed at the presentation given this is what W&M and the consumer will see as a ‘luxury’ bottling, but I suppose this falls in line with their more generalised marketing and bottling strategy.

I feel this carries that Fettercairn characteristic of being pretty whacky. not in terms of flavour but how it can change so quickly from soft sweetness and spice to tart and sour notes that aren’t unpleasant just unexpected. Pretty fun indeed and certainly keeps you on your toes.

Score: Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from Honeyblood, the solo project of Stina Tweeddale of Glasgow. The music itself carries garage rock and punk vibes with intense and powerful riffs and vocals. This particular song, Sea Hearts comes from Honeyblood’s 2016 album.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good – I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid – No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine –  There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear – Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.