Dicing with Daft

Daftmill is a distillery that I’ve watched from afar for the last few years. There are quite a few reasons for this but ultimately the main reason being availability, or the distinct lack of it. I have watched this small and quiet farm distillery become a sensation, a must-have, and an auction house stalwart.

The distillery itself is one of the more interesting ‘new’ distilleries that have appeared on the whisky map of late. I say ‘of late’ somewhat loosely, given the license to produce alcohol was granted back in 2005. Daftmill is set within a converted barn on a working farm in Cupar, Fife and despite being located further north than Highlanders Deanston and Glengoyne – Daftmill is classed as a Lowland whisky in name. Personally I don’t think regions are really relevant so we’ll leave it at that. All barley used in the distillation process is grown on site and with a capacity of 20,000 litres of spirit a year it is easily one of the smallest malt distilleries in Scotch Whisky.

Daftmill are also different in the way that they approached the making of their whisky and their business model. A lot of new distilleries churn out Gin or other spirits that don’t require rigorous levels of maturation to get some much needed cash in the bank after laying down their whisky casks. Ultimately they have 3 years before they’ll see a return on their whisky at a minimum. Daftmill, however, waited a full 12 years before releasing their first whisky. This came in the form of a 2005 vintage, bottled in 2018, which sold out in the blink of an eye. Each release that has followed has maintained this quickly forming tradition.

With it’s green doors and window frames, set within farm buildings made with mismatching blocks of local stone, Daftmill looks every bit the traditional distillery image that we have come to associate with Scotch Whisky. A very pretty sight indeed, however given it’s status as a working farm it isn’t geared up for visitors. There is no visitors centre, no shop, and no tour guides having you watch a 10 minute video with a montage of waterfalls and grains of barley falling gracefully whilst someone in a warehouse is transfixed by a swirling glass as though it’s the Holy Grail. The latter of these I wouldn’t miss at any distillery visit I may add.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

There is also a real sense of harmony and self sufficiency with the family run operation. The farm produces grains and cereals, beef, potatoes and more. The spent grain and draff is used to feed the cattle and the pot ale is used as fertiliser in the fields.

Whilst it’s incredibly refreshing to see a distillery wait for over a decade to achieve what they want to achieve, rather than release what can sometimes be immature and flawed 3yr old whisky, this does create a slight problem when it comes to demand. At only 20,000 litres a year, it doesn’t translate into a lot of casks and that isn’t factoring in that due to farming commitments, they only produce whiskies in the summer and winter, so this number may not be achieved. This has created an amplification of that FOMO that seems to have gripped whisky drinkers and the wider industry of late with every release selling out within minutes, or in some extreme cases, seconds. The standard RRP tends to be around the £100 mark which isn’t a small sum even for an 18yr old whisky let alone a 12yr old.

I first tried to buy a Daftmill in late 2019 and despite having it in my basket, it was swiftly removed when I tried to process the payment. This is something that seems to be happening more and more often with more and more releases. People are going nuts for whiskies like Daftmill and other limited releases – Torabhaig being another prime example. For some, this is in part due to their resale value. The whisky that I’ll be looking at today for example (the Summer 2009 UK release bottled in 2020) was to be found on well known auction sites the day they were delivered and ultimately sold for £240. That’s £150 on the RRP and pales in comparison to the UK exclusive Oloroso single cask that has been sold on for £750 and upwards. Saying that I’ve also found a retailer selling the 2009 for a whopping £395!?

Frustration can be seen in Twitter feeds and Facebook posts when people miss out on bottles only to see them available for double or triple the original cost. In some cases this can be projected onto retailers around how they handled the release (read struggling servers, ballots or lack of them, and theories about bots or retailers sending stock straight to auction to name a few) and can leave a feeling of resentment towards the distillery. Personally, I never felt that strongly about it and would move on and stick to core range bottles or others that I enjoy and are easily accessible instead.

On the subject of retailers – I picked this bottle up via the Berry Bros & Rudd ballot and fittingly is my first ballot success of many previous attempts. You see very few pictures of Daftmill bottles with their distinctive green foil broken so as soon as I received my bottle I did what I’ve wanted to do to a Daftmill for 3 years. I opened it.

Daftmill Summer 2009 UK release- Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £100 Auction £240+

This release is made up of 5 casks including one first fill oloroso and 4 ex bourbon casks (021/2009, 025/2009, 032/2009, 033/2009 and 044/2009).

The colour is a rich gold similar to Lyle’s golden syrup and leaves slow legs down the glass.

Nose.. I think I may enjoy this one. This whisky smells thick and oily which sounds weird but it really does have its own texture almost. Grilled pineapple opens proceedings a with a lovely creamy maltiness underneath. Vanilla and the golden syrup that lends the colour comparison arrives with nutty toffee and a touch of lemon curd. More tropical fruit arrives with a nice soft spice towards the end.

The texture on the palate is lovely and oily.

Upfront there’s a soft sweetness alongside that core malty note from the nose and raw cookie dough. Those tropical notes come back through in the palate towards the finish with more of that pineapple and this time alongside mango, dark chocolate, lime zest and a heavy malt-laden spice.

The finish itself is incredibly long and warming with interplay between the golden syrup sweetness, malt and spices. The flavours remain many minutes down the road.

In summary this release has some of the best bits of both sherry and bourbon worlds whilst maintaining a fantastic level of integration and harmony. There’s freshness whilst still retaining a noticeable level of depth richness and integration.

Do I regret spending £100 on this? No. Do I regret opening it? What do you think.

Score: Outstanding

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is massively influenced by the tasting notes. All that pineapple and tropical fruit just screamed ‘Pineapple’ by Blue Lab Beats, Moses Boyd and Nerija. A real medley of texture and tunes that matches this whisky perfectly. Or any whisky come to think of it.

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 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.

A New House for the Grouse

I’ll never forget one of my earliest whisky memories. I was around 9 or 10 years old, it was Christmas and the smell both of my mum’s mince pies and decades old wooden ornaments sat too close to the gas fire were in the air. The television was on one of the UK terrestrial channels that shows adverts, I can’t remember which. An advert started and I recognised the tune instantly. I knew what was coming having seen this advert several times over the previous weeks. A red bird would waddle across the screen from out of shot looking somewhat mischievous and one of many amusing situations would unfold – you’d never know which one was next on the advert reel. This was of course, the Famous Grouse.

Glenturret distillery, located just outside the town of Creiff was, until recently, the spiritual home of the Famous Grouse. Big brand blends need a home distillery in part to bring punters through the doors but also to give them something of a physical presence. Take fellow highland distillery Blair Athol and Bell’s as another example. Both Glenturret and the Famous Grouse were owned by Edrington, of Macallan and Highland Park fame. That was until recently, when French luxury glass empire Lalique came to the table and bought Glenturret distillery in early 2019. Edrington retained the Famous Grouse.

I feel it would be fair to say that Glenturret has never really reached its potential or had much attention as a Single Malt. This is possibly due to competition but personally what I see as previous lack of investment. I’ve had some bottles of the old 10yr old previously alongside a few fantastic independent releases, including a very well priced and well sherried release from Gordon & Macphail.

The distillery itself, however, has quite a rich and vibrant history. They are home to the Scotch whisky industry’s most successful mouser; Towser. Mice and/or rats (you will rarely have both together) find distilleries particularly comfortable and suitable places to make their home. Plenty of grain, dark corners and old buildings provide the perfect place for them to settle down. Towser, however, wasn’t a fan and she removed around 29,000 mice during her 20 year tenure. In case you haven’t clicked on the link, we’re talking about a cat, not some deranged lady with a broomstick and penchant for hunting rodents. Glenturret is also one of the few distilleries in Scotland to retain a very hands on and manual production process. A prime example being that the mashtun is turned manually by hand using a large wooden paddle!

Glenturret does have a bit of a turbulent history with various closures. This is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and the claim that it was first founded in 1775 or certainly illicit distilling was carried out nearby.

Back to Lalique. As well as producing glass reproductions of aquatic life, Lalique have dipped their toes in the whisky pool before. Previously, they have provided decanters for distilleries such as Macallan. This is usually for another range of eye-wateringly expensive ‘luxury’ releases that only a pinstriped hedge fund executive who makes £50k before brunch by taking advantage of trickle down economics can afford. Now, however, they’re in it all the way and have released their first range of what they are describing as “maiden” whiskies under new ownership.

Image courtesy of thechinashop.co.uk

Now a disclaimer here; I don’t cope well with change at the minute, there’s enough chaos in the world without switching Abernethy biscuits for digestives. With that in mind the re brand could not be more stark. Admittedly, you could argue that one of the reasons Glenturret was previously a bit forgettable was the lack of marketing and branding as well as it’s visual similarity to it’s competitors. I would say though that I did find the older bottling appearance somewhat comforting and olde worlde. Call me sentimental. The new, towering, hefty and almost art-deco style bottle, alongside a striking but somewhat basic crested label, by comparison feels a bit like plonking the Chrysler Building in the middle of a small village in the Cotswolds. Having looked at the range, comparatively the prices have also increased. Not a massive surprise in today’s market and call me cynical, but with everything put together there’s a slight whiff of gentrification.

The new range features a no age statement Triplewood release, matured in European and American Oak (£55 RRP), a 10yr Old Peat Smoke (RRP £55), a 12yr old (RRP £65) and a 15yr old (RRP circa £110). All whiskies come natural colour and non-chill filtered which is a positive step. What may not be is those prices, they’re pretty heft compared to the competition.

As the middle of the road bottle in terms of age and price, I’ll be looking at their new 12 yr old here.

I was fortunate enough to be included in the Whisky Wire’s recent Tweet Tasting of the Glenturret to road test the new range 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.

Glenturret 12yr Old 46% NCF – Natural Colour – RRP £65

The 12 yr old has been fully matured in European oak and shows a deep amber colour in both the glass and bottle with a slight reddish tinge in the glass.

On the nose the cask influence is apparent off the bat. I’m constantly trying to improve my cooking prowess, I cook (what I think is) tasty food but it takes longer than it should and I cause inexplicable levels of mess and chaos in the process. With this in mind I’m in the kitchen wildly flailing around between appliances and pans, we’re toasting almond flakes with spices, grilling figs, cutting stem ginger and liberally slapping marmalade on smoked roast ham while desperately pulling directly from a bottle of cream sherry.

Rice pudding arrives with grated nutmeg on the top along with a side plate of golden syrup sponge pudding.

The consistency on the palate is spot on. Not too oily and not at all too thin. The palate carries good weight to it, a satisfying heft if you will. Initially a rich sweetness followed by dark chocolate dipped in that marmalade jar we talked about earlier. Black pepper arrives with fanfare alongside espresso gelato and Maltesers before heading into a very long, oak led and warming sweet finish.

This is a lovely whisky, it is clearly a good indication of what Glenturret has been capable of. I won’t factor the price into the score because that’s not the point but that is my only gripe with this release. Competitor 12 yr olds of similar presentation usually span from £35 to £50 so this is a big step up in terms of price point at £65 but this is clearly a quality dram so I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that provides value in your world.

Score: Very Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is comes courtesy of French artist Christine and the Queens. Self produced and singing in both her native French as well as English, Chris’ music features flowing and powerful melodies alongside almost entrancing vocals. The song here is iT, the opening track from her self titled 2015 debut studio 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.

Big Trouble in Little Cider

You’d be fair in suggesting the opinion that Scotch Whisky has been, until recently, in something akin to cruise mode. A bit like approaching the end of your notice period, its ticked away steadily without much fanfare, to some extent sitting on its laurels you could argue. Experimentation has occurred but remains relatively limited, in part (not completely) due to regulations imposed by the industry body, the SWA.

At the Glen Moray distillery the Master Distiller at the time, Graham Coull (self professed winner of ‘Elgin rear of the year 1997‘) – awoke one sunny morning and thought it would be a great idea to stick some aged spirit in casks that previously held cider.

Now the SWA didn’t like that at all. So much so that as night fell, a glow appeared on the horizon that steadily grew brighter and brighter. Chanting could be heard growing steadily louder. A mob had come for Graham, pitchforks-and-all. Still in his somewhat questionable choice of shorts and novelty socks that consistently terrified the locals, he was unceremoniously thrown into the boot of a 1982 Austin Metro and smuggled on to a ferry bound for Dublin hidden in a crate of Cox apples. Unfortunately the crate was lost overboard and after spending three weeks on the choppy waters of the Irish sea and the Atlantic, it washed up on the shores of Dingle on Ireland’s west coast.

The SWA rounded up an angry mob from the Apple Society of Speyside (ASS)

Now banished from Scotland and quickly eating through his emergency supply of Nairn’s oatcakes, Graham stumbled across the Dingle distillery where he talked his way in to the building by pretending he was reading the electricity meter. He’s now the master distiller at Dingle and has been putting his own stamp on the place since day one. He is however still searching for that elusive and coveted Dingle rear of the year win.

The whisky in question here isn’t Dingle although I will be reviewing some at some point, this is a 2007 Glen Moray distilled during Graham’s tenure and bottled by Berry Bros and Rudd. This is an Amazon exclusive and while I’m not the biggest fan of supporting the current rise of billionaire’s wealth in the middle of a pandemic, I like Glen Moray, I like BB&R and this was on offer at £36 a few months ago so my principles temporarily took a back seat.

Distilled in 2007 and matured in ex bourbon casks before being bottled in 2019, this single malt is natural colour and non-chill filtered.

Glen Moray 2007 (Cask 5805) Bott 2019 46% NCF – Natural Colour – RRP £53

A nice rich gold in the bottle and glass highlighting some good quality American oak maturation.

On the nose we have some really lovely baking notes. Fresh cut stem ginger, lemon shortbread, vanilla and golden syrup. Very engaging, very multilayered too with each flavour standing proud. There’s also something akin to fresh nectarine and a standout for me was a chunk of lemon sherbet in there towards the back.

The palate, carries a good oily texture. Crisp tart green apple, lemon curd and orange blossom water (oh how very Waitrose). In comes a welcome and warming hit of spice. Now I’m choosing my next words carefully but genuinely there’s a dry, matured cider like element here. The sherbet from the nose presents itself again as it tingles right on the tip of the tongue throughout the long, sweet and warming finish.

Overall a really lovely drop and so glad I picked this up. Glen Moray has been very overlooked outside of the Elgin Classics range and indie bottlings such as this really highlight what you may have been missing. This for me is Glen Moray in it’s purest form whilst under Graham’s watchful eye and can only assume this is first fill bourbon which was Graham’s preference at the time. Bourbon cask maturation alongside Glen Moray’s light and fruity spirit is a match made in heaven. Also a big shout out to the guys at BB&R for the cask selection here, you’ve played a blinder.

Available from Amazon Here

Score: Very Good (on the cusp of Outstanding)

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is comes courtesy of the legends that are the Stone Roses, a Mancuian institution. There’s no intro needed to the band or the song so sit back, pour a dram, and let the music do the talking.

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.

That Tamdhu Attitude

For those of you that know me, you’ll likely realise very quickly I’m not one of those can-do people, Tamdhu on the other hand..

Tamdhu isn’t a distillery I’ve actively sought out previously. I can count on three fingers the number of their expressions that I’ve had over the last 12 years. That’s not a direct reflection on the distillery or their parent, Ian MacLeod – I’ve just spent my money elsewhere historically. Usually when it comes to my sherry fix Glendronach being a prime example.

Ian MacLeod own two whisky distilleries in the form of Tamdhu and Glengonyne, the latter of which I have visited. They’re also in the process of resurrecting Rosebank distillery as we speak which is something to keep an eye on and hopefully means I’ll finally be able to afford some. Their portfolio is pretty broad overall considering the small number of distilleries on the books, you have a multitude of blended whisky brands such as Sheep Dip and Six Isles, as well as Smokehead Islay single malt from an unnamed distillery.

Ian MacLeod took ownership of Tamdhu in 2011 following it being mothballed by previous owners Edrington, with the former then putting a lot of time and love in bringing Tamdhu back to life.

Tamdhu is traditionally seen as something of an overlooked malt. Until their art-deco style re-brand back in 2013 (lovely bottles by the way), they were easy to miss in all honesty. This isn’t aided by a small product range with a 10yr old (edit: now discontinued), 12yr old and 15yr old alongside the occasional smattering of cask strength and distillery exclusive releases which in all honesty make my wallet wrinkle up and die on seeing the cost of the latter.

Founded in 1897, this Speyside distillery has it’s own quaint railway station, albeit unused. The whisky itself is a key component in the Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark blends which in a way goes further to explain the historically limited availability in Single Malt form. There is an emphasis on the use of sherry cask maturation at Tamdhu with the vast majority of production transferred into Oloroso sherry casks from Spain.

Tamdhu 12 yr old Single Malt 43% NCF – Natural Colour – RRP £45

The 12 yr old comes in at a modest 43%, is non-chill filtered and natural colour. Just from looking at the whisky both in the glass and the bottle, this won’t strike you as a sherry bomb in appearance with a relatively light amber hue. Refill ahoy!

On the nose I’m initially greeted with a whopping amount of intense brown sugar, then comes baked apples, sultana and hot sticky toffee pudding with vanilla custard. There’s a touch of milky hot chocolate and towards the back a smattering of crepes catching in the pan.

The palate, like the nose, remains sweet in profile. This time I’d say it feels more attuned and at one with itself. Salted caramel back with warming spice. This then puts me back in a cottage in Eskdale in the Lake District about 10 years ago in front of the fire eating Jamaica ginger cake. We then go back a few meals from dessert to breakfast in the form of honey on buttered toast, well done toast I’d add. In comes a touch of white pepper before the spices return to see out a warming and sweet finish.

The mouthfeel is good but I wouldn’t say as oily as other drams I’ve had in this style, 46% instead of 43% might have helped in this regard.

Overall an enjoyable dram, for me it took a few weeks in the bottle to open up but considering I picked this up for £32.99, certainly not one to complain about. This is on the lighter side of sherry maturation with what I feel is a complimentary lighter spirit in the category. I’ve happily sipped this over the last few days in between snow storms and heavy rain tapping at the double glazing. I’d add this was a noticeable step up from the 10yr Old that I’ve had a bottle of previously. I’ve also heard good things about the 15yr old but topping out at circa £70 this may be one to find on offer.

Score: Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is comes courtesy of North Downs, an English trio who blur the lines of electronica, funk and indie. This particular track – Nightlife Blues, showcases exactly that with almost ethereal vocals and a toe tapping bridge and chorus.

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.

Independent Bottlers Episode 1

I decided to talk a bit about independent bottlers as they are a source of whisky that I have been mining for years.

There are so many out there and more have appeared on the scene in the last 5 years or so and are providing great value for money when compared to a lot of official distillery bottlings currently on the market.

In this first episode I look at North Star Spirits and Whiskybroker.

Andy

From Willow to Wellington

The Protea, also known as sugarbush due to the sweet nectar contained within it, is a beautiful family of plants although certainly not something you’d find in the largely damp and often chilly climate of Northern England. Not outside of a well glazed botanical garden at least.

The Protea is native to South Africa, as well as other parts of the southern hemisphere, but is generally better known as being South Africa’s national flower. They’re surprisingly resilient too with them being able to survive regularly occurring bush fires. This brings me on to cricket, naturally. This word may fill the hearts of those reading either with dread or, like mine, with joy with it being one of my other hobbies outside of whisky. I mention this as Proteas is also the nickname for the South African cricket team which is quite appropriate.

That’s because the whisky in question not only hails from South Africa, is not only adorned with Protea on the box, but in fact was also produced by a former professional cricketer.

The James Sedgwick distillery sits on the banks of the Berg River in the town of Wellington at the foot of the Groenberg Mountain and the Bain’s Kloof pass around 40 miles North East of Cape Town. The distillery is named after a former East India Company captain who was in his time one of the pioneers of the alcohol and tobacco industries, with the site first established in 1886. Owned by South African drinks giant Distell, who also own famous whisky names such as Bunnahabhain, Deanston and Tobermory – James Sedgwick has been a relatively unknown force in the whisky world outside of South Africa. The distillery is the only commercial whisky distillery on the entire continent of Africa. Whisky as an industry has only been going for just over 40 years in the country.

This brings me on to Andy Watts, who is someone that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet virtually but not yet in person in part due to current circumstances. Born in Yorkshire (no-one is perfect) Andy was a professional cricketer with Derbyshire (again I’ll let it slide) back in the early 80’s, and after a successful few seasons with the team (his batting and bowling averages actually have numbers next to them whereas mine just has ‘below’ preceding the word average), Andy decided to see what warmer climes had to offer and temporarily decamped to South Africa to play and coach cricket. After falling in love with the county, he moved there permanently. Whilst there he worked at Stellenbosch Farmers Winery, a precursor to Distell group. After a time, he was offered the position of spirit blender. The company previously had ties with Morrison Bowmore and this was where Andy was able to work in Scotland for a while to ply his trade under huge names such as Jim McEwan and Brian Morrison to name but a few.

After returning to South Africa which historically is more well known for its wines and brandies, Andy set about bringing the James Sedgwick distillery up to spec and speed. The distillery was previously set up for brandy manufacture, with whisky mainly produced at Robertson & Buxton (R & B) distillery in Stellenbosch, a region famous for its wine. After being appointed as manager in 1991, nine years later Distell group came in to being in 2000. In 2009 two new stills were installed, manufactured by Forsyth’s and modeled on the stills in Bowmore distillery where Andy had spent some time under the watchful eye of whisky legend Jim McEwan. In 2016 Andy was promoted to ‘Global Head of Whisky Intrinsic Excellence’, now there’s a mouth-full.

Going back to the distillery itself James Sedgwick is set up to produce both malt and grain spirit which is a rarity. Temperatures here can hit upwards of 40c (104 Fahrenheit for our American friends) so with that in mind the Angel’s Share is much higher than that in Scotland. We’re talking around 5% compared to Scotland’s average of circa 2%. This may not sound like a lot but when you’re looking at a warehouse full of barrels, 5% of your spirit is a lot to lose on your bottom line! This kind of climate can sometimes have a positive influence on the maturing spirit by giving it the opportunity it to gain a more mature character in a shorter amount of time. The warehouses here are racked rather than dunnage meaning that potentially a larger quantity of whisky can be stored although heat distribution won’t be as regular unless casks are moved around the warehouse.

On the subject of Grain whisky, the distillery’s own Grain whisky; Bain’s which I reviewed here won Grain whisky of the year in 2013 and 2018 and this is in part when the world started to take more notice of South African whisky. This utilised 100% South African yellow maize in the mashbill which highlights the pride in local ingredients. Personally I always have a bottle of Bain’s in the house given it works so well in highballs.

There is a group of whisky anoraks who have been trying to raise the profile of the distillery for a few years now. A small but dedicated corner of Twitter that have been chirping away for years. Here in the UK Bain’s was until now the only widely available product from the distillery with many calling out for the release of Three Ships which spans both single malt and blended whisky in the portfolio. To that end our calls were finally answered with the announcement and subsequent release of Three Ships 12yr old Master Distiller’s Private Collection which landed in the UK and other European markets just prior to Christmas 2020. The last time I’d tried Three Ships was the 10yr old way back in 2013.

A peated single malt bottled at what I’d describe as Distell strength of 46.3%, non-chill filtered, natural colour and matured in American oak casks.

Three Ships 12yr Old South African Single Malt Whisky – 46.3% – NCF – Natural Colour- RRP £45

On the nose there’s initially powdered strawberry bon-bons. We then switch it up with an old and worn leather jacket with possibly a touch of cumin in the background too. There’s also something here that reminds me of the smell of a brand new book, I miss bookshops. In comes ginger and golden syrup all the while with a soft, herbal and almost perfumed smoke in the background. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Scotland anymore!

The palate kicks in with that smoke influence immediately but there’s intense liquorice at the same time. Almost as if you’re chewing on charred liquorice root rather than the traditional out-and-out peat smoke. There’s more ginger but now alongside this there is vanilla and a lot of lovely warming spice at the back. As it heads in to the finish this spice becomes smoky and hot, but not in a bad way at all because to me this screams habanero chili which I love. Things start to become sweeter as things progress with blossom honey and milk chocolate.

The mouthfeel is faultless and the finish itself is long and thoroughly enjoyable, riding the wave of that habanero note and supported by tshat honey sweetness in the background.

In summary this is a fantastic debut and shows that the efforts over the last few decades have come thoroughly to fruition and is a credit to Andy and the team. There is depth of flavour, balance, complexity as well as strong presentation.

Andy is one of the nicest people you’ll meet in the industry and has done a stellar job in promoting South Africa and it’s whisky across the globe which makes this even more rewarding. Especially when factoring in the struggles that the South African alcohol industry is going through due to the COVID pandemic with several bans on alcohol sales with another in place as I write this article.

Anyway, without stretching the boundary any further today, I won’t be adding any further spin in case I slip up. I was hardly stumped with things to say about this whisky but it really does have me bowled over.. (OK I’m done with the cricket puns).

Score: Outstanding

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is somewhat fitting. Doncaster in Yorkshire, England isn’t what you might call tropical. Here however is where artist Skinny Pelembe was raised after being born in Johannesburg, South Africa. With a signature sound of warm and flowing guitar alongside almost hypnotic harmonies and sitting above satisfying dub drum beats, all the while retaining core African influences. One of my favorites is this; “the Seven Year Curse” which for me is a fantastic showing for this up-and-coming artist.

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.

Scotches and Watches

Despite it being over twelve years since I bought the first bottle after my whisky epiphany (there were many that came before), I remain quite scrupulous when it comes to buying whisky, and anything else come to think of it. Many a time my wife has pulled me up for including the value brand item in the shopping trolley and politely instructing me to replace it with the proper brand.

I don’t, and won’t, spend £250 on a bottle for example because higher cost doesn’t automatically increase quality or enjoyment. Will I get £200 of extra pleasure compared to a £50 bottle? Will the whisky be £200 better? No. Do distilleries want you to know that? No, why would they? Let’s face it, most bottles at this price level sit unopened on shelves anyway, at least until the point where Ikea’s finest creaks under the weight creating an orchestral-like ensemble that sings ‘time to send us to auction’. Again, if that’s your bag then fair enough, it’s your money, but it’s not for me (this isn’t going to be a holier than thou crusade by the way, to each their own).

As many of you know, ultimately I buy to drink. That’s not to call people out that don’t, it’s just my personal end goal. The most I’ve spent on a single bottle to do this? £120. Having grown up in the 90’s in a low-income household with two incredibly hard working parents, this would have been unthinkable until recently. Even so this was for a well regarded 40yr old but it still made me break out into a cold sweat when the order confirmation email arrived. Old habits die hard.

Notwithstanding my almost Scrooge-like abilities to get as much whisky as I can for the money, tuppence is tuppence after all, I do sometimes splurge on bottles with the above being one example. At the moment this is being driven by that ever increasing sense of FOMO. This is a phrase that I hadn’t heard until recently but is becoming increasingly used in the whisky scene and getting a lot of traction. I’ve found a lot of this has been caused by my more recent immersion within social media. Like being back at school when surrounded by your classmates in certain trainers, now I’m surrounded by whisky drinkers with certain whiskies. We are after all, children of our surroundings.

As I’m checking my social media more frequently at present, I’m noticing reels and reels of posts, on Instagram in particular, of high-end often unopened bottles of whisky. Sometimes they’re mysteriously in trees like some sort of glass squirrel or sat precariously on moss strewn rocks in flowing rivers, or in some cases, adorned with expensive, Swiss made watches strewn over their necks looking like drug/oil barons are having a casual game of quoits out on the front lawn. Is the latter some form of mating ritual? The whisky equivalent of the bird of paradise dance? If you want to tell the time do you need to carry the bottle of whisky round with you? Sounds inconvenient and in principle would a Casio calculator watch hung on a bottle of Grants have the same effect? Asking for a friend.

Some of these bottles will be owned, others will have been provided in exchange for the post acting as a sanctioned advertisement given the amount of followers the account owners have. Either way given the amount of screen time we as a society are currently taking in, it all adds up to the point of saturation and creates an almost constant level of access to the human eye.

I’m equally at fault in that I am occasionally sent samples to review. I don’t review them all and do it on my own timescale but I feel that I have a responsibility to make it clear when the sample has been provided free of charge and despite this it does not affect my opinion of it.

Distilleries are at it too, let’s not forget that and have been for a while albeit in a different sense. On shelves there is an endless onslaught of colourful tubes adorned with slogans such as ‘finest hand selected casks’, ‘using the clearest and purest water from *insert water source here*’ and others that only a mother of a PR employee can love. The amount of whiskies from varying distilleries that I’ve seen carry reference to ‘finest casks’ is bewildering. Maybe there’s some sort of secret timeshare on the nine finest casks in Scotland? Nobody truly ever knows where they are, in fact has anybody ever seen these casks in the same room together?

I’ve mentioned previously the Whisky Circus. I love every minute of being a a part of it but I may as well confess that again it has molded and massively influenced my spending habits, and not for the better.

I’m actively trying to rein in my own severe case of FOMO. Mainly this will be aided by the ‘new year, new me’ delusion I sell myself every year where I still find myself eating cheesecake at 8am but hey, I do it in my running gear – Regardless I will be actively spending less on whisky in 2021. I’m not going cold turkey as I need reviews for here and the channel but I will be thinking a bit more before I click ‘order’.

The main, overarching influence when I do click ‘add to basket’ is pretty simple. Value for money. This sounds a bit woolly and don’t get me wrong, it is. Value has an intrinsically different meaning for each of us. Personally for me as a drinker rather than specific collector, I break it down into a few simple categories;

  • Presentation, Natural colour? Strength? Filtration?
  • Price – Sounds obvious but I always have a budget. Is the spend warranted at the time?
  • Distillery – Have I tried multiple examples before, do I get on with the ‘house’ style? Are there any known flaws or inconsistencies?
  • Competition – Now, this one is key for me. For example when it comes to indie bottles, is there similar from a different bottler at a cheaper price? Why would I spend £75 for a 15yr old hogshead Deanston from one bottler when I can get a similar cask for £60 from another? Is the difference worth the £15 which could be used towards something else?
  • Desirability – Is this a bottle that will sell out fast? (FOMO anyone?)

Everybody’s budget and motivation will be different so the above is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully the above gives you a bit of insight into what’s going on when I’m browsing sites looking for the next bottle to review and enjoy. Others may be driven by resale value or putting it away for their children. I am finding though either way that we’re putting more and more pressure on ourselves to ‘keep up with the Jones”, and it’s not healthy.

Regardless of what you have read here, the end of 2020 is nigh and 2021 presents new hope and new challenges. There are vast numbers of people out there that are worse off than me that have had an equally bad, if not worse year and I’ll be remembering that before I next start to breeze through the express checkouts of whisky websites and asking myself, do I really need this?

Congratulations again if you made it all the way down here and I hope you and yours have a prosperous New Year.

Cheers,

Andy.