Gone Fishing

I personally find it perfectly natural to have both a sense of want and belonging. Sometimes they can be connected, sometimes they’re not. In the last decade you only need to see the sheer level of fervour when the latest smartphone is released, for example. People that were perfectly happy with their current £700 handset and tied into ridiculously priced contracts, suddenly decide that its now only worth sticking in the drawer with various dead batteries, old currency, and half used Bic pens as they queue in all weathers to get hold of that latest piece of technology.

Keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t a new concept. Far from it – this is something that has been built into the human psyche for centuries. Whether this be wanting to blend in, be one of the gang or have the same – if not more – than your neighbours. For many this mentality is the signal showing to all that they are successful and content.

Whisky is no different. I’ve already beaten this particular horse to death but FOMO is a very unhealthy thing. Sometimes you only need to look at some of the vitriol that is spread around the fields of whisky social media that is perpetuating some frankly unhelpful and, in some cases, harmful opinions. For example, let’s talk about an email that I received today. This email was sent from Bimber distillery to their Bimber Klub membership – exclusively sent to those of us who have seen both potential and joy in what has so far been produced and in the manner in which is has. What a shame it was then to see that the email was highlighting abuse and negative interactions that had been levelled at Bimber staff as a result of their recent (and massively popular) Spirit of the Underground series. Some people missed out, I missed out, but to sink as low as to abuse staff of a company that worked hard to bring to market a product that you wanted but just couldn’t get on the day because it was popular? Have a word with yourself, move on, breathe in the life in the air around you. Also don’t forget to have another word with yourself whist you’re at it. You’re part of the problem as well as the thousands of others (including me) all chasing that same bottle.

As a result of some of this nonsense, the distillery have enacted a lifetime ban and refund of membership for those who have been found to have sent messages/calls/emails to staff with any form of abuse of harmful content. In addition, all future limited releases will be issued via a weighted ballot to make things a little more balanced. In a widely welcomed move, Bimber have also stated that anyone found to have flipped (their definition being sold within 12 months of purchase) a bottle of a limited release, will also be barred from purchasing directly from the distillery in future. This will take a lot of work to track, and I certainly don’t envy the person responsible for this undoubtedly hellish Excel spreadsheet. You know who you are.

I must take a second here to apologise in advance, as just like those long drives back from family road trips – we’re not stopping yet.

I’ve always been an advocate of drinking what you want how you want to and an anti-snob. I really don’t care if you prefer your 30 year old Glendronach with a splash of vanilla Coke, nor is it any skin off my nose if you’re perfectly happy drinking a £9 bottle of supermarket own label blended whisky. Deep down within me however, is something of a scrap book of various things that I’ve seen said about certain brands, distilleries and whiskies be it reviews or offhand comments. I’ve not necessarily regurgitated these opinions but they have inadvertently had an impact on my shopping habits. I’ve almost been trained to overlook some offerings from this unconscious bias.

One of the whiskies that I’ve long ignored is Speyburn. Could it be the big flopping salmon on the label or is it because you could argue that Speyburn is the runt of the Inver House stable? Competing for space with Balblair and Pulteney would never have been easy, although given the recent revamps to these two ranges; some light finally made it onto the forest floor that has allowed Speyburn to grow more into my consciousness.

In one of those ‘why not’ moments that I think we all get from time to time with online shopping – I picked up a bottle of Speyburn 10yr old. One of the main reasons being it had been reduced to £24 which is well down from the usual £34 RRP but also something in me just gravitated to it for the first time.

Speyburn 10yr old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% –  Chill Filtered – Added E150 Colouring – RRP £34

Yes so already this is chill filtered and contains E150a colouring. Are we surprised at this given the price point. Are they the only company to do this? No. So let’s move on.

On the nose there’s initially from white wine like acidity. This softens slightly with sugary cereals, green apple, honey and vanilla. There’s also a slight fustiness in there too which detracts from the previous freshness a little. So far a little reminiscent of the many supermarket own label Speysiders. Towards the end there’s a touch of spice and candlewax.

The palate texture is pretty average but again I’ll allow it. We open up proceedings with more apple, vanilla custard and crumble topping. Basically a poncey deconstructed apple pie from some gastropub that’ll no doubt charge you £12 for the privilege of keeping all of those ingredients separately. I digress. Toffee comes through with a little spice and milky porridge with honey.

The finish is short to medium length with boiled sweets and more of that apple crumble.

Whilst this may sound like I’ve been spending too much time in local orchards, I was pleasantly surprised by this and is nowhere near as ineffectual as I was led to believe. This is a whisky that I’m happily drinking during these warmer days, or at least when they decide to turn up. For me, this was yet another reminder that there are plenty more fish in the sea.

Score: Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is ..well.. this.

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’s Amarone

What a week the last 7 days have been for whisky. We saw Glen Garioch announce them returning to direct fire distillation via some pretty cool tech, the second Summerton whisky festival running into technical difficulties but still offering some great content, and another Bimber release that sold out within a timescale that can only be measured by the Hadron collider.

Scientists at CERN are working round the clock to establish the exact timing that Bimber’s latest releases sold out in

As I said in a previous post; people can be fantastic, they can also be not.. The technical issues at Summerton (which were all down to the software provider and distinct lack of tech support) and the sales of Bimber’s latest releases brought out both the best and the worst of some people. In both cases messages and posts were made on the various social media platforms (that have both enhanced human interaction as well as set it back 10,000 years) making their displeasure known via the medium of some pretty derogatory language. Sure, people were disappointed that the festival didn’t go ahead fully, it has now been rearranged for the following weekend, but Dan and Tom – who ran the day got as many presenters and brands on screen as they could to talk all things whisky for a few hours to still provide some content. In the case of Bimber there were cries of injustice such as Klub members sharing discount codes, Founding members feeling aggrieved that bottles were put on general sale, and add in the website struggling due to demand and you have the perfect outlet for what I’ll call FOMOR – FOMO Rage.

We all need to remember that there are real people on the other end of those screens. Whilst the pandemic may have desensitised us to this to some extent given the increased usage of electronic communication, we need to be interacting and treating people in the same way as if we were standing in front of them. We need to be better, together.

Photo courtesy of @wolfdram1 on Twitter. The Summerton Festival chat with heavyweights such as Amy Seton, Colin Hampden-White, Matt McKay and more.

I find it’s incredibly important in today’s whisky scene that whilst yes, there are a myriad of new and exciting limited releases – there also remains a wealth, a myriad, an embarrassment of riches if you will when it comes to general sale core range and independent bottlings. My personal advice? Move on, take a breath, and take joy in what you have and what we can all share.

This brings me on to the Arran distillery. Arran has long been a distillery that I have respected and enjoyed for many years. I loved their older releases with the fresh and fruity 10 and tropical beach 14. Hell, despite the limited content of this blog so far; I actually opened up the site with a review of the new 10yr old so you could argue it’s too soon for another. But I don’t feel that way.

For me Arran is up there when it comes to maintaining a market presence of accessible, affordable and quality single malts that aren’t going to go out of stock at the press of the F5 button, or that will change hands on auction sites for 10x the original value within a week of release. I find this comforting, I find this reassuring, I find this is right for me. 9 times out of 10 I would much rather share in the mutual experience of a general release to a wider community than a more limited and FOMO driven release. Don’t get me wrong there’s still a place for them in the market and on my shelves but I’m making a lesser habit of chasing them down.

Finishing is also a bit of a divided topic in the deeper mines of the whisky community. Finishing is the practice of transferring maturing whisky from a more ‘casual’ cask such as a refill hogshead or ex-bourbon cask, and transferring it into another of a more unique variety for a shorter period of time that will impart an alternative flavour and influence. Think sherry casks, wine casks, beer casks and more. I will be writing another article on this but ultimately what constitutes a finish? Finish is a bit of a fluffy word, 3 months in a cask? 6, 12, 36? There are no written rules about the time that a whisky can sit in the second or third cask for a finishing period.

Arran aren’t new to the concept of finishing. They had released three wine finished whiskies in their old livery that have now thankfully transferred over in to the new. These are the Amarone finish, Sauternes, and Port finished whiskies. All No-Age-Statement but all presented at a higher strength of 50%, are non-chill filtered, and natural colour.. and blimey what a colour the Amarone cask finish is. I find the aesthetics of the new(ish) Arran range really pleasing to the eye and I really like that they went all out with full colour labels on the finished range.

Image courtesy of thewhiskybarrel

I find Arran’s fruity spirit can lend itself really well to wine finishing. Some people aren’t a fan of wine finishes generally but me? They take two of my favourite things and combine them into one neat and tidy serving.

Amarone is a well regarded and quite intense Italian wine produced in North East Italy. Usually of high strengths of 14.5% and upwards into the 15’s and 16’s in some cases. The grapes used (Corvina, Rondinella and others) are harvested in early October and left to dry. By drying the grapes, the desiccation both concentrates the flavours of the grapes but also helps add tannin’s to the final finish, giving the wine further structure. The wine also spends a minmum of 2 years in casks, hence in part the availability here to put whisky in them. The core flavours tend to be quite robust with a good strong body, earthy with berries and oak/vanilla.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £44.99

The pink/red hue in the glass really is striking, it couldn’t stand prouder and gives you an early indication of what’s in store. No colouring needed here.

On the nose there are sliced strawberries coated in black pepper and a bit of sea salt (try it honestly). Red liquorice, more strawberry but in lace form now, warm pain au chocolat and honey. A little longer in the glass I get a load of warm, fresh Danish pastries. There’s a slight nip to the nose also but you still wouldn’t think that this was a 50% whisky.

The palate is both typically Arran and typically not.. Initially I get some of the traditional Arran fruit and maltiness with more black pepper, honey and spice but then the wine influence hits home and changes things up. Dried cranberries and macadamia nut mix precedes bitter dark chocolate and pomegranate before heading into a long and sweet finish, led by that chocolate and tart pomegranate.

For me this whisky does a lot of things and it does them well. I like how rather than become overbearing, which and Amarone cask could easily have done, it works in harmony with Arran’s fruity distillate.

This is a great example of a well matched and well timed finish and at a great price too. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a whisky at this level of presentation, strength and enjoyment for the money.

Score: Very Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from British all female trio Girl Ray. For me this works perfectly with this dram, where the Amarone is in perfect harmony with the spirit, here the melody, backing beat and vocals work perfectly in harmony with each other. Show me more has to be my favourite track from this outfit to date. A real foot tapper with a melody that will let you ride the wave from start to finish.

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 Lidl Things in Life

Lidl is my favourite supermarket for a number of reasons. Sure, one of those being that you can buy a set of well priced drill bits at the same time as a Spanish cheese selection and hell, why not throw in some scuba gear while you’re at it, but I’ve also become quite attached to their wine range. This changes regularly and has in the past provided good value and in some cases particularly good quality – this including 30 bottles of their Comte de Senneval champagne that we bought for our wedding.

Wine and drill bits are one thing but what about their spirits? Well, for a start I’ve already reviewed their Queen Margot 3yr old and Abrachan blended malt and was very much a fan of both of them. I’m a fan of blends in general and I’m all for well priced and accessible blends that don’t come at the cost of quality. Single malts, and whisky in the wider sense, can sadly suffer from some of the most intense and misguided levels of snobbery you’ll find. I’d say it had improved in recent years but I still see it on a regular basis, yes some of this is down to a lack of awareness or education, but in some cases this is due to a disregard of them with many immovable in their unfounded opinions.

What a good job it is then that a retailer such as Lidl can bring everyone back down to earth by providing a small range of single malts for a good price, and when I say good price, I mean it.

What can you buy for £17 these days? Well let’s take to the internet – From a quick google search for a start there’s this bargainous sack from ‘Little Peckers’ , no? What about this absolute gem? Still no? Well, for the princely sum of £16.49 you can instead purchase one of a range of three Single Malt Scotch whiskies in Lidl. Full sized bottles, not 20cl or 50cl. £16.49 for 70cl of single malt is a good price no matter what you’re used to. By comparison the cheapest full bottle single malt on well regarded retailer Master of Malt is £21 plus shipping in the form of the Speyburn Bradan Orach. This in itself is still a good price for a single malt but let’s get back to Lidl.

The Lidl range goes under the name Ben Bracken. This isn’t a distillery but a suitably Scottish sounding header for the Clydesdale Scotch Whisky co who provide this lineup to the retailer. The postcode under the name is G2 5RG which is an address on St Vincent st and what do you know, is also the same postcode as the head offices of Whyte and Mackay. Anyway, the range consists of an all NAS (no age statement) line up, all are bottled at 40% and all will no doubt be chill filtered and have added E150a colouring. At this price point I’m not going to make a fuss out of that. The three whiskies take the form of Highland, Speyside, and Islay single malts.

Ben Bracken Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouringRRP £16.49

If we buy into the post code detective work and do guess at Whyte and Mackay stock, this would either come from Dalmore or Fettercairn with them being the group’s two Highland region distilleries.

I had to let the whisky sit in the glass for about 30 minutes as it was very closed initially. That being said, the nose opens with Orange zest, hot chocolate and plastic model glue. Then we move into sweeter territory with warm toffee, almond essence and spices alongside a slight astringent nose burn towards the back.

The mouthfeel is pretty good but fades quickly. Initially I thought the flavours were pretty intense upfront with coconut and dark chocolate (for the sake of ease let’s say dark Bounty bars) cardamom, cinema popcorn and warm spice. This is all contained to a couple of seconds as it drops off a cliff a little bit and goes very quiet. Then from nowhere there’s suddenly a really enjoyable long and chocolate led finish alongside more of that toffee.

Overall I felt this was a little bit closed and straight forward but then again approachable and enjoyable.

Score: Fine

Ben Bracken Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouring – RRP £16.49

Now if this is indeed Whyte and Mackay that supply these malts and using their own stock, their only Speyside distillery is Tamnavulin.

The nose is rather lovely indeed. Compared to the highland this already shows more cohesion and harmony. Creme brulee just after the top has been crystallised by the blowtorch. Vanilla, toffee and banana bread. Staying on the bread front there is Soreen there too with all it’s malty and raisin based goodness.

The palate again has a decent mouthfeel that sticks around a bit longer than the Highland. We’ve hit a vein at the sweet mine and we’re going to see how deep it goes. Butterscotch, spices and honey intermingle well together. There’s also something reminiscent of cognac that appears alongside raisin and walnuts. There’s then more of that maltiness here alongside an almost wine-like astringency (sherry perhaps?) that balances out the sweetness as we head into the finish. The finish itself is rewarding and almost chewy in texture with gums suitably dried alongside a dense but enjoyable sweetness that isn’t overly cloying that reminded me a bit of Madeira cake.

Overall a really enjoyable sipper that would make a great no-nonsense tumbler dram to sit back with and enjoy.

Score: Good

Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouring – RRP £16.49

Now onto Islay, the small but distillery laden island off the west coast of Scotland, famous for it’s peated whiskies creating a smoky profile.

On the nose we instantly have some of those classic Islay notes in the form of sticking plasters, TCP and interestingly a bit of flitting tropical fruit in among a gentle but welcomed smoke. Leather and fresh tarmac pop their heads up at the same time as a slight saltiness.

The palate again starts with a good texture. The smoke is apparent but is joined by dried cranberries, vanilla and bonfire toffee. I love getting bonfire toffee notes in whisky as it immediately takes me back to being in the kitchen on bonfire night eagerly asking my mum how long it will take for her latest batch to cool before it could be demolished. My dentist and I are now on first name terms. You could argue there’s some of that salinity in there again but more prominent than that for me was a good level of spice and nuttiness.

Again this dram is well composed and really does provide a great introduction to a classic Islay style. The smoke isn’t as pronnounced as your average official Ardbeg, Caol Ila or Lagavulin release sure, but for me it still provides enough for me to sit up and take notice.

Score: Good

Overall I’m genuinely impressed with these drams. Even the Highland that was probably the lesser of the three provided a positive experience but overall you really can’t argue with the value on display. For what it’s worth I’ve actually had bottles of the Ben Bracken Speyside previously so am already familiar with it. I’ve also tried Aldi’s standard Glen Marnoch range which is effectively the same set up of 3 NAS 40% drams from the same regions, but for me Lidl’s Ben Bracken range just pips their fellow German rivals.

If you’re starting out on your whisky adventure, you could do a lot worse than spending the £49.47 on one of each of these. I’ll be honest, even those of us who have been drinking and picking whisky apart for decades could do a lot worse. Sometimes we all need something affordable an approachable and these fit the bill perfectly.

One thing’s for sure, the next time I head to the middle of Lidl, I’ll make room in the trolley between the Italian sundried tomatoes and chainsaw for a couple of bottles from the spirits aisle.

Malt Music

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for these drams is a bit of a reflection of them. Are they Whyte and Mackay stock? Do Dalmore and Tamnavulin feature? I’ll let Queens of the Stone Age answer that for me. No One knows.

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.

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.