Not Your Basic Birch

I like trees. Don’t get me wrong I’ve never chained myself to one to prevent the building of a new motorway bypass or anything like that but I do like them. There’s something reassuring seeing something old but still full of life as well as their colours and differing appearances.

You see this the world over with different varieties in different countries but ultimately there will always be a sense of familiarity to them. Sadly woodland and forests in the UK are dwindling although efforts are being made to replant trees in some areas to rekindle long lost woodlands, most of which were felled historically to make room for farming and more recent developments.

Sweden is a particularly lush country, more than half (57%) of it is covered in forest so the Swedes know their way around a tree or two. Whilst timber is big business in the country meaning a lot of trees are felled, Sweden plants more trees than it fells so their forests have doubled in size over the last 50 years.

Image courtesy of Mackmyra.com

In one of those forested areas sits a whisky distillery. Mackmyra – which is probably the world’s best know Swedish whisky distillery, is nestled just outside of Gävle in eastern Sweden. Founded in 1999 Mackmyra have always done things differently. Before we even get onto the topic of casks you only need to look at the ‘Gravity’ stills which operate in a more environmentally friendly way, the use of an old mine for cask storage and maturation, and the use solely of Swedish ingredients.

Mackmyra’s master blender and CNO (Chief nosing officer) – Angela D’Orazio has led many interesting projects at the distillery since joining in 2004. We only need to look back over the last 12 months to see some of the more weird and wonderful casks used in some releases. A couple of which I’ve reviewed on the channel. We saw the delicious Grönt Te which saw whisky spend a period finishing in casks that previously held tea liqueur. More recently we had the admittedly difficult to pronounce Jaktlycka which, among others, was made up from casks that included ex lingonberry and blueberry wine.

Image courtesy of Mackmyra.com

Part of the appeal of these experiments (aside from them being very good on the whole) is that they tend to form part of their seasonal releases that coincide with the changing of the seasons and are tailored to reflect them. The Jaktlycka for example for the autumn seasonal release really did carry across a lot of autumnal flavours and connotations which in my view really added to the experience.

I find Mackmyra’s spirit to be very satisfying in ex-bourbon as it’s light, fruity but is also incredibly adaptable and does seem to work very well with cask experimentation. A lot of which you wouldn’t be able to undertake if the distillery was magically transported across the sea and into Scotland.

Their latest single malt offering – BJÖRKSAV which is the latest Spring seasonal release was in part made up of Swedish oak casks that previously held locally sourced Swedish birch sap wine from the Grythyttan winery. Already in the space of two paragraphs we’ve seen lingonberry, blueberry and now birch sap wine. Is there anything the Swedes don’t turn into wine? The wine itself is created by tapping the birch tree for it’s sap just before it ‘cracks’ in the spring as the temperature rises.

Full cask Breakdown:
• ex-Bourbon, 200 Litres
• Oloroso-seasoned American Oak, 128–200 Litres
• Birch sap wine seasoned Swedish Oak / American Oak, 100–200 Litres

I find this cask choice particularly fitting given the birch tree is Sweden’s national tree and really does seem to fit with their overall philosophy and approach to using local ingredients alongside their very unique production methods.

Note: This sample was provided to me by Mackmyra for review. As I say on the channel however – Just because this sample has been provided does not mean it will automatically get a favourable review.

Mackmyra Björksav – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered 46.1%- RRP £62

The dram has quite a rich appearance in the glass somewhere in between an ex bourbon and sherried dram which I’d probably best describe as deep gold.

On the nose there is initially sweet vanilla, Amaretto, crisp green apple adding freshness and ginger. Quite floral. After this there are pine needles, honey and a touch of Olbas oil. This is a moving feast as after this out comes warm baking and spice towards the back.

The palate carries a good texture. Delicious. Surprisingly tropical initially. Think mango, vanilla, banoffee pie and a second helping of more of it’s biscuit base. Honey, Turkish apple tea, green tea, and nuts. Slightly waxy and spicy too.

The finish is long and warming with a good balance of that sweetness and spices with a touch of the lighter floral notes coming back in that reminded me of apple crisps.

Overall this is really, really lovely and very charming. I like what Mackmyra do and how they do it and this whisky is no exception. With this team and approach to whisky making, I can see Mackmyra continuing to do great things for many years to come and is yet another firm reminder that whisky doesn’t start and end with Scotch.

Skål.

Score: Outstanding

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from Malian four piece Songhoy Blues who combine uplifiting beats and guitar with some more traditional Malian influences. This track – Bon Bon – is a remix from Mike Lindsay and for me is a really uplifting piece of music, a bit like the whisky itself.

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.

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.

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.