..Category Archives: Other Whisky News

Best Blended Whisky

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During each of the whisky festivals on Speyside The Whisky Shop Dufftown runs a competition to find the best blended whisky. We call it blind blends as it is a blind tasting for visitors to the festival to try a flight of blends and vote for their favourite.  During the recent Autumn Festival the winner from this year's Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Blind Blends tasting, Monkey Shoulder, was pitched against 5 new contenders - Gordon Highlander, Adelphi Reserve, Antiquary 12, Johnnie Walker Platinum, Isle of Skye and Islay Mist.  In a dramatic landslide victory Johnnie Walker Platinum has snatched the title.  Congratulations!!  Let's see how long it can hold on to its crown.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2013

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The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2013 runs from 2nd to 6th May 2013.  The Whisky Shop Dufftown will be running a programme of whisky tastings, food events and may be even some tours as part of the festival.  We will update you here as we make our plans.


For the more information on the full festival please click here.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Spring 2012

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Report by Bruce Crichton

After reading ‘Llamas in your glove compartment’ by Spearmint Honeybadger, I headed to Dufftown. Bereft of camelid perplexity, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed and after several days of great whisky, food and music, here is my account of it. Once again, this report is not a definitive guide and may contain factual errors, for which I apologize in advance. As always, tasting notes are subjective and comment is added from experts present during note taking. To shorten the report, I refer the reader to previous reports and tastings when a whisky re-appears and have also assumed the reader is familiar with widely available bottlings mentioned. Any cask samples tasted are described briefly, since these are not available for the reader to buy. Finally, any water added was, literally, one drop and whiskies were 40% abv, if the strength is not otherwise indicated.

Mates of the Museum

What better way to warm up for the festival than with the ‘Mates of the Museum’ on Thursday night? This brought together old friends and new over a few civilized drams and a nosing contest to win a bottle of whisky and proved to be a great evening for all present.

Strathisla ‘Straight from the cask’ tour

On Friday morning, I headed to Strathisla distillery in Keith – home of Chivas Regal – for the limited edition ‘Straight from the cask tour’ where our young guide, Rachel, would take us round.

As we warmed up with Chivas Regal 12 year old, Rachel noted that Strathisla can claim to be the oldest working Scotch whisky distillery, being licensed in 1786, bought by Chivas in 1950 then bought by Pernod Ricard in 2002. The Chivas blends gained a royal warrant in 1843 enabling them to call their products ‘Royal’ or ‘Regal’ and, historically, used Strathisla as a component for years before buying the distillery.

Strathisla uses 5.1 tons of unpeated malt per mash. One wash back is made from larch and the rest from Oregon pine. The river Isla runs past the distillery and the water is used in cooling but the water used for whisky is taken from the Broomhill spring. Four squat stills produce a heavy, full spirit.

Interestingly, the last coal-fired still ran in 1992 and the stills are now steam-heated. Neighbouring distillery Glen Keith has not produced for years but work is ongoing on the site to bring it back on stream and steam is used from there to power the stills at Strathisla which has the capacity to make 2.4 million litres per year. Unusually, Strathisla has two pagoda roofs, built simply because the owners could and a water wheel is visible outside allowing cooling water to return to the river without damaging the wildlife.
Between 5 and 10 per cent of production is bottled as single malt with the rest going to the deluxe Chivas Regal and Royal Salute blends and, as we viewed the Royal Salute vault in the warehouse for cask owners, we tasted the 12 year old malt. (In fact, even miniature bottles of Strathisla are no longer available).

After finishing our tour, Rachel introduced us to the ‘Cask Strength Edition’ range, exclusive to visitor’s centres at Chivas distilleries. These 50cl bottles are released in small batches that differ in strength and the whisky tasted here may not necessarily be the edition available to buy though the quality of these whiskies is hard to surpass and very little water, if any, was needed.

Scapa 16, at 60.9%abv, smelled of peach syrup and vanilla and was exceptionally smooth. The taste was of caramel, spice and salt while water opened a little cocoa and chocolate before a long, warm finish. By contrast, Longmorn 14, at 59.6%abv, had a creamy, malty and honeyed nose and some cereal to taste along with light golden honey and a vanilla and peppery finish. Strathisla 15, at 55.4%abv, had hazelnut chocolate spread and hay aromas with toffee and nutty flavours and a slightly prickly finish before we closed with two whiskies associated with the Ballantines blends.Glenburgie 15, at 54.6%abv, was from a refill bourbon cask with a lovely nose of apples and fizzy chew bars.  The middle was light, fruity and creamy and the finish long and delicate while a Miltonduff 18, at 51.3%abv, had both Edinburgh rock and Irn Bru on the nose and a taste halfway between oranges and marmalade that gives way to a long, dry and sweet finish.

A bonus dram came in the form of 1980 Glenugie, a distillery from Peterhead that closed in 1983, long before our guide was even born and was bottled at 52.1%abv as part of the ‘Deoch an Doras’ series, taken from demolished distilleries. (Also available is 1973 Inverleven, from Dumbarton.) Matured in a sherry cask, there was the smell of rich fruitcake and a taste of coffee and chocolate with an incredibly long finish. This was the first ‘I was there’ moment of the festival and anyone who is able to obtain a bottle from this range can consider themselves to have done very well indeed.
All that remains is to thank Rachel and the team at Strathisla for a tour that was the stuff of legend and to recommend that every whisky lover take this limited edition tour at least once.

Gordon and MacPhail’s Secret Stills

Before the first Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) tasting, owner Mike Lord, made his health and safety announcements in sing-a-long fashion, complete with accompanying hand gestures. (Mike is a legend, having been in fifty fights to the death and losing only three of them though his last outing, surprisingly, ended in a draw.) After that, Mike Patterson from Gordon and MacPhail (G&M) presented five whiskies from the six available in the ‘Secret stills’ range, all bottled at 45%abv and non chill-filtered. This range has whisky from three Japanese-owned distilleries and three others that can reasonably be described as ‘classic’. The labeling contains a geographical clue to the identity of the distillery for the knowledgeable reader and drinker and is included in brackets in this report. (Not featured but also available is an ‘Edinburgh malt’).

A 1991 (Clydebank) Lowland 3.5 had been in refill sherry casks that left a grassy and floral nose with some syrupy notes and a soft finish making it something of an aperitif in style. By contrast, a 1966 Speyside 2.2 (Ballindalloch Castle Estate) had come from 3 casks and had some light sherry and a hint of smoke on the nose as well as a light, floral taste with a dry, fruity and very long finish. Mike Patterson thought this was one to savour and the reader who obtains a bottle is in for a memorable treat.

The ‘Secret Stills’ series has been around for some time and Mike recalled an encounter with a butler who had found his master’s bottle had turned cloudy and the clouds would not disappear. Analysis showed that a naughty ghillie had diluted it to 28%abv, hoping not to get found out for drinking someone else’s whisky.

Moving on, a 1988 Highland 6.6 (Oldmeldrum) cask, had coconut, toffee and mints aromas with a light peat taste and chewiness before some light smoke and a very long sweetness to end with. Having had the 6.4 and 6.5 editions, I recommend that no home should be without one of the series. Although not immediately gripping, few bottles are as moreish so pour a large dram and relax.

A 1986 1.2 (Isle of Skye) came from first fill sherry casks giving it smoke, sherry and fudge on the nose. The taste was chewy with raisins, treacle and fudge again with smoke and pepper appearing at the finish. Apparently, the first bottling of this, 1955 vintage, has acquired legendary status. Interestingly, Mike says that no new version of any whisky is released by G&M until the previous release has sold out. We ended with a 1999 Islay 4.16 (Lochindaal), matured in first fill bourbon and, true to that distillery’s style, smelled of toffee and mints and tasted mostly of smoked fish.

Alchemy in the future: Adelphi Tasting with Alex and Antonia Bruce

With exciting news of Adelphi’s planned new distillery, the opening of their new bottling hall and the return of brother Alex to Dufftown, Antonia Bruce introduced the next series of magic potions, with official tasting notes by writer and future film star, Charles Maclean.

1988 Balmenach, at 54.2%abv, was beautiful and easy to drink neat. Fizzy sweets and apple sauce were apparent when nosing and the taste was creamy with almonds and the finish silky. Coming from a refill sherry cask, 1995 Clynelish, at 55.8%abv, smelled of tangy fruit and wax. The middle had coffee, treacle, salt and chocolate and the finish was exceptionally long, with a drop of water revealing smoke, pepper and salt.

As we tasted, Alex recounted the tale of the distillery’s cast iron spirit receiver being removed and with it, the characteristic waxiness and it only returned when the receiver was reinstated.Adelphi had recently been given planning permission for a new distillery to be built in Ardnamurchan, in the far west highlands. A very good water source, with 3 holding lochs, was found for the distillery, a key point as the area’s high rainfall does drop away very quickly. A biomass boiler is planned as; otherwise, fuel costs would be prohibitive. Production will hopefully commence in the autumn of 2013 and an ‘Ardnamurchan’ range is planned with future Fascadale, Laudale and Liddesdale coming from the distillery – these being slightly smoky but not Islay-like in style. Local peat will be legally used for the first time and there will be a traditional maltings. It is also hoped that alliances can be made with the relatively close by Oban, Talisker, Tobermory and Ben Nevis distilleries as the local ferry service is under threat.

2000 Aberlour, 55.8%abv, from a refill sherry cask, had licorice, cinnamon and hot toffee sauce aromas with tastes of acid drop sweets as well as toffee and sherry with wedding cake and a light smoke to finish. My question ‘is Aberlour like gold dust for an independent bottler?’ was met with the answer ‘er, yes!’ Older casks are hard to get but a few younger ones are around.

Fascadale (batch 3), at 46%abv, is now a 12 year old Highland Park taken, in this case, from 5 casks, 3 of which were first fill Jack Daniels barrels. There was Vanilla tablet and smoke to nose and the marvelously sweet taste was like both strawberry and vanilla ice cream with some fishy notes that Charles Maclean, appearing in the upcoming Ken Loach film ‘The Angel’s Share’, describes as rollmop herring. (I was just pleased to get the taste of fish, to be honest.)

A serendipitous finale came with 1998 Bunnahabhain, at 55.2%abv. This had been labeled the day before at the new bottling hall in Fife and had been grabbed by accident, as the plan had been to feature a 1997 heavily peated expression from the same distillery. However, this sherry monster had managed to clog the bottling hall filter with sediment and had the ‘treacle so thick you could dance on the top it’ characteristic of previous Adelphi Bunnahabhains. Awesomely sweet and tasting of rich dark chocolate orange, there was leather, smoke and treacle again to end with. Most of the cask yield was bound for Taiwan but a few bottles were available and, for those who missed out, other heavily sherried bottles would come later.

Saturday Morning Whisky Fair

Highlights of the fair include: The new Benriach 12 yr (Sherry matured), at 46%abv, had been vatted together from Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks. Originally made for Taiwan, this was the fourth bottling and was surprisingly light, tasting of Turkish Delight.

Adelphi Liddesdale 18 yr, at 46%abv, contained some 20 year old whisky. Lighter than the previous batch, it tasted of treacle, syrup and licorice. Alex Bruce finds it cleaner than before and thought batch 1 had sulphur notes though he views sulphur as fine as long as it is in balance with other flavours. Both of us did wonder, though, how it got such a high score in the whisky bible, as the writer cannot stand such notes.

A Connoisseur’s Choice 1999 Balmenach, at 43%abv, was deliciously creamy, complex and spicy while 2001 Tamdhu, at 58%abv, was from a refill sherry cask. So smooth that it can be consumed neat, this had satisfying wedding cake flavours.

The elegant Tomintoul 12 yr ‘Port Wood’ had fruity sweetness throughout having had 20 months finishing.
Old Malt Cask (OMC) 1993 Glen Keith, at 50%abv, had lemon and lime citrus notes and was marvelously sweet offering a rare chance to taste whisky from this soon to be revived distillery.

‘Ladder Hills’ 18 yr old, 58.3%abv, from Dreamdrams.co.uk offered an extremely rare opportunity to taste whisky from a popular Dufftown distillery that had 1% addition of whisky from a mighty neighbour added. Very complex and smooth, characteristic warm honey and light smoke were the prominent tastes. A Highland Park 21 yr, at 53.3%, was delicate and honey-sweet.

Kilkerran (batch 3), at 46%abv, is work-in-progress malt from the Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown. This was a fascinating dram with a taste that hovered between a young Talisker and a young Islay in taste. By contrast, Springbank distillery’s Longrow C.V., at 46%abv, was sweet and tasted of smoked fish.

Continuing the peat was Benriach 17 yr ‘Septendicim’, at 46%abv. Containing whisky from second and third fill casks, it was sweet, retaining the classic Islay character of other peaty Benriachs. (The 21 year old ‘Authenticus’ has been discontinued and replace by the 25 year old of the same name.)

Finally, Adelphi 1997 Bunnahabhain, at 57.1%abv, was deliciously peaty in taste and, unusually for peated Bunnahabhain, had replicated the south Islay style.  Alex Bruce noted that the taste and aroma of peanuts is often be detected from a Bunnahabhain such as this.

Whyte and Mackay with Steven McConnachie

We began with Tamnavulin 12 yr, now back online after being mothballed between 1995 and 2007 with only intermittent production during those years. A charming dram, this had grassy, hay and peach syrup notes though festival regular Danny Maguire found that it had less linseed oil character about it than of old. (It was good to see Danny again, now happily recovered from being shipwrecked in the Nevada desert.) Steven does recommend not adding water as this gives it a ‘wet raincoat’ taste.

Mackinlay’s ‘Old and Rare’ malt, henceforth known as ‘Shackleton malt’, at 47.3%abv, has been the subject of much press coverage and contains whiskies of between 8 and 30 years old, including Glen Mhor, a long closed Inverness distillery. This is a recreation of the malt whisky that Sir Ernest Shackleton took 25 cases of on his 1907 attempt to reach the South Pole. (He got within 100 miles, the closest anyone had ever been till then and turned back). An informative video showed how the ‘liqueur whisky’ brand began and made its name before being taken to the Antarctic where, a century later, two cases were found with ten bottles still in tact. Painstaking analysis from master blender Richard Paterson allowed strength to be determined and flavours ascertained and recreated.  50000 bottles were released and nearly all have been sold so, should readers obtain one, they are recommended to sip it slowly while reading Roland Huntford’s account of Shackleton’s heroic adventures. The whisky had fruit salad chew bars on the nose while being slightly sharp but still sweet with a crisp, long and peppery finish. This whisky also grabbed Danny who once lost a hand of poker despite holding 4 aces. (His opponent had 5 aces.)

Melting a square of dark chocolate on the tongue should, in this writers’ view, precede a taste of the new release, Dalmore Cigar Malt, at 44%abv. The nose was of coffee, Bovril, exotic wine with tastes of toffee, honey, orange and spices. This premium whisky had been matured in 3 types of casks:  ex-bourbon, 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass and premier cru Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques and is older than the previous bottling though no age statement is present.

1996 vintage Dalmore Cromartie, at 45%abv, is a limited release of 7500 bottles and Steven gets almonds and spice on the nose while I found the taste quite chewy and with lots of chocolate orange. Also watch out for the new ‘Constellation’ range and for a 30 year old release that is on the way.

Jura Prophecy, at 46%abv, is made from barley with 55ppm of peat. The packaging tells the story of a prophecy that accurately foretold the last Campbell would leave Jura with only one eye. With lovely had toffee and peat to nose, the taste was of smoked fish in a rich sauce with a long, soothing and spicy finish making it ideal to have when burning a wicker man though who readers put in it is obviously up to them.

The final Wemyss Whisky session with Susan Colville

Presenting her last Dufftown tasting with Wemyss Whiskies was Susan Colville who, along with her beloved tree frogs, would be moving on to pastures new after this. Each bottling of single malt, bar one, was 46%abv and, as usual, named after the dominant flavour present. My tasting notes are, unusually, free of exotic wildlife of the kind that drives Susan round the twist.

The ‘Hive’ 12 yr blended malt replaces the old ‘Smooth Gentleman’ bottling and contains 16 malts with 50% coming from Glen Moray.  Susan believes that Glen Moray’s ‘house style’ is honey and thinks the distillery is underrated with this release being an easy-drinking everyday dram. With honey, syrup and many childhood sweets on the nose and Irn Bru on the taste, this was a must for all with a sweet tooth.

1989 ‘Rum and Raisin’ Tullibardine had been matured in a refill bourbon cask and is what Susan believes Tullibardine could be but chooses not to be. The nose was between rum and raisin and vanilla ice cream with some delicate honey flavours before a short peppery and spicy finish.

1982 ‘Winter Spice’ Teaninich, at 44.4%abv, had Susan getting dessert spices such as cinnamon and ginger and she described it as ‘heavy and delicate’ at the same time. An audience member found tastes of tropical fruits and spices and the finish was short but very punchy.

Reappearing from Spring 2011 was 1990 ‘Mocha Spice’ Dalmore that invited comparisons with the official releases presented in the previous masterclass and we closed with 1991 Bunnahabhain ‘Honey Spice’, reviewed in the Autumn 2011 report. A silky dram, the reader is invited to compare this to the Adelphi Liddesdale, which comes from the same distillery and is of similar age.

Tannochbrae Gala Dinner with Robin Laing

Saturday night in Dufftown brought another fantastic feast at the Tannochbrae restaurant where Allan and Susie served up some more fantastic fare accompanied by whiskies from Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and music from the great Robin Laing who opened with Bladnoch 18 yr 50.48 ‘capering on a river bank’, at 54.6%abv, from a refill bourbon cask while showing some society magazines with pictures of Amazonian tree frogs that reminded him of my comments on the subject.  Also tasted were Benrinnes 22 yr 36.56, at 53.6% ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, Bowmore 20 yr, at 49.4%abv, ‘margarita and a cigar in one glass’ (1 of 51 bottles) and Port Charlotte 127.19, at 66%abv, ‘a hairy chested claymore-wielding dram’.New songs revealed by Robin were ‘Taking Johnnie Walker home’ and ‘Ugly Betty’ – about the Lomond still at Bruichladdich used for making Botanist gin. One final note, though not a fan of cocktails, a long, refreshing drink known as ‘Monkey Mojito’ can be made using Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky.

WSD independent bottler’s challenge – the rest of whisky

Deviating from the format of previous challenges, no brand ambassadors spoke and all the whiskies entered were presented by Mike Lord, a man who laughs with impunity at the laws of science and once shot 3 men dead with an egg whisky. (I know this because I was one of those men.)

10 whiskies were tasted and, to save space, the highlights are included below though this is not to imply that those not described at length are in any way bad.

A delicious Cadenhead’s 1992 Brackla (rum finished), at 55.9%abv, had rum and brown sugar on the nose with thick, heavy and strong caramel and treacle. As we discussed this dram, the subject of a petard came up and some frantic ‘googling’ from Susan and Kate Wright revealed that it was a military mine that could blow up, hoisting the man who lit it. Mike also noted the number of brand ambassadors who were supposed to come to the festival and had not and said that gathering them together was like ‘Nailing a herd of jellied cats to a barn wall’ – readers are forgiven for shuffling away at this point.

Duncan Taylor’s 1979 Cameronbridge, at 48.8%abv, had the nose and taste of well-aged bourbon and banana chew bars with a delicate, long and honey/smoke finish.

By contrast, Wemyss ‘Honey Spice’ was a particularly dark colour from its sherry maturation and the reader is recommended to pour a large measure and roll on the tongue for as long as possible for best results.

1990 Berry Brothers and Rudd Bunnahabhain, at 46%abv, smelled like golden toast and tasted of syrup and treacle with a hint of smoke on the long, peppery finish.

As we moved on, Mike floated the possibility of a hog roast for the autumn festival along with a small wicker man though who is to be burned in it has yet to be discussed.

We then tasted a Carn Mor 1994 Highland Park, from the Scottish Liqueur Centre had mint and some light smoke with burnt sugar notes.

Moving to Islay, Adelphi’s 1983 Caol Ila, at 54%abv, had its smoke build gently before toffee emerged on the nose while rolling on the tongue revealed considerable smoke, pepper, chewiness and warmth.

Douglas Laing’s 1980 Old and rare Caol Ila was more restrained to nose with a little smoke and vanilla but did have some big maritime salt, smoke and bourbon tastes while Carn Mor’s 1996 Bowmore came from a refill sherry cask and had very heavy smoke, pepper tastes with Murray mints, milk chocolate and salt aromas.

Also tasted were Amrut ‘Fusion’ from India and G&M 1995 Brackla.

Diageo debut from David Sinclair

Presenting some of the lesser-known whiskies from whisky giants Diageo and making his first appearance at Dufftown was David Sinclair who had previously been bar manager at the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel.

Each whisky was tasted blind before the identity was revealed and we opened with the Singleton of Glendullan, aimed at the American market. Susan Colville reckoned that bottling at 43%abv would have improved it but it was still sweet with citrus and fizzy sweet notes and also lightly fruity with vanilla, although the slightly smoky finish was short. 1 of 636 bottles, the Glendullan 14 year old ‘manager’s choice’, at 58.7%abv, had brilliant pineapple, fruit syrup and golden delicious apples on the nose with vanilla and fruit tastes while the finish was extremely long and warm.

Mortlach 12 year old ‘manager’s choice’, at 57.1%abv, came from a bourbon cask and made this writer ask if the natural home of Mortlach is really the bourbon cask, rather than the sherry casks that have proved so popular over the years. Unusually inspired, I found the nose had bourbon, cream, vanilla, bananas, lemon and pear drops while the taste was light and delicate and the finish sweet with hints of spice. This unusually fantastic nose made it the Scarlett Johansson of whisky award winner for the festival.

A 12 year old ‘Friends of the Classic Malts’ Talisker, at 45.8%abv, had some light sherry and fruity notes and was delightfully sweet with a dry, long with only hints of Talisker’s characteristic pepper and seaweed.

Oban 18 yr, at 43%abv, bottled for America had orange cream and spicy notes and a velvety mouth feel that gave way to light smoke and a malty dryness. (David finds this richer than the 14 yr bottling.)As David accepted a big round of applause, the question ‘ Did you ever get that response at the bar?’ came from Mike Lord who fondly remembers the time he held 5 aces at poker. (His sad opponent only had 4).

Robin Laing – ‘The Whisky Coast’

Presenting SMWS whiskies Arran 121.52, at 59.9%abv, Glen Scotia 93.49, at 57.8%abv, Berry Brothers and Rudd 1994 Bowmore, at 46%abv, his own port- matured Bruichladdich, covered in the Spring 2011 report and 2001 OMC Talisker, at 50%abv, Robin’s theme for the night was ‘the whisky coast’ which had been the name for a brave but unsuccessful attempt at a tourist venture in recent years. The Bowmore tasted of characteristic mint and peat while the Talisker had equally characteristic smoke, seaweed and pepper that built slowly and steadily to an impressive crescendo and a very long finish.

Talisker had been a favourite of Robin’s as a young man and the distillery is the subject of a song from his current album ‘Whisky for breakfast’. Other tunes played included ‘Dundee Cat’, ‘Isle of Arran’, ‘Black Art’, ‘Campbeltown Loch’ to accompany the Glen Scotia, ‘Ugly Betty’, ‘Black Art’ and ‘A’Bunadh’ and there were stories of Jim McEwan, ‘Black art’, Heidi Klum and a German whisky anorak, Bowmore being attacked by an American warship, Eddi Reader and dinner at Macallan before Robin noted that a collector is simply ‘ a sad barsteward who doesn’t have enough special occasions in his life’.

As usual, highlights from Robin’s performance are available on both Facebook and www.youtube.com.

Douglas Laing presented by Paul McKendrick

Douglas Laing’s Jan Beckers was unavailable, having been cordoned off in mysterious circumstances by the police, so his place was ably Paul McKendrick, appearing for the first time at a festival in Dufftown.

A 1978 Clan Denny Port Dundas, at 54.2%, from a refill hogshead had a rich bourbon nose and taste and was wonderfully smooth and velvety with an unusually long finish for a grain, according to Paul. An exceptionally fruity 1999 Provenance Mannochmore, at a standard 46%abv, came from a third-fill cask, which Douglas Laing think allows distillery character to show, Paul describing it as a breakfast whisky.

OMC 2001 Glenlivet, at a standard 50%abv, had been in a sherry cask that Paul believed had added another dimension making it warm and rich with coffee and treacle toffee notes and a long, sweet finish.

1976 OMC Imperial, from a refill sherry cask, was the next ‘I was there’ moment. This year, according to the late Norwegian expert Per Lovlie, was Imperial’s finest, producing their best ever distillate. Given the 70’s vintage, the recurring ‘Wicker Man’ themes and the unusual but attractive nose, this was the Ingrid Pitt of whisky. Sweet, floral, creamy with hints of spice, fruit, vanilla and wine, it had a very long finish.

2003 Provenance Ardmore demonstrated, in Paul’s view, the difference between highland and island peat. This tasted of biscuits and smoke with cream and smoke to end with.

1996 OMC Caol Ila came from what is now Scotland’s fifth largest distillery. Ideal for rolling on the tongue, this full-bodied dram was lightly smoky with maritime salt and a surprisingly soft finish. Paul thinks that 15 years is the peak for an Islay whisky as more age leads the cask to dominate.

The Boss at Duncan Taylor

Euan Shand of Duncan Taylor (DTC) presented a virtually unique perspective at this festival: that of a company chief. The entire tasting was an ‘I was there’ moment and 90 utterly gripping minutes followed as Euan recounted his humble beginnings as a cooper at Glendronach distillery, through his years building up his own businesses with tales of youthful adventures with a valinch, jet-lagged tastings in Japan in front of a polite audience, Americans unaware of cask evaporation, laying down his own casks, fighting ‘Red Bull’, his aversion to colour in whisky, possible plans for a Huntly distillery that still has planning permission until December 2012 and a sad near miss in attempting to acquire Imperial distillery.

Black Bull 12, at 50%abv, demonstrated dependable deliciousness and kept us going as Euan told the story of Abe Rosenberg who had owned a huge collection of casks. Paying tribute to his vision, Euan told how the late Mr. Rosenberg had laid down second and third fill casks with the view to them maturing for many decades, perhaps knowing that he would never see these casks bottled in his lifetime

1998 ‘Dimensions’ Dailuaine, at 46%abv, was the first in a series of casks picked by Mark Watt, sadly unavailable after a drunken prank went wrong and he was accidentally mailed to Timbuktu. However, Mark’s absence, according to Mike Lord, meant that he was saved the expense of a large quantity of Guinness. No home should be without this masterful dram with its real bakery smell and buttered toast sweetness.

90 percent of DTC casks mature at the distillery, something that amuses Euan as he thinks of Macduff maturing in a tiny warehouse while the proprietor’s casks mature at sister distillery Royal Brackla in Nairn.

Euan is a big enthusiast for grain whisky and commented on the extensive stock still available to DTC, noting that one cask will reach 50 years old in 2013. 1978 North British grain, at 54.4%abv, had soft bourbon on the nose with a velvety vanilla taste. Grain spirit is bland and neutral and a good thing, in his view, as it gives a blank canvas to work with as all the flavour comes from the cask.

1995 ‘Dimensions’ Imperial, at 53.8%abv, was of such quality that I drank it neat to get vanilla, cream, spice and pepper notes and Euan is one of the few who think that Imperial may yet produce again. His preference is for bourbon casks over sherry as he feels that sherry overpowers distillery character.

As Euan ran through the ranges available from DTC such as ‘Peerless’, ‘Rarest’, Battlehill and Octave (the viagra of casks), we tasted 1985 Glen Elgin, at 46.1%abv, and Euan recounted selling 5 ‘Rarest’ bottles in as many minutes for a 5 figure sum in Singapore and decided to retire to the bar for the day. This inspirational whisky had refreshers and wham bar sweets on the nose with cream, fruit and vanilla flavours. Euan thinks the distillery produces  Ã¢â‚¬Ëœtop class blending whisky’ and reckons that Elgin whiskies such as Longmorn, Benriach, Glenlossie and Glen Elgin are very close in character, a fascinating viewpoint.

Revealing that he hadn’t tasted any of the whiskies, nor read any tasting notes, Euan invited us to describe the preview of the next batch of Black Bull 40, admitting he would like to know the recipe for this whisky, entirely blended by Mark Watt and of such high quality, he has decided to keep Mark on at the company.

Drams Party

A civilized ‘Drams Party’ closed the festival and Mike announced the winners in each ‘challenge’ category as Adelphi 1969 Glenrothes and DTC 1979 Cameronbridge, both of which won by a mile. (The best tasting notes included ‘A pretend whisky made in a bucket’ and ‘like the doormat of the Whisky Shop Dufftown).

And Finally....

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord and his wife Val, Steve Oliver, the wonderful people at the ‘Coffee Pot’, to Vicky and Kirsten at the Whisky Shop, to both Claus and Claire for the proofreading, to Rene and Glo, and everyone involved with the ‘Mates of the Museum’ plus Alan and Susie at the Tannochbrae.I’m off to write my first novel, which will be titled ‘Punctilious Catnip’ and published under the pseudonym Ramrod Blancmange the third and hopefully, I’ll see you again at the autumn festival.

The WSD Challenge for Independent Bottlers

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The Winning Tasting Notes

By Teun van Wel

Benromach 2001 Cask Strength

Nose: Bob Marley waking up.

Taste: To hot to do work.

Finish: Very relaxed.

Wemyss Cragganmore 1989 "Lemon Grove"

Nose: Waking up in Barbados.

Taste: Going to the beach and have a Malibu cocktail

Finish: Although you have to go home you stay on the beach and and have another one.  Very relaxed.

Duncan Taylor Octave Linkwood 1991 20 Years Old

Nose: I just love the smell of whisky in the morning.

Taste: Something to talk about with fellow enthusiasts.

Finish: Sunday 9 Sep, after breakfast, very relaxed.

Douglas Laing Old & Rare Glen Grant 1985 25 Years Old

Nose: Like a Saturday afternoon at Maltstock

Taste: Is that the BBQ firing up?

Finish: An unforgettable evening around the camp fire with fellow enthusiasts sharing and enjoying great whisky - very relaxed.

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 25 Years Old

Nose: Like being on a remote tropical island some where in the  mid south Pacific just before noon, on an undiscovered beach, getting a massage from a young lady with the softest hands you'll ever find, while sipping the ultimate Pina Colada from a coconut, knowing there's absolutely nothing you have yo do for the rest of the day. Utterly relaxed.

Taste: Sure.

Finish: Never.  Please!

Berry Brothers & Rudd Glenlivet 1973 38 Years Old

Nose:  Hmmm.  Looks like I just got an extra week on the island.

Taste:  Oooh and she just bought me a fruit basket.

Finish:  Feeling totally and utterly relaxed.

Adelphi Glenrothes 1969 42 Years Old

Nose: If I wasn't so relaxed I'm sure I could come up with some fantastis notes.

Taste:  Ditto

Finish:  Can we finally relax now?

A Word from the Owner

Frankly I distance myself from the judging which was undertaken by Kirsteen and Vicky and hence forth a more reasonable judge has been appointed.  Any complaints take it up with them.  I could have over-ridden their decision but that is not my way - we run a democratic dictatorship.  If you discard the blatant promotional material above you are left with the workings of a deranged tour operator.  Oh well!  Teun won a bottle of the Berry's Glenlivet for his trouble - if everything in life was so easy.  Other whisky festivals are available.

Touring Speyside in Style - ABOUT SPEYSIDE

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Speyside Tours runs unique days out in and About Speyside designed especially for you. Get a taste for the world famous Malt Whisky region of Speyside in the Northeast Highlands of Scotland.

Roy Mathers is the man behind Speyside Tours and he’d love to show you the beautiful area where he was born and brought up. The local villages of Craigellachie, Rothes and Aberlour were his childhood haunts but as a kid he didn’t really appreciate their significance in the local and natural history of the Northeast of Scotland. Now though, his interest in history coupled with his passion for the Speyside area and for malt whisky has led him to want to tell you all “About Speyside”.

Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival 2011

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Report by Bruce Crichton

Having read ‘Aardvarks in your wardrobe’ by Agamemnon McWhirter, I headed to Dufftown. No longer perplexed by this household pest, the Autumn Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed with several days of great whisky, great food and an electrifying tasting contest. Here is my account of it.

The reader is cautioned that this is not a definitive guide and I apologize in advance for any factual errors and note that tasting notes are subjective with comment added from expert tasters present during note-taking. To shorten the report, I refer the reader to previous reports and tastings if a whisky has re-appeared and also assumed the reader is familiar with any widely available bottlings mentioned. Any cask samples tasted are described briefly, since these are not available for the reader to buy. Finally, any water added to a whisky tasted was, literally, one drop and whiskies were 40% abv, if the strength is not otherwise indicated.

Mates of the Museum

Thursday night saw the ‘Mates of the Museum’ bringing together old friends and new as retiring festival bus driver and recognized genius Mike Hendry was presented with an award and applauded by several foxes who remember Mike teaching them cunning when they were young.

Auchroisk tour

Pausing on Friday morning to teach a young Norwegian lady the words ‘Baldy’, ‘Cue ball’ and ‘Slap head’ using a handy prop that I keep with me at all times, I headed by bus tour to Auchroisk distillery where Paul Hooper of Diageo, took us round. This tour was more extensive than the spring festival visit and Paul noted that Auchroisk uses Optic, Oxbridge and Forensic malt produced at nearby Burghead, and produces grassy spirit as well as the more familiar nutty character new-make, an unusual feature though a few Diageo sites can produce two or more spirit characters by varying the fermentation time.

Less than one per cent of the whisky produced there is bottled as single malt with the vast bulk going to the Johnnie Walker and J & B blends. With the capacity to produce 3.7 million litres of alcohol per year, from 8 very tall stills, the distillery expects to go to 7 days a week production next year.

Extensive tanking and warehousing facilities allow spirit from nearby Diageo distilleries to be transported by tanker to Auchroisk where Diageo also warehouse whisky for Chivas, with Chivas doing the same for them nearby. As luck would have it, new make spirit from sister distillery Inchgower arrived during our visit as Johnnie Walker Green Label and Glen Ord mature spirit departed for bottling.  Instructive, also, was a demonstration of an ‘Anton Paar’ machine that measures alcoholic strength.

At the blending hall disgorging unit, casks are emptied, and whisky blended and reduced before being sent away by tanker for bottling, while the ‘rubbish’ is filtered from the casks and the filters are cleaned three times a day. Chill-filtration takes place at the bottling hall. Also used is a colour measurement device that checks the activity of the casks in use.

Rounding off was a promotional DVD narrated by Robert Carlyle and then Erin took us through a tutored tasting that began with the 10 year old bottling from the now discontinued ‘Flora and Fauna’ range reviewed in the spring 2011 report. Next we tasted the popular Mortlach 16 and found it in fine form though lighter than old with treacle and Christmas cake on the nose, a sweet and spicy middle, and with a warm finish with a little smoke. Next was the Talisker 10 year old, at 45.8%abv, of which more later, before we ended with a taste of Johnnie Walker’s 18 year old ‘Gold Label’ straight from the freezer (!) which is best rolled on the tongue for the full velvet, honey and spice effect.

Gordon and MacPhail

Mike Patterson from Gordon and MacPhail (G&M) opened with a 1997 ‘distillery label’ Strathisla, at 43%abv, matured in refill sherry casks. This had fruit syrup, Wham bars and Parma violets on both nose and taste before a short finish. As we tasted this, Mike showed us samples from the feints, foreshots and middle cut of Benromach new make spirit which had both fruit and cereal aromas, noting that the cut is of crucial importance as, should feints get into the cask, the taste will never go away with maturation.

Benromach Burgundy finish, at 45%abv, had spent 7 years in wine casks as Mike reasons that there is no point in finishing if it does not influence the final taste. This elegant dram was light, creamy and winey.

A 1971 ‘MacPhail’s  Collection’ Tamdhu, at 43%abv, matured in refill sherry casks had massive oak on the nose with some light smoke and cream in its stylish taste with a very long and warm finish.

A 1997 Imperial, at 62.7%abv, had a delicious smell of wedding cake with the same again to taste before golden syrup and thick, chewy toffee. The finish was rich and long and this whisky needed amazingly little water given its high bottling strength and comes highly recommended to the reader.

By contrast, a 1997 Connoisseur’s Choice Caol Ila, at 43%abv, was very gentle and had delicately smoked fish aromas and some lovely soft, sweet peat on the taste before a salty and long finish. Mike noted that Caol Ila had produced whisky from unpeated spirit relatively recently as it had been threatened with closure before the recent boom in Islay whiskies.

Mark vs. Bruce – a never to be forgotten contest

For many years, this writer has driven many brand ambassadors round the twist but, when I challenged Mark Watt to a tasting contest, the foot was on the other hand though, nonetheless, I held my own.

New rules had been brought into place following 2009’s Mark Vs Susan contest allowing Mark and I to both weigh in with our own thoughts on each other’s whiskies during our presentations. There was no limit on the number of whiskies allowed for each contest though the budget was fixed for both of us.

Mark, who is rehearsing for the title role in the upcoming film ‘The Oliver Reed Story’, went first, opining ‘whatever happens, Bruce will win’ before introducing his choice with the theme ‘Whiskies you should have in your cupboard’. The whiskies were the widely available Macallan 12, Highland Park 18, at 43%abv, Talisker 10 and Ardbeg 10, at 46%abv. Noting that the 12 year old is much better than the 10 year old, Mark waxed lyrical about the Macallan and the fact that it is now for sale in Britain.

The Highland Park 18 is fully matured in sherry casks these days and is an old favourite of mine and Mark, effectively combining the often contradictory tastes of peat and sherry with more spiciness than Mark remembers. Meanwhile Talisker 10 is back on form with characteristic, smoke and pepper and is still a whisky not to be drunk so much as conquered as the attack is at the start and the finish is very sweet. This whisky also gave Mark a chance to vent his feelings about a group of people he has encountered who swear that there is no salt in whisky and have made t-shirts stating this.

Ardbeg 10 showed conclusively that the big peat attack of years gone by is on the wane from the south Islay whiskies but this has given them the chance to show that they do not merely have one big punch as much sweetness awaits those who taste this. Ardbeg have also released a new bottling called ‘Alligator’ and Mark recounted the story of a live alligator being brought to a whisky festival. (Some jokes just tell themselves.)

After a short break, it was my turn, this time, to present five whiskies that tasted mostly of Scotch. (You knew it was coming, didn’t you?) The secondary theme of my collection was ‘Under the radar’ as these were whiskies that had never featured in a tasting and were highly unlikely to do so. As the reader may imagine, it is extremely difficult to give a tasting and report on it at the same time and I must confess to the reader that nerves really kicked in after about three minutes. However, experiencing a huge rush of adrenaline, I managed to keep going and continue to present my theme while moving on to such surreal topics as Donald Pleasance’s appearance in Columbo, the pros and cons of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, and the history of Benromach before recording an unexpected round of applause.

My first choice, Glen Moray 10, fully matured in Chardonnay casks, was described by Mark as a ‘great breakfast dram’ and had a marvelous cereal maltiness to it and appeared to be the surprise low-budget hit of the festival. Stronachie 18, at 46%abv, is an independent bottling of Benrinnes from A.D. Rattray and has a lovely taste of honey to rival the illustrious Balvenie. This bottling comes from 6 ex-bourbon casks and 2 sherry casks, in contrast to rival expressions that are matured in sherry casks.

Benromach 2001 Cask Strength, at 59.9%abv, is from six first fill bourbon casks and allows the light level of peat to show through as well as being smooth at the high alcoholic strength. Mark reckoned that it had a fantastic nose – making it this report’s Scarlett Johansson of whisky.

I gambled on two heavily peated whiskies to finish with, the Port Charlotte An Turas Mor, at 46%abv, and Benriach Birnie Moss, at 48%abv. The Benriach was, perhaps, the least successful of my choices though Phil Yorke reckoned it tasted of roasted peppers. The Port Charlotte, from Bruichladdich distillery, contains whisky between five and eight years old and had more obvious peat flavours. This gave me the chance to detail the difference between the level of peat present in barley, the level in the whisky and the level that humans can actually taste. Mark’s choice of Ardbeg had given both of us the chance to expound on the subject and, also, to draw the distinction between young Islay whiskies and the well-aged Islay whiskies featured in other festivals and that would feature that weekend as well. Finally, I asked the audience to compare these whiskies to those that would appear in a tasting from Kilchoman distillery as they were about the same age and same strength. The reader is invited to try this at home.

Having concluded the tasting, it was time for three rounds of voting for who had the best whiskies, the best information and who was the most entertaining. Incredibly, I won the first two rounds but Mark massacred me in the third round, just as he massacred the English language while commenting on the Port Charlotte, and he was the overall winner but, no matter, everyone present had a great night and both of us received several thunderous bursts of applause.

Mike Lord’s WSD bottlings

Sadly, festival regular Danny Maguire missed the festival having sustained a large cut on the bridge of his nose while shaving though this was not as embarrassing as the time he accidentally bit the back of his own head. Consequently he missed the whiskies presented by Mike Lord, of the Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) who says that Danger is his middle name and it is – he changed it by deed poll from Leslie.

A 1994 (G&M) Imperial, at 57.2%abv, had both vanilla and bananas on the nose – classic bourbon cask characteristics in the view of Mike who once head-butted a shark causing it to lose several teeth. (The shark learned its lesson and will never drink in the same pub as Mike again.) Mike also observes that the casks he has bottled from G&M have clouded with very little water addition but the reader can be assured that this is of no matter as each bottling is among the best I have ever tasted. The Imperial was exceptionally smooth with vanilla and coconut flavours and a very long finish with a hint of pepper.

A 1970 Duncan Taylor (DTC) Glenrothes, at 43.3%abv, had been matured in a bourbon cask before spending a further six weeks in an octave sherry cask giving it the smell of an elegant bourbon as well as exotic fruit juice along with delicate spice and oak flavours with just a hint of sherry and a long, orange cream finish.

A 1994 Old Malt Cask (OMC) Benrinnes, at 55.1%abv, from a first fill sherry butt had both sticky toffee pudding and orange peel on the nose. The middle was very sweet and syrupy followed by toffee and wedding cake with a long, very warm and soothing finish. In a brief history lesson, Mike drew attention to the fact the successive owners of the distillery had gone bust until the company that became Diageo bought it. Mike also stocks 17 and 19 year old OMC Benrinnes releases, at 50%abv, which are much different to this.
Benrinnes makes heavy spirit, using worm tub condensers, unlike Balblair distillery, which makes altogether lighter spirit. Despite being a refill sherry cask, something that G&M are expert at, 1995 Balblair at 52.9%abv and covered in Autumn 2010 is far more influenced by the cask than the Benrinnes and is quite simply a work of genius. 25% of Balblair production is bottled as single malt although independent releases are hard to find, as are bottlings from any of the Inver House group, bar Pulteney. Interestingly, Mike talked of the risk of signing his own name to any whisky although my suggestion that he bottle under the pseudonym of Sir Anderson Tadpole the third was, no doubt, the daftest idea he had ever heard.

From a refill sherry cask came an Adelphi 1991 Bunnahabhain, at 51.9%abv. Only a few bottles are available with the rest of the cask going to the next bottling of their highly successful ‘Liddesdale’. The wonderful nose had both sherry and Christmas cake with brandy butter. The taste and finish were the same with just a hint of smoke.

Closing, we had a 1971 Glenfarclas ‘Family Cask’, at 51.5%abv, and it was characteristic of the distillery with classic sherry character throughout, especially wedding cake and was one of 496 bottles.  In selecting this cask, Mike had tasted sixteen 1971 samples that had varied in alcoholic strength by no more than two percent and varied in volume by no more than ten bottles. This was the stuff that dreams are made off and anyone who can obtain a bottle of this is to be congratulated, as is Mike for having his finger on the pulse of people’s taste buds with his cask selection.

Tannochbrae Gala Dinner with Glenfiddich whisky

Saturday night in Dufftown brought a manifold treat with dinner at Tannochbrae restaurant where Allan and Susie served up some more fantastic fare accompanied by whiskies from the mighty Glenfiddich distillery, presented by the magnificent Bert Macor and music from the great Robin Laing featuring tracks from his non-whisky related albums such as ‘Punters’.

As well as the widely available and delicious ‘Rich Oak’ 14 year old, we had cask samples of the 15 year old ‘New Wood’ finish, a component of the huge-selling 15 year old ‘Solera Reserve’, and an 18 year old, drawn from the marrying tun while the 19 year old ‘Age of Discovery’, finished in Madeira casks offered us a marvelously sweet sherbet-like dram. These whiskies enabled Bert to demonstrate his knowledge of both history and geography, with a story of Portuguese conquistadors, and to pay tribute to new malt master Brian Kinsman who hopes to bring Glenfiddich into the limelight with innovation.

Released a mere 3 weeks previously, Glenfiddich ‘Malt Master edition’, at 43%abv, had been finished in sherry casks that gave it the taste of strawberries and cream as well as Turkish Delight cubed sweets.

Another new release is Glenfiddich 21 Gran Reserva Rum Finish, at 43.2%abv, and smells of brown sugar and tropical fruit. I found the taste was of cream and spice but reckon that a professional writer could be inspired to wax lyrical for several lines. For best results, the reader is recommended to pour a large dram and roll on the tongue.

Whisky and Chocolate with Mike Lord and Victoria Duty

After cleaning out the aardvarks from my attic with the help of another book by Agamemnon McWhirter, I headed to the Masonic hall for Whisky and Chocolate presented by Mike and Vicky.
The intrepid Mike had journeyed far and wide to lands where no human eye had previously set foot to find whiskies that combined effectively with ‘Olive Tree Chocolate’ from Elgin. Vicky is a chocolatier which apparently does not mean that she know Dogtanian. (I really wish I had composed this one myself).

As with previous whisky and food combinations, the whiskies chosen are widely available distillery releases. These were: Clynelish 14, at 46%abv, Strathisla 12, Aberlour A’Bunadh batch 36, at 60.1%abv, Glenfarclas 105 and Glendronach 18 ‘Allardice’, at 46%abv. Clynelish and A’Bunadh are benchmark whiskies for pairing with chocolate, according to Mike who does not comment on rumours that a Komodo dragon died a few days after he bit it.

Vicky opened with ‘Java’ – a milk chocolate consisting of 33% cocoa that is very silky, creamy and moreish and paired it with Clynelish. Next was ‘Ghana’ milk chocolate, 40% cocoa, and Strathisla 12. Robin Laing thinks that this drying whisky compliments the higher cocoa content of the chocolate and lengthens the finish.

Batch 36 of the popular A’Bunadh series is lighter in character than previous batches and is not to the taste of Robin or Mike but is more to mine. This was matched with ‘Saint Domingue’ from the Caribbean and is 70% cocoa and prompted Robin to read some of the limericks he had written about the A’Bunadh.

‘Equateur’ plain chocolate is 78% cocoa and was served with Glenfarclas 105, A’Bunadh’s great rival, and led to stories being told of a Sunday Times journalist drinking with Glenfarclas’ George Grant and a rather surreal aftermath.  Mike cautions that combining whisky with chocolate can lead to the taste of the whisky being stripped away and only the spirit being left behind. In particular, the robust Talisker 10 year old does not appear to go with chocolate at all.

Finally, ‘Kumabo’ African chocolate containing 80.1% cocoa was tasted alongside the Glendronach. Apparently, this is a hard chocolate to pair with whisky. As always, these whisky and food combinations can be recreated in the comfort of the reader’s own home with the whisky from Mike and chocolate from Olive Tree and all that remains is to congratulate Vicky on taking her first festival tasting.

Exotic Wildlife and Wemyss Whisky with Susan Colville

Susan Colville, 2011 Whisky Magazine ‘Young Brand Ambassador of the Year’, who says that she cannot handle two days of solid drinking any more, presented Wemyss Vintage malts.  (I prefer liquid drinking; it comes so much more naturally.) Also celebrating was Mike Lord who had won Whisky Magazine’s ‘Single Outlet Whisky Retailer of the Year’ award. (Legend has it that Mike stung a Portuguese man of war Jellyfish to death while swimming in the sea.)

Each bottling was 46%abv and, as usual, named after the dominant flavour present. My notes are accompanied by wildlife provided to liven things up still further and to drive Susan round the twist as well.

2000 Linkwood ‘Vanilla Zest’ had matured in a refill bourbon cask. This ideal summer whisky was very fresh with plenty of citrus notes and a slightly sharp and long finish though Susan could have lived without my added note of ‘Andean Condors’. (Nothing beats soaring over the mountains, looking for carrion.)
Bottled on the Tuesday before the festival was a 1989 Cragganmore called ‘Lemon Grove’. Susan is a big fan of older Cragganmore as she thinks it improves with age. Though I commented that it tasted of Spectacled Caimans, this whisky did not have a bite and should not be confused with the recent Ardbeg Alligator bottling. Accurately named, it had strong lemon on the nose and taste as well as oak and had a long, warm and smoky finish.

1990 Glencadam ‘Caribbean fruits’ smelled of light, golden honey and had both honey and spice tastes in equal measure and a short, creamy finish. 1997 Clynelish ‘Vanilla Summer’ did indeed smell and taste of vanilla, honey and fruit syrup although my comment about tube-nosed fruit bats was not strictly true. (This species was only discovered in 2009).

1981 Caol Ila ‘Whispering Smoke’ was distilled 6 weeks before Susan was born and had been fully matured in a second fill bourbon cask. This was a wonderful, subtle and luxurious dram with notes of spice, salt, pepper and lightly smoked bacon and an exceptionally long finish.
We closed with 1991 Bunnahabhain ‘Honey Spice’, matured in a first fill sherry cask that gave it coffee and treacle aromas with syrup and treacle flavours and a long, complex finish. I did announce loudly, also, the taste of Leopard Seals, which will not make this attractive to any penguins reading the report.

Robin Laing – ‘Pink whisky and the music of love’

Robin’s pink whiskies were the widely available Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban, at 46% abv, Arran Amarone, at 50%abv, his own Bruichladdich fully matured in port and covered in the Spring 2011 report, Benriach Solstice, at 50% abv, and Octomore ‘Orpheus’, at 61%abv, from Bruichladdich distillery. The Benriach has now sold out, as has the Orpheus though, it should be noted, that the 140 ppm phenol level in the barley should not intimidate the reader and all Octomore batches have been exceptionally high in quality and no more difficult to drink than rival cask strength editions from Laphroaig and Ardbeg, for example, and sweetens considerably with water. Amarone is a heavy red Italian wine.

As well as tracks from his current album ‘Whisky for breakfast’, he featured love songs such as ‘I believe in you’, ‘Watershed’, ‘Black Rose’, ‘Closer to heaven’ and ‘Silver’. The brilliant ‘Kirk Douglas Ghoullie’ was also played and ‘Breakfast Whisky’ was given an extra verse while ‘Heaven Hill’ substituted a Smart car for the Mustang in the album version.

Returning to the whisky, Robin paid tribute to Glenmorangie for both their cask management and bottling strength and added that in Greek mythology Orpheus was ripped to pieces by women and wondered if he had lived in Dufftown.

Highlights from Robin’s performance are available on both Facebook and www.youtube.com.

Glen Moray Tour

Glen Moray distillery’s modus operandi is covered in depth in my Spring 2006 report and touring it on the Monday morning was still informative as the distillery is in full flow under French owners La Martiniquaise. Production is 2.2 million litres per annum from 24 hours a day, 7 days a week running. 50 per cent of production is bottled as single malt and, in the pipeline, are peated spirit distilled in 2010 and a number of releases fully matured in wine casks. Enthusiastic visitors can also bottle their own, straight from the cask, and the non-age statement, 12 year old and 16 year old expressions are available to taste, alongside limited edition ‘Manager’s dram’ bottles all of which represent tremendous value for money.

‘I was there ‘Adelphi Tasting with Antonia Bruce

As well as presenting new company baseball caps and a boxed set of four miniatures called ‘Nightcaps’, Antonia Bruce introduced a stellar collection of single cask whiskies., the first of which was 1997 Clynelish, at 59.1%abv, taken from a refill bourbon cask. This tasted of golden honey and fizzy sherbet with a long, warm and mellow finish.

A 1984 Tamdhu, at 48.8%abv, gave Antonia the chance to explain the ‘Saladin’ maltings process, which is apparently highly efficient and makes for robust spirit. Having matured in a refill sherry cask, this smelled of fruit salad chew bars with a fruity, waxy taste and a hint of chocolate at the end. Also, Antonia mentioned a blind tasting of fruit gums and it’s reassuring to know that I’m not the only one with a terrible sweet tooth.

1984 Linkwood, at 53.2%abv, also from refill sherry, had a lovely nose that inspired me to write at length as I found sherry, coffee, dark chocolate, treacle, Bovril and balsamic vinegar. The taste was surprisingly delicate and restrained and the finish long. Linkwood distillery is highly picturesque, apparently, and the surrounding wildlife was the inspiration for parent company Diageo’s ‘Flora and Fauna’ series. Linkwood has an ‘A’ distillery built in 1872 and a ‘B’ distillery built in 1971 and Norwegian Linkwood fan Snorre Lenes notes that distillery ‘A’ has not been used for many years.

1965 Lochside ‘single blend’ whisky, at 52.3%abv, provided all present with an ‘I was there’ moment. Lochside, in Montrose, operated between 1957 and 1992 and was co-founded by Joseph W Hobbs, owner of Ben Nevis distillery, and had both malt and grain facilities on site. This blend was 50% malt and 50% grain and had been blended at birth, as had a previous Adelphi Ben Nevis single blend from 1970. The nose was floral with vanilla and rum and raisin while the taste indicated that the grain still had fight in it as well as being very well balanced with hazelnut chocolate and fruit. The finish was one of rum and coffee but, really, such moments are really a chance to taste history and part of what a festival should be about.

Closing the session in thought-provoking style was a 1999 12 year old Breath of Islay, at 56.1%abv, that was a sister cask to another 1999 Breath of Islay 11 year old bottling. The latter is an excellent example of a conventional ‘big punch’ whisky representative of the distillery that I reckon is associated with the White Horse blends. The 12 year old, however, did not have as obvious a peat character, instead offering attractive sweetness in its place before some light smoke. The middle was salty, smooth and sweet and the end was long and lingering and gave credence to my view that Islay whiskies are not about one big punch but still have depths to be revealed, especially if the peat is not as dominant as in previous years.

Dapper Duncan Taylor

Bringing the last festival tasting to us was a well-dressed Mark Watt, of DTC. Mark, who refers to Oliver Reed as ‘that teetotal actor’, showed us a new promotional company DVD that inadvertently brought home to me the news that there is only so hard you can bite into your own knuckles when you’re trying not to laugh at the narrator’s voice.

As we watched, we sampled a sherry-matured 1990 Bladnoch, at 48.6%abv, that smelled of strawberry trifle and, after a drop of water, tasted of sherry trifle and had a long peppery prickle on the finish that should not alarm the reader as no hedgehogs were involved.

A preview of the third batch of Black Bull 40 year old, at 40.9%abv, had lovely marzipan and cream cake notes and more smokiness than Mark remembers. The blend is 90% malt, being held together, in Mark’s view, and brought over strength by the Invergordon grain whisky present. This batch is expected to yield about 700 individually numbered bottles and will have the ingredients listed on the bottle as well.

As an image to freeze in the mind, nothing beats Mark’s description of a business meeting in Japan conducted in a sauna, through an interpreter.

In a watershed moment, we tasted an upcoming 1992 ‘Rarest of the Rare’ Caperdonich, at 56.7%abv, which made it the first Duncan Taylor Caperdonich I had tasted that is younger than I am. Revealing, perhaps, what could have been for this now demolished distillery, the nose had Fruit Salad and Irn Bru chew bars and the crisp taste featured cooking apples, smoke and some soft woodiness albeit with a short finish.

DTC have a large stock of 1992 Caperdonich casks laid down for the future, we were told, as well as some 1997 and 2000 vintage casks filled with peated spirit. These casks, in Mark’s opinion, would not last long in an Octave cask and he drew attention to the evaporation rate from such casks – a staggering 12 percent, if left for a year.

A 1988 Auchroisk, at 52%abv, which had spent 3 months in an Octave cask that had given 73 bottles was a masterpiece with fruit and grassy smells and a taste of tropical fruit, cream and spice that had Mark and I reminiscing about the long discontinued ‘Singleton of Auchroisk’ bottling.

Demonstrating his expert knowledge of cask management, Mark told us the tale of Imperial matured in an Amarone cask that had begun horribly before marrying together over time. We then moved on to a ‘Rare Auld’ 1993 Cragganmore, at 55.3%abv. The nose was big, heavy and punchy with sherry and orange and tastes of treacle, fruitcake and toffee that Mark said in no way tasted like chewing on a purple balloon. (This description kicks sand in the face of my old standby – biting into a burnt welly.)

Recovering from stories about Ribena mixed with Balvenie new-make and chewing safety pins, we ended with a 1983 Caol Ila, at 51.7%abv, that had matured in a refill sherry butt before being transferred to an Octave cask. The nose had marvelous notes of vanilla, smoke, fruit, lime and kiwi fruit while Phil Yorke reckoned he detected Parma Violets and toffee apples. The taste was like smoked ham cooked in a very rich sauce and Mark reckoned that the sherry had added considerable depth to the whisky.

With Mark’s beloved Caperdonich now gone and his equally beloved Imperial unlikely to produce again, I urge the reader to raise a glass of the drams mentioned in the report in their memory as the quality of the whisky available is not in doubt.

And Finally....

In closing, I’d like to thank everyone involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord and his wife Val, Steve Oliver, the wonderful people at the ‘Coffee Pot’ for keeping me going through the weekend, to Vicky at the Whisky Shop, to Claire for the proofreading, to Rene and Glo, Gordon Haughton, and everyone involved with the ‘Mates of the Museum’ plus Alan and Susie at the Tannochbrae.

I’m off to solve the problem of aardvarks once and for all by moving out of the termite mound I live in and hopefully, I’ll see you again at the spring festival when the foot will once again be on the other hand.

The Whisky Shop Dufftown Challenge 2011

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The fifth annual Whisky Shop Dufftown challenge for Independent Bottlers was run during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this last weekend.  With more entries than ever before it was a hotly fought contest.  Entries came from Adelphi, Duncan Taylor, Douglas Laing, Wemyss, The Creative Whisky Company and Gordon & MacPhail.  This remains one of the few whisky competitions where the result is decided by the public and from all of the entries.

In the Speyside Category the overall winner was a Gordon & MacPhail Longmorn 30 Years Old which also took the prize for the best whisky over 18 years old in this category.  The runner up was an Old Malt Cask Glen Grant 1990 20 Years Old.  The winner of the best Speyside 18 years old or under was a Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15 Years Old.

In the Rest of Whisky category the overall winner was a Duncan Taylor Octave Cameronbridge 1978 31 Years Old which also took the prize for the best whisky over 18 years old in this category.  The runner up was an Adelphi Bunnahabhain 1979 31 Years Old.  The winner of the best Rest of Whisky 18 years old or under was an Exclusive Malts Macduff 2000 10 Years Old (from The Creative Whisky Company).

Sherry cask whiskies faired very well again this year but it is excellent to see a grain winning and also David Stirk winning a prize in the first year he has entered.  Only 1 of the 19 whiskies entered did not have anyone voting for it as their favourite which underlines that peoples tastes are different and there is a whisky for everyone.

The winner of the best tasting note was from Canada.  Her favourite whisky was the winning Cameronbridge and the tasting note was:

Nose - Very sweet.  Like a warm summers afternoon on a terrace.

Taste - Quite strong.  Like a burly Highlander - rough but gentle.

Finish - Like the Highlander had his way with me.

Some other quotes from the winner’s tasting notes: "Mushy.  Like a mid-Eighteenth century gentleman", "Warm yet tingling down the centre of my tongue.  The tingly feeling of being in love" and "Bananas.  Tanning lotion sizzling of the six pack of a golden tanned volleyball player (or Brazilian pool cleaner)".  But our favourite note was from another entry, “Finish: Couldn’t”.

Not tasting notes Charlie MacLean might write but certainly one that appealed to our judging panel.  I personally feel Erika's mind may have been on something different to whisky and possibly a new judging panel next year!  Congratulations Erika, a bottle of the Cameronbridge is on its way to you.

Thank you to the companies that entered the competition and all those people that tasted the whisky and cast their vote.

The full list of entries:

Wemyss Benrinnes 1996 "Ginger Compote"

Gordon & MacPhail Linkwood 15

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Glen Elgin 1996 14 Years Old

Duncan Taylor NC2 Balmenach 2000 9 Years Old

Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask Mortlach 1997 13 Years Old

Gordon & MacPhail Longmorn 30

Adelphi Linkwood 1984 26 Years Old (#5266)

Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Tamnavulin 1989 21 Years Old

Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask Glen Grant 1990 20 Years Old

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Caol Ila 1997 11 Years Old

Adelphi Breath of Islay 1999 11 Years Old (#5882)

Exclusive Malts Macduff 2000 10 Years Old

Duncan Taylor Auld Reekie 10 Years Old

Douglas Laing Big Peat

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Royal Brackla 1991 19 Years Old

Wemyss Dalmore "Mocha Spice" 1990

Adelphi Bunnahabhain 1979 31 Years Old (#8893)

Duncan Taylor Octave Cameronbridge 1978 31 Years Old

Douglas Laing Clan Denny Grain Girvan 1990 20 Years Old

March 2011 Newsletter

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The WSD Newsletter – March 2011

Afternoon all from Dufftown where it’s beginning to look like winter is finally over and the snow is now well and truly retreating from the hills – at least we hope it’s over.

New Releases

Adelphi Distillery

We have a gaggle of new releases from Adelphi:

Adelphi Ardmore 2003 8 Years Old - Another great smoky Ardmore

Adelphi Bunnahabhain 1979 31 Years Old - Sensational sherried Bunnahabhain.  Its extra age produces a well rounded and smooth whisky.

Adelphi Caol Ila 2001 9 Years Old - This is a huge and powerful Caol Ila

Adelphi Highland Park 1995 15 Years Old - A very complex Highland Park.

Adelphi Macallan 1993 17 Years Old - One of the best Macallan’s I’ve tasted from Adelphi.



AD Rattray

We’ve got a smattering of new releases from AD Rattray:

AD Rattray Caol Ila 2000 – A huge Caol Ila.  A little bit tamer than the cask strength Adelphi.

AD Rattray Miltonduff 1980 30 Years Old – This is a spring time bundle of tropical fruits.

AD Rattray Tamnavulin 1989 21 Years Old

Gordon & MacPhail

Gordon & MacPhail have been up to it again.  They have released a 1940 70 years old Glenlivet.  It’s very rare to get access to a whisky from the war years and this is a superb whisky.  I was lucky enough to be invited to Edinburgh Castle for the launch where we were allowed to give it a try.  It was an extremely windy day and that may have influenced my tasting notes below.

Nose: Polished leather (shoes polished yesterday and not warn), apricot jam, fruit pastels, candid orange peel, marmalade on hot buttered toast, bees wax, velvet, honey and cigarette boxes.

Taste: Brown sugar sweet, very full and rounded, spiced wood, orange bitters, candle wax and vanilla pods.

Finish: Extremely long with gentle spices, a touch of tannins, and a pleasant dryness.

A snip at £13,000.

G&M has also released a series of Glenlivets under its Private Collection label which is worth taking a look at.  The older ones from sherry casks are particularly good.

Wemyss

Not yet in stock, but will be shortly, are some new releases from Wemyss:

Smoke Stack – 1996 - Caol Ila – 324 bottles (Hogshead)

The Honey Pot - 1996 - Glen Moray – 270 bottles (Hogshead)

Ginger Compote -1996 – Benrinnes- 768 bottles (Refill Butt)

Orange Tree - 1989 – Glen Garioch – 264 bottles (Hogshead)

Mocha Spice - 1990 – Dalmore – 324 bottles (Sherry Hogshead)

Coming Up

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2011

Ticket sales are going well.  We have increased the number available for the Adelphi and Duncan Taylor tastings.  Adelphi sold out again but there are few tickets left for Duncan Taylor.  Click here to see what WSD events are still available.  Here are some updates on the events we are offering:

David Stirk is returning to the masterclass crew in Dufftown this year.  This has to be a must go to tasting for the regulars and new comers alike.  The Creative Whisky Company is a very popular independent bottler and their releases sell out very fast so David can’t confirm his line-up yet but it will include Aberfeldy 1983 and a Tomintoul 1966.

For those that like a bit of brain teasing and completion during the festival there is the whisky quiz at Strathisla.  We at The WSD are offering tickets which include travel by bus from The Square in Dufftown.  So come along and pit your wits against the celebrity teams and The Whisky Shop Dufftown All Stars which are to whisky knowledge what the Harlem Gobetrotters are to synchronised swimming.

Robin Laing will be giving a world exclusive preview of his new CD, “Whisky for Breakfast”.  The songs which are all by Robin and whisky related will be paired with the relevant whisky.  Breakfast rolls will also be available.

Steven McConnachie will be showing not only the full River collection in his tasting but also the brand new Castle Leod which is being heralded as one of Dalmore’s best special releases.

Whisky News

There seems to be mixed progress in the plans of the independent bottlers who are intending to expand into distilling.  The 2 that are strongly rumoured to be buying distilleries do not seem to have got ink on to contracts yet.  Duncan Taylor seems to have kicked their distillery plans into the long grass (or should that be barley).  The other independent with their eyes on building a distillery of their own is quietly pressing on and may be making an announcement soon – I won’t say more for fear of jeopardising my invitation to the opening.

Diageo seem to be expanding some of the expressions in their core range.  Singleton of Dufftown 18 years old is to hit the streets soon.  And look out for further new age expressions in some of their other ranges.  I think this underlines that rumours of Roseisle spelling the demise of several core Diageo malt brands were false.

At Williams Grants a new travel retail expression of Glenfiddich coming in at 19 Years Old is getting good reviews.   It is also available at the distillery shop where if you are lucky you may be able to pick up a bottle of Snow Phoenix.  A small batch returned from one of the overseas markets will be available only from them.  Maybe if they had put more into the UK market in the first place things would have been easier for everyone.  I won’t name the market that could not sell its allocation of Snow Phoenix (despite the efforts of the voice of Scotland returning with a suitcase full) but may be Snow Cuckoo Clock would have done better.

Here at The Whisky Shop Dufftown we are helping our friends at Maltstock by selling tickets for their 2011 gathering.  They do everything they can to keep their costs down so currently you are only able to buy tickets from them using a direct bank transfer.  For many UK banks this seems to be a bridge to far unless you want to pay a hefty fee so we are helping our by offering the option to pay for tickets by credit card.  And what’s more if you do buy a Maltstock ticket you will get a 10% discount from The Whisky Shop Dufftown for all whisky purchases valid until the end of September.  You didn’t need an incentive to go but now you have one anyway.

We are also offering free festival delivery for anyone attending the Islay Festival or Maltstock.  If you are attending either of these festivals then you can buy from us and we will deliver your purchases to you at the festival free of charge.  If you want to take up this offer please email us.

Should Dufftown be Recognised as a Whisky Region?

If Campbeltown can get re-recognised as a whisky region then is there a case for Dufftown being recognised as one? Let’s look at the facts.  Dufftown has 5 working distilleries which have the capacity to produce some 28 million litres of pure alcohol per year.  So there is a lot of distilling going on.  There is also Kininvie which is currently not in production which has a capacity of 4.8 million litres.  You can also see the shells of 2 former distilleries at Parkmore and Convalmore and the site of the now demolished Pittyvaich.  Historically there were many more in and around Dufftown and including on the slopes of the Convals and Benrinnes.   Leaving Kinninvie aside, if Dufftown was a region in its own right then it would be 3rd by capacity easily out stripping Cambeltown, Lowlands, Islands and Islay.  It would be equal 5th with the Lowlands on number of distilleries.  But then maybe not.

Local News

The Royal Oak pub has taken a huge step down its planned rejuvenation.  It now sports purple walls, chrome, mirrors and new stools.  It’s divided the local population a bit but it certainly looks smarter.  We are still recovering from the draft Guinness being removed and replaced with Stella.  Don’t worry, surger Guinness is available and all-in-all it’s probably just as good.

The Masons has also had a face lift.  The place has been revamped and a much improved restaurant is now open daily for lunch and dinner.  A great addition to the eating options in Dufftown.

At the end of February we threw a party at La Faisanderie to celebrate 5 years of my ownership of The Whisky Shop Dufftown.  The attendees were split in two with one half who could not believe it has been as long as 5 years and me, who still thinks it’s more like 10. We toasted to the next 5 years with The Whisky Shop Dufftowns exclusive Glenfarclas 1971 40 Years Old which is at cask strength and available soon to buy.  It is sublime so a great time was had by all.  Thanks to all who could make it and didn’t use a poor excuse like being in Korea – you know who you are!

Focus on Adelphi

Adelphi Distillery was established by the Gray brothers, Charles and David, in 1826 on what had been a two-acre orchard. It stood just south of the Clyde's Victoria Bridge on the northern edge of the Gorbals.  The Gray family operated the distillery throughout its existence, but around 1880 its ownership was acquired by Messrs A. Walker and Co, who already owned two big distilleries in Liverpool and Limerick respectively. Walkers injected new capital and expanded the works to include a large Coffey still to make grain spirit.  In 1886, the Coffey still and four pot stills were all in full production, with an annual output of 516,000 gallons. It had ten 16,000 gallon washbacks, with two more under construction. Three wash charges held 45,000 gallons in all, the wash stills 6,000 gallons each and the spirit stills 4,500 gallons each. It had six steam engines - the largest a massive brute of 80 horse power - and six boilers ranging in size up to 28 by nine feet in diameter. The whole was dominated by huge circular chimney with a flared top.

The distillery was bought in 1902 by DCL.   One morning in November 1906 disaster struck the distillery.  One distillery worker was supervising the horses and carts queuing at the draffhouse to be loaded up with spent grains stored in the draff tank when a loud bang was heard.  One witness described the noise as sounding like a cannon shot.  One of the wash chargers had toppled from its iron pillar supports releasing 45,000 gallons of hot wash from some 60 feet up which in turn toppled two more full washbacks on the platform below.  A torrent of wash and debris smashed in to the draff tank on the ground floor destroying it.  Many of the queuing farm workers were caught in the torrent and swept away with their horses and carts.  A boiling tidal wave poured into the nearby streets destroying the local bakehouse and flooding many shops.   The resulting tide marks were 20 feet above floor of the draffhouse and 10 feet up on the buildings on the street outside.  level and reached more than 10 feet above street level on the granary wall outside.   Perhaps it was a miracle that only one person was killed.  DCL closed the malt distillery in 1907 although grain whisky production continued until 1932. The remaining buildings were demolished between 1968 and 1970 with the distillery chimney coming down in 1971.

In 1993, the great-grandson of Archibald Walker, Jamie, revived the Adelphi name as an independent bottler.  Jamie was determined not to sacrifice quality for volume, and he was equally adamant that this should be continued when he sold the company in 2004.  Keith Falconer and his neighbour in Argyll, Donald Houston, had approached Jamie on a recommendation, to buy a hogshead of whisky.  In fact, they liked it so much they bought the company.

The team was rounded off by Alex Bruce.  Whisky is in Alex’s blood.  His mother, an Usher, is a direct descendant of Andrew Usher who is credited with pioneering blended whisky, and his father, Lord Elgin, is a patron and former Grand Master of the Keepers of the Quaich.   Alex was also made a Keeper of the Quaich in 2006. He has trained with Remy Martin and J&B, and latterly headed up a new office for Friarwood Fine Wines in Scotland.

Continuing in the family theme Alex has been joined by his sister Antonia, whose background is also in the wine trade, to help deal with increasing sales and Alex’s wife, Vicky, often helps out at whisky fairs and other events.  Alex clearly sees his family as a resource and we wonder when their daughters will be press ganged.

Remaining completely independent, Adelphi is able to offer bottlings from an extensive range of distilleries with Charles Maclean chairing their nosing team.   Adelphi continues to go from strength-to-strength and has recently opened a new warehouse and office complex which it shares with a wine company.  I was lucky enough to be shown round recently and I am geeky enough to be excited by the smell of a new warehouse.  They are well on their way to getting their own bottling line started as well.

Best Wishes

We wish Donald Colville the best of luck in his new job at Diageo as a Global Scotch Brand Ambassador.

And congratulations to Euan Shand of Duncan Taylor who is to wed later this year.  You are a brave lady Mojdeh.

Whisky Festivals - Maltstock

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postheadericon Maltstock - the Whisky Gathering

Maltstock is a non-commercial, unique and relaxed whisky weekend. It's gathering for all whisky clubs and whisky enthusiasts in the world. Everybody is welcome at Maltstock! A weekend of relaxed whisky fun for everyone! Organized by and for whisky enthusiasts.
9 & 10 & 11 September 2011

The Whisky Shop Dufftown is now selling tickets on behlaf of Maltstock

Maltstock 2011 (9th to 11th September 2011) - No Bed LinenThe Whisky Shop Dufftown Maltstock 2011 (9th to 11th September 2011) - With Bed Linen

The Whisky Experiments

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By Mike Lord

During the Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival I ran a tasting looking at some of the perceived wisdom about whisky drinking.  Here’s what happened.

Does the glass matter?

For this test we matched a wide mouthed tumbler against a copita (a sherry tasting glass).  From both glasses a sample of Mackillop’s Choice Imperial 1990 was nosed and tasted.

The results were outstanding.  The Imperial is from a single bourbon cask and is all bananas and tropical fruits interlaced with vanilla.  This nose was only too evident from the copita but it was almost impossible to get anything from the tumbler.  This is the perceived wisdom but the extreme difference was a surprise.

Now to tasting.  The perceived wisdom is that that the copita shoots the liquid in to the centre of the tongue and makes it difficult to taste whisky where as the tumbler spreads the liquid across your tongue making it more accessible.  This one was a difficult one to test as almost everyone in the room naturally worked the whisky from the copita round their mouths.  But the whisky tasted from the tumbler was again a lot less flavoursome.  We found that the copita was much better for tasting the whisky.  Had the large mouth of the tumbler caused the whisky to collapse releasing so many of both its aromas and flavours?  This is the only answer we could come up with.

So the answer is yes.  To enjoy both the full aroma and flavours of a whisky then use a glass with a narrow opening (and preferably only at one end).

Does the water matter?

For years now I have stood at the front of tastings saying that whisky is better diluted with a low mineral content water.  But is this true?  For this experiment we sampled Glenmorangie Original neat, with low mineral content water (Glenlivet) and with a high mineral content water (Strathmore).  The choice of Glenmorangie was deliberate as this is made with process water that is relatively high in mineral content and some say you should dilute whisky with water of the same mineral content as was used to make the whisky.

Nosing and tasting the Glenmorangie neat proved to be a good decision.  This fixed in people’s mind the origin of the aromas and taste of the whisky.  By adding a small amount of water more could be got from both the nose and the taste when adding the low mineral content water.  You could see the genesis from the undiluted to the diluted – you got more out of it.

The Strathmore and the Glenmorangie had an unsettling impact.  It changed the taste of the whisky adding bitter notes and taking away a good deal of what could be found in the undiluted whisky.  This was not a good combination.

As a further test we went back and tried the same experiment with the Mackillop’s Choice Imperial.  If anything this was an even bigger disaster for the Strathmore and Imperial completely stripping away many of the notes from the Imperial leaving something a bit bitter and salty.

So water does matter?  If you are going to dilute your whisky try to use low mineral content water even with whisky made with high mineral content (hard) water.

Colouring

This experiment looked at what actually is the effect of adding spirit caramel to whisky other than making it darker.  For this I chose Benromach 10 Years Old.  This is a fabulous all round whisky being a combination of sherry cask and bourbon cask whisky married together and then re-racked into sherry cask for an extra period of maturation.  It has a distinct and significant smokiness coming through from the Speyside peat that was used to dry the barley.

Again we all nosed and tasted the Benromach 10 as Gordon & MacPhail intended.  Each of us then added a touch of spirit caramel – just enough to coat the tip of the end of the handle of a tea spoon.  The colour change was as dramatic as the change to the nose and palate.  It killed it.  There was a vast reduction in the range of aromas and flavours after the caramel was added.  Some peaty smokiness was there but nowhere near as much as before.  While there was some difference in opinion about whether people preferred the original or the coloured version everyone had agreed that it had significantly changed the whisky.  For the record most preferred the un-coloured version.

I have tried this with a number of whiskies now and the results have always been dramatic.  It definitely splits people as to which they prefer, coloured or uncoloured – the colouring does tend to have a rounding effect knocking out any of the flavour / aroma spikes.  In our experiment, even knowing what had been done, most people admitted that the darker coloured whisky looked more appealing.

So colouring does have an impact but it depends on you and the particular whisky whether this is a good or bad thing.  My theory is that the caramel adds oil to the whisky which makes it difficult for you to nose and taste the whisky.  The oil traps the flavour molecules and interferes with you tasting them – the opposite of molecular discombobulation possibly.  And Gordon & MacPhail, well done for not colouring Benromach 10 – good job!

Chill Filtering

It’s next to impossible to get a sample of exactly the same whisky chill filtered and non-chill filtered.  So this experiment required some home improvisation.

Method: Take one sample of whisky.  If cask strength then cut to 40% ABV.   Split the sample in to two.  Chill one portion overnight in a very cold fridge.  Next morning pour it through a funnel lined with a coffee filter paper and collect.  You now have one chill filtered sample and one that is not.

We used 2 whiskies for this experiment: my own cask strength Exclusive Mortlach from a re-fill sherry cask; and a cask strength Imperial from Duncan Taylor (ex-Bourbon).  Part of the reason for using my Mortlach was to try and see if the thick haze that is created with the addition of water could be filtered out (only partially at best as it turned out) and the Duncan Taylor sample as their overseas sales director, Mark Watt, is fond of saying that chill filtering rips the heart out of whisky.

I cannot in any way claim this is an accurate representation of chill filtering as done by distilleries but it’s the best I could come up with.  The lack of reduction in the haze of the WSD Mortlach suggests to me that the process I undertook is quite possible filtering the whisky less than in is done in the industry.  You will be surprised how long it takes to filter whisky.

Again the results were stark.  The WSD Mortlach became in both nose and taste lighter, less oily but also with less depth and there was a distinct cardboard flavour.  Not good.  The Imperial, well it had had its heart ripped out (but no cardboard flavour so this had not come from the filtering).

We used 2 very different whiskies and all preferred the un-chill filtered version.  So the conclusion is buy a non chill filtered whisky if you can.  Of course chill filtering could remove a nasty heart from some whiskies!

Adding Ice to Whisky

The real heathen crime or so the perceived whisky wisdom is to add ice to whisky.  The idea to test this came about when I was drinking whisky in a very hot flat in London.  Frankly the Arran 10 I was sampling had the temperature of bath water.  I decided to add ice and from this I decided to go public with my findings.

At the tasting we had samples of Arran 10 and Lagavulin 16 in Glencairn glasses.  Starting with the Arran we nosed and tasted the whisky before adding ice and then we did the same with the Lagavulin.  I encouraged everyone to nose and taste as soon as the ice had gone in so we could see the effect of cooling the whisky as opposed to diluting it.  I used ice cubes made from Glenlivet Spring water.

Both whiskies became thicker and oilier with the ice.  With the Arran a much stronger aniseed note appeared and it was less malty than without the ice.  The ice had changed the flavour but definitely not destroyed it.  Different flavours were coming through.  You could tell it was Arran 10 but it was different on the nose and palate.  If anything the adding ice had generally reduced the nose of the whisky.  Ice made the Lagavulin bolder.  It becomes more strident.  The peatiness took on a heavier, drier, much ashier characteristic.  The change here was quite remarkable.

The conclusion is adding ice to whisky is not such a bad thing.  In certainly changes it and it may for some whiskies even improve them.  And to avoid drinking whisky which is like bath water, those people living in warmer climes than the North East of Scotland, please keep adding ice to your whisky!