Tag Archives: BenRiach

Whisky Tasting: The Renegade Whiskies of Speyside with Joel Harrison & Neil Ridley

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Some people think of Speyside as not just a region but a particular style of whisky.  For this tasting Neil & Joel have sourced some indie bottlings that just don't seem to fit within this general landscape of Speyside.  The whiskies they have already announced for this tasting are insane.  They are including two of the whiskies that they have liberated from the darkest forgotten corners of the industries warehouses - the widely acclaimed Trojan 25 Years Old and their latest release BenRiach 16 Years Old Single Cask plus a 25 Years Old Macallan single cask from the Boutique-y Whisky Company - yes... that's a 25 Years Old Macallan.

The tasting takes place during the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival on Monday 2 May at 15:30.  Do not miss this extraordinary tasting.  Book your tickets here.

Discover

Discover

Liberate

Liberate

What is the Best Malt for a Bacon Roll?

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Here at The Whisky Shop Dufftown we have been continuing our "scientific" search for the best Single Malt to go with a Bacon Roll - unsmoked, no sauce.  That's the scientific bit.

At this year's Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival we took the 2 winning whiskies from our festivals last year, Benriach 20 Years Old and Singleton Sunray, and pitched them against 2 new whiskies selected by Mike Lord - Balvenie 14 Years Old Caribbean Cask and Glen Moray Elgin Classic Port Finish.

We held 4 tastings, 1 each day of the festival, and each one was a sell out with over 80 people taking part.  It was a tight race and each combination received a significant number of votes. This proved again that everyone's palate is different and there is a whisky for everyone and every whisky has someone.

The tastings were conducted blind - guests were not told which whiskies they were sampling until after submitting their vote for their favourite.  We were delighted again to watch people see how the food and whisky combination brought different flavours to the fore and even created new ones.  This is what it is all about for us.  Showing how well whisky pairs with food in a new and exciting way.

The clear winner was Balvenie 14 Years Old Caribbean cask which pipped Benriach 20 Years Old.  That makes the Balvenie the best out of 21 different malts we have tried in this competition.  Thank you to all our guests that took part.  I hope you had fun!

Balvenie 14

WSD Image Bacon 01WSD Image Bacon 02

The Whisky Shop Dufftown Autumn Festival - The Best Malt with a Bacon Roll

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At this year's Whisky Shop Dufftown Autumn Festival we have been continuing our search for the best single malt to have with a bacon roll.  Guests to the festival could come along to a special food and whisky tasting and try 4 different single malts with a bacon roll.  No sauce!  This is science.  One of the 4 was the current champion from previous festivals (both The Whisky Shop Duffown Autumn Festival and The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival), Benriach 20.  This whisky was up against 3 new challengers: Singleton Sunray, Mortlach Rare Old and Glenfiddich Malt Masters Edition.

The new winner is Singleton of Dufftown Sunray and this will go through as the best Single Malt to have with a bacon roll to face new challengers at The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2015.

Singleton Sunray

 

The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2013 Report by Bruce Crichton

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Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Spring 2013

Report by Bruce Crichton

On the way to Dufftown, I took my eye of the ball when the foot was on the other hand. With strange sleight of hand afoot, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed and after many days of great whisky, food, music, joke-pinching and geographic inaccuracy here is my account of it.

This report is a rough guide and may contain factual errors, for which I apologize in advance. 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 if a whisky re-appears. I also assume the reader is familiar with widely available bottlings mentioned. Any cask samples, discontinued releases and fill-your-own (FYO) tasted are described briefly, as these may not be available to buy. Finally, any water added was, literally, one drop and whiskies were 40% abv, if the strength is not otherwise indicated.

‘It all started with a big dram’ at the Whiskyshop Dufftown

Opening the festival on Thursday afternoon was Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) owner, Mike Lord who had put in several 35-hour days in preparation for the event. Mike had obtained 3 FYO releases from nearby distilleries and we began with 2002 Glen Moray, at 58.5%abv, from a first fill bourbon cask. This had smooth vanilla and lemon/citrus notes that softened and lightened with water. Also from a first fill bourbon cask was an 18 year old Glenlivet, at 56.8%abv that was smooth and velvety with delicious toffee/butterscotch notes. Again, it softened with dilution.

Finally, a 1993 Glendronach, at 59.2%abv, taken from a sherry butt had thick heavy treacle flavours and many other notes usually associated with sherry maturation.

Mates of the Museum

Later, the ‘mating’ brought together old friends and new over a few civilized drams and Tomintoul Whisky Castle owner Mike Drury presented 3 single cask whiskies from his exclusive collection, beginning with one from Speyside Distillery, reviewed in the Autumn 2012 report and some 30 bottles were for sale to raise cash for the museum. (The remainder of the cask is bottled as ‘Cairngorm Dew’). A sherry-matured Signatory 1995 Glenrothes, at 46%abv, had rhubarb crumble and sherbet on the nose with licorice and dark chocolate flavours. It is also available at cask strength and that was reviewed last autumn. A 15 year old bourbon cask Caol Ila, at 58.1%abv, had a big peat punch, just as a classic Islay malt should have.

Longmorn and Benriach bus tour

Friday began with a historic bus tour, amazing attended by both Moist Von Lipwig and Albert Spangler, and we arrived at Longmorn distillery where Ann Miller was our guide. Built in 1894, Longmorn had been recently expanded and modernized and the distillery’s day job, as it were, is to provide ‘top dressing’ malt for the prestigious Royal Salute and Chivas Regal 18 blends.
8.5 tons of sweet, un-peated malt are used per mash and the tuns and washbacks are all made from steel, the latest technology from the brewing industry, apparently. Mashes take 4.75 hours, down from 6, with fermentation taking 2 days and washbacks having been increased in number from 8 to 10 as part of a modernization program. Production is 7 days a week, for 50 weeks of the year. Interestingly, 4 wash stills are in one part of the building and 4 spirit stills in another part rather than having them paired. The stills have exterior condensers speeding condensation and producing better spirit.  The stills are heated by steam today but were heated by coal 20 years ago and the spirit is cut at 65.72% alcohol.

Though it’s not open to the public, Longmorn is kept spotlessly clean should any visitors be taken round.

Apparently, Hamish Proctor, like most distillery managers, is a keen salmon fisherman and it’s ensured that the water used is cooled before being returned to the stream it came from to prevent them being poached before they’re caught.

Tasting the official Longmorn 16 year old, at 48%abv, I found grassy and floral aromas with vanilla, fresh fruits and toffee flavours that lightened with water. A vatting of sherry and bourbon casks, this bottling appears to have found its feet after a shaky beginning and Ann pointed out that, from the beginning, Longmorn’s whisky was always prized by blenders as it was only ever them who tasted it. By comparison, the 1997 ‘distillery edition’, bottled in 2011, had fruity sherbet on the nose that transmogrified into banana and custard yoghurt on dilution. It was light and creamy with some honey and syrup notes before a long, warm and peppery finish. (This bottling was in the course of selling out over the festival weekend.)
A short journey down the road brought us to Benriach distillery where warehouse manager Ewan George greeted us. (Details are in the autumn 2012 report.)
Interestingly, we saw water being filled into a tun and a plank of wood in place for viewing the mill, for health and safety reasons. We were shown the floor where some 15 tons of barley were malted as a trial last year with excellent alcohol yield, apparently. It costs twice as much, at least, for the distillery to malt its own barley as it does to buy in their malt. Benriach don’t peat their own barley, however, as that would mean flushing before reuse. 125,000 litres of spirit produced last year was triple distilled and is worth watching out for in the future. (Benriach acquired the Glenglassaugh distillery in March 2013).

Rummaging through the warehouse, Ewan pointed out that Benriach matures quickly in bourbon casks and some peated spirit has been filled into quarter and octave casks. Among the cask samples were some 1994 3rd fill ones that had been vatted and then re-racked into 1st fill casks in 2009 and these will probably be used for the 16 year old bottling or perhaps given another 4 years and used for the 20 year old release. A 1994 cask re-racked into virgin oak was legendarily smooth despite being about 58%abv. A 1975 3rd fill sherry butt was about 54%abv and Ewan has found that larger casks hold their alcoholic strength better with this one being a possible single cask release in the summer, tasting of pineapples and tropical fruits. An upcoming 1997 single cask release, re-racked from bourbon to marsala wood had strawberry sorbet on the nose while. Some 1995 peated spirit had also been transferred to a port pipe in 2010, giving it soft smoke and velvety notes and may also be released as a single cask, something to look forward to, no doubt and thanks once again to Ewan for his insight.

Berry Brothers and Rudd Tasting with Doug McIvor

Doug began with the history of the family-owned firm established in 1698 in St James Street, London, by a widow though not much else is known about her. The business began by buying and selling coffee, tea and spices. In an epic oratorical journey, it was noted that many posh clubs began as knocking shops, that coffee scales to weigh customers date from 1765, that the director’s room was, between 1842 and 1845, the Texas Embassy, that the Cutty Sark brand was originated in 1923 by the company, giving rise to the phrase ‘The Real McCoy’ and many other tales too numerous to record in a notepad or a festival report.
Even more entertaining was Doug himself as he said that he had grown up in a tropical part of Scotland, otherwise known as Hamilton, at which point the hall echoed to the sound of my shrieking laughter which no doubt perplexed the audience, perhaps 3 of whom could have gotten the joke. Doug had, as a young man aspired to be the popular Irish comedian Dave Allen known for his delivery from a comfy chair with a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Berry Brothers’ whiskies are not coloured or chilfiltered and they bottle whiskies that they themselves like to drink, mostly single casks and, occasionally, 2-3 casks in one bottling. (The alcoholic strength is 46%abv, if not otherwise indicated). Interestingly, the company speaks of the maturity of the whisky, rather than the age, with Doug recalling a 4 year old, sherry matured, Ledaig that sold out overnight, so good was its balance.

Doug looks for colour, clarity and viscosity in his whiskies and wonders how long he can chew the whisky for. In his view, a refill hogshead best shows a distillery’s character.

The first whisky was a 1988 Invergordon that tasted of ginger, spice and vanilla and became creamy with a drop of water. By contrast, a 1992 Littlemill, at 54.9%abv, was like a tuck shop full of fizzy sweets on the nose with a crisp and malty taste and a long, creamy and warm finish.
A 1994 Braes of Glenlivet (Braeval) was effervescent and sweet with Doug reckoning it to be the fruitiest Speyside whisky. He also gets ‘kid’s sweets’ while I found banana and vanilla, with Parma violets while a 1992 Caperdonich had cereal and grassy aromas with the taste of apples and other fruits together with a sweet, silky finish. A 1997 Clynelish, from a refill bourbon cask, had characteristic vanilla, cream and honey notes followed by more honey, fruit and a hint of salt.

The original bottling plan was intended to be two thirds at 46% and the rest at cask strength but this was reversed due to customer demand. A 1974 Glen Grant, at 49.3%abv, was taken from a sherry cask and was the kind of Scotch that legends are made of. Velvety and luxurious, it had rich coffee, treacle and many other flavours associated with sherry maturation followed by an extremely long finish with toffee and caramel. While we tasted, Doug recounted a story of whisky reviving gerbils during a miner’s strike.

We closed with batch 6 of Blue Hanger, a vatted malt named after William Hanger, Lord Coleraine, and bottled at 44.6%abv. (The first 3 batches of this were composed of Glen Grant and Glenlivet blended together, apparently.) It began with some smoke and slight rubber that drifted away with time and tasted of fruitcake and shortbread with Stuart Kerr finding it salty at the end.

Scottish Classical Music with Paul Anderson and friends.

Aberdeenshire fiddler Paul Anderson returned to Dufftown, this time with friend Norman Conboy on guitar and young ladies Katie and Annie in tow to sing a number of traditional Scottish songs. This was a fine, cheery and relaxing evening with many of the guitar and fiddle tunes bringing to mind Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells and the soundtrack of The Wicker Man film. Some of the music was pipe tunes adapted for the fiddle. Again, a lot of the music played was written by James Scott Skinner, the first Scot to record music and who, at the age of 12, played for Queen Victoria. Paul himself recounted being inspired by a dram and a braw summer’s night to write 3 tunes and reckons he has written nearly 400 tunes.

Katie and Annie have been ‘Young Burnsians of the year’ and sang ‘Parcel o’ Rogues’, ‘Sands of the Shore’, ‘Love and Freedom’ and ‘Way off in the Distance’, amongst others.
After the girls bade us farewell, the men returned to play a number of jigs, waltzes and reels, including the mournful ‘Farewell to St Kilda’ about the inhospitable islands evacuated in 1930 and ending with the ‘Orange Blossom Special’ and an encore entitled ‘Hens Merch Ower the Midden’.

Saturday Morning Whisky Fair

Highlights of the fair include: Cadenhead’s ‘Creations’ Invergordon 21 year old, at 46%abv that was minty, light and creamy while a 14 year old Auchentoshan, also 46%abv, was described by Mark Watt as a ‘morning whisky’ with fruit salad chew bar smells and a crisp, smooth taste.

Gordon and MacPhail’s ‘MacPhail’s Collection’ 2004 Bunnahabhain and 8 year old Highland Park, both at 43%abv, were superb low-budget drams with the first being very sweet with fizzy fruits and the second being light, sweet and very smooth. Interestingly, a peated Bunnahabhain is being released very soon.

‘Dreamdrams.co.uk had a delicious 20 year old bourbon cask Highland Park, at 51.2%abv that no home should be without and a marvelously sweet Tobermory 17, at 59.5%abv. Their 19 year old sherry matured Bunnahabhain, at 49%, reminded Stuart of plum duff while I found both coffee and treacle.

Adelphi Liddesdale 21 yr, at 46%abv, was lighter than previous 18 year old batches and I found it sweet, delicate and moreish. Lighter than the previous batch, it tasted of treacle, syrup and licorice. A delightful 21 year old Glen Keith, at 53%abv, from a refill bourbon cask had fruit salad chew bar flavours, with vanilla sweetness and a very long finish.

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.

I refreshed my memory with the widely available Old Ballatruan from Tomintoul, at 50%abv, and found the quality reassuring. By comparison, the new 10 year old bottling, at 50%abv also, was thicker and more solid with a sweet smokiness and a nose to linger over. Master distiller Robert Fleming told me that 4-5 weeks production goes to the Old Ballantruan and, again, no home should be without this little gem.

Undisputed Springbank

Mike Lord, who can strip a shoal of piranhas to the bone in 15 seconds, introduced Cadenhead’s Mark Watt as the undisputed expert on Springbank distillery and we began the tasting with that in mind.
(Cadenhead’s have a sub-office in the Royal Oak pub in Dufftown).

Hazelburn 12 year old, at 46%abv, was matured in sherry casks. I found the nose to be light and malty with a taste of fruit syrup. For best results, add a drop of water to the whisky and there will be a long, spicy finish. Interestingly, distillery legend Frank McHardy worked at Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland before returning to Springbank and perhaps gained insight into the triple distillation process when he was there. Mark has also tasted a sample of the first run of Hazelburn that was not triple-distilled.

Mark commented on the difference in culture between Cadenhead’s and his previous employers with his current company being far more relaxed than his old one. It had taken him 281 days to sell his first bottle and the company makes whisky to sell when times are tough so that, when times are good, it’s a dawdle.

Campbeltown distillery Glen Scotia owns the brand name ‘Glen Gyle’ so whisky from Glen Gyle distillery is bottled as Kilkerran. (Kilkerran whisky uses barley that has 12 ppm of phenol.) A bourbon cask sample had very light honey and syrup with a lightly peaty, smoky finish. (A sherry cask release is on the way.)

Springbank 15 year old, at 46%abv, had been fully matured in sherry casks and it smelled lightly of peat and refreshers. It also tasted salty and crisp with raisin flavours. Mark finds the mouth-feel of this tremendous and thinks that chilfiltration would remove this completely.

Springbank uses barley that is 12 ppm phenol, in contrast to Mike Lord’s recent experiments that peated his own barley to 3 million parts per million, more than twice the level I’ve ever been able to achieve.

The upcoming 1999 Springbank ‘Local Barley’ was made with Tomintoul peat and was also fully matured in sherry casks, making it rich and sweet, given time to develop in the glass. Mark thinks this is a ‘reflective dram’ and finds chocolate notes and coal dust in the finish. This was great stuff but would have been better named as simply a 1999 vintage and any local barley batch would be better in bourbon casks so that the expert taster can tell the difference between batches.  As we tasted, Mark told us the tale of malt disastrously made with Campbeltown peat that’s full of sand and which turned to glass in the kiln.

A preview sample of the next release of Longrow Red, probably to be bottled at cask strength, offered an exciting balance of peat and wine. With time, the peat creeps up slowly and stealthily on the tastebuds. This had been matured for 5 years in Cabernet Sauvignon red wine casks and, indeed, Springbank do not finish, as such, they give their whiskies a second maturation as colour changes quickly but the flavour needs time to catch up and then marry. Finally, watch out for a 2001 Cask Strength vintage Longrow.

Scottish Liqueur Centre Whiskies with Peter Mackay

This series of whiskies at either cask strength or 46%abv began with a 1996 Carn Mor Mortlach, from a hogshead, to my mind, the natural home for Mortlach. Honey and fruit syrup vapours preceded the taste of malt, biscuits, shortbread and honeycomb and the finish was particularly long and crisp. (It sold out over the long weekend.)  Peter found a ‘Strictly Limited’ (SL) 15 year old Dailuaine to smell like apple sponge pudding while Christian, from Norway, found some orange chocolate. Thick and chewy, a drop of water made it fizzier and made the finish peppery.

A bourbon cask 1994 SL Miltonduff sparked a round of discussion with Peter and the audience as he found raspberries and recommended raspberry cranachan. I found sherbet ‘dibdabs’ and light, crispy vanilla. Peter does like to see if he can describe a whisky in word and, with that in mind, my description of this is ‘Ballantines’ as much of the flavour profile from Ballatines Finest is in this dram.

Maintaining the current whisky boom, the centre is waiting for planning permission for a distillery at Bridge of Earn, near their home in Bankfoot, Perthshire. A 1989 Celebration of the Cask (CotC) Girvan, at 52.8%abv, was awesome with light honey, bourbon and butter sauce on the nose and vanilla with toffee sauce on the taste and a silky finish. A 1989 CotC Tamdhu, at 54%, smelled of fruit jellies and was warm and full-bodied, softening on water to give pineapples and a prickly, long and warm finish.

An SL 2005 Ledaig was a real find. Distilled at Tobermory, this would pass easily for a classic young Islay, tasting as it does of smoked fish with a salty finish while water reveals some minty notes.

Tannochbrae Gala Dinner with Robin Laing

Saturday night meant a welcome return the Tannochbrae restaurant where Allan and Susie delicacies were accompanied by whiskies from Mike Drury with new music and some poetry from the great Robin Laing. Whiskies for the evening included the Caol Ila, Glenrothes and the ‘Cairngorm Dew’ from earlier in the festival and a ‘MacDonald’s Ben Nevis, at 46%abv, that Mike thought was like a Bunnahabhain and paired well with our meat while his own cask strength Tomintoul, finished in tawny port for 2.5 years, was sweet and fruity. Mike finds that Tawny port makes a whisky meaty and describes this as fruity roast beef. The reader is invited to compare this to the distillery bottle, finished in ruby port pipes.

Douglas Laing and the de-merger

Jan Beckers returned to Dufftown, having tired of his life of espionage – he is a mint spy – and told us of his company’s latest developments. The day before the festival, Douglas Laing had split in two with Fred Laing, keeping the name ‘Douglas Laing’ and a number of brands while brother Stuart had formed ‘Hunter Laing’ taking other brands with him, most notably the ‘Old Malt Cask’ (OMC) series.

A 1992 Clan Denny Port Dundas, at 55.7%abv, from a refill hogshead had vanilla and warm butter on the nose with some biscuits and cereal. The closed Port Dundas distillery needed a lot of money to be updated and production was instead shifted to the Cameronbridge plant in Fife. This whisky had been distilled from wheat while; by contrast, Edinburgh’s North British distillery uses maize.

A pale 10 year old Provenance Mortlach, at a standard 46%abv, smelled of acid drops, refreshers and pears while Jan found it fresh and fruity. In the immediate future, Provenance releases will be older than before to fill the gap left by the OMC and ‘Old and Rare’ ranges.

Launched in 2011, the ‘Director’s Cut’ (DC) range is, in effect, the OMC range at cask strength though the name is trademarked in the Far East and America so it is not available there. Some casks have been split between the OMC and DC ranges. Jan found our 1982 Caperdonich, at 50.9%abv, quite beefy and pointed out that some very old whiskies can be flattened by the addition of water while I reckoned that it tasted like fish cooked in vanilla sauce. The finish was dry with a little dark chocolate.

1996 DC Springbank, at 58.2%abv, from a sherry butt, was tremendous and I found salt, smoke, sherry, dark chocolate and a hint of fish on the nose. I could also taste coffee, toffee, treacle and wedding cake before a little smoke and burnt sugar to end with on a very mouth-coating dram. In contrast, a 15 year old DC Bowmore, at 52.2%abv, had come from a refill hogshead and had refreshers, salt and Murray Mints on the nose with smoked fish and vanilla flavours. Phil Yorke found notes of Earl Grey tea.

To end, we had ‘Very Big Peat’, at 46%abv, which is simply a gallon bottle of the popular ‘Big Peat’ blended malt. A testament to the skill of the blender, the peat is smooth and creeps up slowly as you go on with the taste and an audience member thought it to be an end of evening dram.

There followed a rather surreal episode as one nincompoop read the words ‘Scotch Whisky distilled at North British Distillery’ and announced indignantly that it was ambiguously named, possibly making him think that it was possibly Japanese but I brought him down, just in time, with a flying tackle to stop him annoying the rest of the crowd leaving a crater that can be seen from space.

Adelphi Tasting with Antonia Bruce

A packed house greeted Adelphi’s Antonia Bruce as we began with a 1989 Clynelish, at 52.1%abv, which tasted of warm golden honey with a lovely waxiness characteristic of the distillery. The finish was very sweet and long and it passed its bead test magnificently, a sign of age. In a little history lesson, Antonia recounted the founder of Clynelish, the Duke of Sutherland, and his role in the highland clearances before telling us that Clynelish whisky was prized by blenders in the days of 19th century writer Alfred Barnard.

1986 Highland Park, at 47%abv, had heather, honey, salt and some smoke before serving up butter, toffee notes. Orkney peat comes from heather, apparently, and this gives it sweetness. Antonia told us stories of a cat sitting in the maltings floor at the distillery and of soldiers swimming in the washbacks during world war 2. A 27 year old Longmorn, at 53.2%abv, smelled of bourbon and buttered toast. This tasted of nuts; cereal and honey with a lingering peppery finish and was a dram to inspire poets and songwriters.

Antonia found a 21 year old Glenrothes, at 55.5%abv, explosive, having come from a refill sherry cask. There were fruit salad and syrup flavours while the Norwegian posse in the audience got red apples and the finish was long and fresh. Finally, a 1987 Bunnahabhain, at 44%abv, brought maraschino cherries and a little smoke to the mind of Antonia. The relatively low strength worked in its favour, making it gentle, luscious and velvety. Antonia got muscovado sugar at the end and this whisky is recommended with some ‘Maya Gold’ chocolate.  As Antonia received a round of applause, she thanked Mike for inviting her, despite her waffling though my suggestion that she try pancaking instead was, on reflection, just a bit daft.


Robin Laing and Travel Retail Whiskies

Along with his popular songs and new edition of the ‘Whisky River’ book that now includes Roseisle distillery, Robin treated us to 6 whiskies exclusive to travel retail outlets. The best of these were the sherry matured Bowmore 100 proof with it’s rich sherry and smoked fish flavours where peat broke through at the end and the An Cnoc ‘Peter Arkle’ travel retail edition, at 46%abv, which was spicy with aniseed and an attractive maltiness. Also tasted were Singleton of Dufftown ‘unité, Aberlour 15, at 43%abv, Dalmore ‘Valour’ and Highland Park ‘Einar’

As well as a number of his popular whisky-themed tunes like ‘Whisky for breakfast’, ‘Special Sipping Whisky’, ‘Monkey Shoulder’, ‘A’Bunadh’ as well as reading a few poems and playing the unfamiliar ‘Guernica’, a song inspired by Picasso’s painting of the same name.

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

Balvenie Distillery Tour

Down at Balvenie, David Mair was our guide for the limited edition tour that is described in detail in my Autumn 2010 report. (Tours can be booked by contacting the distillery directly.)

Balvenie malts a fraction of its own barley and David suggested there may be a ‘Farm Reserve’ release in the future, using this malt. Balvenie is a component part of the Monkey Shoulder blend, ironic, given that malt turning machines have been in place for 40 years, preventing the repetitive strain injury the whisky is named after though some Russian visitors decided to try turning the barley by hand, just for fun.

The tour continued to the warehouse where Tun 1401 batch 9 was in place and where there is the chance to draw cask samples to fill your own 200 ml bottle from either first fill or second fill bourbon casks or from a first fill Oloroso sherry cask.  Members of the online ‘Warehouse 24’ club are given the chance to draw some whisky from a 1974 refill bourbon cask and, with that, we headed to the tasting room.

Our vertical tasting began with the widely available ‘Doublewood’ 12 year old that seemed lighter than of yore. The 14 year old ‘Caribbean Cask’, at 43%abv, had spent 5 months in rum casks, giving it burnt sugar notes along with spice and vanilla with the rum dominant by the finish. The 17 year old ‘Peated Cask’, at 43%abv, was the last limited release from Balvenie and the sweet, light smokiness flirted with the tastebuds before vanishing, leaving a creamy finish behind it.

The new 17 year old ‘Doublewood’, at 43%abv, had spent 8 months in sherry casks and it’s sweet, fizzy and chewy. The 21-year-old Ruby Port finish, covered extensively in my Autumn 2008 report, had spent 3 months in the port pipe and David noted that port can be matured for 30 years so the cask’s effect on maturation of whisky can be very powerful.

We ended with the 1974 cask sample and David found strawberry oak and a hint of smoke while I found it particularly luxurious and cannot recommend this tour highly recommended tour enough and congratulate any reader able to obtain a bottle of this whisky, whenever it’s released.


Diageo’s hidden secrets by Donald Colville

Diageo’s malt whisky brand ambassador Donald Colville brought along some personal favourites for the tasting. Donald is the ‘face of the friends of the classic malts’ and began by enticing several members of the audience to listen to their whisky glasses thereby demonstrating what you can get adults to do.

The festival bottling of Mortlach, at 48%abv, was invitingly rich and reminded me of the burnt sugar on the top of a crème brulee and it had a sweet, buttery taste. Donald is partial to non-age statement (NAS) bottlings as he thinks age can be a hindrance for a blender. He also warns of nose fatigue with whiskies and cures this by moving around from one whisky to another. Tasting the Cragganmore 21 year old, at 56%abv, was again a pleasure, having reported on it for the autumn 2012 festival and I inadvertently sparked a surreal interlude that began with silk pyjamas and ended with a burning wicker man. (I leave the reader to imagine the rest of what went on in the hall.)

A 1976 ‘Rare Malts’ 23 year old Inchgower, at 55.6%abv, had foam bananas and syrup on the nose with light bourbon and toffee tastes. This range began in 1995 but has been superseded the special releases done each year. Inchgower is a Bell’s whisky and, apparently, those distilleries are rather ‘higgledy-piggledy’ while J&B distilleries are far more orderly. Donald noted that a wood shortage in the 1970s and 80s struck the whisky industry and casks were filled at a higher alcoholic strength while American oak holds its alcohol content better than European oak does.

The new Talisker Port Ruighe (pronounced Portree), at 45.8%abv, is finished for ‘as long as necessary’ in Port pipes and its sweet and fruity and an ideal accompaniment for salmon. The new Talisker ‘Storm’, at 45.8%abv, is outselling the 10 year old and is Donald’s favourite from the distillery. This is young whisky in heavily charred casks with the charring opening up the wood to give a tremendous intensity of flavour. 25 and 30 year old versions will become permanent additions to the range while the 57 North will continue to be a small batch release.

As we tasted Donald’s own Islay whisky festival ‘Feis Ile’ bottle of sherry matured Caol Ila 11 year old, at 60.4%abv, he treated us to his company’s vision as they have built new distilleries, upgraded others and expanded the total capacity by several million litres and done so flexibly so as not to be forced to close should a downturn hit the industry. The future is assured for a number of small distilleries such as Oban, Lochnagar, Dalwhinnie and Glenkinchie as these are important visitor attractions; indeed Oban is their third biggest selling malt whisky. One final note is that Port Ellen, closed in 1983, is running out and it does get increasingly expensive to maintain old casks as time goes on.

Creations for Cadenhead’s by Mark Watt

Cadenhead’s Mark Watt had recovered from an embarrassing incident where his liver had attempted to claim political asylum in Uruguay to preview his Creations range. (Well, it has been persecuted for years). The collection is taking shape and will be available worldwide while, currently, the company only sells whisky through its 10 outlets worldwide. Mark told us that he once been a bar in Sweden with adult movie star Ron Jeremy and I reckon this probably happened when Mark got lost on the way to Japan.

A 1994 Craigellachie, at 54.4%abv, will be in the ‘Small Batch’ range that will consist of 2-3 casks per bottling and, in this case, 1 bourbon and 1 sherry cask. I found vanilla and glace cherries while Mark got smoked ham and a chewy finish. Water unlocked both bourbon and sherry cask characteristics. Festival regular Danny Maguire found that water made it very mouth coating which cheered him up after his surfing trip to Nepal had inexplicably gone awry and he was savagely mauled by a shoal of mackerel.

A 1989 Cameronbridge grain whisky was 50% in the sample bottle but will probably be released at 46%abv. Mark doesn’t think this is a session whisky, tasting as it does of butter, biscuits and vanilla, and reckons that just a couple of these is best at a time. Grain whisky was the subject of a debate in the early 20th century and one famous advert of the time said that Cambus grain had ‘not a headache in a gallon’. Mark, however, will never find out if this is the case because he never drinks as little as that.  He did recount a Danish convert to grain whisky who left with a case of it though Mark is unsure if he paid for it. Cadenhead’s do have a large stock of grain whisky, mostly Cameronbridge and Invergordon.

A preview sample of a 20 year old blend, scheduled to be bottled at 46%abv, inspired Mark and I to recycle each other’s jokes and still manage to get laughs. Composed of Mortlach, Bruichladdich, Invergordon and Cameronbridge, it had banana yoghurt notes as well as spice and sherry and the audience thought it deserved to be bottled at 50%abv. A 1970 Glenlivet-Minmore, at 53.5%abv, had coffee and treacle thick enough to play rugby on as well as dry leather and wedding cake. However, 1 drop of water did make it ‘bowf’, according to Mark and Danny. When bottled, this will represent a considerable bargain and retail for a small fraction of the price of a 1980 vintage distillery bottling.

We then cleansed our palates with a 1998 Bowmore, which had mints and soft peat and became effervescent and sweet with water. A 1988 Highland Park was taken from 2 sherry butts and had light peat, big sherry and a slight leatheriness to it. Mark said that it, if it were any bigger, you’d need a fork and knife for it while Danny got the taste of rich tea biscuits.

The drams party closed the festival with Mike announcing Berry Brother’s 1974 Glen Grant won the Speyside challenge while Wemyss 1997 Clynelish ‘Fresh Fruit Sorbet’ had won the ‘Rest of Whisky’ challenge.  It was left to vegetarian Val to announce that Glendronach 12 year old was voted the best whisky to drink with haggis while Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 goes best with bacon.

With that, I’d like to thank everyone involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord and his wife Val, Vicky and Kirsten at the Whisky Shop, to Claire and Claus for the proofreading, to Rene, Glo, Steve and everyone involved with the ‘Mates of the Museum’.

I’m off to read ‘The Illustrated History of Catsuits’ by Sarcophagus Moriarty, and I’ll see you again at the autumn festival with an improved grasp of sartorial elegance and tastefulness.

The Whisky Shop Dufftown Food and Whisky Pairings

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Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2012 Blog 2

During the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival this year we ran a cafe & bar at the venue for our tastings.  Not only did this serve much needed sustenance to festival guests but also helped us continue our experiments with food and whisky pairings.  We looked at bacon rolls with 4 whiskies and Haggis with a different 4 whiskies.  Guests were treated to the way the whisky and food combinations change the flavours of both, emphasising some flavours in the food and the whisky and also creating new ones!


We were delighted by the number of people who chose to take part and the fabulously positive response to our whisky and food tastings. Some guests had not done this kind of thing before and where blown away by the whisky and food experience.

Bacon

Brave breakfast festival guests were asked to sample a bacon roll with 4 different whiskies and faced with the challenge of choosing their favourite.  The whiskies chosen by Mike Lord were all distillery bottlings: Cragganmore 12, Glen Elgin 12, Singleton of Dufftown 12 and Benromach 10.  The bacon was unsmoked and guests were asked not add sauce – this is serious stuff.  The clear winner was Cragganmore 12.  This was a treat for those that tried the tasting and a great way to start the festival day.

Bacon Roll and a Dram

Cragganmore 12 Years Old

Haggis

During the lunch time period we switched our attention to Haggis, Neeps and Tatties.  (For those of you wondering neeps are swedes and tatties are potatoes.)  The focus was on pairing the Haggis with Clynelish 14 (as suggested by the Classic Malts website), An Cnoc 12, Aberlour 16 and Benriach 10.  Whisky and Haggis is a particularly good combination with the spices in the Haggis working well with the whiskies.  Again there was a clear favourite – Aberlour 16.

Aberlour 16 Years Old

Haggis, neeps and tatties

It’s Down to You

With each whisky and food combination there was not one pairing that some people did not vote for as their favourite.  This shows again that there are no hard and fast rules with whisky and the only way to find your favourite is to try it for yourself.

Special Thanks

We would like to thank the Dufftown Lodge and their wives and friends for running the cafe and serving spectacular food during the festival.  Particular thanks go to Yvonne Smart whose help, cooking and good humour were the backbone of the cafe operation.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2012

The Autumn Speyside Festival

For anyone coming to the Autumn Speyside Festival and wishing to attend our events at The WSD Autumn Festival 2012 then it is more than likely than tickets for our events will only be available from our website.  There will be no change for the Spirit of Speyside Festival 2013.

A Trio of New Gems from Adelphi

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By Mike Lord

A small new release from Adelphi but well worth a look

Adelphi Aultmore 1982 29 Years Old

This is another top class Aultmore from Adelphi. They believe it to be one of their best and describe it as a perfect breakfast whisky.

Nose: Underripe bananas. Then the bananas ripen and become banana cheesecake. After water, estery notes of warm polythene or vinyl. Faded dried mixed herbs and muesli.

Taste: Sweet and syrupy. After water, smooth, sweet with rolled-oats.

Finish: Dusty malt and green banana skins in the finish.

Adelphi Benriach 1977 34 Years Old

It's been a long time since Adelphi last produced a Benriach and it has been worth the wait.

Nose: Tinned peaches in syrup and white grapes with zesty orange peel. Behind this, hints of sphagnum moss [peat moss]. Almonds.

Taste: Oily mouthfeel. Light sweeteness. Water introduces mint toffee (Murray Mints). Musty grape skins. Soft, creamy texture. A trace of spice at the back of the tongue.

Finish: Honeycomb in the finish. An aftertaste of maturation warehouse. A lovely dusting of chocolate.

Adelphi Bowmore 2001 10 Years Old

An amazing toffee sweet Bowmore.

Nose: Straight away, sweet highland toffee - a thick and creamy nose that develops with Caboc (highland cheese rolled in toasted oatmeal), and traces of butterscotch and chocolate malt. On the nose, the smoke is apparent, but never overpowering.

Taste: Surprisingly sweet to taste as well, and now very smoky, with hints of warm railway sleepers; lingering creosote smokiness. Water makes it more mineralic; bath salts, and a trace of carbolic soap.

Finish: The McCowan's highland toffee returns in the finish, now swathed in hessian sacks.

See our full Adelphi range.



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.

Two New Releases from BenRiach

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By Mike Lord

Benriach 12 Years Old Horizons Triple Distilled

‘Horizons’ is quite an unique whisky for BenRiach and Speyside for that matter. It has been triple distilled.  The previous owners of BenRiach, Chivas Brothers, performed some experiments with triple distillation at BenRiach back in 1998 – why is not clear.  ‘Horizons’ is then finished for a minimum of 3 years in Oloroso Sherry butts (having started life in ex-bourbon casks).  It is aged over 12 years old, is non chill filtered, and is bottled at 50% ABV.

Tasting notes from Benriach:-

Nose: Roasted almonds and Brazil nuts. Hot, freshly buttered scones smothered in clotted cream. Sweet heather honey adds an extra luxurious contribution.

Taste: Vibrant and wonderfully fresh. Huge nutty characteristics right from the start including peanuts, Brazil nuts and hazelnuts. A slice of sweet creamy oak and honey brings balance to the equation.

Benriach 15 Years Old Solstice Peated Port Finish

‘Solstice’ is a heavily peated BenRiach which started off life in ex-bourbon barrels, and has then been finished in Tawny Port Pipes.  Great that port pipes have been used for this.  Benriach say that what makes this release so special is that these casks are some of the best they have in the warehouse – they are simply sensational. Both Billy Walker, master blender, and Stewart Buchanan, distillery manager, have identified these casks as exceptional.  Stewart told me that he is particularly pleased with this one.  After all, peat and port is always a winner.  ‘Solstice’ is aged over 15 years old, is non chill filtered, and is bottled at 50% ABV.

Tasting notes from Benriach:-

Nose: Benriach: Rich wood smoke with ladles of sweet peat. Home made raspberry jam and spiced fruit shortcake. Spicy and big.

Taste: Benriach: Massive peat and wood smoke flavours partner a base of soft red fruits and autumn spices - cloves and cinnamon specifically. Very bold and intense characteristics.


New Releases in from GlenDronach and BenRiach

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Some exciting new wood finishes in from GlenDronach and BenRiach.  These are all limited releases and there aren't very many of each.  They are all in the shop and ready to go:

GlenDronach 14 Years Old Sauterne Finish

The dessert wine has influenced this whisky well and the tasting notes have a lot of pudding notes.  There's cream, cherries, raisins and custard.  An all-you-can-eat dessert buffet of a whisky.

GlenDronach 14 Years Old Virgin Oak

The new wood has given all those vibrant sweet tropical notes to this whisky including banana and coconut along with toasted and nutty aromas.  A really vibrant whisky.

GlenDronach 15 Years Old Moscatel

Tropical and summer fruits come through on this one with the Moscatel finish: peaches, apricots, melons and pineapple.  There's also a nuttiness with figs and raisins.  A very well balanced dram.

GlenDronach 20 Years Old Tawny Port

The port notes are clearly present with figs, dates, pears and apples and a touch of aniseed.  The age of the base whisky is also clearly present.  Full of distinguished character.

BenRiach 16 Years Old Claret

Spiced fruit, syrup and wood notes underline this whisky.  A little acidity coming from the Claret as well.  This finish has produced a complex result.

BenRiach 17 Years Old Rioja

This whisky has a real flower garden set of aromas to it which must have come from the Rioja.   These are complemented by vanilla, cream and oak notes resulting in a very fragrant whisky.

BenRiach 17 Years Old Burgundy

Lots of cocoa, berry fruits and crème-brule are the dominant notes from this whisky.  There's also an underlying toasted oak backbone.  Quite a weighty whisky.

These are all great additions to each range but let's hope there aren't too many more to come!

By Mike Lord