Tag Archives: Spirit of Speyside

The Whisky Shop Dufftown Challenge for Independent Bottlers

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This is the first of our articles following The Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2017.

Once again this year we laid down the challenge to independent whisky merchants to find the best independent bottling in two categories: Speyside Whisky; and the Rest of Whisk(e)y.

We run our challenge throughout the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival and it is judged by guests who come in to our shop in a blind tasting.  It was fun and relaxed and people really enjoyed the experience.  We had over 300 guests of the festival  sample the whiskies in the challenge and nearly 200 voted for their favourite.

Speyside

The Speyside Category was fiercely contested but we had a clear winner in Aultmore 2008 6 Years Old from Stilnovisti which gained a third of the votes.  Stilnovisti have recently set up an office in Dufftown and it was great of them to find some whisky for us.  Particularly as they stole the show with a young whisky which beat off some much older competition.  This proved yet again that it is the liquid that counts the most and not the age.  We consider this to be a win for the Dufftown whisky region!  Second place was taken by the Adelphi Breath of Speyside 2006 10 Years Old and third place by Old Particular Craigellachie 1995 21 Years Old.

Stillnovisti Aultmore 2008 6 Years Old

Rest of Whisk(e)y

We had a runaway winner in the Rest of Whisky category with 40% of the votes, Old Particular Strathclyde 2005 11 Years Old.  We are hoping to get more stocks in shortly.  The rogue entry from Gordon & MacPhail, The English Whisky Co English Peated Single Malt came second and Old Perth came third.

Old Particular Strathclyde 2005 11 Years Old

Note:  We define the rest of whisky to be any alcoholic beverage which is derived from any grain, distilled and then matured in oak casks. It can be a blend or blend of malts. It does not have to be distilled, matured or bottled in Scotland. However, it cannot be defined to be from Speyside. Should there ever be a grain distillery in Speyside then we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

A big thank you to Adelphi, Douglas Laing, Gordon & MacPhail, Morrison & MacKay, Stilnovisti and Wemyss Malts.

Best Tasting Notes

We also have a competition for the best tasting notes submitted by one of our guests.  This year the best tasting notes came from Will Burtt and he wins a bottle of the Stilnovisti Aultmore which he voted for as his favourite.

Here is a flavour of some of Will's comments:

  • "like a distant steam train"
  • "like the very first taste of fresh Cornish vanilla ice cream"
  • "who would you give your last Rolo too?"
  • "lying in a field of lavender with a big spoon of honey"

 

A big thank you to all the guests who took part.

See you all next year!

What is the Best Single Malt to go with Haggis?

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Our search at The Whisky Shop Dufftown to find the best Single Malt to go with Haggis continued at this year's Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival.  We held 3 tastings for guests of the festival to try our 4 specially selected malts.  Each tasting was a sell out!

This year our winner from both of last year's festivals,  Aberlour 15 Years Old, and the second place from last year's Whisky Shop Dufftown Autumn Festival, Glendronach 18 Years Old PortFinish (it was such a close thing we decided to give it another chance) were pitched against Glenfarclas 105 and Benromach 10.

Our guests were asked to try the whiskies with haggis, neaps and tatties.  Nothing else.  We do try and be a bit scientific.  We wanted to show how the combination of whisky and food emphasised some flavours in either the whisky or the haggis and even create new ones.  We were delighted to see the expression of the faces of our guests as they experienced this.

The first and second placed whiskies from our last festival were also the first and second placed ones again.  This time the Aberlour 15 Years Old was a clear winner.  This is the 3rd festival in a row it has come out on top!  May be there can be no better dram for your Haggis.  We will put that to the test again during our Autumn festival.  We have put 21 whiskies into this competition over the last 3 years.

Aberlour 15 Select Cask Reserve

WSD Image Haggis 01

Haggis, neeps and tatties

Haggis, neeps and tatties

 

 

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's Challenge for Independent Bottlers

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At each Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival we run a competition for Independent Bottlers to find the best expression they have released during the first half of the year.  This complements the festival's own competition to find the best Speyside whiskies.  We go one step further.  We of course have an award for the best Speyside Whisky but we like to acknowledge that other whiskies are available so we also have a category for The Rest of Whisky.

Voting is carried out by guests of the festival who visit The Whisky Shop Dufftown and take part in an informal do-it-yourself tasting.  All we ask is that people enjoy the drams and if possible vote for their favourite.  We also give a prize for the best tasting note written by one of the guests who take part in the judging.

We had a great competition this year and over 150 people took part.

The full list of whiskies entered are at the bottom of this post but lets get straight in to the winners:-

Speyside

1st Place - Adelphi Glenrothes 2007 (This sold out so quickly we were not able to get a photo.  Hopefully we will get some more stock in soon).

2nd Place - Provenance Miltonduff 2005 8 Years Old

Provenance Miltonduff 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Both of these whiskies were exceptional sherry cask whiskies and great examples of how young whisky can also be exceptional.

Rest of Whisky

1st Place - Clan Denny Strathclyde 2005 9 Years Old

Clan Denny Strathclyde 8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2nd Place -  Carn Mor Strictly Limited Fettercairn 2000 14 Years Old

Strictly Limited Fettercairn 14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A great win for a grain whisky.  A grain has won this category many times before but this is by far the youngest.

Congratulations to the winners.  A particular well done goes to the Douglas Laing stable of companies for a 1st and 2nd and also to Morrison & MacKay for a second and third with 2 of the most affordable entries.

Speyside
BBR Caperdonich 1995
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Inchgower 2000
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Glen Elgin 1998
Morrison & MacKay Strictly Limited Benrinnes 1996 17 Years Old
Hunter Laing Speyside's Finest 1986 28 Years Old
Douglas Laing Provenance Miltonduff 2005 8 Years Old
Adelphi Glenrothes 2007

 

Rest of Whisky
Tweeddale Lowland 14 Years Old
Morrison & MacKay Strictly Limited Fettercairn 2000
BB&R Blue Hangar 11th Release
Douglas Laing Clan Denny Strathclyde 2005 9 Years Old
Wemyss Peat Chimney

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.

Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival 2013

This entry was posted in Blog, Other Whisky News, Whisky Tastings and Events News and tagged on by .

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 2012

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This is the first in a series of blogs on the festival.

During this year’s festival we again held a challenge for Independent Bottlers to find the best independent bottling of Speyside whisky and the best from the rest of whisky. The competition was hotly contended with entries from Adelphi, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cadenheads’s, Douglas Laing, Duncan Taylor, Gordon & MacPhail, The Scottish Liqueur Centre (Carn Mor) and Wemyss. Both Berry Brothers and the SLC were new to the competition this year.

In both categories we had whiskies from the same distillery but were very different highlighting the craft of the Independent Bottler in selecting unusual casks from that distillery. And again this year almost all of the whiskies had people voting for them as their favourite showing that there is a whisky for everyone and every whisky has someone – the flavours in whisky are as broad as people’s palettes are different.

This year, luckily for once, we had very clear winners in each category!

Speyside Category

We had 7 entries in the Speyside category:

Adelphi Glenrothes 1969 42 Years Old

Benromach 2001 Cask Strength entered by Gordon & MacPhail

Berry’s Glenlivet 1973 38 Years Old

Douglas Laing Old & Rare Glen Grant 1985 25 Years Old

Duncan Taylor Octave Linkwood 1991 20 Years Old

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 25 Years Old

Wemyss Cragganmore 1989 Lemon Grove

The results are:

Third – Berry’s Glenlivet 1973 38 Years Old

Second – Douglas Laing Old & Rare Glen Grant 1985 25 Years Old

First – Adelphi Glenrothes 1969 42 Years Old

Antonia Bruce of Adelphi

Rest of Whisky

We had a whopping 10 entries in the Rest of Whisky Category:

Adelphi Caol Ila 1983 28 Years Old

Amrut Fusion entered by Gordon & MacPhail

Berry's Bunnahabhain 1990 21 Years Old

Cadenhead's Royal Brackla 1992 19 Years Old

Carn Mor Bowmore 1996 16 Years Old entered by The SLC

Carn Mor Highland Park 1994 17 Years Old entered by The SLC

Douglas Laing Old & Rare Caol Ila 1980 30 Years Old

Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Cameronbridge 1979 32 Years Old

Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice Royal Brackla 1995

Wemyss Bunnahabhain 1991 "Honey Spice"

The results are:

Third – Douglas Laing Rare Old Caol Ila 1980 30 Years Old

Second – Wemyss Bunnahabhain 1991 “Honey Spice”

First – Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Cameronbridge 1979 32 Years Old

Mark Watt of Duncan Taylor

Congratulations to Adelphi and Duncan Taylor!!!

Best Under 18's

In previous years we have also given an award to the best whisky under 18 years old. We only had one entry in the Speyside category that met this criteria and unfortunately this was not an independent bottling so did not qualify but was very well received in the under 18’s as was the Carn Mor Highland Park and Carn Mor Bowmore who share the prize for the under 18’s in the Rest of Scotland category.

The Owner's Award

After analysing the voting and comparing that to price to obtain a measure of popularity for price The Owner’s Award (that’s me) goes to the Octave Linkwood as the best buy in the competition with a Crichton coefficient of 0.57. And a very special mention for the Berry’s Glenlivet as I am torn between this and the Adelphi Glenrothes for my personal favourites.

Best Tasting Note

As usual an independent panel reviewed the tasting notes to find the best ones. I stress they were independent and I had nothing to do with it. The winning tasting notes were from Teun van Wel and we will be featuring his tasting note in a later post. Well done to Teun who won his favourite whisky which was the Berry’s Glenlivet. The runner up yet again was Ed Velthuizen. Ed has been either winner or runner up so many times we have decided to appoint him judge for the best tasting note going forward.

Thank You

A big thank you to all the companies that entered and the hundreds of festival goers who took part. This remains one of the few competitions where all of the judging is done by members of the public!!

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.


The WSD Challenge 2010

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This was another very competitive competition.  Independent Bottlers entered their whiskies in to 2 categories: Speyside; and The Rest of Whisky.  The winners, voted for by attendees at The Whisky Shop Dufftown during the Spirit of Speyside Festival were:

Speyside

First place: Old Malt Cask Probably Speyside's Finest 1967 41 Years Old (Jan Beckers)

Second place: Duncan Taylor Rare Auld Glen Grant 1987 22 Years Old (Mark Watt)

Third place: Tie between Weymss Spiced Apples (Susan Colville) and Adelphi Glenallachie 1973 26 Years Old (SOLD OUT)

The Rest of Whisky

First Place: Adelphi Bunnahabhain 1968 41 Years Old

Second Place: Mackillops Bowmore 1989 (IN STOCK SOON)

Third Place: Douglas Laing Big Peat.

The winner of the competition for the best tasting note was by Ed Velthuizew from Holland.  His prize was a bottle of his favourite whisky from the challenge which was the Adelphi Bunnahabhain.

Michael Lord