About this blog:

This blog will feature tasting notes, reviews, distillery visits and whisky news with focus mainly on Scottish single malts. This will sometimes be accompanied by politically incorrect (whisky) opinions. You have now been warned! :-)
The views expressed here are entirely my own, unless otherwise stated.

Friday, 27 December 2013


One of the best whiskies I had in 2011 was a sherried Rosebank, so when I got handed a sample of this, I must admit that my expectations went up a bit.

But oh, dear :( as much as I love the iconic lowland distillery and the house style of Rosebank with grass, hay, honey, vanilla and soft fruit, this one just wouldn't do it for me - why? have a read below...

Rosebank 1991 (25.01.1991/xx.04.2013) 22yo, 55,2%, sherry cask#271, Mackillop's Choice

Colour is dark amber

Very closed with a few honey and sherry notes. Some notes from the mixed spice rack above t he stove. The sherry seems to overpower the spirit here... with time a fruit/varnish note appears, mainly of the overripe kinda fruits sort as well as a mashy note.

Malt... then varnish, herbs and an almost 80's Bowmore-ish flowery/soapy note... FWP (French Whores Perfume - to the unfamiliar readers) backed by oriental spices, mixed peppers, bitter sherry and a distinct dryness.

If you like the perfumy 80s Bowmores, you'll like this one - I don't...
You can almost drown the FWP out with water and only because if that it just barely hits...


Thanks to RM for the 'experience' (sample) ;-)

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Monday, 23 December 2013


This will be the last review before Xmas - and a Xmassy whisky this next one is, though maybe not as heavily sherried as many of you think a Xmas whisky should be, but I quite like this one and I should get around to review this one now, as there is still bottles of it to buy at the Whiskybase.com shop as per today (22/23 December 2013). (added 25. Dec: Now sold out!)

As you can see from the link above, I'm about to review a Glendronach - a distillery that has pretty much gotten all the attention since Macallan decided to skip on releasing heavily sherried expressions. This have made people start almost a cult like following of Glendronach, much like Macallan used to have...

This expression, however, is not as heavily sherried as many of the other expressions from this distillery - but that's partly because of its age - at only 11yo...

This cask also shows a few traits usually found in ex-bourbon matured whisky which is quite unique...

Alan McConnochie pouring straight from the cask during the Glendronach Connoisseurs Tour, May 6th 2012 © The Malt Desk
Glendronach 2002 (30.05.2002/xx.12.2013) 11yo, 57,2%, ex-oloroso butt#2751, 701 bottles, Distillery bottling celebrating Whiskybase.com v3

Colour is dark amber

Gristy/mashy, dusty/mouldy, ginger (in an oloroso cask??), light orange liqueur (cointreau) the whole thing getting more citrussy with time and a few drops of water. Also some fresh sawed hardwood and hint of mint toothpaste in there. Heavy sniffs suggests some cooked apple notes hiding behind the sherry.

First impression is that this is very fresh and clean cask. No immediate off notes, though the alcohol seems a bit aggressive. In spite of that, orange and dried fruit notes rush in to save the day. Like on the nose, some fresh wood shows itself along with some citrus, dried banana snacks and more ginger.

This is very nice :-) and could have picked up 1-2 more points if it hadn't been that aggressive.


Thursday, 19 December 2013


Previous review of a young Glentauchers brought us close a small row of houses know as Mulben and the town og Keith. Now, if we move head about 2½ east from Glentauchers, we'll find one of the most peculiar looking distilleries in Scotland - built in 1972 in a Gothic style!

Auchroisk is a huge industrial complex and its whisky mainly goes into owners, Diageo's blends.
When visiting the place in 2011 during the Speyside Festival, they were storing close to 250.000 casks on site and their production volume surpassed 5.500.000 liters of spirit annually - so huge place!! Huge... all that spirit comes off 8 stills in an impressive stillhouse, though sadly being Diageo - in which absolutely no photography was allowed.

Well, not being able to take any pictures doesn't change the fact that today's whisky is great stuff! Otherwise living a pretty anonymous existence, Auchroisk suddenly became a part of Diageo's Annual Special Releases in 2010 - a series that also carries prominent names like Port Ellen, Brora and Lagavulin (silly priced, of course).

Auchroisk, being ugly duckling, is not fetching that silly prices and luck smiled to us here in Denmark when we while back had a supermarket sell these at a heavy discount (around £65 if I remember correctly) ... and not only Auchroisk - they also sold the Benrinnes 23yo 2010 release and Pittyvaich 20yo 2010 release for the same price. Anoraks stampeded to the shops in those days...

So, you're waiting to read if they can they make decent whisky at Auchroisk? They can!!

Auchroisk Distillery, April 29th 2011 © The Malt Desk
Auchroisk 20yo 58,1%, Mix of American and European oak, bottle 2646 of 5856, Distillery bottling, Diageo Special Release 2010

Colour is light amber

This has changed alot since opened, all for the better though its never been anywhere near bad!
At first it presents a sour note and then a heavy malty theme - and this has certainly not become any less now... and since its reached a fairly low level in the bottle and I've become very well aquainted with it, fresh fruits basket, orange in particular, papaya, vanilla, fresh grist and a nip of oak spices stands out to me.

For 58,1% abv its has a pretty creamy arrival. Then peppery spices and overripe fruits and nuttiness takes over. Water brings out more spices and the whole thing goes into malt and fruit overdrive... Oranges, bitter/sour apples, a touch of pot ale and something floral to finish it off...

An overlooked dram, for sure...! and still available at tad under double of what I paid for it - even with a £40 discount!


Sunday, 15 December 2013


Located on the northern part (as in past Craigellachie) on the A95 running through central Speyside, Glentauchers is a significant contributor to the blends by Pernod Ricard/Chivas Bros puts out, but Glentauchers mainly goes in to the Ballantine's blend.

Being literally on the road, you won't get much out of stopping there, though, as the place is not open to the public - but go across the road and a bit up the hill - the have a look down at the distillery and see how big it is! over 4mill. liters of spirit is produced there every year and the place runs 7 days/week - though that is not a rare sight these days.

A rare sight on the other hand is finding a bottle of Glentauchers. There's only ever been a few official releases, so you have to look to the independent bottlers to find some... and IMO its worth seeking out :-)

And speaking of indie bottlers - here's todays review of the recent Archives Glentauchers

Glentauchers Distillery between Mulben & Keith, August 26th 2012 © The Malt Desk
Glentauchers 2005 (xx.09.2005/xx.06.2013) 7yo 52,5%, sherrybutt#900392, 167 bottles, Archives - The Fishes of Samoa

Colour is amber

At first this gives off a whiff of oven friend potatoes and black pepper :-O Funny :-)
Then nest is a gristy/yeasty note as you often get in younger malts. Then its on to cornflakes but then it settles on herbs, oranges, melon and barley sugar (wort). The sherry butt shows itself by giving off another fortified wine note - Madeira!

Hint of younger spirit on its way to integrate with the cask very well. Malt and dried herbs, cough syrup, some light honey, stewed fruits and draff notes.

This is not bad, but I wonder why it was bottled now - I'm sure 2-3 more years would make this one a real cracker :-) Thanks to RM for the sample!


Saturday, 14 December 2013


Another sample review tonight - this time a Dutch whisky from Millstone. Never really paid much attention to stuff like this so (call me narrow minded and a Scotch Malt Whisky Snob - I don't care ;-) )

Anyway, as I don't quite know what to expect id' better get on with it...

Millstone 1999 (16.02.1999/276.082013) Special#1 46% PX cask#1 (8y in ex-bourbon + 5y in PX cask), Distillery bottling

Colour is dark amber

Hello?!!??! What's this? starting on oriental spices, curry and cumin, then oranges and new oak and freshly peeled/crushed nutmeg. Also crushed black pepper and a thick syrupy layer from the px cask

Extremely smooth on the arrival, so smooth I'd say anonymous. The spirit seems very neutral in style and the palate doesn't really provide any challenge at all, only providing sugars and some licorice and some bitter px sherry - other than that it just runs straight back to oak. This could just as well have been funny flavoured vodka to me...

This doesn't have any character to it at all - its all cask and no spirit - the nose was ok, though... just different

All due respect to the distillers at Millstone for their hard work, but... again, I was just reminded why my main focus is on Scottish Single Malt.

Thanks to RM for the sample


Wednesday, 11 December 2013


Yes, another Bunnahabhain - sorry folks, but I really like Bunna ;-) and I've really wanted to try this release since it was first announced. Why? 'cause most of the previous releases in the Archives series have been anywhere from good to fantastic. To those of you that don't know the 'Archives'-series, its bottlings done by the boys who run Whiskybase.com - the, by far, the biggest online whisky database there is.

This bottling has gotten great reviews already and I had hoped to reviews this sooner, but thats what I get for previously tasted stuff first ;-) oh, well...

Here's my review:

Bunnahabhain - The spiritual home of Black Bottle, October 8th 2008 © The Malt Desk 
Bunnahabhain 1987 26yo (xx.11.1987/xx.10.2013) 50,2%, cask#2557, 233 bottles, Archives - 'The Fishes of Samoa'

Colour is nutty brown

Quite aggressive on the alcohol, IMO... but once it gets a chance to settle down, it gives off a bit of mint, wet tobacco, brown sugar, fresh prunes, burnt caramel, cinnamon, nutmeg, wood shavings and tangerines

A very spicy sherry edge to it, so dry my lips keep smacking to produce more saliva. Very drying, but in a funny way that first makes your mouth water, then dry, then water and dry again. Kinda like when you at a young age did the obligatory dare with your friends to eat a spoonful of cinnamon - the taste of which can also be found in this whisky. Also herbs, spices, malt, dark Toblerone chocolate, nutmeg again along with coffee and nuts. A little bit of sulphur of the matchstick kind mid/end palate gives this one a mightier kick.

This is great sherried whisky, no doubt that would have reached a magical level have it had a little less oak/drying effect in there... The whisky can be found at the whiskybase online shop.

Finally, thanks to RM for the sample.


Sunday, 8 December 2013


While at it I thought I'd do another review of a Highland Park matured in an ex-bourbon cask. As lots (most) of these goes to the indie bottlers who still have contracts with Highland Park, its the only way you get to try them as all of Highland Parks official bottlings are either American oak sherry casks or European oak sherry casks.

This bottling I'm about to review is from Gordon & MacPhail in Elgin (Speyside) and as the geeky ones of you know that they have some great stuff tucked away still...

Anyway, this is a Highland Park review so again, I'll present you with a picture from the magical Islands of Orkney :-) Below picture is from the hill outside Kirkwall (the name eludes me - sorry)

A view to Highland Park Distillery, just a little above to left of the centre of the pic, August 6th 2009 © The Malt Desk
Highland Park 2001 10yo (16.10.2001/13.09.2012) 57,7%, 1st fill bourbon cask#2998, Gordon & MacPhail Cask Strength

Colour is pale straw

Fresh barley/yeasty notes, vanilla, apple, very floral (washing up liquid floral). Some smoke and citrus hides behind the alcohol. A bit closed nose on this one...

Again very fresh, apple, but also salty and citric (lemons and grape fruit), peppery, hint of smoke in the background. Gets very malty on the finish, almost like old Bunnahabhains :-O

A very straight forward young HP, showing some very impressive malt notes. Maybe a tad simple but very enjoyable :-)

Thanks to RM for the sample


Thursday, 5 December 2013


It's such a joy when you get to those bottles that are just not the normal style of a distillery, don't you agree? This time I've digged out a Highland Park from my stash - a bottle aquired in an auction a while back at no where near the crazy prices of today. Think this one was about €100 when I bought it back in 2011 or so...(can't remember exactly - sorry).

Anyway, not making this into a price rant again - I've done plenty already... but I'd surprise myself if another won't show up at a later time ;-)

So I'll skip to the review now...

Spirit Safe at Highland Park, August 6th 2009 © The Malt Desk
Highland Park 1981 24yo (17.09.1981/28.09.2005) 51,5%, ex-bourbon cask#6062, 266 bottles, A.D. Rattray

Colour is pale gold

Vanilla, tropical fruits, mainly pineapple, peat, blood oranges and peel, very fresh, honey floral and more peat. Water enhances the citrus fruit in this one as well as making the peat chimney even more noticeable on the nose

Creamy sweet barley juice, more tropical fruits, extremely honeyed, carries both regular and citrus fruits through here. Sweet lightly peated barley notes. Water brings out just the right amount of spice to counter the very sweet honeyed style - everything is just in good measures here.

A good swimmer this one and a HP for chilly Orkney summer evenings and cold winters. A belter!


Tuesday, 3 December 2013


A quick and dirty review today from one of my favourite distilleries...

Clynelish 1989 22yo (07.06.1989/13.02.2013) 51,8%, ex-bourbon hogshead#3843, 186 bottles, Scotch Single Malt Circle

Colour is full straw

Fruity and an oaky nip initially, apple and waxy. Also a lovely barley infused sweetness here - like nosing a sugar covered breakfast cereal, vanilla honey and some more of that spicyness from the oak.

Spicy oak again on arrival, even a bit drying. Then some white fruit, mainly on juicy yeallow apples. The slight hints of something gingery and honeyed, but I'd rather say it goes towards a more heavy syrupy style. Mid to end palate gives away to a floral note, crisp oak and peppery finish.

This has an oaky nip to it than put it a bit off balance, IMO... still good though!

Thanks to RM for the sample!


Saturday, 30 November 2013


Do visit Caol Ila of you get to Islay... vist for the sheer size of the place, now able to produce 6,5 million liters of spirit a year. Its been the largest distillery on Islay for years and now its even bigger! Located just beside the village and ferry berthing of Port Askaig it enjoys pretty much the same view as Bunnahabhain a little further north. That said, the Bunnahabhain site is much more tranquil, as I've also mentioned in other posts. Oh, also if visiting, remember that Caol Ila is a Diageo site, so no pictures inside of the production areas.

Caol Ila is also the whisky to go for if you want something similar in style to Port Ellen and not want to pay for what equals a booster rocket for a Space Shuttle. Especially older Caol Ila like the one I'm about to review, are similar to similar aged Port Ellens in style.

That's the peated Cal Ilas covered - do also try the unpeated versions!! well, relatively unpeated that is. The style is called 'Caol Ila Highland' but up until the recent 14yo release there has still been a noticeable peat influence in them... but they're fun to try for sure :-)

Now onto the review...

Old fashioned cask scale outside Caol Ila, October 8th 2008 © The Malt Desk 
Caol Ila 1982 29yo (14.12.1982/05.12.2012) 57,1%, Hogshead#6485, 263 bottles, Signatory

Colour is full straw

Mellow peat, oak, coastal (brine and seafront), nutmeg, some fruit and plastic ropes. Getting slightly medicinal with time

Smoky, salt water, citrus, tarry, grilled shellfish and a mineral notes as in warm rocks cut by a diamond blade and salted peanuts

A very nice older Caol Ila for sure! ... and certainly on par with some of the overpriced Port Ellens you can find out there.


Wednesday, 27 November 2013


I've said almost all what can be said about Bunnahabhain at this point, so I'll keep my mouth shut for now - I don't even have a rant for you tonight ;-) ... well, I'll kepp it almost shut - I do have a review for you :-) and a picture that relates to another post of mine about the things that can affect the distillation process. See picture description...

Inside a Bunnahabhain still - May 6th 2011 © The Malt Desk
Bunnahabhain 1980 32yo (28.03.1980/05.12.2012) 51,4%, Refill sherry butt#4390, 478 bottles, Signatory

Colour is straw

Initially a hint of sulphur that goes away after a short while (that, or my nose just gets used to it). Then malt (pot ale), citrus, a gingery note and herbal note. Also quite some musty bung cloth in there

Grilled (green) veggies (mostly leek and green bell pepper) and surprisingly a more than notiable hint of peat in there too. Goes on with a lovely malty sweetness and soft fruit and melon.

Not the greatest of old Bunnahabhains, but still good...


Saturday, 23 November 2013


Phew, lots of words have been expressed about Highland Park since they started with the storytelling from old Norse mythology and Orkney sagas. Honestly, I think its pretty cool cause I like stuff like that, but I don't like paying for it in my whisky. I just want good whisky!

I like like Highland Park very much and I still have very fond memories of going to the Orkneys and I will definitely be going again sometime. Stunning scenery and historical sites... oh, and Highland Park - even though they need to cater some more for us anoraks and not just the businessman passing through the airport buying some expensive whisky as he passes to catch his next flight!

That said, I really like the Valhalla Collection, but I could do without the Longship packaging. It just makes the whole thing about £15/$30/€20 more expensive... as if whisky isn't getting expensive enough :O

The Stones of Stenness, just a short distance from the Ring of Brodgar, August 5th 2009 © The Malt Desk
Highland Park 1990 (13.12.1990/07.02.2013) 22yo, 51,9%, sherry butt#15702, 405 bottles, Signatory

Colour is light amber

Ohh, lovely Highland Park profile... Very honeyed and floral, fried/grilled meats, citrus (oranges) and malt. In the background some very faint notes of yeast.

Very light arrival, much lighter than expected. Starting in crisp barley to the breaking point, very citrussy, apples even, honey again... A malty middle with salt and peat and some oaky peppery finish

A lighter Highland Park than expected, especially on the sherry, but it works well even if the notes seem a bit simple

Certainly a Cask Strength rival to the official 21yo...


Thursday, 21 November 2013


This spring, during the Spirit of Speyside Festival, Mark Watt, now with Cadenhead, introduced those of us at his tasting, to the new Cadenhead Small Batch series.

The Small Batch series is made up from 1 cask to a vatting of a few casks and to make them more recognisable, its put in 70cl (small) clear dumpy bottles.... and we had an amazing lineup for that tasting - all were still cask samples at the time:

  • Craigellachie 1994 18yo
  • Cameronbridge 1989 24yo
  • Cadenhead Creations Batch 1
  • Glenlivet-Minmore 1970 43yo
  • Bowmore 1998
  • Highland Park 1988 25yo
Later, in the summer when these were bottled, I ended up with 2 x Highland Park 1988 25yo (a 2 cask bottling, btw) and 1 bottle of the Glenlivet-Minmore 1970 43yo (single cask) - Stellar stuff!! ...as were the Craigellachie for that matter :-)

Now, as I mentioned in my first Caperdonich review here on the blog, the grounds where Caperdonich Distillery used to be, now holds the expanded business of the Forsyth's Coppersmiths... and since I don't have a picture in my archives of Caperdonich, I'll bore you with a picture from Forsyths instead. When I visited in 2012 they were putting together a wash still for Irish Distillers in Middleton, Ireland - and a big one it was. It was on beams, so not to damage it but still, its a big one! Below picture is from next to the still... and I'm 6'4'' !! (193cm)

But back to today's review of the Caperdonich 1977, a bottling also from the small batch series. When I bought this, for me, it was clearly a bottle to keep... but I was also tempted to use at a recent tasting, so I caved in and did that, because I'm such a nice guy! ;-) and I know Mark Watt has a soft spot for Caperdonich, so I must admit I was expecting something extra special here.

Bottom half of a wash still going to Irish Distillers - its BIG, May 5th 2012 © The Malt Desk
Caperdonich 1977 35yo, 50,2%, Ex-sherry butt, 384 bottles, Cadenhead Small Batch

Colour is nutty brown

Mid-aged rum and raisin, coffee, sweet sherry, some chocolate and dried fruits and mint. This could be extra spicy After Eights!

Lovely clean sherry, though a tad bitter at first. Then oranges, dark fruits, mint again, honey and cherry liqueur. Finished on more dark and drying chocolate.

I'm a sucker for this style of whisky - a real autumn warmer and truly a little stunner and certainly one for you out there with a sweet tooth

You know how to pick them, Mark - Good job!


Tuesday, 19 November 2013


Tonight, I just read that the next Macallan Easter Elchies House bottling was released today. A single cask 17 years of age and at cask strength of 55,3% abv. A 170 bottles was released from cask#26 of where a total 340 bottles were drawn. The remaining bottles go on sale in December... Price £185 and sold only at the distillery visitors centre. Besides the price, the even more crazy part is that people had been lining up since 5am Sunday morning to get their hands on this.

The Macallan Easter Elchies bottling Nov 2013 - thanks to Shaun King for letting me use the picuture

Is this what whisky has become? a thing to line up for at crazy hours in the morning to make some money? if it is, its just sad, sad, sad... I know these Easter Elchies bottlings are quite sought after, but this is getting down right ridiculous. Have some people become so far stretched economically that they are willing to line up and freeze for several hours for a chance to double their money? There were even stories of people driving up to Speyside from Edinburgh to get a bottle!!

I'm betting close to NONE of these bottles will ever be opened. Whisky investing and hoarding like this is, IMO, an insult to the guys that make the whisky and its becoming a significant dark side of the whisky market these days.

I wonder when the whisky bubble will burst? Is it when the 'Tiger'-economies in the Far East, especially China slows down? or Russia slows? Brazil maybe? But if we take a look at the investments being made by the whisky industry now and their plans for coming years, it doesn't seem that they're worried about a slow down.

Now, I'm certainly no market strategist, but when making investments of billions of UK £, banks and shareholders will certainly be wanting them back along with a big fat return. It's a business and this is how we've chosen to live (most of us, anyway)... but there is a long way from lining up at 5am in the morning to get a single bottle to provide the worlds population with drinks (as it's not only whisky many of these companies are selling). Someone has placed alot of trust in demographic and marketing experts to make sure their capacity will still make up for demand. And even if the bubble should burst and you are down to maintaining or even losing existing customers and not getting new ones, there's only us customers to pay for those investments and current demand, resulting in higher prices for us.

I'll not bore you much longer with this, but I am, as I've mentioned in other posts before, aware that distilleries are businesses and not philanthropy or pet project of a crazed billionaire - it's about cool cash... I just hope cool cash doesn't blur the picture too much for either the people in the line to get an Easter Elchies bottling or the people in the corporate board rooms.

Anyway, I know you're here for the whisky so let me review another Macallan for you - not the Easter Elchies one (though I would like to that that ;-) )

Easter Elchies House at Macallan - June 13th 2013 © The Malt Desk
Macallan 1997 14yo 51,6%, Sherry hogshead#1046, 216 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is mahogany

Chocolate, nutmeg, hint of oriental spices and orange peel, prunes and burnt sugar

Creamy/Oily on arrival, a streak of sulphur (matches), amaretto, strong coffee, orange infused chocolates and polished leather. Sadly it gets a tad too bitter and drying for me on the finish

I was looking forward to this one as I counted on a good pick from Adelphi and with that a trip down memory lane to the likes of the Cask Strength Macallan from a few years back. Sadly it never got much further than out the driveway and certainly not down memory lane. Guess my expectations was too high :-/


Sunday, 17 November 2013


Time flies... and we've passed 1 week since my last review - oh, well... Here comes the next one...

Tucked away in Speyside, about half a mile off the A95 lies Cragganmore. It's not very well signed and you can miss it in a hearbeat when heading for the usual distillery 'hub' of Aberlour/Craigellachie/Dufftown - but do swing by... it's a nice distillery and even though its standard bottlings are riddled with the evils (E150 Caramel and chill filtration) it makes for a nice starter dram if you need to buy a gift for a newbie whisky drinker.

This whisky I'm about to review is not for a newbie, though... actually I'd say this is quite a challenging dram! and certainly, besides being from a bourbon cask, was somewhat of a surprise for me... but thats what indie bottlings are all about... bottling casks that do not always taste like a distilleries house style.

Oh, and sorry... I've digging holes in my digital archives for a proper picture from Cragganmore for this review, but all I found was bad ones - so you'll have to do without for this review.

Cragganmore 1984 26yo 58,2%, refill ex-bourbon cask#1489, 200 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is straw

Waxy, yeast and fresh baking, cut grass left to dry in the sun (hay), citrus and sour apples and a dairy note.

Malty, bitter and sour (grape fruits) and spices. Water calms the whole thing down a bit an fruits turn to the boiled kind some honey too. Baked apple in there? Still carries a bit of that sour through to the finish which doesn't really to it for me with this one...

This is a strange one, indeed and certainly not the normal Cragganmore house style. It also doesn't taste like a 26yo. Tried blind I wouldn't say this was older than maybe 15 years. Quite a demanding dram, IMO


Saturday, 9 November 2013


This is the first Tamdhu I'll be reviewing here on The Malt Desk... and to be honest its not a malt, I've had that many expressions of over the years, though summed up its still more than just a few.

Tamdhu has been owned by Ian McLeod Distillers (IMD) since 2011 and, as with Adelphi, is one of those smaller indie companies that has gone out and bought themselves a distillery, though IMD already owned a distillery, Glengoyne Distillery, some 10 miles north of Glasgow before buying Tamdhu.

Tamdhu was previously owned by The Edrington Group (Highland Park, Macallan, Glenturret) and was mothballed back in 2009 until IMD restarted production in 2012. The official opening, though, was delayed until The Spirit of Speyside Festival in May 2013 where a 10yo bottling from 1st and refill sherry casks also was released.... maybe I'll get to review that later.

The distillery is a relatively large operation and a place I've been wanting to see for some time and the Speyside Festival 2013 provided me with just that opportunity.

The Tamdhu I'll be reviewing is from another regime, though, going back to 1984 - and from an ex-bourbon cask.

Tamdhu stillhouse, May 6th 2013 © The Malt Desk
Tamdhu 1984 26yo, 48,8%, refill ex-bourbon cask#2836, 269 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is full straw

Very fresh after spending 26 years in the cask, apple, citrus (oranges), hint of ginger and grass, vanilla. Gets even more fizzy and fresh with water.

Very malty arrival, sweet green apples, spices, nipping oak, honey, water brings out peppery spices, oily and that fresh grass again and plain white fruit.

This is a good one - I quite like it for its fruity freshness, though I think it might come across as simple to some...


Thursday, 7 November 2013


Next, I'll be doing a review of a few Adelphi bottlings. For this first one, we head to Campbeltown and Springbank and after that I'll be moving north east to Speyside for the next ones...

I'm not going to dwell long on Springbank itself in this review, but instead I'll focus a bit on building of Adelphi's new distillery on the remote Ardnamurchan Peninsula. As I mentioned in this post, their plan were, to begin with, to be distilling in the Autumn of 2013, but this has now been pushed forward to first quarter of 2014. The building and installation of equipment is going along nicely now and still should arrive the week starting with 11th November.

You can follow the progress, pictures included, on the Adelphi Distillery Ltd Facebook page.

The review below is of a whisky that carries some sulphury notes, but also one that, IMO of course, benefits from having this edge... more on my takes on sulphur here.

The 3 stills at Springbank, one wash (left) and 2 spirit stills, May 10th 2011 © The Malt Desk 

Springbank 1996 16yo, 53,9%, cask#72, 220 bottles, Adelphi

Colour is gold

Sweet, the dirty - noth which I expect comes from a fino sherry cask, though this is not stated on the bottle. Some vegitative sulphury notes comes off this one as well as some winey/yeasty notes - another thing thats making me suspect this being a fino cask, but this adds to the experience here. Then you get the Springbank dirtyness instead, (olive?) oil, some hints of peat and brine accompagnied by overripe banana and mango and a dash of motor oil as well.

A lot more agressive on the palate, this one. Again sweet and quite dirty, getting really brackish at some point. A strange combination of heavy oils, peat, fruit, ash, white wine/heavy cider along with some coconut and saltiness.

I suspect this whisky might put off some people and its fun that I like this one, as I'm normally very sensitive to sulphury notes.... but this one has it in the right amounts. Good whisky!!


Tuesday, 5 November 2013


Many fans of sherry matured whisky have shifted favourite distillery these past 3-4 years. Mainly to the drop in quality and/or style change with their regular sherry whisky distillery.
What I hear is a hit these days are several expressions of Glenfarclas, incl the much appreciated '105', Aberlour A'bunadh... and, of course, the many expressions of Glendronach! The NAS Cask Strength, the 15 and the single casks expressions being the most sought after...

I, myself, is also a Glendronach devotee, though I stick to the single cask expressions and the BYOs from the distillery. All have been good, except one which was badly sulphured/rubber style to the point of undrinkable... a 1996-bottling cask#197... I just can't get it across my lips when its this bad. Guess they're allowed a misfire sometime :-) but some people love that style! :-O

But back to good Glendronach. Now and again I come across an indie bottling and I, of course, rush right in to try it. Some have even been from ex-bourbon casks and have been quite good and I've also tried a couple of ex-bourbon cask expressions straight from the cask at the distillery and they have also been crackers! So, please, Glendronach, would you release a cask strength bourbon cask version - You'll be surprised how many of us out there like it!

Anyway, back to the review, which is an indie bottling done by the lads at The Whisky Exchange in London in their Single Malts of Scotland-series (as was my previous review).

Glendronach Warehouse across from the distillery April 30th 2011 © The Malt Desk

Glendronach 1994 15yo (04.07.1994/02.09.2009) 61,8%, sherry butt#2231, Single Malts of Scotland

Colour is dark amber

A mix of dried fruit and vanilla, fresh smelling garden after the rain, honey and slightly floral hints. Hints of mint, paint, citrus fruits in there as well. Calms down over time and after 10 drops of water, showing a more restrained clean sherry character - lovely nose, but be careful sticking yours too deep in the glass - the alcohol can be numbing!

As clean as they come in the lighter sherry style. Some light raisin and plum notes and a dose of apple and banana in there as well. Vanilla, toffee and spices too. Also a hint of cardboard and a baking dough note. Finishes on a a hint of on slight hint of nutmeg, malt and dash of oak before it dries out.

A very good dram, IMO ...and thanks to GNJ for the sample!


Sunday, 3 November 2013


Those that have been to a distillery or even seen pictures from one, have most likely also noticed the odd shapes and sizes of many of the stills out there.

And, as with alot of other factors (malt specs, fermentation, casks etc.) the shape of the stills also add to the character of the final spirit.

5 things usually contributes to the character (in no particular order). That's the fill level of the stills, the time of the spirit run (cut), the heating of the stills, the shape of the stills and condensing method. Let me just run these past you:

The fill level is how much wash or low wines you put into your stills and the lesser you pump into the still before distillation the more copper contact it will have during the process i.e. resulting in a lighter style of spirit.

Next is the spirit run... the heart of the run or the middle cut. Some has a narrow cut, which only lets the purest of the spirit go through to become whisky after 3 years time. Macallan is one such distillery with a middle cut of only 16% - the rest is re-distilled. Others have a wider cut and this is why sometimes can get whisky that's a little 'rough' or 'hot'.

Then there's the heating of the stills. This is really as much a religion as is stainless steel vs. wooden washbacks. Most distilleries today have steam coils inside the stills for heating and the reason for that is that it gives a more even heating of the liquid inside, being either wash or low wines. I'm sure this is great for consistency and this is what big producers want in their product...

Only a few distilleries today still use direct firing of their stills, among them Springbank in Campbeltown and a very notable Speyside distillery - Glenfarclas. At Glenfarclas they actually did trial runs with steam coils in a couple of still some years back, but reverted to direct firing as they concluded that the spirit coming off these still wasn't quite Glenfarclas. They even did lab tests that confirmed this... So does this have an effect? I'd say yes... as sugars in the sweet wash burns up and stick a bit, maybe... and the low wines gets an uneven heat dispersal perhaps affecting what comes within the spirit cut, maybe - as these are usually timed on a clock.

Then there's the shape of the stills and condensing method. You know they come in almost all shapes and sizes... and this certainly does matter. Small squat stills gives a more heavy and oliy spirit as does still with a small angle° on the neck of the still.  This is because the vapours flowing over the neck of the still starts to condense there already, carrying over the heavier flavur compounds when they reach the neck. Macallan again is a good example of small squat stills. The opposite is i.e Glenmorangie that, with the tallest stills in Scotland (5.13m - picture here), makes a very light spirit, allowing for more reflux (back flow into the still) of vapors - getting it heated up again and with that, usually making it lighter, before it condenses again.

All of the vapours doesn't condense back into liquid form after crossing over the neck of the still, also often referred to as the 'swan's neck'. Some of this happens in the condensers. There's usually two distinct forms of condensers, the widely used tube condensers (pic inside one here). The other one is a worm tub... there usually to forms or rather shapes of worm tubs. A worm tub is a length of copper piping submerged in cooling water, condensing and cooling the vapour/spirit as it passes through the piping. Noticeable distilleries that uses traditional round wormtubs for colling/condensing are Mortlach and Dalwhinnie and the square kind is used at Balmenach and Craigellachie.

Distilling is fun, isn't it? :) ... and I'm sure there's more takes on what contributes to the spirit character than what I've mentioned here... If you have other takes on it, please use the comments field below

Bunnahabhain Stills, May 6th 2011 © The Malt Desk

Bunnahabhain 1979 28yo (31.10.1979/22.04.2008) 46%, ex-bourbon barrel#18831, 234 bottles, Single Malts of Scotland

Colour is full straw

Sweet on vanilla and candied sweets, almost to the point of floral. Malt lurking in the background. Also fresh pancakes. Both orange soda and orange marmelade in there as is sweet apple.

That malty Bunna I love so much shows right away. Then it gets tropical sweet for a moment on pineapple heading towards apple and pear, before settling on a lovely clean malt taste. Finish provides you with some spicyness, mainly in the form of pepper and ginger. Lovely fresh and crisp after 28 years - never getting overly sweet.

Would have loved to try this at full strength whatever that might have been, before being watered down to 46%.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013


As with the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Spring 2013, regular Bruce Crichton also attended and did a report on the smaller Dufftown Autumn Whisky Festival that runs around the last weekend in September - enjoy his report here - and sorry for any formatting errors:


Autumn Speyside Whisky Festival 2013

Report by Bruce Crichton

The chips were down on the way to Dufftown and so were the salt and vinegar but not the sauce as that would have been a bit daft. Perplexed by the plethora of condiments, the Autumn Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed and after many days of great whisky, food, music, kiwi seductions, punchy one-liners, jet-setting, sniggering and dodgy Euro-disco, here is my account of it. This report is not intended to be a definitive guide and may contain factual errors, for which I apologize in advance. Tasting notes are subjective and additional comment is added from festivalgoers and experts present during note taking. To save space, I refer the reader to previous reports and tastings if a whisky re-appears and have also assumed the reader knows widely available bottlings mentioned. Cask samples tasted are described briefly, since they 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.

Bruce, before the chips are down
Unfortunately, I had to take Thursday evening off, missing the ‘Mates of the Museum’ with its barrel-making contest and the ‘It all started with a big dram’ event where Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) owner Mike Lord celebrated being the first man to unicycle across the English channel by warming up the festival with a taste of Aberlour Bicentenary 12 year old, Glendronach Cask Strength batch 2, his own exclusive bottling of Braes of Glenlivet and Ardbeg Galileo which is the first in a series of releases that will be followed by Ardbeg Figaro, Ardbeg Magnifico, Ardbeg Scaramouche, Ardbeg Bismillah and will conclude with Ardbeg ‘Gordon’s Alive?’ but will not include Ardbeg Radio Gaga as that’s just a bit much.

Glenfarclas distillery through the decades

Friday began with a special bus trip to family-owned Glenfarclas where we would taste whisky from this decade, working back through each decade until the 50s and Kate would be our guide for the morning. Glenfarclas was legally established in 1836 though a painting exists from 1791 showing the distillery name. It was bought in 1865 by John Grant, who was looking for farmland and managed, for the first five years by John Smith who left to run Cragganmore distillery and was replaced by son George Grant. We tasted the 1997 ‘Family Cask’, at 58.8%, described as a breakfast whisky, and I found it stylish, light, crisp and creamy with a playful bite on the finish, making it a whisky unsuitable for Luis Suarez.
Kate at Glenfarclas

Interestingly, the nearby Ballindalloch castle estate owned the land until 1930 and then, having sold it, cut off the water supply immediately afterward. The resulting legal case was taken to the House of Lords and the water was given to the distillery in perpetuity. A minimum of 100,000 litres are used every day. On-site malting ceased in 1972 and some 330 tons, 2 weeks supply, can be stored on site. 16.5 tons, peated to 3ppm, are used per mash and the distillery uses a Bueller mill, from Switzerland, as opposed to the more common Porteus mill made in Yorkshire. The wash backs are stainless steel and Kate noted that the beginning of the process is modern but gets less so as the process goes on. Fermentation takes 52 hours. Heading round, we saw the bottom of a still being replaced but not the neck, a consequence of the stills being direct-fired. Direct firing is noisy, expensive and more energy-intensive than steam heating and the stills have ‘rummagers’ to stop sticking which results in wear and tear on the copper. The distillery had briefly used steam coils but this had made the new-make spirit unrecognizable as Glenfarclas.

Heading to the warehouse, we tried a 2010 cask sample that smelled of toffee-fudge ice cream and tasted of fruit crumble with only the finish betraying its youth. By contrast, a 2000 cask sample from a 2nd or 3rd fill cask had Kate declaring that she could detect the taste of ‘Sugar Puff’ cereal. Allowing the sample to breath changed it a lot and I tasted toffee sauce and a hint of smoke. The warehouse at Glenfarclas has been constructed to ensure that the temperature does not deviate by more than 6 degrees as opposed to 40 degrees outside and, apparently, the temperature itself is not as important as the lack of change. Some 55,000 casks are maturing, dating from 1953 to the present day. The distillery does not do ‘finishes’ or ‘re-racks’ but does occasionally fully mature whisky in Port or Cognac casks. Sherry casks are sourced from a family-owned business in Spain. First-fill bourbon casks are never used for maturation but refill bourbon casks are.

Some spirit is sold for blending and is prohibited from being bottled as Glenfarclas since the distillery has had nothing to do with the maturation. Recent casks have been filled at 68% and this will ensure sufficient stocks for the popular 105 bottling. The ‘Family Cask’ series was launched in 2006 and ranged from 1952 to 1994 and it is apparently very rare for a distillery to have good stocks from consecutive years.
Glenfarclas Bottles

Working back through the years, we had a 1985 vintage, at 44.9%, bottled in 2012. Andy Ellis got citrus and orange notes while I detected blackcurrant ‘Fruitella’ sweets, noting that it would go nicely with a chocolate orange sweet. A 1976 vintage, bottled in 2007 at 49.4% had the aromas of a Fry’s orange cream with a delicate taste and spicy finish.

A 1965, bottled in 2012 at 51.8%, had an orangey nose while Andy Ellis remarked on its tannic grip before we ended with a 1957, from a first fill hogshead. Bottled in 2012 at 43.7%, it smelled of soft leather and a little orange with a very peppery taste and some very dark chocolate that gave way to ash at the end. (Finally, I must mention that the current 105 is so smooth that a pub measure of it can be drunk neat.)

Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh with Stewart Buchanan

After being introduced by Mike Lord, the man who ate 5 sharks in a feeding frenzy, Stewart Buchanan opened with his favourite, Benriach 16, which he describes as a ‘classic Speyside expression’.
He then discussed the composition of the bottling, something that is described at length in the May 2011 report. Casks have become more expensive and this has meant that the number and volume of ‘finished’ releases has been scaled back.

Benriach was fortunate in the respect that previous owners Chivas had never owned a west coast whisky so experiments were carried out with peated barley and the serendipitous results are still with us. A 1983 single cask release, at 43.9%, is notable because very little whisky was produced at Benriach during that crisis year for the industry. The nose was very soft with chewy tropical fruits with spice and peppery flavours erupting from it with a drop of water. Stewart found this to have a lovely bite.

Stewart Buchanan

The 17 year old ‘Septendicim’ smelled like Bowmore, confirming my view that Benriach is the most Islay-like of any peaty Speysider. It had some chewy peat and saltiness with water revealing elegance and spice that gave way to a long, warm and peppery finish.

Moving on to Glendronach, we had the 15 year old ‘Revival’, at 46%, which is reviewed in the autumn 2010 report. Slightly leathery and with a robust, chewy finish, this is the distillery’s biggest worldwide seller Next up was the 21 year old ‘Parliament’, at 48%abv, covered in the autumn 2012 report and still the last
word in luxury. Stewart believes that the relatively high strength is needed to preserve the character of the sherry casks used in maturation and a lower strength would destroy this character.

A 1994 Oloroso single cask, at 58.4%, had subtle, sweet softness with characteristic sherry cask notes to taste. The finish was long, sweet and charming and benefits from time to breathe and develop in the glass to become a fine digestif. Stewart said that he thinks it makes your hair stand on end but I told him that I would make the bald jokes, thank you very much, and there was no need to bristle about it.

Glendronach has made a limited run of peated spirit and some quarter casks of unpeated spirit have been there for 6 years, meaning they will probably be released next year. Batch 1 of Glendronach cask strength was released in October 2012 and sold out by Christmas. Batch 2, at 55.2%, has now virtually sold out and batch 3 is in progress. Batch 2 is composed of 80% oloroso matured whisky from 1993, 94 and 95 plus 20% Pedro Ximenez (PX) from 2002 meaning that it could be called a 10 year old though this would be underselling it. I found it very chocolaty and crisp with orange notes the reader is recommended to take a large mouthful and roll it around on the tongue. Stewart described it as the ’15 year old on steroids’ and, again, the reader is invited to buy this and the 15 year old to compare and contrast.

We closed with Benriach’s release of Glenglassaugh 30 year old, at 44.8%, taken from 3 refill sherry casks. Delicate and velvety with sweet fruits, syrup and raspberry ripple, this was another luxurious dram. Stewart finds that Glenglassaugh has both Highland and Speyside characteristics and noted that the Benriach Company has invested heavily in their newly acquired distillery to improve the site.
Berry Brothers and Rudd Tasting with Jonny McMillan
With a quickfire delivery to rival that of Tim Vine, Jonny McMillan of the Great Whisky Company, distributors for Berry Brothers and Rudd (BBR), presented a series of unchilfiltered bottlings. The first five of these were taken from refill hogsheads. Using PowerPoint software, Jonny compared single casks to distillery releases with a suitably pixilated bottle of a well-known island malt with its name but not the distinctive bottle shape obscured.
Jonny and his faithful foil
Further comparisons were made between a sirloin steak and a horse burger with added Shergar (part of a stable diet) and between Led Zeppelin and One Direction to much audience laughter. Rolling his glass, which he says makes it appear you know what you’re doing; his first whisky was a 2000 Inchgower, at 46%, and described as a ‘classic bourbon cask Speysider’. It smelled of sherbet and refresher sweets and had a chewy, vanilla taste that became very sweet with a drop of water.

Describing BBR’s Doug McIvor as having a sense of humour so dry, it has evaporated, Jonny moved on to the WSD exclusive bottling 1994 Braes of Glenlivet, at 53.9%. This had aniseed on the nose with the taste being light and sweet with fruit syrup, refreshers and vanilla. Interestingly, BBR now own Glenrothes distillery, having swapped the Edrington group for it with the Cutty Sark blend.

A 1991 Auchroisk, at 54.6%, had a fresh, light, grassy, floral nose with hints of vanilla. This had great mouthfeel, required by Doug McIvor from his whiskies and he does not use first fill casks, believing that refill casks demonstrate a distillery’s character.

By this stage, Jonny was in full flow and aided by a willing audience member who obligingly walked into all of his jokes. Even better, while presenting a 1995 Imperial, at 46%, Jonny asked why the distillery was so called and Danny Maguire, the man who studies for his blood tests and who has vowed to never again iron his underpants while still wearing them, answered. BBR have received two royal warrants and Jonny showed us some pictures of royal family members with bottles of BBR whisky that may or may not have been altered with Photoshop. The Imperial was creamy and had notable shortbread flavours that cried out for some of Walkers finest. The finish was creamy and peppery. A 1977 Glenturret, at 46%, had fruit salad chew bars and tropical fruits on the nose while Andy Ellis found it waxy. Jonny recommends chewing this one for about 10 seconds and there was a cornucopia of fruit, wax and spice with a long, sweet finish.

Berry Brothers Bottles
A 1988 Bunnahabhain, at 49.8%, from a refill sherry butt, had Bovril, treacle and dark chocolate notes while Jonny gets struck matches from it. Jonny told us how he was once cautioned by the police over a linguistic misunderstanding he had with an American who thought that what Jonny described as a piece was a firearm, rather than a Scots term for a sandwich. A 2006 peated Bunnahabhain, at 46% and originally made from blending, smelled of smoked ham to me and smoked cheese to Andy Ellis while it tasted both minty and chewy with some slight peat.

Adelphi Tasting with Antonia Bruce
Antonia Bruce of Adelphi
Antonia began with 2001 ‘Slaney’, a mystery Irish whiskey, at 57%, which was distilled twice. Archibald Walker, owner of the Adelphi distillery in Glasgow, owned Limerick distillery in Ireland and this is part of the new ‘Limerick’ range. Taken from a refill bourbon cask, I found the taste of lemon cheesecake while Antonia got sherbet lemons and Madeira cake. The finish was long with both syrup and bourbon flavours.

Handily, a text came in, telling us that the Ardnamurchan distillery is due to be complete in January 2014 and production is planned for next year. A 1990 Macallan, at 56%, from a refill sherry hogshead had McCowan’s toffee, Butterkist popcorn and orange peel aromas with the taste of raisins, burnt toast, coffee and toffee and dark chocolate to finish. Antonia reckons this is a classic Macallan.

2006 Glenrothes, at 67.2%, led to speculation about the filling strength of the cask and there were hints of Bovril about the nose before water opened up fudge and toffee notes. It tasted of rich and velvety wedding cake, prompting Antonia to ask for food pairing suggestions so I recommended sticky toffee pudding though I would have done that if I had been drinking Irn Bru as I’m a bit biased. 1994 Tobermory, at 58.8%, from a first fill sherry butt was found smell musty and of prunes, brandy and salt by both Antonia and Andy Ellis. It had sherry, seaweed and salty tastes with Andy finding onions and meat juices.
We ended with a 1996 Bowmore, at 52.5%, which had been matured in a Spanish hogshead. There was characteristic toffee and mints on the nose. There was a little smoke on both the nose and subtle peat and sherry notes. Andy, not a fan of Bowmore, reckoned this whisky had great balance. As we closed, Mike thanked Antonia for taking time off from laying bricks at the distillery.

Carn Mor Scottish Liqueur Centre Whiskies with Peter Mackay

In quickfire mode himself, Peter began with the blended malt ‘Old Perth’, at 43%, and a potted history of blending in the city. The Old Perth brand began as a blend 100 years ago but later changed its name to Beneagles. Carn Mor relaunched it this year as a blended malt, containing mostly Aultmore, Mortlach, 1996 Ben Nevis and 1987 Tomatin. Soft, dry and creamy with some vanilla and slight smoke to end. This blend has been described, by a German writer, as a ‘good TV whisky’, something Peter told us in a German accent as accurate as Tim Vine’s Dale Winton voice.
Peter Mackay and Mike

A 1989 ‘Celebration of the Cask’ Bunnahabhain, from a bourbon hogshead, at 43.5% was delightfully creamy and silky with notes of vanilla while Peter got banana from it. A 1994 Blair Athol, at a standard strength of 46%, was the first of 4 ‘Strictly Limited’ (SL) bottles, all of which would make excellent session drams. It was taken from 2 hogsheads that had been vatted into a sherry cask for the final 3 weeks of maturation, making it not so much as a finish as a tickle. Although hard to pick out flavours, I found it marvelously chewy with a very slight sherry character and, moreish.

A 1998 Auchroisk had also had 3-4 weeks in a sherry cask and retained a nutty and grassy nose. It also was chewy with vanilla and nuts and fruit. A 1999 Dailuaine had cereal maltiness on both the nose and taste with maltiness again at the finish with some slight pepper also.

1995 Mortlach was taken from 2 casks and Peter believes that the distillery makes the heaviest and richest spirit in Diageo’s portfolio. The nose had apple crumble and caramel while the taste was grassy, floral and malty. The finish was creamy and peppery. A cheery bonus dram arrived in the form of a sister cask to the earlier 1989 Bunnahabhain that may be released as a WSD exclusive in the future.

Tannochbrae Gala Dinner with Robin Laing and Antonia Bruce

Few things can beat dinner at the Tannochbrae restaurant with music and poetry from bard Robin Laing and more Adelphi whiskies presented by Antonia.

A refreshing ‘Italian Monkey’ cocktail, made with ‘Monkey Shoulder’, began the evening, leading Robin to sing ‘Monkey Shoulder’. Our first whisky was a 1992 Longmorn, at 52.1%, from a sherry cask that imbued it with the soft taste of brandy butter. A 1987 Mortlach, at 59.4%, from a refill bourbon cask had a rich bourbon nose and water revealed the taste of cherries, pears and almonds. Dessert began with some delicious Adelphi Fascadale ice cream, available from Dufftown’s Balvenie Street ice cream shop and our final dram was 1986 Glen Moray, at 56.8%, that smelled of sharp, crisp vanilla and was creamy, spicy and peppery with a soft, bourbon-like finish.
Antonia at the Tannochbrae

We also tasted the Slaney whisky from earlier again, which led Robin to sing the Irish tune ‘Whisky, you’re the devil’. New track ‘Whisky Men’ had been slightly rewritten to include a verse about whisky girls and Robin also sang ‘The wee cooper of Fife’, ‘Whisky for Breakfast’ and ‘Tall tale’.

Train to Keith for the Strathisla ‘Straight from the cask’ tour

On Sunday morning, I took the journey from Dufftown train station to Keith. The line was closed decades ago but has been brought back to life by volunteers who work weekends and the train passes by the closed Parkmore distillery and the site of the former Towiemore distillery that now makes stainless steel containers for the food and drinks industry. (A café is sited at the station.) 

Arriving at Strathisla distillery, Tony was our expert guide for the limited edition ‘Straight from the cask’ tour. Many of the whiskies featured on this tour had sold out in the Chivas Brothers distillery shops at Aberlour, Strathisla and Glenlivet or sold out over the course of the weekend so notes are brief.

Tony at Strathisla

Most of Strathisla’s details are covered in the spring 2012 report but it is worth noting that the distillery uses spring barley as winter barley doesn’t have the correct properties for whisky. Also, it had been named Milltown distillery between 1786 and 1951 though the whisky it made was always called Strathisla.

Tony told us of the financial shenanigans of a previous owner called James Pomeroy who ended up in prison and the distillery was 110,000 pounds in debt when Canadians Seagram’s bought it over.

Strathisla can make 2.4 million litres per year, 10% of which is
bottled as single malt.. Heading to the old filling station at the distillery, we tasted the now sold out 1997 Strathisla ‘Cask Strength Edition’, at 58.7% which had a floral and minty nose that blossomed with water to reveal fruit loaf and spices. This series is released in batches of 800 bottles and these are not numbered, except for the first batch from a particular distillery. After heading to the tasting room, we tasted 2000 Scapa, at 55.1%, which sold out at the distillery during our visit. Matured in fill bourbon casks, it had banana chew bar notes with butterscotch and water revealed some maritime character and a dry, long and salty finish. 1997 Glenburgie, at 60.5%abv, is still available at the time of writing and water opened the whisky to reveal honey and bourbon. Again matured in first fill bourbon casks, this was soft with citrus fruits and lemon zest notes albeit with a short finish. Glenburgie distillery is the third largest of the Chivas portfolio, at 4.2 million litres capacity and the second biggest is Miltonduff, at 5.2 million litres. 1997 Miltonduff, at 58.3%, had vanilla and orange zest aromas with Edinburgh rock and bourbon flavours. A drop of water gave it a much bigger punch though the finish was very soft with some rich vanilla.

I found it fascinating to discover that the distilleries historically associated with the Ballantines blends – Scapa, Glenburgie and Miltonduff – still have most of their product used for that blend while the Chivas distilleries – Glen Keith, Glenlivet, Longmorn and Strathisla – still go mostly to the Chivas blends.

Straight from the cask bottles

1996 Glen Keith was bottled at 54.9% to mark the reopening of the distillery in June. (Glen Keith was built in 1958 and closed in 1999). It smelled of banana and custard yoghurt with orange notes also present. It had a honey and bourbon taste with an elegant and subtle bite to end with.

We closed the tasting with a bonus dram of 1980 Glenugie, bottled at 52.1% as part of the ‘Deoch an Doras’ series, taken from demolished distilleries. Covered in detail in Spring 2012, this is still highly recommended to the reader and, anyone able to obtain a bottle from the series is to be congratulated.

Music with Robin Laing – the whisky bard

As Sunday evening approached, the chips were yet again down and this time with a fried Mars bar and only a warm, flat bottle of Strike Cola to go with it. However, good taste was at hand as Robin Laing played a varied set list with songs about whisky and not about whisky while presenting these whiskies:
Cooper’s Choice 1998 Clynelish, at 46%, that tasted of syrup, golden honey, vanilla and cream.

20 year old Berry Brother’s Caperdonich, at 46%, that was soft, grassy, delicate and peppery.

Benriach 15, at 46%, Tawny Port finish was awesome with rich orange and milk chocolate aromas and chocolate again on the taste with subtle hints of port. Dalmore Spey was soft and velvety and Neil Simpson reckoned it had a peppery kick to finish with. 1994 Glendronach, at 55.1%, smelled of Bovril and treacle so thick you could dance on the top of it with a silky smooth and surprisingly light taste that faded only slowly at the end. The widely available Old Ballantruan, at 50%, has a bigger peat punch than in previous years.

As always, the whiskies are secondary at a Robin Laing gig and the tracks played included ‘Born in the wrong time’, ‘Forth Bridge Song’, ‘Black Clothes’, ‘Black Coffee’, ‘Jamie Penman’, ‘Punters’ and ‘Guernica’. Picasso’s painting of the same name inspired the latter song and Robin believes that he was a Scotsman whose real name was MacAsso. Returning after an interlude, he played ‘Black Art’, ‘Bruichladdich Dram’, ‘Queer folk in the Shaws, ‘Whisky Men’, ‘Speyside Whisky Song’ and many others including the ‘Missionary Song’ which prompted him to tell us that there is African whisky out there and he hopes it remains out there. Also, the second edition of his book ‘The Whisky River’ is now available.

Robin the whisky bard

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

Glen Ord Distillery Tour

Taking a detour to the highlands, I headed to Glen Ord distillery, in Ross-shire. Raymond, the guide, gave the party an abbreviated tour as the distillery is currently doubling in size from its current 5 million-litre capacity. Glen Ord has a hugely impressive visitor’s centre that is very pleasing to the eye. The on-site maltings produces malt for Talisker, Clynelish, Teaninich, Cragganmore and many others.

12.5 tons of grist are used per mash and the wash backs are 25 feet tall. A fermentation of 75 hours has been found to give the spirit a dried fruit and orange peel character while; by contrast, a 48-hour fermentation gives nuttiness. There are 6 tall stills with very long necks and 8 warehouses are on-site that house the spirit of Glen Ord and many other distilleries.
The current ‘Singleton’ of Glen Ord 12 year old release has a 50:50 ratio of sherry to bourbon casks and these are married together for a month in stainless steel. 70% of the whisky made is bottled as single malt while the remainder goes to the mighty Johnnie Walker blends.

Singleton of Glen Ord bottles

The previous release of Glen Ord, not known as the ‘Singleton’, was 70% sherry and 30% bourbon. Off the ‘Singleton’ series, Dufftown is sold in Europe, Glendullan is sold in North America and Glen Ord is sold to south east Asia where demand far exceeds supply. As it is, the distillery is the only place in Britain where any ‘Singleton of Glen Ord’ is available to buy.

The ‘tasting experience’ tour ended with a tasting conducted by the knowledgeable Gordon Sinclair. This tour offers the chance to taste 3 whiskies from owners Diageo’s vast portfolio. The widely available Dalwhinnie 15, at 43%, is still a tremendously easy drinking whisky and Gordon recommends freezing it and serving it straight. The current 12 year old from Glen Ord is also tremendously easy to drink with a velvety smoothness to it. Interestingly, Gordon told us of a production mistake in the past where hot water was wrongly injected into the cooling process and that gave the spirit much more sweetness so it has been left in place. A bonus dram of the 15 year old, at 43%, was slightly fuller and richer than the 12 year old. (An 18 year old is also available at the distillery).

The popular Talisker 10 year old, at 45.8%, was on form with an entertaining big punch to the taste buds and characteristic smokiness present. One final note is that Diageo, in the past, received a large order for unpeated Caol Ila that was cancelled at the last moment. Undeterred, the company pressed on and released some of it any way. Currently available from their special releases range is a cask strength, unpeated Caol Ila that has been matured in sherry casks and curious readers are invited to taste it.


Cadenhead’s Creations and beyond with Mark Watt

Arriving back from Japan was Cadenhead’s Mark Watt who, after recovering in the Royal Oak, presented some of his recent ‘Creations’ range, amongst others. (Mark got married in the summer and, appropriately, the cake was half-cut.) Mark said that we were drinking 127 years of whisky and that is not as old as the jokes of Danny Maguire, the man who recently ran a bath and came in fifth, his best performance to date.

An 18 year old ‘Creations‘ Glenrothes-Glenlivet, at 46%, was so named because the company had always called it that. According to Mark, tradition is a good thing unless it’s a bad tradition. This whisky had vanilla and creaminess on both the nose and taste. A drop of water revealed the taste of light golden honey and Mark believes this to be a dangerous whisky as it would be easy to drink a bottle of this. He also describes it as a ‘good report-writing whisky’; something that almost, but not quite, made me bristle.
A 21 year old Glengarioch, at 53.7%, led Mark to note that distillery has a one-word name though the brand has a two-word name. This had the taste of rich, golden honey and a slight peatiness lurked in the background. Danny Maguire found stewed apple, demonstrating there is nothing wrong with his palate even though he has 4 cauliflower ears from 20 years in the Austrian navy and a lifetime of playing chess.

A 24 year old ‘Small Batch’ Cragganmore-Glenlivet, at 57.5%, was made at ‘one of forty distilleries older than Cadenhead’s’. Both the nose and taste had peaches, golden syrup, cream and sponge cake while the finish had a slight smokiness and was very long.

Pausing to recount the history of his company, Mark noted that previous company owners, including Mr Cadenhead, Mr Duthie and current owner Hedley Wright, have never had heirs to leave the firm to. When he departs, Mr Wright will leave Cadenhead’s to the town of Campbeltown. Springbank distillery bought Cadenhead’s to put their bottling line to use and a new line is currently being built as they couldn’t find one to work slow enough – the fastest produced bottling line would bottle a year’s production of Springbank in one month. Current bottling ranges are now available in 23 markets worldwide, having previously only been sold in the company’s own shops, of which there are 8.

A 1979 Dufftown sample was a year older than Mark Watt is and one audience member reckoned it was a lot more mature. Mark found it beefy, describing it as a beast of a dram and reckons there will be about 140 bottles released, depending on how many tastings he does. Detailing his and the company’s modus operandi, Mark asked the legitimate question ‘when did you last lick packaging?’ pointing out that Cadenhead’s don’t spend a lot of money on packaging, thus keeping the price down. He was also promoted and given a raise before he had sold a bottle. Expecting half or quarter bottles, he was asked by veteran Frank McHardy whether he would like half or full bottles to sample and still doesn’t know why he said half.

Moving on to a 21 year old Cooley Irish Whiskey, at 56.3%, Mark began to talk about the distillery being next door to the more famous Bushmills, thus bucking the trend among whisky brand ambassadors by having James May’s sense of direction rather than his taste in jackets. Thus corrected, Mark recalled the time he found Green Spot pure pot still whiskey in a bar and ended up sweating Green Spot. The following day, he was ironically handed a glass of Green Spot and asked to identify it. This whiskey was soft and delicate with bananas and tropical fruits with many audience members finding peat, something I didn’t get.

Sitting beside me, Neil Simpson found a 2003 Bowmore cask sample to be mellow with pickle and almonds while I detected the smell of Murray Mints. This had apparently been rubbish before finishing but had been re-racked into a cask that had previously held Longrow whisky to give a fine whisky. Cadenhead’s will not do a finish if it is less than 3 years and Mark also says that he doesn’t want to walk into a bar and not buy his own whisky, as it’s too expensive.

Asking the rhetorical question ‘Can you tell if a whisky is at its best?’ he answered that it can only be answered definitively after it has peaked and you find yourself saying that it would have been so much better last year.

As the tasting ended and the stories flowed, Mark told us that he has taken to winding up a Diageo brand ambassador whose name I will withhold by singing the company’s name to him to the tune of ‘D-I-S-C-O’.

The festival ended with Mike announcing at the drams party that newcomer Hankey Bannister Heritage, at 46%, had soundly defeated the illustrious Johnnie Walker’s Platinum, last year’s winner, to win the ‘blind blends’ competition while Glendronach 12 had won the contest to see which whisky best accompanied haggis and Tomintoul 16 received 100% of the vote, saying it went best with a bacon roll and then those attending the party kept the dodgy Euro-disco theme going as the night wore on.

Mike and Val at the drams party

To end, I’d like to thank those involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord, Val and the crew Vicky, Kirsteen, Gemma, Warren, Jen, Simon and Kat, to Alan, James and the crew at the Tannochbrae, the Dufftown to Keith railway volunteers, the Coffee Pot and the Stuart Arms and to Claus and Claire for the proofreading.
I’m off to read ‘Armadillos in your sock drawer’ by Jeffrey Porbeagle-shark, and I’ll see you at the spring festival when the chips will be down again, this time with 2 sausages and a bottle of Irn Bru.