For those who want the TL/DR: This blog will go into hibernation mode with infrequent updates in the future for “whenever I feel like I have something to say”.
It’s been six years. Six years of putting out whisky related content on this blog on a more or less regular basis. Six years which has seen me undertake lots of superb trips to Scotland, make lots of new friends and enjoy some incredible whisky. I’ve been blessed to experience all of this and I’m thankful to each and every one I’ve met and shared a dram with along the way.
No, I didn’t make that title up: This is indeed a review of a Taiwanese whisky, finished in lychee liqueur barrels. Made by the state-owned Nantou distillery, this might sound decidedly strange at first, but then again even Scotch distillers these days mature their whisky seemingly in anything they can get their hands on just for the sake of novelty value and ten seconds of online buzz… By the way: Google is coming up empty when searching for “barrel-aged lychee liqueur” so I have no idea if this is indeed a thing or if they did what most distilleries do these days: Order casks with bespoke seasoning done specifically for them… So, let’s dive right in and see what this is all about.
Dram data: Distillery: Nantou Bottler: official bottling Distilled: – Bottled: 2015 Age: – Limitation: 700 bottles Cask: oak, lychee liqueur barrel finish Alcohol: 51% natural colour / not chill filtered Whiskybase link
Imagine ordering two bottles of whisky. The vendor and the postman are doing their thing and the package arrives. You take a knife, open the parcel and… you feel nothing. You should feel excited because in the package there’s the latest edition of the Kilchoman Islay barley series to add to the previous ones. You should also feel excited because there’s a nice cask strength Springbank which many people have a hard time picking up. And yet you feel nothing. You acknowledge the arrival and stash them away.
That’s what happened to me last week. Where’s the joy I used to feel when I got a new delivery? The excitement? The anxious wait for the postman to show up? What’s going on here? What I was feeling that moment was the effect of the law of diminishing returns. In the beginning, when we are new to an activity or hobby everything is fun and exciting. The body is hard at work to release dopamine every time you get your retail therapy fix and you discover something new. However, the bar will rise higher and higher with every purchase and every experience. You need more and more and more to trigger a response and accompanied dopamine kick. You don’t even notice it, you’re just in the flow you don’t notice the constant “dopamine creep” until the day when a “normal” delivery gets acknowledged with a mere shrug and you notice feeling … nothing.
Why did I feel nothing? Probably because there was no hunt, no long waiting period, no ballot involved in getting these bottles. Just a bog standard order. No reward for being one of the “lucky ones” to win a ballot, finding an exclusive single cask, stumbling across something rare or sold out. No, just a bog standard order. Why are limited releases and queues and ballots and all the rest of these mechanisms so popular with marketing departments at booze producers everywhere? Because these mechanisms are all dopamine-inducing. And once you’re hooked on that substance, you need the next thrill and the next and the next… (Including all the ill-effects of (verbal) abuse against companies and their employees when dopamine addicts don’t get their fix)…
Maybe that’s a wake-up call. The mind crying out “Hey, you fool, you’ve already got enough. Enjoy what you have.” Something to think about. Anybody else out there with a similar experience? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
This is an extended version of an experimental long-form post I pushed to my Instagram account. It will also be an experiment on my blog as I will not post links to it on my social channels to test whether people actually read the blog and discover the content via other sources. Feel free to share it on your social channels if you found it enlightening and share-worthy!
Is it just me or is there really quite a bit of Indie-bottled Benrinnes floating around on the shelves these days? At least Cadenhead’s seem to have bottled quite a few of them recently. I’m certainly not complaining as I’m usually quite partial to a drop from the stills of the distillery nestled at the foot of the mountain it was named after (well, more of a pimple to us Austrians…). During the 2016 Speyside Whisky Festival I had booked an event that was supposed to contain a tour of this distillery – sadly this never happened because apparently Diageo was unable to find anyone to do the tour, which seemed really strange at the time and was a pity, but hey… Anyway, this is about the whisky – at 24 years this was made back in the day when they still did a somewhat whacky partial triple distillation. Yeah, you read that right. Don’t ask me to explain it…
Dram data: Distillery: Benrinnes Bottler: Cadenhead’s Distilled: 1995 Bottled: November 2019 Age: 24 Limitation: 216 bottles Cask: Bourbon Hogshead Alcohol: 49,4% uncoloured / not chill filtered Whiskybase link
Rum casks are a thing now in the whisky world. I’ve tried a fair number so far and have found they can be a bit hit or miss – depending on the spirit and the casks used. One distillery where this has worked pretty well in the past is Springbank – they have easy access to rum casks since their sister company Cadenhead’s also bottles a few casks of rum every year. Now, this Kilchoman was bottled back in 2016 for the 60th anniversary of La Maison Du Whisky. In case you’re not familiar with rum, Caroni is the Port Ellen (or Brora) of the Rum world – a lost distillery. This dregs bottle was given to me by malt mate Keith and was originally entered into the 2016 Malt Maniacs Awards. I recently rediscovered it in my cellar and asked my followers on Instagram and Twitter whether they would like to read tasting notes on it. The contents still seem to be alive and kicking (though there might have been some oxidation at this point), so let’s go for it!
Dram data: Distillery: Kilchoman Bottler: official bottling for LMDW Distilled: 01.12.2011 Bottled: 05.09.2016 Age: 4 years Limitation: 264 bottles Cask: Caroni cask finish Alcohol: 59,5% uncoloured / not chill filtered Whiskybase link
Apparently I didn’t write one of these articles last year. Lazy sod. So, let’s make the 2019 edition count! As some of you might have noticed, this blog wasn’t as active during 2019. This was due to many factors – all of which come down to that I tried to squeeze in more and different things in my spare time. I’ve taken up beekeeping again together with my family (which takes up a lot of time during spring and summer) and there were several other big projects. All of this meant that most of my whisky consumption was more of a “casual dramming” style than taking the time to sit down and actually write about a whisky. Such is life. At the same time I’m experiencing a bit of a “whisky fatigue”. I tried to deny it for months, but that’s what it is. I don’t really get much pleasure from spending countless hours perusing the web and social media to try to keep up with the latest news in the whisky world. Too many new releases, too many new distilleries, too many new armchair bottlers, too much hype and marketing to stay on top of the game. And, to be honest, to a point I actually don’t really care much at the moment. Chasing the latest and greatest and the ever one-upping “next big thing” has made me tired. I don’t actively go around and beg for samples and I’m not really the type for big and noisy whisky festivals, so I’ve been a bit out of touch. It seems that people are mostly interested in reviews of new releases (which I rarely provide) and repeating the same rants over and over again is also not a viable content strategy. This led to “quiet times” on the blog – and these will probably continue. My aspiration has never been to be a source for keeping everyone informed about the current affairs and releases in the whisky world. Well, this should come as no surprise to anyone.
Now, at the same time this should not become a “doom and gloom” type of post, so let’s look at noteworthy occurrences and tidbits that happened during 2019
Not one, not two, but three samples landed on my desk this week – and they share a common theme: “Barley exploration series” by Islay’s Bruichladdich distillery. This year they’ve bottled an organic whisky from 2010, produced with organic malt from Mid Coul farms in Inverness, an Islay barley release from 2011, grown by six different farms on the island, and, finally a Bere barley release distilled in 2010 from the ancient barley ancestor Bere, sourced from Orkney. All releases are bottled at a relatively young age, 7 or 8 years and were matured without fancy experimental casks in order to let the spirit shine. The cask makeup is not entirely the same, though, with the Organic and Bere release being fully ex-bourbon matured, while the Islay Barley does feature 25% ex-wine European oak casks, making a direct comparison of the barley influence between all three of them difficult.
It is extremely difficult to quantify the influence of “terroir” in whisky – in other words, the influence of the barley and its heritage. There are also the influences by malting, mashing, distilling, maturation, the casks used and the age of the whisky. While technically we don’t have an equal lineup where only the grain used is the differentiating factor, there is one of these three samples that stands out: Bere. It is drastically different as a grain, at one point it was responsible for breaking the distillery’s ancient mash tun – back when they used Bere grown on Islay. Bere is also different in one other aspect: Nose and taste. The influence on the spirit is remarkable, noticeably different from modern distilling barley varieties. This became apparent when I tasted an earlier release a while ago – will I be able to pick out the distinct Bere influence again? We shall see!
Tamnavulin? This Speyside distillery is probably unknown to all but the most devoted whisky drinkers. It’s not a malt you will find in supermarkets, most of the output is used in Blended Whisky production – probably mostly by owners Whyte & Mackay. It’s not a desirable whisky for collectors and not too often featured by independent bottlers. So why did I pick up a bottle at auction recently? Well, it was cheap-ish and a bottle that had been sitting around for a couple of years judging from the label and the condition of the tin with a bit of rust. I would guess it was bottled around 2005 or not too long after that – the year when the 12-year-old expression was officially launched. Basically this malt piqued my curiosity as to what kind of quality of spirit went into bottle roughly 10-15 years ago before the current explosion in whisky production. Well, this and the fact that I’ve actually never tried a Tamnavulin before… I needed to change that!
Dram data: Distillery: Tamnavulin Bottler: official bottling Distilled: – Bottled: ca. 2005 Age: 12 Limitation: – Cask: oak Alcohol: 40% colouring added / chill filtered Whiskybase link
“Hey mate, would you like to try some Bimber?” “Sorry, what?” “Yeah, Bimber, a new distillery from London, I’ve got a sample pack if you want one.” “Errr… alright, aye, I’ll give it a go.”
That scene, which took place earlier this year at a whisky festival, was probably the strangest way to come across a new distillery. With new distilleries popping up seemingly every week I’ve given up trying to keep track of all the different projects going on around the world right now.
So what’s the deal with Bimber? It’s a London-based distillery and it’s been distilling single malt from floor-malted barley in their direct fired stills since 2016, according to their website. So I guess their first casks are now already legally whisky. I’ll refer you to their website if you want to know more about the distillery itself – I’d only be paraphrasing their website anyway since that’s about all I know. I’ll let the spirit do the talking in this article.
The sample pack contained six bottles – two different new-make distillates and four cask samples of unknown age. Judging by the low cask numbers (the highest is 38) I’d say we’re looking at at least two-year old spirit. How does it nose and taste? I’m glad you asked – let’s dive right in! (No scores given as they are “maturation in progress”.)
Every year, independent bottler Cadenhead’s gets to select one cask of Springbank whisky to bottle under their own name – and they have to pay their parent company, which owns Springbank distillery, for it. This year, the winner out of apparently 37 casks was a 24-year old Springbank, distilled back in 1994 and matured in a refill ex-bourbon barrel. Must’ve been one heck of a barrel with an outturn of 312 bottles. Maybe it was married and re-racked at some point? This whisky was featured as one of the drams in the “Director’s Cut” tasting at the Campbeltown Malts Festival this year as a preview and I brought the drample back home with me for a proper assessment. So, what do you expect from this whisky? Nothing but the best, right? Let’s verify that…
Dram data: Distillery: Springbank Bottler: Cadenhead’s Distilled: 1994 Bottled: 2019 Age: 24 years Limitation: 312 bottles Cask: refill barrel Alcohol: 50,8% no colouring added / not chill filtered Whiskybase link