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
Ord – sometimes also referred to as “Glen Ord” is a rather unknown distillery. There are no official bottlings – well, almost. Owners Diageo bottle it in their very confusing (and mostly underwhelming) “Singleton” line of malts – the same branding is used for three different distilleries and each version is only available in a specific market. Way back when (Glen) Ord was bottled under its own name with an age statement it happened to be my first bottle of Single Malt. Now if I could only remember if it was the 8 or the 12 yo… Anyway, as my first proper single malt, this big – and since massively expanded – distillery has a special place in my heart. Cadenhead’s recently released a 14-year-old expression in their Summer 2019 batch 2 and the folks at the Vienna shop were kind enough to provide me with a miniature. Let’s give it a taste and see if I will part with some of my hard-earned money to pick up a full-size bottle!
Dram data: Distillery: Ord Bottler: Cadenhead’s Distilled: 2005 Bottled: Summer 2019 Age: 14 yo Limitation: Cask: bourbon hogshead Alcohol: 54,8% no colouring added / not chill filtered Whiskybase link
Just the other day, a young lad sat next to me in my study, we were working on a movie project. On my table was a bottle of a single cask bottling I had received and “catalogued” that day – meaning the bottle got a hand-written neck tag with price, date of purchase and so on. “75€?” the young man asked me, seemingly in awe, as he inspected the bottle. To him, clearly used to buying spirits at a much lower price point, it looked like a very expensive bottle. To me it was just something I bought and would open at some point – rather casually too, having become used to whisky selling for triple figures, so that 75€ had become a rather ordinary price tag in my perception.
I had become so immersed in the whisky world that over the years my perspective had changed – and I didn’t even realize it until my friend pointed it out. While it did take that experience to really drive the point home, this moment was indicative of a change I had noticed myself during the past couple of months.
Ardbeg. One of those distilleries I have a love/hate relationship with. I’m rather fond of the distillery itself and the base distillate they produce but I’m less than enthusiastic about the over-the-top branding with all the flannel and the special releases, it just doesn’t appeal to me. These days I might get a bottle of the still very good TEN every once in a blue moon when it’s on sale but I ignore the rest. That also includes independently bottled Ardbegs. At one point Ardbeg was a distillery you HAD to buy casks of if you wanted casks from one of the higher-valued distilleries in their owner’s portfolio. These days independently owned casks are rare, sought after and priced accordingly. In my opinion and experience, the only somewhat sanely priced bottler of Ardbeg remains Cadenhead’s – and even their current prices are above what I’m personally willing to pay. So I guess this is already sold out in most markets but thanks to the shop in Vienna (who miraculously still seem to have stock, according to their website, at the time of writing) I was sent a wee sample to have a wee nose and taste…
Dram data: Distillery: Ardbeg Bottler: Cadenhead’s Distilled: 1993 Bottled: 2019 Age: 25 years Limitation: 216 bottles Cask: Hogshead Alcohol: 51,6% uncoloured / not chill filtered Whiskybase link
Usually we as a human race like to have special drinks (Champagne, Wine, Whisky) to celebrate special events. And then there’s the opposite: Letting a fine drink create a special event. I’ve been holding on to this sample of 50 year-old, sherry-matured Strathisla from Speyside for quite a while now. Let’s see if will succeed at creating a special occasion …
Dram data: Distillery: Strathisla Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail Distilled: 09.12.1965 Bottled: 20.01.2016 Age: 50 years Limitation: 418 bottles Cask: First Fill Sherry Puncheon Alcohol: 43% Uncoloured Whiskybase link
When I saw that Serge over at Whiskyfun HQ published a review of this whisky today, I remembered I still had half a sample from a tweet tasting in late 2018 sitting around waiting to be reviewed. So I didn’t read his notes beforehand in order not to influence myself too much and now it’s time to stick my nose in – taking my time to properly review this outside of the rush and typing frenzy that usually accompany tweet tastings. Men can’t multitask, ya know 😉
Dram data: Distillery: Springbank Bottler: Claxton’s Distilled: 10.05.1996 Bottled: 04.09.2018 Age: 22 Limitation: 249 bottles Cask: Bourbon Hogshead Alcohol: 55% uncoloured / not chill filtered Whiskybase link
I love blind tastings. They are a great way to make a huge fool of yourself. Ahem. Okay, let’s try this again. I love blind tastings. They are very educational and let you focus on the whisky without any preconceptions. A prime example of this was last year at a blind tasting at the Campbeltown whisky festival where I rated an Inchmurrin highest and a Littlemill lowest. Would I have scored them the same if I had known beforehand what the were? I hope so – but can’t say for sure!
Peter Moser, who runs the German-speaking whisky site fosm.de has invited me to take part in his blind tasting sets for the last few rounds – which have always yielded very interesting, sometimes sobering results. For round seven in his series, he sent us three samples, labelled #1-3 and with very little clues other than it being a big distillery in the process of reinventing itself and all of the samples being from the same distillery. In the end, the distillery turned out to be Glenfiddich. No, I did not guess that correctly but I was close-ish At least that’s what I tell myself… That has to count, right?
Now, for the full dose of public humiliation and poking fun at myself on my own site I’ll reveal the three drams – complete with translations of my original tasting notes: