Blair Athol 1988 27 yo

Dramming with Keith part two – aka Blair Athol and the case of the strange butts…

Another set of samples from one distillery – Blair Athol in this case – are sitting on my desk and my e-mail inbox is full with conversations with Keith Wood. That can only mean one thing: A sequel to the first series where we tasted six different Talisker drams is in the works.

Four drams from this one distillery, all distilled just a few days apart in the year 1988 but matured in different casks (all of which were butts of different varieties) and bottled between 25 and 27 years of age, which should yield some rather interesting comparisons. All bottles were entered into the 2016 Malt Maniacs awards, so if you want to go ahead and compare our scores to the ones by the official judges, head over to this page.

Now, without further ado, let the best butt malt win.


Blair Althol 1988 25yo

Blair Athol 1988 25 yo

1988, 25y, 59.6% ABV
21.10.1988 – 3.7.2014 551 btls
Casks 6920 & 6924 Refill Sherry Butts
Signatory Vintage CS for GI Jane (Fortune Taiwan)

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Talisker 18 year old

Dramming with Keith – Two malt mates, six Talisker expressions in a vertical tasting

It’s a few months after the 2016 Malt Maniacs awards. I’m sitting in Keith Wood’s den and we’re talking about the whiskies I’ve helped decant into sample bottles just a few months earlier. “You know, it would be interesting if we did a vertical tasting together and publish both our notes at the same time.” One of obvious candidates is Talisker, since there are no less than six expressions that were entered into the awards. A plan is hatched, samples are filled – and about a year (or so) later, the day is finally here: A vertical tasting of the following six Talisker Expressions: Skye, Storm, Dark Storm, Port Ruighe, 10 yo, 18 yo. Let’s do this!

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Distillery construction site bagging – a day trip to the new Lagg distillery on Arran

It’s the 22nd of May, 2018 and it’s been a few days since Jo and I left the Cotswolds Distillery in England. I’m once again sitting in Jo’s zippy Maizy Mazda sports car on a beautiful, sunny day – but this time we don’t need GPS navigation. We’re on the B-road that takes us from Campbeltown on the Mull of Kintyre, where we’re based for thewhisky festival, all the way up to Claonaig. From there we hop on the ferry to sail over to the Isle of Arran to catch an appointment with distillery manager James MacTaggart.

Quick lunch at the Sandwich Station in Lochranza after arriving on Arran
Quick lunch at the Sandwich Station in Lochranza after arriving on Arran

Our plan for the day is to get an update on the recently upgraded Arran distillery and then head down to the south end of the island to check out the construction site of the new Lagg distillery. Arriving at the Arran distillery we’re informed of a slight change of plans – James would arrive later in the afternoon so Jo and I are joining a regular distillery tour of the Arran distillery with tour guide Campbell first.

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Dumbarton 1986 32 yo by Claxton's

Tasting: Dumbarton 1986 32 yo by Claxton’s

I like ticking boxes. Especially if it means trying a whisky from a distillery I haven’t tried before – like Dumbarton. Founded in 1938, this grain distillery in Dumbarton, Scotland was closed in 2002 and dismantled a few years afterwards. This bottling by the independen bottler Claxton’s was distilled in 1986. I like 1986 – if only for the fact that it’s my birthyear…

Dumbarton 1986 32 yo by Claxton's

Dram data:
Distillery: Dumbarton
Bottler: Claxton’s
Distilled: 1986
Bottled: 2018
Age: 32 years
Limitation: 96 bottles
Cask: Bourbon Barrel
Alcohol: 57,1%
uncoloured/not chill filtered
Whiskybase link

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Are you sure we’re not in Scotland? – visiting Cotswolds Distillery

May 15th, 2018. It’s a glorious day, the sun is shining and I’m sitting in the passenger’s seat of  Maizy Madza, driven by my good friend Jo. We’re starting out on a two-week whisky tour, me being the designated drinker. The scenery is grandiose. Driving along small roads, following the directions of the lady living in my phone, I get to enjoy the beautiful Scottish countryside, wide fields, soft hills and glens. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a distillery appears. “Cotswolds distillery”. Hang on, Cotswolds? That’s not in Scotland?! Indeed, we are in the heart of England, where Daniel Szor founded a distillery just a couple of years ago – 2014 to be exact. 

Cotswolds distillery, courtyard
Cotswolds distillery, courtyard. Production building in the front, administration building and old visitor’s center in the background

I’ve been following the distillery since its inception – and today would be the day I’d finally get to visit it.  We are met by “the man” himself – Dan Szor. He used to be in the financial trade but if you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell. An instantly likeable, charming man, with a sense of “real” honesty, friendliness and openness surrounding him, unbothered by corporate rules and scripted talk. The kind of man you can talk with for hours – which is exactly what Jo and myself are about to do!

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WWII-era 1930s/1940s Johnnie Walker Red Label

Tasting: WWII-era 1930s/1940s Johnnie Walker Red Label

WWII-era 1930s/1940s Johnnie Walker Red LabelDram data:
Distillery: blend
Bottler: –
Distilled: –
Bottled: 1930s/1940s
Age: –
Limitation: –
Casks: –
Alcohol: 40?%

There are two reasons to visit the Limburg Whisky fair – the first one is the people you meet, the second one is the whisky that’s available there. This Johnnie Walker Red label, bottled in the 30’s or 40’s (let me know if you can narrow it down further), is an example for the latter. Never having tried an old version of this extremely well-known blend I thought it would be a good investment of 10€ for a 2cl sample… let’s give it a try, shall we?

Tasting notes:
Colour:
 light amber
The nose reminds me of an old mechanic’s workshop. A concrete floor soiled with several decades worth of oil and grease and freshly spilt cherry syrup mixed with extra dry vermouth. Lots of vermouth, actually. Perhaps the tiniest hint of smoke? Alcohol is noticeable on the nose, albeit only slightly. This has absolutely nothing in common with the modern variant, except for being on the “light and easy” side of things but let’s keep in mind that this has been sitting around for decades in unknown conditions and I’m lacking comparison.  Let’s move on to the palate! 

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Octagon live tasting

Octagon tasting at the Maltman Mike and Friends show on Youtube

On the evening of the 19th of September I had the pleasure to be invited as a guest at the Maltman Mike and Friends show on Youtube. 8 drams tasted live on camera with a quiz – what’s not to like? If you missed the live show, you can go watch it below. While you’re at it – please give the video a like and subscribe to the channel!

Production Director Allan Logan and Head Distiller Adam Hannett inspect trial plots planted on Islay in 2016.(Picture: Bruichladdich)

From distilling to farming – and beyond? – Bruichladdich purchases croft for barley farming trials

Production Director Allan Logan and Head Distiller Adam Hannett inspect trial plots planted on Islay in 2016.(Picture: Bruichladdich)

Production Director Allan Logan and Head Distiller Adam Hannett inspect trial plots planted on Islay in 2016.(Picture: Bruichladdich)

This past weekend a press release by Bruichladdich appeared in my inbox. Getting press releases is nothing new when you’re covering any kind of topic and especially in a booming market like the current, bloggers like myself are often flooded with sometimes good and sometimes cringeworthy examples. I usually don’t bother covering the latest whiskies – others are better and quicker at covering the “business news” and I don’t even attempt to compete.

And yet this press release was different – confirming what had already been murmured behind the scenes: The Islay-based distillery has acquired the Shore House Croft with 30 acres of former farmland in the immediate vicinity of the distillery. Why would a distillery buy farmland? Well, no, they won’t use it to build another mega distillery or any other construction project, they plan to use it as – drumroll, please – farm land, plain and simple.

Bruichladdich identifies itself by the slogan “Progressive Hebridean Distillers”. Some might roll their eyes at the idea of being “progressive” in the production of booze or when someone mentions “terroir” in conjunction with brown spirits. Why is this? In a whisky world where mass is king and most of the whisky is produced by using high-yield malting barley and high-yield yeast in search of ever more efficiency (at the potential cost of losing flavours) attempting to do things differently and looking left and right of the highway are good things – at least in my book. Bruichladdich has never shied away from trying things – and trying is the key phrase with this latest project:

The land will be used to conduct soil surveys followed by farming trials to “test the viability of different barley varieties on Islay soil.” In doing so they will look at heritage barley varieties “outside of the ‘recommended list’.” Now that’s where it gets interesting. Personally, I tend to think that different barley varieties, especially old varieties, can bring variety in distilling and anyone who has tried one of Bruichladdich’s Bere Barley bottlings can taste the difference themselves. I’ve baked with beremeal and if you’ve tasted the raw ingredients you can nose and taste it in the finished whisky. Now, at first there will be trials and what will come of these is too early to tell but I wholeheartedly agree with looking left and right of the mainstream raw ingredients and experimenting – especially if the end results are a mighty fine dram.

The 30 acres are rather insignificant in size compared to the current 1000 acres farmed by 17 farmers on the Island for the distillery, but the research conducted there might very well benefit their partners due to varieties emerging successfully seeing more widespread planting.

Now, there’s only one key production step missing in making whisky and that is malting the Islay-grown barley on Islay instead of shipping and tankering it off to Inverness. But that’s something for another press release, maybe in a couple of years time…

Carsebridge 1982 33 years Single Grain Whisky by The Grainman

Tasting: Carsebridge 1982 33 years Single Grain Whisky by The Grainman

Carsebridge 1982 33 years Single Grain Whisky by The GrainmanDram data:
Distillery: Carsebridge
Bottler: The Grainman / Meadowside Blending
Distilled: 1982
Bottled: March 2016
Age: 33 years
Limitation: 258 bottles
Casks: Bourbon 74679
Alcohol: 48,9%
uncoloured/not chill filtered
Whiskybase link

Ah, an old Grain whisky from a distillery that closed in the early 80s when more whisky was made than consumed. Let’s see if shedding a tear for the closure of this grain spirit production plant is warranted …

Tasting notes:
Colour:
 dark straw
The nose starts off very well! Grainy goodness! We’ve got a hint of alcohol mixed with vanilla, cornflakes, hubba bubba, burnt molasses, caramel, all stored in grandma’s old oak spice cupboard. Not overly complex, which was to be expected, yet very entertaining and “old enough”. If there’s one thing grain whisky needs to shine on its own then it’s a good refill cask and lots and lots of time. This seems to have had both!  Let’s move on to the palate!  Continue reading

Longmorn-Glenlivet Pure Malt 12 yo (1980s)

Tasting: Longmorn-Glenlivet Pure Malt 12 yo (1980s)

Longmorn-Glenlivet Pure Malt 12 yo (1980s)Dram data:
Distillery: Longmorn-Glenlivet
Bottler: Gordon & Macphail, licensed bottling
Distilled: –
Bottled: 1980s
Age: 12 years
Limitation: –
Casks: –
Alcohol: 40
unknown colouring/filtering
Whiskybase link (similar, but older bottling)

There are things you just can’t say no to – like this wee old miniature bottle of whisky I stumbled across in Arkwright’s Wine and Spirit shop earlier this year. Who would pass on the opportunity to experience what whisky bottled decades ago tasted like? This was bottled in the 1980s as a licensed bottling by Gordon & Macphail, distilled in the 1970s – some of the new make might have even been produced when Longmorn was a distillery with only two stills and those were fired directly. Back then what we now call “Single Malt” was called “Pure Malt” and distilleries proclaimed their region by attaching “-Glenlivet” to their name. Those were the times – and they are now bottled history! Anyway, all of that means almost nothing if the whisky is bad, so let’s dive right in!

Tasting notes:
Colour:
 amber
The nose features a surprising amount of alcohol for a 40% whisky. Once the alcohol settles down, a dry, layered, spicy, sherried whisky is revealed. We’ve got orange peel, ginger, nutmeg, a whole truckload of cloves and cinnamon and dusty beeswax on a base of dried apricots and sulphured sultanas with a smidgen of motor oil on top (the good kind, you know…). Nicely layered and balanced, not flabby at all. We’re off to a very good start here.  Let’s check the palate!  Continue reading