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:
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.
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.
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…
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
Just a few years ago, when I first travelled to Scotland, Fife was pretty much non-existent on modern whisky maps, even the rogue farm distillery at Daftmill was only known to a handful of geeks. These days it could count as a whisky region of its own, with quite a few new distilleries starting up. Amongst them is the first stop of the day for Jo and myself – Lindores Abbey.
Sit back, pour yourself a dram and join us on the journey!
Et per liberacionem factam fratri Johanni Cor per preceptum compotorum rotulatoris, ut asserit, de mandato domini regis ad faciendum aquavite infra hoc compotum, viii bolle brasii.
“To Friar John Cor, 8 bolls of malt, wherewith to make aqua vitae for the King.”
The date was 1st of June, 1494, and this phrase is to be found on a piece of parchment, an Exchequer Roll. It marks the first recorded history of distillation of “aqua vitae” in Scotland, the “water of life”, the unaged equivalent of what we call “new make” today before it goes into casks.
523 years later, to the day, Jo and I are given a very warm welcome by Drew McKenzie Smith, Managing Director and Gary, distillery manager, at the gates of the former Lindores Abbey on Lindores Farm, in the possession of Drew’s family for over 100 years. Distillation is about to be resumed at the time of writing (August 2017), at what they call the “spiritual home of Scotch Whisky”. Now, we’ve seen a lot of new distillery projects these past few years and everybody tries to find a unique story, a unique selling point, some so far-fetched it’s borderline comical, but the same can not be said about this place. Actually, the project has been (on and off) in the making for many years, way before the current distillery boom had started.
The new distillery is being built across the road from the abbey’s remains, where formerly farm buildings – built from Abbey stone – stood. It might not be visible anymore today, but digs carried out when constructing the distillery, revealed the ground where the distillery now stands once was part of the abbey itself, which was founded in 1191 by Benedictine monks from the Order of Tiron. The monks were known for medicinal skills and horticulture and the abbey grounds once were home to an impressive orchard – about 3000 fruit trees can still be found in town, originating from the Abbey’s orchards. Now, why is this important? Every new distillery project needs an income stream before they can sell whisky after a minimum waiting time of three years and a day. Many sell products like gin, vodka or young whisky, or even new make. Drew’s vision for Lindores is slightly different and a clever integration of the site’s heritage: He plans to sell aqua vitae, which once was new make improved with all sorts of herbs (and honey). The visitor’s centre will feature an apothecary where visitors will be able to create their own version of it, with Lindores new make and selected (some even locally grown) herbs. They also plan on selling a commercial aqua vitae. Depending on how their own spirit matures and how well sales of the spirit product are, the first whisky release is planned to occur at about 5 years of age. The sale of aqua vitae is not the only homage to the distillery’s past, there will be a refactorium, used as a dining area, with huge, rustic oak banquet tables, for instance, and more details for visitors to explore during a visit. Continue reading “2017 Whisky adventures part 6: Fife – Lindores Abbey, Eden Mill, Artisan and more!”
The Orkneys have been on the very top of the list of places to visit in Scotland for many years, yet I had never managed to do so – until 2017. It’s way up in the North of Scotland and not exactly easy, or quickly, to get to. If you don’t want to depend on the small aircraft and don’t want to take the overnight ship from Aberdeen, there’s no other way than driving up the beautiful east coast of Scotland, to take the ferry from Scrabster to Stromness. That’s the route Jo and myself took in her little sports car, after spending the night in Inverness. The only stop was to enjoy a cuppa tea and a healthy (read: Full Scottish) breakfast along the way at a little tea room in Dunbeath.
The ferry ride over to the “Mainland”, the name of the largest of the Orkney Isles, was rather unspectacular. The vessel took the longer, more sheltered route due to the rough sea. What started out as a rainy, cold day, actually turned into a quite pleasant and partly sunny day, when we disembarked the MV Hamnavoe in Stromness. Being the gringos we were, we decided to “head into town” first. Well, the streets in Stromness were seemingly built for horse-drawn carriages, not for cars. Very narrow streets, and people staring at us. Thank god Maizy is a very small sports car, so we did manage to find our way out of town and onto the main road.
With time to kill before checking in at the youth hostel in Kirkwall, a detour to the prehistoric village of Skara Brae was a welcome change. We had spent many hours in the car and on board the vessel. Definitely worth the visit, the place has a kind of magical feeling about it that’s hard to put into words. Starting the visit on the island(s) by getting a sense of the history of the place gets you grounded and excited for more! Enjoying a wee dram in the dunes isn’t a bad start to that leg of the journey as well. Continue reading “2017 Whisky adventures part 4: The Orkneys and Scapa”
Dram data: Distillery: Glenlivet
Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Limitation: 726 bottles
Casks: 3 sherry hogsheads
unchillfiltered; uncoloured Whiskybase link
I know posts have been far and few between lately – I’m very busy at the moment juggling different tasks, so please bear with me. Since it’s been a while, let’s make this tasting count. Glenlivet from 12 years before I was born? Don’t mind if I do!
Colour: red amber
The nose immediately brings a smile on my face. Proper, aged whisky. I’m repeating myself here, there are many truly excellent young whiskies, but there is absolutely no substitute for time. You cannot produce this style of whisky in 5, 10, 15, 20 years, no matter what the marketing guys want you to believe. Older whisky doesn’t mean better, but when it’s right, it’s right! Oh, sorry, I digressed a little. On the nose then… we’ve got a fragrant mix of spices up front. We’re talking mulled wine spices. Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, that sort of thing, but not fresh and sharp, but on their second infusion. The spices are paired with quite a bit of oak wood concentrate, just bordering on too much (I hope this won’t show up too harsh on the palate) and loads of dark, dried fruit notes in the background (rum-infused plums, predominately). Also in the background are notes of Demerara sugar, chocolate cake, slightly burnt toffee, toasted walnuts and sweet vanilla pipe tobacco. All in all a very nice combination of intense, thick aromas. Continue reading “Tasting: Glenlivet 33 yo 1974-2008 by Gordon & MacPhail”
Dram data: Distillery: Pulteney
Bottler: official bottling
Bottled: 2014 (L14 338)
Age: 12 years
chill filtered and coloured Whiskybase link
After thoroughly enjoying a (blind) dram of Old Pulteney 12 yo during a dinner in Speyside earlier this year, I just had to get a bottle and taste it again in my usual, controlled setting. Let’s find out of it lives up the earlier pleasant experience!
Tasting notes: Colour: gold
The nose is surprisingly aromatic and rich, starting out with blood oranges, dried pineapple and light vanilla. Building upon those, there is a fruity sweetness (peach and apricot juice mixed with ice wine?), tinned tangerines and lychees, white chocolate, a very delicate spicy note (fresh fennel and pickled ginger?) and a faint trace of salt spray. A mix of sherry and ex-bourbon casks, I presume, but active and good wood. This is very good, much better than expected of an entry-level whisky at 40% ABV! Loads going on, yet not overwhelming for beginners. I really hope the palate can keep up with that! Continue reading “24 drams till christmas 2016 #6: Old Pulteney 12 yo”
Dram data: Distillery: Glenrothes
Age: 18 years
Limitation: 357 bottles
Unchillfiltered; uncoloured Whiskybase link
Colour: golden apple juice
The nose opens on… well, the suggestive title seems to work, there is orange up front, actually more like tinned tangerines, but that’s the same category. Oh, and orange sherbet powder. The fizziness usually associated with sherbet powder comes in form of a constant alcoholic tingle. Chocolate? Hmmm… not really. Oh, hang on, Well, maybe something along the lines of a well-known chocolate treat filled with cherry and cherry liqueur. But definitely more on the cherry and liqueur side than chocolate. The background is made up of notes of vanilla, ginger and an herbal, flowery note that’s hard to pin down. Cherry blossom perhaps? Light-ish and summery. Continue reading “Tasting: Glenrothes 1997 18 years “Chocolate Orange Segment” by Wemyss”
After the two rather long and eventful previous days, our group was keen on taking it easy on the third day. The entire day was centred around a steam train ride and everything else was planned around it.
So we started off as a group of four, Kat Presley, my brother and I hitching a ride with Crystal Coverdale to the decommissioned (since 1985) Coleburn distillery. What’s so interesting about an old, dismantled distillery with no equipment left inside? The warehouses! The re-founded independent bottler Murray McDavid (the original company was sold in the course of the Bruichladdich takeover in 2013) bought them in 2013 and now they’re used to mature their casks of whisky – stock they bought from the original Murray McDavid owners. We were met there by distiller and master blender David Simpson, who prefers the title of “Whisky Creation”. After an introduction to the company we were led into the warehouses and were free to roam around and look at all the different casks stored on site (including bourbon and they also talked about vodka and rum). The oldest cask on site is a 1962 North British, in case you were wondering! Well, it’s a traditional dunnage warehouse on two floors, as you can see in the pictures. I’ve seen my fair share of warehouses, so instead of peeking at all the casks and labels I mostly engaged in conversations with David and another lad – Tony Whitnock, former excise officer for Coleburn and other distilleries, joined our group and had a few stories to tell and confirm (involving “copper dogs” for sneaking out whisky from the warehouses…) which was a nice added touch. That’s the guy you want to sit down with for a few drams and listen to stories of bygone times! Continue reading “Speyside trip 2016: Part three – Coleburn/Murray McDavid – Strathspey steam railway tasting”
Going somewhere for the first time is always filled with anticipation and excitement. In the last week of April 2016 my brother Johannes and I packed our backpacks for our first ever ‘real’ trip to the Speyside in Scotland. While we’ve been to Scotland many times before and even visited Benromach and Glen Moray last year, this was to be our first proper visit to the current heart of Scotch whisky production. Well, our decision to head there might have been triggered by the fact that there was a whisky festival going on at that time – the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival. You might have heard about it. If not – click the link! Part of the festival excitement had to do with us meeting friends old and new as nine of us whisky geeks (that would be Jo, Johanne, Crystal, Viva, Kat, the Spellers and us two boys) shared a house for a week – a bit out of the way in Cullen (home of the famous Cullen Skink fish soup), but it was comfy and cheap – perfect as a base camp! And right next to our base camp – the next town, literally – was the first destination of our first tour on the first day of #dram16, Thursday, the 28th of April.
Boortmalt Maltings in Buckie
It’s Wednesday morning, the sun is shining (for the most part) and we’re driving our car towards Buckie to take a look at the Boortmalt maltings operation there. What better way to start a whisky festival than looking at how THE main ingredient in malt whisky production, malt, is made? At the door we were greeted by plant manager Gary and led into the board room for tea and cookies. Not a bad way to start the day indeed. The day even got better when we bumped into house mate Crystal for the first time as well as Lora and Rachel – always great to meet fellow malt mates at festivals!
Malting barley is a three-step process. At first you “steep” the dried barley in water to raise water content of the grain, as can be seen in the second picture, which was taken at the time when the steeping vessel was “stirred” by way of introducing compressed air from the bottom. Once a moisture content of approximately 45% is reached, the water is drained and the barley transferred to the germination chamber.
Under controlled climatic conditions the barley begins to grow during the modification phase, where enzymes break down the proteins and carbohydrates, essential for fermentation later on in the production of whisky. After germination has arrived at a critical point, the barley is kilned – you could also call it heat-dried, to terminate the germination process, or otherwise a barley plant would grow and we wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we? Drying is achieved by introducing hot air through the bottom of a perforated floor. Sometimes peat is used during the first phase of kilning to create smoky flavours, at the Buckie maltings they only produce unpeated malt, from local (Scottish) Concerto barley. They once tried making a peated batch, but after burning 40 tonnes of peat only got them about 10 ppm in the malt, the trials were abandoned. Continue reading “Speyside trip 2016: Part one – Boortmalt Maltings Buckie – Speyside Cooperage – Auchroisk Distillery”
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