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
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
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
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