Scotch22, Round 3 -The Final Gathering

The third Scotch22 club event was held in the Howff at Whisky Galore, in Christchurch.

As for the previous two gatherings, members Mel Bromley and Ian Stopher attended.  They have generously provided us their thoughts and tasting notes on the event.

All photography is by Mel.

The Tasting Sheet

Ian’s introductory notes:

When I arrived at the venue I found some members already started on the kindly offered Glentauchers.

While I was talking, I was consuming the G&M distillery labels bottling Glentauchers.  We had had one of the other Pernod Ricard distilleries – Miltonduff – at the Light Fantastic tasting, but this one was the lighter side of Glentauchers and a great conviviality initiator.

The Main Proceedings

The six bottles of the tasting had been voted for by the members earlier in the year.  This was now the third attempt to host the evening, to find what had made the lineup and what had not.

I had voted for Lochside and voted for the Glendronach.  The whiskies had been poured in a light-to-heavy sequence. There is nothing controversial about that, but what was surprising was how well it worked.

The established format for the gatherings is for Michael Fraser-Milne to say something about the distillery and/or the whisky, with his various related digressions and jokes.  At some point he gets to the whisky at hand and then the ensuing conversation as we ruminate.

Personally, I like  this format, although I have to say Mel’s notes next to mine were far more comprehensive as I got too easily distracted talking and didn’t always put enough into the note-taking.  But the important thing is to enjoy the evening, and that was certainly the case for me.

Note about scoring: I scored them in my normal 10-point fashion.  Michael also added another scoring, from 0 to 5, to be used so he could more easily calculate the room favourite. With really only a few values to reasonably use for such good whiskies (3, 4 or 5) it makes for some rather hard decision making. I include this second score in brackets.

Glass 1:
  G&M Rosebank, 30 year-old from 1989, 55%, Refill Sherry Hogshead

        Rosebank

Ian

I have only ever had the FF Rosebank bottle, many moons ago.

Rosebank might be considered a light floral style but this one, being from a Refill Sherry Hogshead, was quite a departure.

The nose had a creamy character along with dry fruity sherry.

The palate offered more of that dry fruity style but more tangy orange came through.

The finish was a bit more spirituous than I was expecting, and medium in length. Adding a bit of water softened it a bit but did not dramatically change its nature.

A very good start.

My score: 8.5 (4)

Mel

Nose:  Shortbread, pear, soft, a pear crumble, orange liquer, honeysuckle

Palate: Pear crumble, much punchier than the nose, hint of cocoa on the finish, gingernut biscuits, a hint of licorice

Comment:  Very pleasant!!   Which surprised me, having previously decided long ago that I was not a fan of Rosebanks on the basis they were too light and floral – this one I liked!

My score:  8.3  (5th place)

Group score:  6th place.

Glass 2:
 Murray McDavid Lochside, 18 year-old, 1981-2000, 46% abv,  Refill Sherry

   Lochside

Ian

This was the one I was really here for!

I have only had three Lochside before, two of which were single grain.  This, then is only my second Lochside single malt.

Mind you, I suspect many in the room had fewer data points to go on than I did.  Michael has only had about seven before, so it was going to be novel.  How was this diluted bottling going to compare to my second favourite whisky of the past 2 years, my own Cadenhead (1981-2000)?

The answer was very well indeed – this was a stunner!

The nose is very orange tangy for me – others thought it was somewhat sour-smelling and tasting but that was not my personal experience.

The palate offered lovely orange notes and some burnt character as well with just a hint of sourness.

My only criticism of the Cadenhead Lochside was the finish was not long enough and this was the case here as well.  Perhaps I was just wanting the lovely liquid experience to go on longer than was realistic.

That is now two Lochsides from Refill Sherry and both excellent – if you can count two data points as enough this would be my new favourite distillery, albeit a rather expensive one.  At least with Tobermory, I can afford to purchase more bottles.

My score: 8.8 (5)

Mel

Nose:  Malt biscuits, cream of tartar, orange rind, nectarine stone

Palate: Sweet, nectarines, malty, crème brulee (especially the burnt brown sugar on top), slight salty note, coffee, orange

My score:  8.8  (3rd place)

Group score:  1st place

Glass 3:
 HL Glen Elgin, 44 year-old, 1975-2009, 45.6% abv, Bourbon Hogshead (given the number of bottles) 

    Glen Elgin

Ian

This Speyside wasn’t the oldest distillation of the lineup but had  the longest maturation.

I have had a mixed bag from Glen Elgin in the past. I had a bottle earmarked for a tasting last year but it was so ridiculously spicy and ginger hot that I removed it as being too disruptive.

Michael said that this ginger taste was more the distillery character than the wood itself, something that I didn’t know.

On the nose, it was quite malty but with a rich mature bourbon character that already reeked of age, but no fierce spiciness.

The palate aligned with the expectations of the nose, a bit musty but a character.

Probably the lengthiest finish of the night, with no woodiness or undue bitterness.  There was a slight liquorice note that lingered – that might be how I interpret the remnant of a decent amount of peat at distillation. Others got ginger cookies, I only got a hint of ginger loaf and I was concerned that the talk of ginger had primed my expectations.

A solid old whisky that I feel we didn’t have the time to really get to grips with.  In terms of scoring, that was a bit of an undoing (see Springbank below).

My score: 8.6 or 8.7 (4)

Mel

Nose:  Apples, apple peel, shortbread, custard, iodine hint, cinnamon, marshmellows covered in dessicated coconut, hint of licorice again, orange again

Palate: licorice, savoury, a ginger cake or ginger loaf

My score:  8.5  (4th place)

Group score:  5th place

Glass 4:
 Diageo Pittyvaich, 29 year-old, listed as 51.4% abv but I think it is 55.3%, double matured in PX and Oloroso seasoned casks

     Pittyvaich

Ian

If we include the Rosebank, this is the third ghost distillery of the evening – clearly, people wanted to try whiskies from distilleries where the supplies are dwindling.

I have previously only had the FF bottle and a 12 year James Macarthur which I did not like very much. Would this official bottling improve matters?

Yes, it does, but not dramatically so. The nose was very sharp, seeming very alcoholic and spirity which didn’t make sense for 51.4% but makes more sense at 55.3%.

There was also quite a significant malt vinegar on the nose, which does not bode well.

In the mouth, it is a very mixed experience, some yeast, sourness, leather, dried fruits.  I found myself rather all at sea with this one.

The finish was possibly the best aspect, with a good malty character.

This, as it turned out, was my least favourite of the night. Not dreadful, but not really my kind of style it seems. I am not sure whether it was a divisive whisky but it could be deemed so.

My score: 8.3 (3)

Mel

Nose: Tinned pineapple, honey, plums

Palate: Chocolate wheaten biscuits (those malt biscuits with chocolate on the bottom), honey, slight rusty note, custard (minty note?)

My score:  7.8  (6th place)

Group score:  4th place

Glass 5:
 DT Springbank, 18 year-old, 1993, 56.4% abv, I would guess a First Fill Sherry Hogshead, but I don’t know for sure

     Springbank

Ian

If you had shown me the list in advance I would probably have the least interest in including this one (even more so than the Glendronach).

But I was very wrong.

In its day this bottling won a lot of awards and I can see why. This is heavy Springbank!

The nose is very heavy sherry (Oloroso) and dark burnt orange.  The palate is very chewy, quite tarry and oily and I did remark a lot of coca-cola.

This was a lot to digest and the finish was medium to long and almost as impressive as the Glen Elgin.

I don’t think anyone present voted this low. It became my second favourite, edging out the Glen Elgin because it is a lot more instant.  You cannot exactly call an 18yo young but it has lots of instant appeal – hard to resist in a short-format like a tasting.

It could have been dirtier for me, but otherwise, this was really solid and something way too expensive to purchase these days.

My acore: 8.7 (5)

Mel

Nose:  Salted caramel (GORGEOUS), iodine, licorice, banana cake (in a good way), home-made hokey pokey (mixing golden syrup and cream of tartar so that it fizzes up then baking it), unshelled almonds, a slight smokey note, nectarine stone

Palate: Smooth caramel and home-made hokey pokey

My score:  9.5  (1st place)  [WHO would’ve thought I’d rate the Springbank over the 1971 Brown & Gold Glendronach? Huh!]

Group score:  2nd place

Glass 6:
GlenDronach Batch 1, 38 year-old, 1971-2009, 49.4% abv, Oloroso Sherry Butt

   Glendronach

Ian

There was no doubting this was the darkest of the whiskies, and probably the most expensive.

All I could get from the nose to start was a heavy sherry, so I added some water to open it up a bit.

In the mouth it was very earthy and plenty of tannins, so I was not looking forward to the finish being that welcoming.

I was wrong there!

The finish was not too bitter but it was tarry and pretty long.  I felt this was a bit too much – possibly too long in the cask and should have been bottled earlier.

Given it was Batch 1, was there an urge to get this whisky out to market before it got worse?

I am sure I was somewhat in the minority camp on this one, but it was still a very enjoyable whisky and I rated it sitting in the middle of the pack – above both the Rosebank and the Pittyvaich

My score: 8.6 (4)

Mel defines this as Sacrilege!   Ian adding water to the Glendronach.

Mel

Nose:  Christmas cake, soy sauce, marmite, oranges, raisins, figs, vegemite on Vogel toast, slight vinegar note

Palate: Tobacco, prunes, soy sauce, heavy sherry, earthy, christmas cake, marmite, slight chocolate note?

Comment: I loved all the character, and the personality involved in the little hints of soy sauce – but tend to agree with Ian that it was possibly in the cask too long.

My score:  9.2  (2nd place)
Group score:  3rd place

  SUMMARIES

Ian

Now it was for Michael to get a show of hands for scores and tot them up.

In the end, the Lochside won; probably not everyone’s favourite but pretty high for many, which helped carry the day for it.

Bringing up the rear was the Rosebank.  I certainly felt it did better than that placing.

In summary, this is the order I placed them in:

Lochside
Springbank
Glen Elgin
GlenDronach
Rosebank
Pittyvaich

 

Mel

For me the final ranking was:

Springbank
Glendronach
Lochside
Glen Elgin
Rosebank
Pittyvaich

And for the Group voting as a whole it was:

Lochside
Springbank
Glendronach
Pittyvaich
Glen Elgin
Rosebank

All that was left was to do a final toast and to bid our fond farewells to Scotch22 and 2020.

Slainte.

Best Regards,
Ian & Mel

The Glenlivet – Reflections on a Tasting

from Pat Phipps

I recently had the great pleasure to go to a Glenlivet tasting at Thorndon Glengarry’s in Wellington.

The Glenlivet is currently one of my favourite distilleries.  They seem to be doing great things, with products ranging from the outstanding but pricey black bottle series (Alpha, Cipher and Code) to the just-released and very affordable Illicit Stills 12yo.

Jack Potter, the NZ brand ambassador was the tasting host.  Jack is an enthusiastic, bright, extremely knowledgeable ambassador and a delight to listen to.  He invited any questions from those assembled and was able to answer most of them effortlessly.

Possibly more importantly, after the tasting he gave the opportunity to have another small dram of our favourite whisky – in my case the single cask 18-year-old.

For those of you who went to Dramfest this year, Jack was also responsible for selecting the two drams for The Glenlivet session with Alan Winchester at Dramfest 2020.

The tasting list

For a ticket price of $30, the line-up for the Glengarry tasting was quite outstanding.  It included:

the 25-year-old at 43%,
the 18-year-old single cask NZ limited edition at 56.8%,
the Illicit Still 12-year-old at 48%,
the standard 12-year-old at 40%,
the Founders reserve at 40%, and
the Nadurra Peated at 61.6%.

Glenlivet Tasting Line-up

Plus, of course, a cheese plate to go with them.

I want to talk first about the newly launched Illicit Stills 12yo.

This retails for around $70 at the moment, a good price for a non-chill filtered 48% abv.  It has a higher sherry barrel finish content than is normal for a Glenlivet and a subsequent wonderful mouthfeel.  On the nose there are green apples with a little cherry and leather polish. On the taste, cherry and a wonderful sherry influence with a long finish.

I noticed there were a few bottles of this expression sold on the night and I was one of the lucky people to purchase one, although the thought did go through my mind if I should buy two.

Glenlivet are releasing a limited-edition original series each year as a salute to their origins and if this is anything to go by then bring it on.

I have had the 25-year-old before at Dramfest when I attended a wee Dram session with Alan Winchester, the Head of distilling at The Glenlivet distillery.  I knew to expect a wonderful smooth whisky matured for 23 years in ex bourbon barrels, then finished for two more years in sherry barrels. Again, there is great mouthfeel, flavour and a long finish.

What I did not expect was to taste an 18 year old single cask.  Boy, what a whisky!  From cask 21087, bottled Feb 2020 as a New Zealand Limited edition, it is 56.8% abv with great mouthfeel, rich taste and way too easy to drink.  I remember thinking to myself that I could drink this all night then a friend next to me said “No you couldn’t”.

They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains.

As a comparison we also had the Founders Reserve.  This is Glenlivet’s entry level single malt.  It exhibits the classic distillery floral nose but reminds you that this is a young, quite frisky whisky but still easy drinking

The standard 12-year-old highlights just how much of a step up 12 years of maturing has on the Founders Reserve.  The 12 is smooth but still floral and I personally use this as a benchmark for 12yo Speysides.  One of the reasons I was so impressed by the Illicit Stills version is that Glenlivet managed to up the ante and still stick to the same price point.

The last dram was the Nadurra Peated a Non-Age Statement at cask strength.  I have an open bottle of this at home and love both this edition and the Oloroso finish. Glenlivet again have priced this perfectly for a cask strength whisky.

I was fascinated to learn that the whisky was not peated during production.  Rather, the required taste profile is achieved by putting the liquid is into ex-Islay whisky barrels during fermentation.  As the Glenlivet is owned by Pernod Ricard, you may speculate as to the source of the barrels.

Another interesting titbit from history – when The Glenlivet was first launched into America it was labelled Unblended Whisky as the term single malt was not yet coined.  They used to give away miniatures to travellers in the Pullman luxury carriages on the trains – the equivalent to business/first class air travel today.

How much would I give to get my hands on a few of those minis to add to my collection!

Under the Influencers

Uisge Beath

Not the usual title destined to attract attention.

But Uisge (pronounced “oosh-gae”) Beath was the original Scottish name for whisky.  It is the Scottish Gaelic translation of “acqua vitae” – the Latin phrase meaning Water of Life.

 

Looking back over influences and influencers, my interest in whisky seems almost to have had a pre-determination for interaction with the water of life.

I interest in whisky didn’t really start until my later life, but the influences go back a long way.  So here’s some observations about the influencers.

Aunty

My maiden great-aunt was one of those people generally described as “larger than life”.

To my 10-year-old self she was a tall and imposing woman, of strong opinion and will.  She was also equipped with a booming, authoritarian voice that shook the crockery and brooked no argument.

But she was always very welcoming, of a positive disposition and always happy to see you.

Aunty played golf quite well and drank whisky – also quite well.

Aunty was in the habit of ending a round of golf with rounds of whisky in the 19th hole, then driving home some ten miles in her green Austin A40 Countryman with the wooden trim along the sides and around the rear doors.

This was the “olden” days, when driving under the influence was not as antisocial as it is today.

Austin A40 Shooting Brake

But Aunty’s whisky habit eventually was the demise of the Austin.

One wet & dark evening, after the golf and the whiskies, she and the car met a telephone pole that had interfered with her intended line of travel.  The pole, having previously been the victim of other similar attacks, had been reinforced by strapping a spare length of railway track to it.

Aunty and the Austin hit the pole smack on the car’s hood ornament.

The pole snapped.  Then lowered itself none too gently along the length of the Austin’s geometric centre, starting at the bonnet and ending at the back doors.

Neither the Austin nor Aunty were improved by the experience.  The Austin sadly was terminal.  Aunty was appreciably damaged but fortunately survived, possibly as a result of having been more relaxed.

shortly after she recovered, she had a house built on the eastern side of Waikanae, looking down over the Main Trunk railway line.

My father offered to help her with the interior painting of cupboards and the like, taking me along as “helper” for the lower bits.  My enduring memory of Aunty was arriving, paint-brush in hand, at her house at about 9am on a Sunday morning to be greeted by the booming voice enquiring whether my father would care for a whisky and milk, as she had just finished her first one!

My father declined.

Those of you who know of the brand will know that it was not of a quality to be giving as a gift to anyone who knows anything about whisky.

Grandad

Not my granddad.  Another grandad.

This gentleman was odd.  I don’t remember ever meeting him, but I knew him from photos and the most interesting reputation- some parts of which have gone into family folklore and will likely remain there for years to come.

Grandad was born somewhere around the late 1800s, when things were slightly more rustic than they are now.  His rural lifestyle required that he purchase diesel oil in 44-gallon drums and whisky in cases of two dozen bottles.

Disposing of the empty whisky bottles involved putting them into the empty 44-gallon drums and returning the drum to the supplier.

The Piper

James was a gentleman.

He was a lawyer by profession.  He was exceptionally mild-mannered, and extremely proud of his Scottish and Roman Catholic background.  Apart from the lawyering, he was also very knowledgeable in matters single malt.

Knowing of his interest in whisky, a grateful – if slightly mis-guided – client expressed gratitude by presenting James with a carton of a whisky that was produced in the South Island in the 1960s and 70s.

Those of you who know of the brand will know that it was not of a quality to be giving as a gift to anyone who knows anything about whisky.  It was more of a quality that would encourage anyone interested in taking up whisky drinking to switch to gin.

James’ problem with this gift was several-fold.

He couldn’t return it, as that would be insulting to the donor.

He couldn’t offer it to guests: he knew that you could only offer your best whisky to guests, and this stuff certainly was not in that class!

He couldn’t give it away, as that would be insulting to the recipient.

His very elegant solution?

He drank it.

For Lent.

Footnote:  Aunty’s house in Waikanae had an unrestricted view of a lengthy section of the Main Trunk Railway Line.  From her concrete deck you could see the smoke from the steam trains from the Waikanae River to Peka Peka, and the whole train for the best part of a mile.

I could sit there for hours.

And possibly for days, if I’d been old enough to have whisky.

Slainte.

Going Down The Rabbit Hole

I am a bit concerned.

I started this blog-site just over two years ago.

Now there are a lot of people who think my life revolves around things whisky.  Which it does quite a bit, I suppose, but by no means to the exclusion of other things.

From non-whisky friends (yes, I do have them) I receive emails with links to whisky-related items and articles.  The link is often accompanied by a comment along the lines of “as soon as I saw this, I thought of you.”

It is great to know that they think of me, and I would not want to discourage them sending me stuff!  Some of the items I get links to are absolutely fascinating.  They can send me down the biggest, deepest, most convoluted rabbit holes imaginable.

One such link came recently from Michael.  Michael strikes me as a learned person.  I suspect he reads a lot, and absorbs all he reads.  He has an extremely fine, extremely broad, extremely dry and straight-faced sense of humour coupled with a well-developed sense of irony.

Detecting Fake Whiskies

But the article Michael referred me to is neither funny or ironic.

The implications it raises are most unfunny and could be potentially expensive for someone.

It is a fascinating look at scientific developments around an increasing ability (and, sadly, a need) to identify counterfeit whiskies.

Not so much a rabbit hole as an entire industrial-strength warren!

The article is extremely interesting, given the prices people can pay for “collectables”.

One really attention-grabbing line in the article notes “a 2018 study subjected 55 randomly selected bottles from auctions, private collectors, and retailers to radiocarbon dating and found that 21 of them were either outright fakes or not distilled in the year claimed on the label”.

That is one-third of the bottles tested!

… an increasing ability (and, sadly, a need) to identify counterfeit whiskies.

The article  has been written by Jennifer Ouellette, a senior writer on the ARS Technica website, a website for technical news.  Ms Ouellette has very kindly given me permission to link to it from rantandwhisky.com.

And her article is the start of the rabbit warren.

The Artificial Tongue

From Ms Ouellette’s article there is a plethora of hyperlinks to such interesting things as the development at the University of Glasgow of an artificial tongue.  The tongue is reportedly capable of distinguishing between different brands of whisky.

I can do that, but I suspect that the artificial tongue may be a bit more reliable!

As this second article notes, apart from identifying whiskies, the uses of the artificial tongue are potentially immense.  For example, overseeing the quality control of industrially produced food and beverages, or for monitoring water supplies.

On the subject of rabbit holes, it is interesting to recall that the Source Of Truth in my youth was a thumb-breaking set of encyclopaediae (yes, that is the plural of encyclopaedia – I looked it up!).

I was talking to Kevin this morning and he claimed to have had a 24-volume set.  Boy, did he ever know stuff!

But the limit of knowledge was always the back cover of volume 24.

Today’s rabbit holes are way better!

With the benefit of the internet and the hyperlink, knowledge today goes on for ever to the seventh son of the seventh son.

Admittedly not all of it is necessarily strictly accurate or good for you, but a little discernment can sort wheat from chaff.

More Fun Links

So here is another interesting link well worthy of note, sent to me recently by Geoff:

https://www.bbc.com/news/av/uk-england-somerset-54062223

And if you follow the links on the right of that article, you can learn about the effects of Brexit on whisky, a new Yorkshire whisky,  and a £1 million bottle of MacAllan featuring Charles MacLean.

I’m not too sure about whisky that has been aged for 24 hours, and I did have to look up what “minging” means.   Thank you, Uncle Google: that would never have been in a 24-set encyclopaedia!

Eat your heart out, Alice in Wonderland.  Today’s rabbit holes are way better!

The Angel’s Share Returns

The Angel’s Share – that unfortunate percentage of whisky lost to evaporation while the dram is growing better in the barrel.

In Scotland, the angels are relatively frugal and only claim about 2%.

To be fair, though, that 2% is calculated to be in the order of 131.8 million litres each year – the equivalent of 44 Olympic swimming pools.  In anyone’s language, that is a staggering amount of “lost” whisky (pun intended)!

But in other warmer climates the increased humidity means that, comparatively, the angels can be a lot fiercer – in India, for example, it is estimated that the angels reap about 12% of the whisky harvest.

Every now and again the angels take pity and give back some of their ill-gotten gains.  There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One.   No flashing light.   Not even a lighted match.

Something drops into your lap, in the most unlikely and unprepossessing place at the most serendipitous time.

And that Something is frequently unrecognisable as a windfall.

The Back Story

I was looking in a small, out-of-the-way liquor shop I infrequently visit.  I have found a few unusual things there previously so, when I can, I go to look because you never know what might turn up.

There was the usual range of standard bottlings – a Bunnahabhain, a couple of Glenfiddichs, a selection of Johnnie Walkers.   Nothing too spectacular.  Nothing too wildly dramatic.

Then, from a dark and rather dusty corner at the back of the bourbons section my wife reached up for a bottle and said “What’s this?”.

“This” turned out to be one of those ecstatically happy drams that the angels give back – a bottle of Old Potrero 18th-century-style 100% rye whiskey.  The label advised that the contents were “aged in uncharred oak barrels”, which means it ain’t no bourbon!

There is no fanfare, brass band or big parade involved, no arrival of Air Force One.   No flashing light.   Not even a lighted match.

“That’s been there for a few years” was the shop owner’s comment when we took the bottle to the counter.

I would love to know how many years a few was – 10 or more, I suspect.

Old Potrero
What is the provenance of Old Potrero?

Old Potrero is made by the Anchor Distilling Company of San Francisco.  Although there is a heap about the company on the internet, researching just what happened to it over the years is like trying to un-make an omelette.

The company founder, Fritz Maytag, bottled his first Old Potrero rye whiskey at what became Anchor Distilling in 1996.  The Anchor Distilling Company bit is now under Hotalings Ltd.

Old Potrero is 100% malted rye, made in a small copper pot still and matured in lightly toasted oak casks.  In the 18th century, barrels were made by heating the staves over a fire of oak chips, allowing them to be bent and formed into a barrel shape.  During this process, the inside of the barrel would become toasted – but not charred.

The (sadly undated) bottle was labelled Old Potrero Barrel Strength, Pot Distilled.  It contained 750ml, bottled over-proof at 61.6% alcohol by volume (abv), with No Age Statement.    However, output from the current distillery owners seems to indicate maturation time at around 30 months – a bit shorter than Scotland.

The whiskey is a good colour for an arguably short maturity!

Notes – by committee

This bottle was such a find that it seemed reasonable to get some knowledgeable whisky-tasting friends to sample it and give me notes.  To limit preconceptions the samples were provided “blind” – no indication on what they were tasting or its origins.

Notes I received were extremely fulsome.  A very abbreviated summary:

Colour: Burnished, golden.
Nose: Sweet, grainy, floral almond croissants with coconut.  “A newly refurbished cricket changing room”, with putty, heat and caramel.
Palette: Sweet (again), spicy cinnamon and vanilla ice-cream.  Dark chocolate and more vanilla with a liquorice background.
Finish: Starts hot, then mellows to well-balanced.  Beautiful, with a slight woody dryness.  Long and consistent.

Comments:
“One of those almost indescribably fantastic drams that come around only too infrequently! “
“I settled on a score of 8.9 but then upped to 9.1 when I found myself still wanting more, long after I’d finished my sampling and note making!”
My overall comment:  Beautiful. One of the top five whiskies I have tasted.

The final:

The Tasting-Notes-by-Panel plan brought me to the rather eccentric titles and tasting notes found on Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings.  The Society bottles single cask whiskies from a wide range of distilleries., and each bottling has a very distinctive name that “tells a story”.

Two titles were suggested to me.  I have to say that they were both so evocative of the Old Potrero that I could not pick between them – so both are presented here for you.

“An innings before teatime”

“Passionfruit topping on vanilla ice-cream”

My grateful to the Tasting Crew (in alphabetical order):  Alec, Brian, Bruce, Evelyn, Graeme, Ian, John S, Karen, Matt, Mel, Pat, Peter, and Talia

Footnote

You can still buy Old Potrero.  It is now made by Hotalings Limited and marketed under the Anchor Distilleries name.  These days it seems to be bottled at 48.5% abv, although I have seen it available at 51%.

Get some!

Collecting Whisky Miniatures

By Pat Phipps

The original purpose of miniature bottles (“minis”) – be they a whisky, a rum, or even a liqueur – was to allow the customer the chance to try an inexpensive sample before buying the full-sized bottle.

Too often overlooked on the shelf in the bottle store, collecting whisky miniatures has been one of my passions for over 30 years.

During my big OE in 1989, among other countries my brother and I ventured to Scotland where we visited Glenturret, Scotland’s oldest working distillery.

A tour of the distillery and a tasting afterwards was the start of my love affair with whisky.

At the distillery shop I bought my first minis – the full range.  I still have them, unopened.

The Glenturret Miniatures

At the time, I thought to myself that surely there can’t be many miniatures around.

How wrong can you be?

The great thing about collecting miniatures is that they don’t take up that much physical space.  Unless of course, like me, you let them!

I recently found a Macallan 1824 series of four miniatures for a cool $2,000 – at $500 for a 50cl bottle, well past my tipping point!   

Over time I have accumulated over 1,000 examples, laid out in display cases to show them off.  Each case is complete with felt backing and a clear poly-carbonate front so that the contents won’t succumb to a passing earthquake.

Pricing

When I first started collecting minis the price was about $2 – 3 each.  But, like just about everything, inflation has got to that and now a mini price is generally north of $10 a unit.  The price of some gems that I’ve bought, I admit, have made me wince and I’ve had to remind myself of their rarity – such as a 40-year-old Glenfarclas at $150.

These days, miniatures are not really provided as samples.  They are aimed squarely at marketing and at collectors.

Minis come in widely varied shapes.  Wild Turkey produce 50cl ceramic turkeys in different poses filled with Bourbon.  St Andrews did ceramic golf bags clad in different tartans; some with gold-plated golf balls to celebrate famous players.

I recently found a Macallan 1824 series of four miniatures for a cool $2,000 – at $500 for a 50cl bottle, well past my tipping point!    Obviously, some distilleries put out these sets purely to go straight for the collectors’ jugular, which I don’t think really meets the original purpose of the miniature.

Collector “Specials”

In my collection I have golf balls, golf bags, barrels, stills and ceramic jugs.  When times were not so Politically Correct, even cigarette companies had offerings made for them: I have a Dunhill Cigarette Company scotch whisky mini in a pot still-shaped bottle.

Another is a Balvenie whisky in a cognac bottle shape which I picked up on a Pacific Island trip.  This bottling shape, sadly, is long gone.

I take great pleasure in finding a mini that comes with a tube or box.  Putting the bottle next to the tube adds a delightful extra dimension to the display.

An entire distillery core bottling range of minis, displayed in line, really makes the labels stand out in a way that you might not notice if you only had one or two.

We know that distilleries change their core range labels from time to time.  A selection of minis of the same bottlings, but with labels from different times, becomes an excellent reference library.

As time goes on and you add new bottlings to existing lines you get a history of how the marketers have tried to get their offerings to stand out. As miniatures usually don’t get opened and consumed, the result is acquiring historical significance as an archive

There is an amazing website for miniature collectors as well.   The site has thousands of images from people who have sent in pictures of their unique collections and once you get past the wow factor – enjoy.

FAKES

Believe it or not, another collecting line are fakes minis.  These come from all sources.

Fake Minis

The first two I purchased from Vanuatu about 20 years ago.  One was a rum, the other a whisky in the loosest of terms.  It was more like neutral spirit with flavouring and imaginative labels such as Captain Cooks No. 1 rum and McBrewsters fine old whisky.

Another source of fakes is Egypt.  Whisky Magazine did an article on fake miniatures a few years ago with mainly Johnnie Walker bottlings being produced.  The writer, possibly wisely, was not anxious at all to taste the products, but was very interested in collecting them.

The labels were badly misspelt so it was easy to spot them as fakes.  Labelling such as John Warder, John Whler and Chefas Rijal were a big clue, although the bottle shapes and label quality were good judging by the photos.

A Minis Display in an Edinburgh Whisky Shop

Next time you are in your favourite spirits shop take a moment to look at the miniatures they have.  There might be something to try for a fraction of the price of a full size one!

The Affordable (and Available) Whisky List

Earlier this year we had an article on whiskies that won’t break your bank.

We observed that over a third of the total advertised drams on offer in the 2020 Dramfest Catalogue were priced below $100 retail.    Note: we didn’t count the ones hidden underneath the tables!

It was interesting that a lot of these “cheaper” offerings were from established mainstream distilleries, were not from start-up operations trying to make a name.

At Dramfest we also put ourselves out to doing some personal research into the quality of some of the less costly whiskies.  We checked them against their more highly-priced cousins and remarked pretty favourably on their quality.

Whisky Books

There are a lot of whisky books that encourage you to try this whisky or that other one.

Sadly many of whiskies they recommend are not available in New Zealand.   And the ones that you can buy can often be too expensive for what they are.

And that started us thinking – why don’t we do some more investigation into the whiskies that may not have seemed “elite” enough to own up to drinking?

The issue of Availability

There are a large number of whiskies available in NZ that deserve to be noticed but that are not at all expensive.  So why not create a list f some of the ones we’ve found as a starter-for-ten guide for others to try?

Stepping out of our comfort zone has been an enriching experience.  Letting your taste buds do the walking may make your whisky world become a fuller colour palette.

One dram well-worth trying is the Loch Lomond 12 year-old.  This won a Platinum at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year.  It also has garnered two Golds and a Silver from other competitions, plus a Gold spirits business award.  That is no mean feat for a 12 year-old!

The Loch Lomond distillery also has an outstanding Single Grain, on show at Dramfest.   Another award-winning dram at San Francisco, it also won the world whisky awards best Scotch grain and a Gold at the Berlin International Spirits Competition 2017.  the Inchmurrin range of whiskies is another product of Loch Lomond distillery.

Non-Scottish

I went out and purchased three bottlings of West Cork Irish whiskey.

Because they were new to the market, I knew nothing about them other than the labels looked pretty cool and the price was right.

West Cork

They were very nice indeed.

With a little assistance I’ve emptied two different bottles already.  Now I only have the blend left – at a whopping 62%, it’s the highest abv blend I have tasted and, much to my surprise, very smooth.

On a whim – because it was distilled in Wellington, South Africa, – I decided to try the Bains single grain.  From the Sedgwick Distillery, this dram is double matured in ex bourbon barrels for five years.  Again, it is a super smooth drop with loads of vanilla. This entry level grain was awarded the world’s Best Grain Whisky at the 2018 World Whisky Awards.  Bains also produce a 15 year-old and three 18 year-olds, currently only available through travel retail.

Blends

Our list includes some really impressive blends.  They have broken the traditional mould for exploring flavour, most made deliberately to be mellow and served over ice.

The first of these is Cutty Sark Prohibition.  This is a healthy 50% abv, and described as full flavoured and complex.  You might well think you’re having a single malt.

Next up is the West Cork blend.  At 62%, the flavour is loads of grapefruit, mouth feel and very smooth.

The Skibbereen Eagle blend took me by surprise.  It is reasonably cheap and from the same distillers as West Cork but has a completely different flavour profile.  It is sweet, with caramel, toffee notes with green fruit, chocolate and cocoa.

Antiquity Blue is a cheap Indian blend at 42.8%.  This was awarded “Silver Best in Class” in the Spirits Tasting competition by the International Wine and Spirit Competition WSWA in 2012.  At its price point it gives many other blended Scotches a run for their money.

So here, in no particular order, are our picks of reasonably priced (NZ$40 to $105) bottlings that are usually available in New Zealand. For convenience the list has been divided into whisky types.

Single Malt, Scottish, Irish and world

Glenlivet 12 year old
West Cork Irish sherry finish
West Cork Irish Port Wood finish
Tomatin 12 Year old
Benriach 12 year old sherry wood finish
Glenlivet Nadurra oloroso cask strength
Loch Lomond 12 year old
Arran Bothy Quarter Cask
Glen Grant 10 year old
Glen Grant The Major’s Reserve
Paul John Classic Indian Whisky
Glendronach 8 Year old The Hielan
Bunnahabhain 12 year old
Glen Scotia Double Cask
Inchmurrin Madeira Wood Finish

Single Grain Whisky

Bains Single grain South African Whisky
Teeling Single grain Irish
Loch Lomond Single Grain

Blended Malt Whisky

Wemyss Treacle Chest Blended malt
Wemyss The Hive
Wemyss Family Collection Flaming Feast
Wemyss Family Collection Blooming Gorse
Wemyss Spice King Batch Strength

Blended Whisky (Malt and Grain)

Cutty Sark Prohibition 50%
West Cork Blended cask strength 62%
Skibbereen Eagle Irish
Antiquity Blue Indian

The Singleton

by Pat Phipps

Never heard of The Singleton?

You will.  And if owners Diagio plc have any say in it you will hear a lot more!

Diagio is a British -based multinational beverage company, headquartered in London.   The company operates in over 180 countries and it produces more than 140 sites around the world.

UK£26,400 will get you a taste of “scented hand-cream, rose water and exotic tropical and berry fruit’ notes on the nose, with dried figs and a suggestion of toffee

With whisky brands including Talisker and Lagavulin, Diagio’s aim is to have the Singleton brand at the top of worldwide sales in whisky to rival the likes of Glenfiddich and The Glenlivet.

Side Bar – The Dufftown 53 year old

Recently a cask of a 53-year-old whisky was found at Dufftown.

Laid down in 1964, it is said to be one of those types of casks that was more or less found lying around.

117 bottles at 40.6 % were filled and if you have a spare UK£26,400 lying around you can have a one – at that price, probably just to look at!.

This rather costly bottling forms part of the new Paragon of Time collection.

According to one commentator, your UK£26,400 will get you a taste of “scented hand-cream, rose water and exotic tropical and berry fruit’ notes on the nose, with dried figs and a suggestion of toffee.  Another commentator notes that the finish is very elegant and sweet, and with a slight smoky, ginger spice aftertaste.

Make of that what you will.

For me, though, I’m still trying to get over the £26,000!

So what exactly is The Singleton?  

The Singleton (reputedly Gaelic for “single malt”) is a cover-all brand name for a range of single malts from three Speyside distilleries – Glen Ord, Glendullan and Dufftown.

These three distilleries can each boast great lineage.   Glen Ord was established in 1838, Dufftown in 1895 and Glendullan in 1897.   Both Dufftown and Glendullan have an entry level Non-Aged Statement whisky, and all three distilleries have 12, 15 and 18 years old on offer.

I wanted to check the Singleton whiskies out to see if they were any good and to compare them to their market rivals.  So off I toddled to a local liquor store to purchase two entry level Singletons to try.

My purchases were The Singleton Speycascade and The Singleton Tailfire.  Both are from Dufftown, both non-age statement single malts, both 40% abv.

And both involved the princely outlay of NZ$68 each – another blow for the Whiskies Under $100 crusade!

In line with other distilleries at the entry level, neither has comment on the label about being non chill filtered or coloured.

The Singletons

I have read some mixed reviews of these two drams on other tasting web site.  Overall they have favourable ratings that are similar to most competitors in the field.

The Singleton Speycascade

The label on the bottle describes Speycascade as “Rich Balanced Smooth”.

My notes are:

Colour: medium golden a combination of ex Bourbon and Sherry casks
Nose: green apple, honey and vanilla and leather polish
Palate: soft and oily with mouth feel very smooth
After Taste: Slightly dry and mildly tannic with a short finish

The Singleton Tailfire

The label description comments “Vibrant Fruity Fresh”.

My notes:

Colour: medium Golden a combination of European and American Oak casks
Nose: Fruity, fresh, dark fruits and slight grapefruit
Palate: oily with mouth feel and sweet, slightly thin, fruity
After Taste: sweet and coats the mouth nicely

 Would I buy The Singleton again?

The two entry-level whiskies are completely different to each other.   And I like that.  It gives the consumer (me) the chance to try two very different styles from the same distiller at very competitive pricing. As expected, the Singletons are non-challenging, but they are a good introduction to single malts.

I could easily see myself drinking one after work as a go-to dram – something we all need at some stage or another!

I am looking forward to trying other Singleton whiskies in the future.  A particular interest will be in the age statement expressions to see how they measure up.

QR Codes and Blockchains

Sounds like the title of a 60s’ pop song?

It’s not about pop songs.  It’s about the advances and utilisation of technology.

 

Remember the bottle of Ardnamurchan that I opened during lockdown?

Ardnamurchan has been an innovative distillery since it began production in 2014.  And one of their major innovations has been the adoption of QR codes and blockchains.

At a dinner held in Wellington a while back the Honourable Alex Bruce, MQ, of Adelphi and Ardnamurchan fame talked about blockchain technology that was planning to be put in place around the Ardnamurchan products.  The subject meant very little to me –  pretty much went right over my head.

Hold that thought, and fast-forward to the opening of my bottle of Ardnamurchan.

On the bottom left hand corner of the label is a QR code.

Coronavirus and social distancing has made the QR code quite familiar – the weird little spotty squares that you scan with your cell phone when you have to register for contact tracing at a café these days.

A QR Code

But I don’t remember ever having seen one on a bottle of whisky before.  Especially one that lead to such a fascinating world – the world of the blockchain.

If you thought the production of whisky was a complicated and complex subject, you’ve not met blockchains!  I’m pretty sure that, after 70 years of absorbing information ranging from good to totally useless I no longer have enough brain-space left to get my head completely around how blockchaining works.

Coronavirus has made QR codes quite familiar– the weird little spotty squares that you scan with your cell phone when you have to register for contact tracing at a café.

Forging ahead …

To quote Alexander Pope,

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep , or taste not the Pieran spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Here is a (very) little learning on blockchains.

Blockchain technology was created for the crypto-currency market.  Didn’t help me much, knowing that – bitcoin is an area just as obscure as blockchains themselves.

The general idea is that every single little activity (an ‘event’) that goes into something – in this case, the production of a bottle of whisky – is recorded in order to create an unchanging record.

This record is known as a “trust layer” and, according to Ardnamurchan, is “…creating an unbreakable link with the physical product and the digital data that describes its creation.”.

So, when I used my cell phone to scan the QR code on my bottle I got transported into this netherworld of information.

Ardnamurchan

First to the Ardnamurchan Distillery site, and a page encouragingly headed ‘We found your bottle’ – number 871 of 5,000, bottled by Lewis Hamilton on 2 Oct 2018.

Next I am asked for my name, address & bath-night to prove that I am old enough to be reading about whisky.

I am.

We go to a page headed ‘Your spirit’s production’.

And here the rabbit-hole begins in earnest!

You will have to accept my apology now –  I have never tried to interpret blockchain data before.  So I only hope I am reading the information correctly, and doing it justice.

My bottle seems to be the outcome of three lots of unpeated concerto barley.  The first was supplied by Broomhall Farm in the Mid Mills and Gracewells fields on the 01 Jan 2014, the second and third came from Bairds Inverness on 02 Jan 2015.

Mashing for the production run was managed by Gordon MacKenzie.  There is detail of how many mashes were included in the unpeated spirit for that week, how many kilograms of Anchor Yeast was added to each batch to aid fermentation and the length of fermentation.

Now the juicy bit:

Batch 1 was filled into 1 American oak Oloroso Butt.  Batch 2 went into 17 American oak Pedro Ximenes Octaves, and Batch 3 went into another three PX Octaves.  The casks were moved to the upper floor of the Adelphi Warehouse for maturation.

An absolutely amazing level of information and detail!  When did you ever know that much about what was in your glass – unless you were on the site actually making the stuff?

“… we look forward to seeing how other brands follow suit …”

Ailsa Bay

Pat discovered that the Lowlands Ailsa Bay Distillery has also adopted blockchain technology for a recently-released Travel Retail Only whisky.

William Grant & Sons own Ailsa Bay.  They also own Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Tullamore, Kininvie, and Girvan Grain distilleries.  Unsurprisingly, they are the third largest producer of Scotch whisky.

On the Ailsa Bay website, Dominic Parfitt, head of e-commerce at William Grant & Sons, is quoted as saying: “We’re constantly looking to evolve our offering and learn new things in order to push the boundaries within the drinks industry.

“We’re doing something now that we hope will set the bar for the future experience of spirits, and we look forward to seeing how other brands follow suit as innovation within the industry continues to develop in the next few years.”.

As Ardnamurchan say at the end of all my bottle data:  “Each step of this journey from barley to bottle has been carefully recorded and written to the blockchain as a guarantee of transparency and authenticity”.

Will William Grants stop at blockchaining Ailsa Bay?  I very much doubt it!

So I will be looking forward to seeing more QR codes and blockchain data on my whiskies!

Getting Back to Normal

The restrictions we embraced so willingly during lock-down all those innumerable weeks ago have started being replaced now with “Getting Back To Normal”.

I’m not entirely convinced, though, that I want to quite so quickly replace all of that new “normal” stuff that we found in lock-down.  There were lots of quite positive changes, some of which I have been quite looking forward to keeping in the Brave New World.

I’ve enjoyed looking out of my office (read “spare bedroom”) window at the trees and listening to the tui singing.

I’ve loved a tank of petrol that lasted for five weeks instead of five days.

I’ve enjoyed walking to work each day – all three metres of it, with a coffee in hand – instead of braving unreliable public transport, gridlock, and inexcusably astronomical parking fees.

I’ve greatly enjoyed Zoom whisky tastings with friends of an evening, without the hassle of having to arrange a ride home or pay cab fare.

And I’ve enjoyed “killing off” some of the longer-serving bottles in my whisky cabinet (I think at last count I’d emptied about six).  Some of them I was a bit sad to see go, others not quite so much.

But Nature abhors a vacuum.  When you kill things off – like whisky bottles – their departure creates a vacuum in the cabinet.

And that vacuum needs to be filled.

The obvious filler is new whisky bottles.

As a result. some whiskies have been promoted from the Reserves Bench to the First Team – I was going to say First Fifteen, but I thought that sounded rather pretentious.  Or greedy.   Or suspiciously alcoholic.  Or all three.

Among those that caught my eye for promotion have been a Loch Lomond Inchmurrin Madiera Finish and a G&M Bunnahabbhain  2009 Cask Strength.

But the two standouts have been the Ardnamurchan 2018/AD Limited Release No 03 and an Arran “The Laird’s Quiache”

Ardnamurchan

The tasting notes on the bottle talk about “earthy mango & waxy orange peel, HobNobs and distant Clyde Puffer smoke”.

The bottle has been covered almost head to toe in a matt grey coating which, in the normal course of events, would make it impossible to see just how much remained in the bottle.

The Ardnamurchan, with sight-glass panel.

But a bit of thoughtfulness has added two narrow viewing panels – one on either side of the bottle.  The panels remind me of the sight-glass on an antique car’s radiator cap.  But, most importantly, through these you can see the liquid level against a graduated scale.  Clever!

Casks: Oloroso, PX

ABV: 55.3%

Nose: Silage grassy, with a dusting of cocoa powder.  Peat, sour mash and rock pool marine salt.

Palette: It starts with sweet lollies, then heads straight to smoke with bacon & eggs cooked over an open outdoor fire.

Finish: Eskimo lollies with a slight peat overlay.  The finish is long, with the peaty lollies staying on.

Comment:  Having vicariously watched from the sidelines the genesis of Ardnamurchan over the last few years, I was waiting to be seriously impressed with the whisky.  Initially, though, I found it to be a bit less impressive than I had hoped. and the first two or three drams left a vaguely disappointing feeling.  Almost a let down.

As so often happens, however,  when the level in the bottle drops a dram or two, the whisky seems to improve.  Now, with a third of the bottle gone, it is a whisky I look forward to having another glass of.

Overall, my view is that it is a whisky to have for the experience of having it.

Arran Private Cask, The Laird’s Quaiche.
From Malts of Distinction.

Arran – The Laird’s Quaiche

Age: 11yo, ABV: 53.5%

Cask: Ex-sherry Hogshead.  Bottle no 116 of 305.

Colour: Dark!

Nose: This is a sherry bomb on the nose.  Muscatel raisins, sweet brown sugar and maple syrup.  And to follow for dessert is fresh peaches in an old leather armchair.  This whisky has sooo much nose and so many complex aromas going on.

Palette: Dark almond chocolate and a big hot mouthful with fresh nectarine peel.

Finish: The finish is slightly tannic and drying, but the heat stays. There is a long finish, with the beautiful flavour lingering in the mouth.

Comment: Stunning.  Simply stunning!

However, as so often happens, when the level in the bottle drops a dram or two the flavour seems to improve.  Now, with a third of the bottle gone, it is a whisky to look forward to having another glass of. 

Post script:

The killing-off exercise has engendered some interesting ideas, the most obvious of which is using the tail-end of bottles for a kind of Teapot Whisky.

But my sister, Alex, came up with what I think may be the best one yet – Whisky Jelly.  I haven’t quite figured out yet how it’s going to work, but the basic idea is that you use the last inch or so in the whisky bottles as the liquid section of jelly.

It sounds fun, and I’ll let you know how it pans out!  With luck, the result might go quite nicely with Les’s Damson Plum Gin – the next batch of which, I understand, should be due to make its debut very soon!

Slainte!