Monday, 14 March 2016

Auchroisk Singleton 1975

Aroisk? Auchusk? Arusk?
Another mini from auction and another bit of digging around to get more information. This bottle was a new one on me but it didn’t take much sleuthing before I stumbled across this…

The Singleton of Auchroisk 1975 - circa 1990
Bigger than a miniature
So – it’s pronounced “OH-thrusk” (well, of course). Distilled in 1975 and bottled around 1990 and apparently a “very rare collectors dram”. It seems I’ve inadvertently been very discerning with my choice of random minis. And I’ve accidently popped open a mini-goldmine . Ah well, that’s what it’s there for.

Giving this a try I got lots of sherry right away. No sign of the “old smell” or mustiness  I’ve had previously with old bottles. There’s not loads else on the nose but very mild and clean. No burn, easy-going.
Tasting it there is a nice coating. Very oily and slightly carbony, almost gritty. Going in again it is literally like eating chocolate raisins. It has the dried fruit richness and intensity you can get with sherry casks.
Looks fantastic too - a thoroughly appealing deep reddy colour.
A drop of water brought out the more floral notes on the nose as well as a bit of menthol. A bit of treacle toffee towards the end. 

It’s mellow and relaxing. An unobtrusive wee dram. I think it could have benefited from being bottled a higher strength but I guess that ship sailed 25 years ago.
It seems full bottles of this go for about £200 and minis for £20 which is pretty steep. Glad I didn’t know that before opening it.

I’m enjoying trying out old bottles of whisky, they are exciting to explore but couldn’t recommend this at that price. But it is very nice and worth trying if you get the chance (in a bundle of minis at auction for example).


Thursday, 21 January 2016

Glenfarclas and Highland Park 25s

So a couple of 25 year old belters here. I’m going to avoid piddling into the torrent of opinion that sprays forth about No Age Statement whisky (for now at least), sufficed to say that even the most ardent advocate/apologist of NAS would surely go weak at the knees at tasting the couple of oldies that I’m reviewing here.
Here I have two miniatures from two distilleries I have a lot of time for. They are both 25 years old and I thought I’d try them side by side.

Starting with the Glenfarclas 25

Glenfarclas 25 Year Old
This is lighter in colour than the Highland Park, a kind of shining gold. There’s a bit of sweetness and sherry on the nose. Surprisingly light to taste too for it's age. Refreshing and spritely but still smooth.
It was a little fruity but more citrus-y than the the chewy raisin you sometimes get with older whisky. I got a bit of grapefruit in there - Opal Fruits (Starburst I guess now). Surprised how young it seemed but still very rounded. Not feisty like a Kilchoman. I also got a bit of pitta bread dryness, oakiness I suppose if you wanted it in whiski-ese

Going back to it after trying the Highland I got flowers, light and fragrant. It was like stepping into the entrance hall of a country house on a cool spring day. Woody, fresh and fragrant.

Highland Park 25
Quite different this. Smooth and sherried – a big taste to match it’s deep dark colouring.
Highland Park 25 Year Old
HP Sauce
This was much like the 30 year old (also like an old 8yo I once tasted). Wonderful brown sugar smell like a burnt crème brulee. A lingering warmth after tasting. It opens up deliciously there’s a heavy cask influence I think. It’s so deeply flavoured with wood, smoke and fruit. There were buttery crumpets too.

Going back to the Highland Park after the Glenfarlas it made me think of a ship’s trunk or an old library. Very Leathery and refined. And so rich. I also got the bit of peat in there. Smouldering ashes lingering in the middle of cold damp night. Just sublime

Overall a highly classy affair. A couple of old boys ready to kick arse.
Pricing-wise I've seen the Glenfarclas at £110 which surely makes it one of the best value oldies out there. Generally speaking I think Glenfarclas are to be applauded for their reasonable pricing.
The Highland Park I preferred of the two. But the cheapest I’ve seen it is £270. I’d really struggle to recommend that for any bottle but this is definitely worth trying should you get the chance. Old Highland Park (or old bottles) might become a bit of a thing to explore I think.


Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Mortlach 16 Year Old - Flora and Fauna

This is a lovely whisky.
But  it’s one that’s difficult to get hold of now the Flora and Fauna range is discontinued. So the story of getting a bottle to review is perhaps worth more of a mention than usual. It started with mild curiosity and ended with me searching the websites of what seemed like every wine and spirit merchant in the UK. Via a spot of righteous indignation in the middle.
Mortlach 16 Year Old
A rare sight...
There’s been so much written about the new official Mortlach range I can only be bothered to mentioned 3 things of note;

1 - Mortlach is a very well regarded distillery that has not previously had an official bottlings.

2 - A new official range of Mortlachs has been launched but they are unfathomably overpriced.

3 - The sort-of-official Flora and Fauna Bottling was much loved by whisky enthusiasts and it seemed like a good idea to get some especially given the price compare to the new official range.

With those three things in mind I tried to get hold of a couple of bottles. Obviously everybody in the world was pretty much ahead of me on this – everywhere  I checked it was either sold out (on all the sites you’d expect, Master of Malt, TWE etc) or suffering a massive price hike on the £40-odd you might have expected to pay a couple of years ago.
But once I had the idea I was determined to find some. Google searches for “Mortlach 16” returned endless websites that had no stock. I tried a variety of things but eventually  I took to getting a list of wine and spirit merchants in the UK and checking their websites individually on the off chance they had some.  Time consuming and a few dead ends with ghost stock that wasn’t really there.
But eventually, after much searching, I came to Gauntley’s in Nottingham. Their last two bottles - £50 each. Not cheap but better than nothing and it felt like a victory nonetheless.
So anyway – enough about exciting tales of buying stuff online how does it taste?
It’s good. Almost annoyingly so considering the ball-ache to get these bottles and the current hype around the new range. But no doubt less annoying than spending £50 and having it taste awful.
I didn’t find it hugely complex - one flavour note kind of dominates, but a very nice flavour. It’s big on the sherry and wood but it has nice smooth edges. Some nice plum sauce notes.  I had been informed it was a meaty dram (whatever that meant) – and there’s is a bit of cured meat, a bit of charcuiterie. But not the plate of sausages I’d been led to expect. But a nice bit of spice too.
It has a lovely tingling aftertaste. Not burn, but a bit of heat. I’m coming to realise that nasty whisky burns, but good whisky warms. This is more like a bit like a drop of tabasco. I might have got a tiny bit of Bailey’s in there too.
Certainly this is one of the most drinkable whiskies I’ve come across. Lovely colour too - very dark, russet.
In summary it’s just lovely. It’s quite reassuring that some many  whisky nerds on forums can’t be wrong. It’s good and it’s different. To get hold of any… well you’ll really struggle to find some now, certainly for less than £80+. You could pay that if you were curious.
As for the new range – I haven’t tasted it and apparently it’s even nicer than this - although I wonder how much of that is blogger bluster from grateful sample recipients. Honestly, I simply cannot conceive of how it would be worth splashing that kind of dough on a standard bottling. The 18 year old is £174 for 50cl (£243 p/r for 70cl). Their NAS entry bottle is £54 (pro rata £75). I think Diageo have got their thinking all wrong (I’ll be sure to mention it to the bosses as they heave sackfulls of cash into their Range Rovers).
In the future I would try some of the Indy bottles – there seems to be plenty of the 15yo and 21yo Gordon & McPhail about for a price that puts Diageo to shame – (15yo around £45 and 21yo around £60).
Finally I have also heard very good things of Dailuaine Flora and Fauna 16 that is supposedly very similar to Mortlach and goes for about £50. And seems plenty of stock for the time being.

So more bottles to try out, maybe I should park my curiosity. It is proving an expensive business….


Monday, 23 March 2015

Scotia Royale 12 (and auctions again)

So this is something that I picked up at an auction a while back. I know my last post but one was about auctions so I’m probably sounding like some auction crazed lunatic right now. But before talking about this whisky I thought I’d mention that a aspect of auctions that I like and that is the opportunity to pick up miniatures.
Scotch Whisky Auctions (and others probably) seem to regularly bundle together miniatures to sell off and they seem to go for pretty reasonable prices. For example,  I got 10 assorted minis for £25 and it included some cool stuff - an old Bunnhabhain (possibly one of their first miniatures produced after checking on Twitter) and a lovely old Signatory Strathmill that’s got me interested in that distillery.  It was a random selection with some stuff better than others. But whilst certain minis are highly sought after (mainly silent stills) they generally don’t seem to be that collectable. So they’re great for picking up for that other reason to buy whisky – i.e. to drink.
Ralfy, as ever, does a great bit about miniatures. One thing he mentions in there is you can pick up minis of different ages of the same bottling (e.g. an Ardbeg 10 from 90s or 2000s) and compare them with their latest incarnation to see how consistent it is.
Photo not stolen from Master of Malt for once
A note of caution though is that neck fill levels are often lower than full-size bottles so I assume they’re more susceptible to air getting in. As ever always study the pictures carefully.
So, anyway,  Scotia Royale is not something I’d ever come across and I thought it might be just a weird wee blend that you often see (a lot of these on auction sites – and obscure doesn’t necessarily mean valuable or quality either). Certainly it was obscure enough that I struggled to find a stock photo online anywhere.
A bit of label reading and googling told me that it was bottled by A Gillies and produced by Glen Scotia. Reading up a bit more on this it seems that this company is dormant and the distillery shut in 1982 and lay silent until 2000. Another good thing about picking up random bottles is the chance to do some amateur sleuthing.
So this wee bottle is probably quite old depending on when they actually bottled it. It still had a decent neck fill. If it was produced at Glen Scotia I’m not sure how much is grain and whether the malt is Glen Scotia. Certainly the label doesn’t give too much away – even the alcohol % is a mystery.
On to the tasting. First things first; it had that certain mustiness to it that some old bottles have, that it needed to shake off  – a kind of carboard/cupboard feeling. But I found it dissipated as a bit more air got to it.
Colour wise it was quite golden syrupy. Smooth  on the nose with some gentle sweetness, not too much of that candy sweetness you get with grain. More like sultanas in an old jar.
It reminded me of Chivas 12 with its lighter style. There’s a bit of butter and vanilla in there like Chivas. But there’s a bit more to chew on, more of a battered leather feel to it.
It opened up nicely – really smooth and creamy with a nice mouthfeel.
There’s was a nice long aftertaste too. Not hugely complex but tasty. It had that dry Campbeltown style you might get with Springbank. Not peaty like Glen Scotia is now but perhaps its origins might explain the earthy quality that made it a bit different to the Chivas.

It looks like it’s seldom seen these days so maybe I’ll never see this stuff again. It’s nice to have that little connection with the past though. I wouldn’t bust  a gut to get a full bottle of this. But I know that this isn’t just some random awful blend but a decent quality whisky.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Kilchoman 2007 Vintage

This is my second Kilchoman review. A while back I reviewed the 2nd edition 100% Islay. And I really liked it. This time around I’m looking at the 2007 vintage which at the time of purchase was their oldest whisky clocking in at a positively ancient 6 years.

Kilchoman 2007 Vintage / Bot.2013
I've just finished this bottle, and guess what? I really like this one too. I’d written previously that there was a vibrancy about Kilchoman that came through with the 100% Islay. And it’s still there with this one albeit a touch more refined.

To look at it has a pale straw colour which gives a rather false impression of being weedy. It has a big medicinal nose, but also creamy with a bit of butterscotch. I got citrus notes - grapefruit or apple; fruity but without being sickly sweet. It's smoky but not damp smoke like Laphroaig. Lighter and more floral. Like a forest fire or an arson attempt on a barn. You know - Summer-y smoke 

To taste it was smoother than the previous Kilchoman I've had, perhaps unsurprising given the extra time it has sat in a cask. It’s buttery and there's a pleasant, lasting finish. I was getting a lip-smacking BBQ sauce aftertaste and a satisfying burnt sausage repeat. In some ways there was more on the finish than the taste. 

It put me in mind of a barbeque on a summer’s day - there’s the a sort of giddy, fresh excitement you get at the start of a BBQ, anticipation of what is to come mixed with smokey getting everywhere. And then afterwards after it all settles down, there is a warming, fulfilling, contented finish. Imagine sitting on the grass at the top of sand dune, catching the scent of the nearby fire on the wind.

It’s still not hugely complex but very pleasing. It’s nicely different to other Islays, which it needs to be to stride into that marketplace. The direction of travel is that it’s getting tamed in the barrel but this still retains its exuberance.

Just another fantastic whisky. I don't know if it's just me - I have a friend that is far from convinced but I'm becoming a big fan.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Flora, Fauna and Auctions (but not Merryweather)

Rather than a review this is fairly random post about auctions and the Flora & Fauna range.

I was browsing some whisky auction sites the other night. These sites themselves are quite an interesting phenomena and I might write something about them soon (read: months away). Sufficed to say that I find them quite interesting to browse even when I’m not looking for anything - particularly older bottles and old labels.

Anyway, a week or so ago I noticed that a complete set of Flora and Fauna whiskies had been sold for £4,000 on
That’s 26 bottles from different United/Diageo distilleries all released under the Flora and Fauna label. I won’t go into detail about this range here because other people have covered it, but basically these bottles were limited releases from various distilleries under the same ownership, including some from distilleries that don't have an official bottling. They also have rather nice labels featuring, guess what, flora and fauna.

I wasn't aware of the Flora and Fauna range until early last year when the news of the new Mortlach range emerged. Long story short: I heard about this great whisky called Mortlach, then was excited to  hear about a new range being launched, then flabbergasted to hear how much they would cost and then spent a lot of time trying to get hold of a couple of bottles of the highly rated Flora and Fauna 16 year old. And get hold of them I did.

Since then I've seen other F&F bottles popping up on retail and auctions sites. So seeing the whole lot together being sold I wondered if £4,000 represented good value. I knew that Mortlach F&F was more difficult to get hold nowadays but paying an average of £150 per bottle seemed a bit steep. Then again a few months ago another complete collection of F&F went for £4,900 on the same auction site so maybe this person had snagged a bargain.

Being that kind of person I suddenly wanted to look at this in a bit more depth and satisfy my curiosity so I looked through auction data from all the auctions run by Scotch Whisky Auctions  (mainly because I find their site most user-friendly and they have a lot of data). I copied, pasted and tidied up the data and attempted to compare the prices of bottles in the range over the last 4 years. I excluded bottles with wooden boxes and 1st editions – these are more sought after and skew the average price.

What did I find out? Are you still interested?
The first thing say is that pricing across the Flora and Fauna range is not uniform. At all.  The availability, age statements and release dates vary between the distilleries so there are huge differences in the prices paid for the bottles but I'll come on to that.
If you look at the average price paid for each bottle across auctions in the last 4 years and added it together it would come out at £3400 in total. So £4000 might seem a bit over the odds but not outrageous considering you're getting all the bottles at once.
Then again if you took the most paid each bottle at auction (standard versions not boxed remember) you might have ended up paying £6180. 
Then again had you been lucky enough to get them at their cheapest you could have had all the bottles for £2150. 
Perhaps a more useful comparison would be the most recent prices paid for each, which would total £3270 which isn't far off the average.

Looking in more detail at individual whiskies in the range revealed more volatility. The key thing for me was that there wasn't a steady climb of the prices of each whisky over time. The highest prices paid for bottles were rarely in the last few auctions. It can be very erratic. Notable variations for me included;

Balemenach: averaging around £190 with a peak of £320
Craigllachie averaging around £210 with a peak of £410
Dufftown averaging around £60 with a peak of £290
Glen Elgin averaging around £150 with a peak of £520
Royal Brackley with an average £274 with a peak of £500
Finally Speyburn averaging about £1000 (!) with a peak of £1800 (Somewhere Whiskysponge is dying with laughter.)

Flora & Fauna Speyburn 12 Year Old
£1800 - Srsly?
Only one of those (Dufftown) hit their peak in the last 5 auctions with all of them recently falling quite a long way short of their peak. In fact a more sought after boxed version of the Speyburn could be nabbed for less than £1000 around 12 months after the £1800 peak for the non-boxed version. 

Most other whiskies in the range were steady throughout the auctions with smaller peaks and troughs. The brands that rose most steadily were Rosebank, Pittyveach and Mortlach which showed a clear rise over time. Unsurprisingly 2 of those are from silent distilleries and the Mortlach has had greater exposure recently and still represents better value than its latest incarnation. So this tells us more about the value of whiskies from closed distilleries than it does about collecting Flora and Fauna.

I think I'm right in say the range is discontinued now so they are collectible if you're into that kind of thing. And its within reach of the casual collector since most of the range is still available for £40-80. Completing it might prove tricky though - and it might be somewhat galling to eventually shell out £1500 for a 12yo Speyburn to complete the set. Patience would appear to be the key and not getting dragged into a bidding war.
Obviously this is just a snapshot in time, if I'd looked into this 18 months ago I might have been telling you to sell everything and buy Speyburn but I'd say unless you're interested in having this collection for it's own virtues (i.e. drinking, although those labels are pretty) I wouldn't stick bet the farm on it.

Look out for future in depth analysis on obscure mid-range whisky collections.


Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Grain grain grain grain grain.

Here’s comes the grain again.

I’m only happy when it grains.

Um… it’s graining men...

So single grain whisky then. If you pay attention to Whisky blogs or anything to do with whisky for long enough even now and again the issue of single grain whisky comes up.

A typical blog post on single grain will proceed thusly;

“Hold up. Wait. What? Single grain whisky? What’s that?!” Followed by an explanation, followed by something about how it’s unfairly seen as a poor cousin to single malt whisky, followed by a review of a single grain and a recommendation to try it and widen your whisky experience.

Although I confess that whenever I see someone covering single grain this whiskysponge article usually comes to mind…

I’m not going to give you a definition or explanation of Single Grain because Google. I just wanted to talk about my recent grain whisky experience. My sole experience of grain whisky had been trying a 25+ year old one at the Malt Whisky Society that had tasted like Whethers Originals (in a good way). 

That was until a couple of weeks ago when I took part in the Girvan Patent Still Tweet Taste.
These are my notes;

Girvan New Make Spirit (42% abv)
Unsurprisingly very light on the nose. A bit of vanilla and a bit of cereal. This was the first time I’d ever tried new make grain whisky before. It seems like a little like a decent vodka. Maybe good for cocktail making. Not that it's for sale anyway but it was interesting to taste.

Girvan No. 4 Apps NAS (42% abv)
This was the same stuff aged a few years. There was more vanilla and now a bit more fruity. It had a comforting apple pie and custard smell, with a syrup sponge taste. Fruity but in a more confectionery way, like rosy apples.
At £44 it was quite drinkable but in all honesty I could recommend other whiskies to spend £44 on.

Girvan 25 Year Old (42% abv)
This was one where the sweetness of grain really came into play, combining with the wood to give a more complex nose. My notes on the night said “Smells like a galleon at sea transporting sugar cane from the West Indies... probably” (bear in mind I was 3 drams in by this point).
I got banana, burnt sugar and dark chocolate on the palate. Creme Brulee on to taste – in fact generally desserts were a theme during the tasting.
This was a lovely whisky – certainly this is where I can see people saying grain is the equal of malt but at £270… it’s pretty far down the list of bottles I'd be buying if I had that kind of money burning a hole in my pocket.

Girvan 30 Year Old (42% abv)

For me the winner on the night. An Eton Mess with a little slosh of rum over it. Rich and creamy with berries and some nice warming rum notes. For me it was more subtle than the 25 and more rewarding, nicely balancing the flavours. A bit of lemon sponge in there, just very light and not overpowering.
Again whilst this was the equal of many single malts the £375 price tag is just too prohibitive.

If there is anything one can draw from this it’s that purely from a taste point of view, single grain whisky can be as well regarded as single malt. However it seems that it takes a long time in the barrel for that too happen. And it’s going to set you back a few quid too. 
Otherwise it seems to me that younger single grain can just feel a little too synthetic and sweet. But I'm very glad to have been given such an education in single grain.

Many thanks again to The Whisky Wire and William Grant and Son for arranging the Tweet Tasting