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


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Wemyss Tweet Tasting

Occasionally when I log on to Twitter I’ll find my timeline suddenly flooded with unanchored adjectives and random exclamations of joy from the various whisky-type folk that I follow.  Cries of “Summery!” or a thoughtful  “Smoky, Ashy, Peaty” will pop up. And I before I spot the #TT hashtag I’ll know it’s another Tweet Tasting.
I was a bit bamboozled the first time I saw it but I’m used to it now. As the name suggested a it's a whisky tasting that takes place on live on Twitter.

Wemyss MaltsI got the chance to partake in one a couple of weeks ago (NB – actually a couple of months ago now) and I thought I’d write about it for those interested in how it works. The first thing to note is that, sadly, my participation wasn’t due to my prominence as an influential zeitgeist nailing blogger – but rather because I’d replied to a tweet from Steve at the Whisky Wire about a Wemyss Malt Tweet Tasting.
So after having been picked as one of the lucky 20-odd, I received a lovely little parcel with 4 whiskies from indy bottlers (and soon to be distillers) Wemyss Malts. And when the 15th May  (see?) came around I got in from work fired up the laptop, poured the drams and waited…

I found it was useful to utilise Tweetdeck for the purpose so that I could have specific feeds set up for the Wemyss Hashtag and also a separate feed for Steve at the Whisky Wire so I could follow his instructions – after all I wanted to make sure I was doing it right on my first go.

We kicked off  with the Lord Elcho Blend. It took a while for the descriptions to start coming in but when they did come it was an avalanche. It was lovely seeing the other descriptions floating past – generally there was agreement about the style but every now and again someone just nailed it. It was a great way to crowdsource (crowbarred modern reference) descriptions. A bit like the 1000 monkeys in a room with typewriters; with that many whisky enthusiasts tasting at the same time some-one was bound to get it dead right.
One concern I did have beforehand was what to do if I didn’t like the samples sent through – on the one hand I usually only review whisky that I’ve bought and so I didn’t want to become a sell-out on the very first freebie that I got. But on the other hand I didn’t want to lose my chance of ever getting a invited to do a tasting again. Thankfully this wasn’t an issue as the whiskies genuinely were very good and interesting (I’ll pop notes below). Speaking of selling out there was a Mortlach in the mix –something that's been a topic of much debate among bloggers (including my own post elsewhere).

I’d never done a social event online before, it was a bit weird sitting alone at the kitchen table supping whisky whilst my wife was in the other room. Anyone watching may have been concerned for the state of the marriage... but in the virtual world it was all very convivial and surprisingly entertaining. It was nice connecting with other people  and I got the sense people were getting a little looser as it went on, there were more interactions as the whisky flowed – and definitely a few more spelling mistakes appearing by whisky number 4 too.

Anyway my thoughts on the 4 whiskies are below. Thanks again to The Whisky Wire and Wemyss Malts.

Lord Elcho – Vanilla on the nose.  Sweet pastry apple pie. Like biting into a toffee apple. Smooth and not too grainy.
Pastille Bouquet (Mortlach) – Fruit pastilles and rhubarb dipped in sugar. Fresh and fruity taste, peardrops. Citrus and pepper.
Merchant’s Mahogany Chest (Glen Scotia) – The best of the night. I had it down as an old stone built church on a rainy day, heavy damp and woody. Rich dried fruit. Subtle flavour. Loved it.
Peat Chimney – Decided this was my Most Likely to Buy. Strong peaty/smoke smell (as you might imagine). Tasted like all the Islays at once.TCP, Iodine and Smoke. Cream and seaside.


Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Comparison Tasting: Highland Park - 70s v Today

Hello, Hello,

Lots to get through on this post so settle down please. Today we’re looking at a comparative tasting. First up look at this picture;

The 12 yo is from a tasting pack that I was given as a present recently. But the other one... just look at that. I picked up that bottle of Highland Park from an “antique” fair for £2 (along with some other gems – including an old bottling Bruichladdich mini - I couldn’t believe my luck).

To me there are 3 things of interest here;

1 – A old bottle gives the chance to compare to more recent whisky from the same distillery (albeit not the same standard bottling)

2 - A bit of detective work (well, googling) required to establish how old the whisky is.

3 – You will have spotted that the old HP bottle has a lower neck-fill, so it’s interesting to see what effect that has. Although that does mean that the comparison isn’t totally fair.

Taking the 2nd point first. How old is the old bottling? Well by my reckoning I think it must be pre-1980 given that it’s listed as 70 Proof rather than 40% ABV (when that change in labeling took place). It has a 70s styling and it seems to be an imperial measure (i.e. I couldn’t see 5cl). Plus looking on google images other whisky sites seem to place this in the 1970s. So this is probably pushing 35 at least since it was bottled and may have been distilled at the end of the 60s. 

So how will it compare against a modern Highland Park. I poured out the two HPs side by side. Here are my notes.

Highland Park 8 Year Old (Gordon & McPhail 70s Bottle)
The 8 year old is much darker, more orange-y looking. It seems a bit odd at first but definitely whisky - sweet but damp to smell. At this point I was wondering what effect the low-level fill had. It seemed a tiny bit flat – not too much coming off the nose.
Giving it a few minutes before going in for a second sniff it certainly seemed old-fashioned – I was getting a strong smell of sherry or even navy rum. Basically it smells a bit like your Nan’s house. Or an old hotel. Or maybe a church. There was damp, stone and wood. But at the same time it was a comforting smell, from a place where people have enjoyed themselves in the past.
Other thoughts scribbled down - Christmas Pudding. Cold Ash. Old leather. A stone room on a winters night.
There was so much going on. It’s difficult to tell now how the aeration (leakage?) has affected it. I noticed the finish was a little… fuzzy. I mean that as opposed to definable as crisp or lingering. There was all this woody-Christmas cake going on but then it kind of turned a bit funny and died (sorry I'm not exactly painting tastes with words). The feeling I was left with was it was like watching a classic black and white film but a poor recording of it. The tracking goes a bit off now and again or you lose the sound ocassionally but there is still plenty to enjoy. The essence still seemed to remain.

Highland Park 12 Year Old (recent distillery bottling)
So how does it compare to Highland Park of today? This is hardly a direct comparison since it’s not the same distillery bottling. 
Just as well since this is really different. I found it difficult to draw a direct line between the two. Now, as far as I’m concerned HP12 is a great bottle. It’s difficult to beat as an all-rounder and I’m A Fan.  Side by side though these two are totally different. 
The colour is much lighter and straw-like. And the smell is a bit of sweet vegetation and rubbery. I got a little bit of sweet grain smell (I know it doesn’t have grain in it obviously). Egg noodles on the nose too, strangely.
It’s much lighter than the old HP and more zesty. It seems younger even though it’s the older of the two in terms of years (if you get what I mean). Tiny bit of smoke. Smooth and toasty. 
But it didn’t seem quite the whisky of my memory when up against this old bottle. I think in the interests of balance that I should have tried this one first since it is much lighter.

Well, using this slightly indirect comparison it seems that the signature taste of HP has definitely changed. It’s gone from stodgy 70s trifle to a light salad. Both have their merits and I found it very interesting to see the difference between eras.
It was also interesting to see what possible effect the low-fill level has. To explore that properly I guess I’d need to two bottles from the same era – one with a low-fill and one without. But from this tasting the low-fill wasn't the total ruination I had feared.

Happily for my interest in whisky (but sadly for my wallet) this now means that my interest has been piqued not just far and wide but also back in time. 
Look out for future comparative tastings to come – 90s Bruichladdich 10, 90s Glenliet 12 and 90s Chivas 12.


08/10/14 - Just a note to add that I recently tried a distillery bottling of Highland Park 30, presumably going back to the early 80s. It tasted very much like the G&M reviewed above. I also tried a 25 year old Highland Park and it was quite different to the 30yo, more akin to the rest of the HP range. Can we deduce from that at some point in the last 30 years Highland Park has changed its signature style?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Glenlivet 16 Year Old Nadurra

Glenlivet strikes me as being a bit like Starbucks coffee. The quality of the core product is decent enough (for arguments sake) but it's that most unacceptable of things for foodie (or any) snobs - popular. 
And in much the same way lots of coffee aficionados wouldn’t go in to a Starbucks, likewise a lot of whisky bores aren’t too interested in Glenlivet. They’ll drink it if no other single malt/coffee is available but otherwise they’re more engaged in trying cask-strength, limited editions of Dailuaine or whatever. Not that it’s bad - the 15 in particular I seem to recall is rather nice – but no-one is going boast on Twitter about uncorking a bottle of Glenlivet 12 Year Old.

But this Nadurra edition is a bit more unusual. It strikes me that this is Glenlivet flexing their purist muscle. It has geek credentials, hence you’ve got this well-aged, non-chill filtered (by implication the standard bottles are chill filtered?) edition. Plus it’s bottled at cask strength. It’s big on provenance all numbered casks and traceability etc. Catnip to whisky bloggers.
But let’s not get caught up in perceptions and pour a glass. It certainly seems a bit lighter in colour which suggests it has been untouched. Taking a niff I had roses and syrup sponge pudding. Make that a rose infused syrup sponge. Very pleasant.
It wasn’t as sweet to taste. A bit of heat (understandable given the high ABV) but generally flowery and sweet maybe a bit of bubblegum, all tempered with wood to stop it getting too cloying. Obviously I’ve been lead to this word from the bottle but it seemed “natural” (again, wood and flowers). It’s stripped down and unfussy with a nice subtlety to it.
In addition to all that it’s very nicely priced for a 16yo cask strength whisky - around £45-50. Generally the Glenlivet range is pretty well priced given that you’re getting an age-statement with it (but let’s not get into that just now).

So if you’re interested in trying out older or cask strength whisky this is an excellent choice and good value. And if you’re at all snobbish about it being Glenlivet… well, don’t be. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Mortlach Draft Review

Subject: Mortlach Tasting and Review
Hi guys  - I noticed some other bloggers have posted reviews of the new Mortlachs?! I emailed and tweeted you about the invite to the tasting but didn't get a heads up - suggest someone in admin gets their arse kicked! Anyway, didn’t want to miss out on being one of the first reviews so I’ve pieced together a review from what seen from other blogs. Hopefully the seams won’t show…

Mortlach is the oldest distillery in Dufftown  <note - copy and paste details from ideally 2 or 3 paras>.
Mortlach is well loved amongst the whisky fraternity (or geeks if I may be so bold! LOL!!).  However the much loved and now much discontinued Flora and Fauna bottling was produced in such tiny quantities that prior to being discontinued it could only be found by visiting the obscure websites, like Master of Malt and Whisky Exchange, that might only have stock in the low hundreds of bottles at any one time.
Anyway nobody ever drank the old Mortlach but we're all agreed it deserved wider recognition so now, thankfully, Diageo is breathing new life into this much loved whisky. They are now making this more available to the mass market by launching the entry level “Old and Rare” bottling. The name might seem confusing at first but that’s fine though - things can actually become more rare the more widely available they become. <citation needed>. And I’m pretty sure it’s really Old too I think maybe there wasn’t enough room for the age statement on the bottle <check this>.
By the way the bottles look great don’t they? It’s like a proper glass decanter – and you were probably thinking of buying one of those anyway right? Well here’s one for you. And it has Mortlach written across the front. So there’s that. And after the whisky is finished you might use it for everyday things like putting 2/3rds of a bottle of wine in or 5/7ths of another bottle of whisky.

What I like about it also is that 50cl feels just the right size doesn’t it? I don’t know about you but I’ve always felt 70cl a bit unwieldy for a bottle size – it’s just too much! Besides, by reducing the bottle size more people can get their hands on this very rare and commercially available drop.

Anyway enough about all that. Let get onto the whisky itself, that’s what really matters. As a whisky aficionado I only really care about taste, price just shouldn’t be factor. After all if something tastes good enough it is worth literally any amount someone wants to charge, regardless of any costs related to production. What’s more it’s clear that Mortlach has been undervalued for a long time – probably by a factor of about 7. It’s a wonder other distilleries manage to keep afloat – but then they don’t have the special distillation process <insert details>.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted by the pricing fuss again. So here we go. The Whisky Writer verdict;

Old and Rare
It’s great
Old and Rare Special Strength
I wasn’t too sure whether to risk being slightly dissenting on this one to show a bit of impartiality. But decided to go with below- what do you think?
Really, really great.
18 Year Old
Just awesome. Totally better and different to 16yo F&F bottling which now seems like fucking dog’s piss by comparison (too far?)
25 Year Old
Just perfection. £600 might seem like a lot of money but believe me you won’t be thinking about how much each dram is costing you as you sip this stuff!

Conclusion: I don’t know what the fuss is about for pricing – this stuff is a bargain. Furthermore just show I’m totally genuine I’m going to forgo our family holiday this year and buy one bottle of each.

Let me know what you think – PS any chance of a sample? Cheers WW


Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

It’s taken me a while to get round to Bunnahabhain, I've previously given it a miss with my attention has being drawn to the more peaty/smoky whiskies from elsewhere on Islay. But now, thankfully, I've got around to picking up a bottle. 

And I'm glad I did as this stuff is very good. Three words came immediately to mind as I tried it – dry, spicy and full. As those words suggest it’s very tasty, almost savoury in a way. It has a sort of unsweet sherry flavour to it - by which I mean it has the fullness of flavour that sherried whisky has but without the sweetened taste.
There were oranges there too. But not like orange juice orange, this was more like opening a wooden crate that has whole oranges stored inside, but a crate that’s been at sea for a while. It has the promise of orange mingled with wood and salt. Also lurking in there was a touch of cigar and of leather. Very refined and very savoury.

This really strikes me as a very unique whisky. Very singular, a bit like Old Pulteney in the sense that it serves up something I've not really found elsewhere.
It looks wonderful in the glass too Рdark caramel, it's the same colour as the singed top of a cr̬me brulee.
It has a kind of dignified air about it. The packaging is not showy or shouty and I like that. The whisky generally is like the quiet guy that sits in the corner at a party rather than clamouring to be the centre of attention. But when you actually get around to speaking to them you find they actually have the most interesting things to say. Or maybe I'm getting carried away looking at the old fella on the bottle...

So, where was I? This is not a typical Islay, it’s not a typical anything. Pricing-wise it’s a slightly more expensive entry level bottle going for about £35. But it's worth picking up. For me personally getting this bottle was partly about completing  an Islay set (i.e. a bottle from every (working) distillery on the island) but it's without doubt worth picking up on its own merits.