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….

WW

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 whiskyauctioneer.com
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.


WW


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…http://whiskysponge.com/2014/02/09/people-still-pretending-to-enjoy-grain-whiskies/

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.

Conclusion
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



WW

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.


WW

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.

Conclusion
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.


WW


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?