2017 – How Was It for You?
Back at the beginning of the year, I asked if we could make 2017 the year of the blend. Well, we certainly had some notable releases in blend form, whether blend of malt and grain or blended malts. Dewar’s 25 Year Old was a good one for me and not because of the name. Compass Box were as creative as ever in both liquid and packaging. In single malts I loved The Glendronach Kingsman edition. Edrington have also come up with some exciting things from Highland Park. Highlights of my year were firstly going to Copenhagen with the HP team and many other whisky scribes to hear more about new expressions and new packaging for core and other expressions. Such a well-thought out and extensive project gladdens the heart of a (not too) old marketer! The other one was more personal – to be in France to help Joel Alessandra launch his book Whisky Lady, his homage to my late friend, Helen Arthur, who was his wife’s aunt.
As we also expected, it’s been a good year for new distilleries with the opening of Clydeside, Lindores Abbey, Glenwyvis and Isle of Raasay, to name four, as well as the progress of construction for others, most notably Ardnahoe on Islay for Hunter Laing who have also been involved in a few legal disputes over the Gartbreck site on Islay and on use of the Douglas name. We’ve also seen the completion of the new Macallan Distillery though it was only in November that it started to run spirit tests before production transfers completely from old to new distillery. Interesting that the old one is to be mothballed which generally means keeping the plant in good order, in case of need, but not actually working. In other good news we hear that Daftmill, a family owned distillery in Fife, may finally be releasing some of its whisky in 2018. I visited a few years ago with a view to writing about it and have been waiting patiently – along with many others – to try some ever since.
Having sold BenRiach Distillers to US company, Brown-Forman, Billy Walker bought Glenallachie from Chivas earlier this year. You can’t keep a good whisky man down. That distillery has long been used primarily for blends and that presumably formed part of the deal though single malt bottlings must surely be the main focus. At Whyte & Mackay, a special Dalmore 50 was released to celebrate Richard Paterson’s 50 years in the industry. The whisky had some finishing time in champagne casks from the house of Giraud and I visited there in September (bringing several bottles home with me). As a wine company they are doing some very interesting things with fermentation and maturation in terracotta rather than wood, so finishing in champagne casks in future may get even harder than it is now, though they are also campaigning to use local oak for casks and thus develop the area’s Argonne forest. Selosse also uses oak, I believe, but getting hold of their champagne is mega-hard. It’s sold only to good restaurants round the world, on allocation.
Of course, there are always new expressions being brought out and this last month has been no exception. I’ve received several new samples and still have some left over from November which were tried but not written about. So a quick look at four of them before we stop for 2017.
First up is The Tweeddale from Alistair Day who is also involved with Raasay and wants a Borders distillery too. I received two samples, one a blend and one a single grain but have chosen to feature the blend here. It is The Tweeddale – The Evolution (52% abv; 28 years old), from Speyide single malts and a lone Lowland grain. Priced at around £175 per bottle.
Appearance : Almost old gold hue
Nose: It has an enticing nose with some mint, barley sugar, syrup and toffee notes plus a touch of vanilla and honey. With water there is more candy floss and more caramel notes develop. Rich and sweet like condensed milk with dried fruits and some herbs; mixed spices and ginger syrup; creamy.
Palate: mellow and smooth at first but very quickly mouth-drying. Wood, liquorice sweetness and spicy at the back. Peppery, even with some water added and a bit of smokiness.
Finish – quite long but both sweet and bitter notes. You need to treat this one carefully to get the flavour balance right.
By the way, the other one from The Tweeddale is a single grain from Cambus Distillery and is 27 years old. Will maybe cover that one in January.
Next up is Glenglassaugh PX Sherry Wood (No age statement; 46% abv). This is part of the new Wood Finishes range of four expressions, none of which has an age statement.
Appearance: Rich, dark gold. Very sticky tears but not too widely spaced.
Nose: On first opening/pouring raisins leap out of the glass – the aromas you have when you’re soaking these fruits in sherry or whisky to make Christmas cake. I spilled a drop on a glass table top and it’s sticky. There are cake spices too. Then…alcohol. I think the PX cask effect might be too masking. With water it’s rather flatter on the nose with a dab of burnt match. The initial nose is so rich then it fades in the glass.
Palate: quite young notes here and slightly unctuous. Some raisiny, sherry notes and a bit of wood and barley but not much else. Not enough dimensions for me. I just found this one disappointing.
Finish: medium length, heathery and mouth-drying with some spiciness.
Third on the list is BenRiach Authenticus (30 Year Old; 46% abv) which has been sitting waiting for a few weeks.
Appearance: Lovely amber gold colour and very widely spaced tears.
Nose: Deep and rich with mellow, smoky notes. Warm spices (great for the season) and touches of oak and toffee; baked orchard fruits. With water it’s a little more woody at first with enhanced spices and richer caramel but also fresh and clean. Left to sit for a while there is a lot more raisin, sultana and toffee apple coming from the glass.
Palate: Initial sweetness but hen quite drying and not unctuous as the nose might suggest; plenty of smoke and some char and tar – ash and embers but also a sweet edge to it.
Finish : Long, smoky and dry with embers. A slight menthol and grassy aftertaste too. This was a cracking dram but it will set you back a few hundred pounds.
Last and not least is the latest Big Peat – The Gold Edition 25 Year Old release from Douglas Laing & Co. at 52.1% abv. This is their Islay malt blend. Although this is younger than BenRiach, I tried it last as the aromas coming out of the sample bottle and glass indicated that would be sensible. The sample came in a lovely little box with some “gold” chocolate coins (always works for me!) just like the ones you got in your Christmas stocking as a child. Or maybe you still do…. Only 3,000 bottles available and the only price I could find online is around £165 a bottle.
Appearance: Mellow gold with brass highlights.
Nose: Very peaty and big on opening then some fresh, vegetal notes. Plenty of smoke but mellow, not harsh. Touch of sweet juiciness – maybe baked apricots? Some citrus and lavender too. With water, it is creamier with more oak and sweeter smoke, a touch of sweaty sock, iodine and smoked cheese. There’s complex for you!
Palate: Some oiliness in the mouth as you’d expect plus astringency from the smoke. Plenty of smoke and Pontefract cake, Touch of salt. Some residual sweetness and cooked stone fruit. Also medicinal with chewy tar.
Finish: Long and smoky with some final sweetness, but quite dry in the mouth.
To finish, I’ve been seeing an awful lot about whisky cocktails this year. Long may it continue. I helped to judge some awards this year, one being Whisky Bar of the Year. One place we went into had an extensive collection (though the owner didn’t intend ever opening some of them) yet, when asked about whisky cocktails the barman’s response was, “I don’t do cocktails”. Now, I’m all for catering to your clientele but given what this place is, that seemed to be cutting out some potential business and a way of helping consumers see the versatility of Scotch Whisky. Maybe the barman and venue owner need a lot more education. Doubtless Jo and Sue at Whisky Ambassador could help! The winner of that competition this year was The Pot Still in Glasgow. Thoroughly deserved win for Geraldine and Frank who do a terrific job with Scotch Whisky and other whiskies/eys. More power to their elbow in 2018.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to all and time to plan the festive drams.