A Look Back, A Look Forward & Other Things Inbetween
28th December 2018
So here we are at the end of another year. Has it been a good one for Scotch Whisky? I’d say yes with a raft of interesting and tasty new expressions, new distillery openings or construction starts and good worldwide sales. The downside was the recent report that a number of aged whiskies are fakes. The answer to that is to make sure you know as thoroughly as you can, the provenance and chain of ownership of the whiskies you buy, if you’re a collector or auction fan. I don’t have anything that hasn’t come either direct from the producer or is something I worked on myself as a marketer. On the auction front, Macallan continued to impress with the prices it achieved for a certain bottling at auction. I hope those are real!
I wrote much earlier in the year that Glenturret Distillery (it’s an old pic I’ve used here) was put up for sale by Edrington and we learned recently that it has been bought by a high-end wine and luxury goods company, Art et Terroir (ultimately based in Switzerland), for their first foray into whisky. Let’s wish them well with that as it seems they are retaining all the staff at distillery. I’ve put in a request to talk to the Famous Grouse brand people about the implications for that but it was just before Christmas so I hope to have more on that in 2019. In November, Edrington also sold their Cutty Sark brand to French company, La Martiniquaise in order to concentrate more on Highland Park, The Macallan and Famous Grouse.
The Benriach Distillery Company seems to forge ahead with new expressions, particularly from The Glendronach and Benriach, that I’ve seen. Earlier this year, Master Blender, Rachel Barrie was awarded an honorary Doctor of Sciences from Edinburgh University and was also the first woman to be inducted into Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Hall of Fame in December. Thoroughly well deserved by a brilliant lady who does so much for our industry and the reputations of all the brands she has worked on from her work at the Scotch Whisky Research Institute through Glenmorangie plc., Morrison Bowmore/ Beam Suntory and then Benriach Distillers, now in the hands of Brown-Forman. I’ve loved what she’s done for one of my former brands, The Glendronach, in particular.
Now, I’d hoped to have this column done before Christmas but had a rotten cold and could nose or taste absolutely nothing. Could have fed me any old rubbish and I wouldn’t have noticed. I’d tasted the two whiskies included here but had others to examine so have waited till the nose and palate are a bit more like normal. These whiskies were supplied just as I was writing November’s piece and there just wasn’t room. The full list was Raasay While We Wait 2018 and Tweeddale Grain of Truth from R&B Distillers and then Rock Oyster Cask Strength Batch 2, The Gauldron Batch 3 and Big Peat Christmas 2018 Cask Strength, all from Douglas Laing & Co. I’ve included one from each company here that were my preferences.
Tweeddale Grain of Truth (46% abv.)
This one is composed of 50% wheat and 50% malted barley. The spirit was matured in bourbon barrels and finished for nine months in fine Oloroso sherry hogsheads.
Appearance: Medium gold but slightly muted – a bit like Scottish sunshine through cloud! Tears slow to form and clingy but close together.
Nose: Fresh cut grass, then hay; a touch of light dried fruit and a wisp of pineapple; a little honey; with water some varnish then creamier; citrus zest and tea leaves; white chocolate them more caramel/toffee as it sits.
Palate: Instantly mouth and tongue drying then, oddly, a touch of smoke and toasted oak; a bit of treacle and then cut grass.
Finish: Medium – long; quite zesty and fresh with a bit of salt; a little bit of oak char and grassiness.
The Gauldrons Batch 3 (46.2% abv.)
This is a vatting of malts from Campbeltown.
Appearance: Pale/medium gold – rather Chablis coloured. Of course Douglas Laing have added no colour here. Tears are quite free running but look oily, then slower and more widely spaced.
Nose: Spicy, oak and fruit; ginger, mace; clove but citrus also; fruit juice; watered down honey; wax and strong blossom – an intriguing nose. With water there is more ginger, peach juice and some beeswax.
Palate: “Perfumed” is all I could think of at first; spicy and warming; some oak tannins and smoke; a bit of bitterness at the edges of the tongue.
Finish: Medium – long; warm with spice and smoke. Also a touch mouth drying.
The most cheerful drink I was sent was – GIN! I thought Eden Mill were sending a couple of little lab bottle samples but a whole bottle of their festive Candy Cane Gin arrived by mail. It’s such a fabulous red colour and just glows. Tastes really good too. The appearance is a bright cherryade/strawberry colour which looks pinker in the glass. On the nose are juniper, pine needle, mint, boiled sugar candy canes, cherry juice and cranberry.
The palate is quite sweet at first with peppermint cream, juniper and red fruits. If you’re still about to do some New Year party shopping, go for this and have fun making cocktails. Their suggested perfect serve is with a premium tonic and garnished with blackberries. If you find it too sweet try a drier mixer.
Finally, what about my favourites from this year and what am I looking forward to in 2019? Well, I didn’t get to taste every new release in 2019 but I was pleased to see the art/craft of blending was much in evidence and there were some delicious single malts too. My favourites, in no particular order were:
The Glenlivet The Code – Chivas
Nectar Grove from Wemyss Malts
Hedonism The Muse – Compass Box
Jura Journey – entry level malt in the new Jura range from Whyte & Mackay. I saw a piece from someone who didn’t like this and didn’t see the point of it but I liked it and it served me well at my Islay Whisky Dinner in May. Indeed, the whole new core range is good. Some of the travel retail ones didn’t reach me but I hope to try them sometime.
Jura One for the Road – Whyte & Mackay
Benriach 21 Year Old – Benriach Distillers (Brown-Forman)
Highland Park The Light – Edrington
Highland Park Wings of the Eagle 16 Year Old – Edrington
Scallywag 10 – Douglas Laing & Co.
Fettercairn 28 – Whyte & Mackay
Glengoyne Teapot Dram Batch 006 – Ian Macleod Distillers
Carsebridge 48 Year Old Single Grain – Diageo
Cladach Coastal Blend – Diageo
Tomatin 30 Year Old – Tomatin Distillery Co. (Takara Shuzo)
Glen Scotia Victoriana – Loch Lomond Group. Not new but I hadn’t tasted it till this year and loved it.
To answer the second part of my question above, well, I’m hoping to see more by way of blending; to see the new Ardnahoe Distillery; to see what examples come out of our newer distillers as a promise of more mature things to come; to see what good things Brown-Forman continues to offer from The Glendronach and, lastly, hoping that the Brexit mess doesn’t affect our great industry (too) adversely. Meantime, I raise a glass to our wonderful distillers and blenders and wish them – and all of you – all the best for 2019.
Slainte mhath and lang may your lum reek.