Award Winners; Wemyss/Kingsbarns Tasting Notes

Hello everyone

There are congratulations to be done first this week. Early this month it was my pleasure and privilege to attend the Scottish Licenced Trade News awards banquet. I didn‘t judge this year (diary issues) but they kindly invited me along anyway. Whisky Bar of the Year had three great finalists in The George Hotel Inveraray, which won last year; The Malt Room in Inverness and The Pot Still in Glasgow, also a previous winner. Well, The Pot Still did it again so a massive well done to Frank, Geraldine and all the team. If any of you are planning a whisky trip round Scotland, these are three excellent places to do some tasting.

The second award which delighted me on the night was to Ricky Wallace for Barperson of the Year. Ricky practices his craft at The Lochside following 25 years with a pub chain in Glasgow and feeling the need for a change of scene. The Lochside is in the centre of Bowmore on Islay (quite a change then!) and one of the busiest venues on the island. It also won Whisky Bar of the Year at the Hotels of the Year Scotland awards recently. Another fine place to visit during a whisky trip. Owner of The Lochside is Rocks Leisure Group which also won the SLTN‘s Multiple Operator award as they have several fine outlets, others being Macgochans and Roslyn House in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, the Ben Nevis Bar in Fort William and The Benleva in Drumnadrochit.In both cases here the pics are from SLTN.

The other recent award winning company is The Islay Spirits Company (owner of The Islay Rum Company) which won “Best Start Up” at this year’s Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards. This one missed getting into my end October piece by one day. Of course, the company is part of The Vintage Malt Whisky Company which uses Islay whiskies for a few of its whisky expressions. I‘ve nosed/tasted only the initial release but there are now three Islay Rum releases which they describe thus:

Islay Rum Geal was the inaugural release. A pure single white rum, full bodied flavoursome spirit with an intense Scottish twist. Bottled at 45% abv.

Islay Rum Peat Spice was released in 2023 and has an intensely smoky taste experience unlike any other rum in existence. Bottled at 40% abv.

Islay Rum Ùine Mhòr is a limited release with only 165 bottles total. This small batch, long fermentation FDP single rum is the first in a series of experimental fermentation batches. Bottled at 55% abv.“

So not only Scotch whiskies to try on any trip up here. The distillery is in a lovely little building (formerly a lemonade factory) in Port Ellen, one of Islay‘s main towns with distillation managed by Ben Inglis, their talented young distiller. I visited during Feis Ile in 2022 when Islay Rum Geal was a new offering but they‘ve obviously been very busy and even more creative since then.

We‘re on to tasting notes for the rest of this piece. I recently received three samples all from Wemyss Whiskies. Two are expressions from their Kingsbarns Distillery and the other is one of their independent bottlings from a selection of malt whiskies they have nurtured. That latter one is A Quarter Passed (Blended Malt) as the whiskies have now spent a quarter century maturing, all in US oak ex-bourbon barrels. It‘s not chill-filtered, has no added colour and has been bottled at 53.6% abv.

Appearance: Bright, barley gold; yellow and pale brass highlights. Tears slow and very clingy.

Nose: Initially, a little bit of peach juice.Oak, sweet spices, some citrusy zest. Touch of toffe apple and baked apples. Some sweet florals, a little bit of coconut other nuttiness and vanilla.With water, there‘s some waxiness, banana skin and fresh hay; the sweetness comes back through. Nosed from the bottle, there‘s also both icing and barley sugars and creamy notes. Slightly earthy too. Caramel and milk chocolate from the empty glass. Keeps on giving!

Palate: Medium mouth feel. Drier than expected from the nose. Less fruit but plenty of oak and spice. Toffee and soft candy. Coffee grounds and vanilla. Slightly bitter citrus pith notes and roasted nuts (walnut/pecan) but a dry effect, not sweet.

Finish: Quite long and dry with spices, coffee grounds and roasted nuts. Oak and vanilla persist.

This is from the Limited Collection and costs £235 per 70cl bottle (UK pricing). If I had the budget it‘s one I‘d be happy to spend time with.

The two Kingsbarns offerings were Bell Rock and Falkland from their distillery in Fife which is, of course, a Lowland distillery.

Bell Rock first at 61.1% abv , NCF and NAC. Maturation was 70% ex-oloroso sherry butts and 30% first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

Appearance: Tawny/light amber; rich brass and orangey highlights. Tears very slow to form and run and quite close together.

Nose: From bottle a waxy and slight cream cheese note. Fresh and quite youthful on the nose. Some vanilla and apple skins; toffee/caramel and oak. With water, more aroma of alcohol and a little bit of sulphur. A little flatter before sweeter notes of barley/demerara sugar return. Fresh and airy; fresh, damp wood and fresh dough. Nosing the empty glass brought plenty of toffee and nuttiness with a touch of char from the bourbon barrels.

Palate: Slightly unctuous, medium-weight mouth feel. I didn‘t find this one overly complex. Some light, savoury spicing; dried herbs and apple and almond pudding plus freshly shelled almonds.

Finish: Medium length; herbal and slight bitterness from some dark caramelised sugars.

Kingsbarns Falkland (46% abv; NCF, NAC) has been matured in a combination of 80% first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and 20% shaved/toasted/re-charred red wine barriques from Portugal. You‘d never know from the colour that this one had anything from a red wine cask in its composition.

Appearance: Lion tawny. Brass highlights. Tears fairly slow and quite clingy at first and fairly close together.

Nose: Initially fruity. Warm honey and baked apple and pear; pear juice. A tiny hint of varnish and a bit of caramel. With water, more ripe, baked fruit and honey. More vanilla comes through; a touch of wax; powdered sugar, candied nuts and sweet chocolatey notes.

Palate: Slightly unctuous, medium weight mouth feel. Plenty of fruit, oak, vanilla and honey. Hay, some vine fruit and spices with a little citrus zest. Ends dry.

Finish: Quite long; dry on the tongue but also spiced honey sweetness and citrus zest.

Of the two Kingsbarns offerings, Falkland is my preference. Its aroma and flavour profiles simply did more for me.

Lastly, my special bottle of Cutty Sark to celebrate its 100th birthday arrived this week. Much excitement but not opening it quite yet. If all goes to plan, I‘m interviewing Cutty Sark Master Blender, Stephen Woodcock, next week and that will be the content of my end November piece here.

Till then, happy dramming and start thinking about what your holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannukah) drams will be and don‘t forget about cocktails.

Slainte mhath,



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