Glen Moray Phoenix Rising and Tiree Spirit on Taste; 2023 Highlights
Finishing off the year there‘s a new expression from Glen Moray – Phoenix Rising, so named because it was matured in charred new oak casks. We also have some nicely maturing spirit from Tiree Distillery to see how it‘s progressing before bottling in early 2025. Beyond that I want to have a little look back at my whisky highlights of 2023 (would be happy to hear what yours are) and where the industry was, plus what looks possible going into 2024. No use of crystal ball! I‘m not into predictions.
We‘ll start with the Glen Moray Phoenix Rising which is bottled at 40% abv.
Appearance: Rich gold and light amber tones with old brass and tawny highlights.
Nose: Soft, sweet spices; some vanilla custard and a touch of tropical fruits. Waxiness and fresh oak; polished wooden floor; cherries and almonds; soft caramel and slight pepper.
With water, softer and brings out more spice sweetness (allspice, nutmeg, ginger and maybe mace). Some wood char and still quite fresh. Left to sit a while much more toffee and brown sugar caramel waft from the glass.
Palate: Slightly mouth-coating; sweetly spicy; wood vanilla and marzipan. Peppery on the tongue; pink peppercorns. Dries the tongue and cheeks a little.
Finish: Medium length, spicy and warming. Dry at the end with some char notes.
I‘ve rarely met a Glen Moray I was not convinced by (though in the past a couple of wine finishes were not quite my thing) and this one is a gentle yet flavourful and very pleasant introduction to the distillery if you don‘t know it. That might be as problem if you‘re in the Uk as this expression is available only from the distillery shop but its main markets are France, Netherlands, Japan and South Korea. It‘s very appropriate for the end of a year and the beginning of a new one to use a mythical bird „which mysteriously burns at the end of its life, before being born anew“ as the company expresses it. New charred oak is rarely used at this distillery but certainly deserves to be if this is but one result. The Glen Moray here had initially been aged in bourbon casks, then transferred into the heavily charred virgin oak casks. I think you‘d have to agree the packaging is very stylish too with vibrant colour. The packaging for their Twisted Vine was similarly very vibrant and quite a stand out on shelf. Even if you read this after we‘ve merged into 2024, do try it to toast the new year if it‘s available where you live.
The other spirit (not yet whisky) I nosed and tasted recently was that intended to form the launch bottling (2025) from the Tiree Distillery on that very island. The guys have two sherry hoggies currently nurturing spirit that started off as follows:
14 Months in Ex-Bourbon Quarter Cask; 11 Months in Ex-Bourbon Quarter Cask (2 different casks)
Both of the above transferred to Sherry Hogshead – 12 Months Maturation in Sherry
24 Months in 50L Virgin Oak; 21 Months in Ex-Bourbon Quarter Cask; 14 Months in Ex-Bourbon Quarter Cask (3 different casks)
All of the above transferred to Sherry Hogshead – 9 Months in Sherry Cask.
Both of these obviously have similarities but also definite differences, brought about by Cask 2 having had some time in virgin oak, being a little older and having less time in sherry wood. The colour on both is pretty much the same and both hoggies are first fill oloroso. Cask 1 has, on the nose, lovely raisiny and other vine fruit notes with soft vanilla custard, baked apples and pears, warm wooden floors and plenty of sweet spices. Water brings out a bit of orange zest and some waxiness. Baked fruits and spices persist with a little bit of sherry wood struck match notes. It gets richer and warmer as it sits in the glass. The palate is definitely still young but a cracking base to start from. Prickly on the tongue with sweet oak and spices; slight licorice and orange oil and some sherry wood sulphur. A touch of citrus pith bitterness and sweet oak on the finish. Short – medium finish at present but which I expect to get lengthier.
Cask 2 is more about soft toffee notes and golden syrup though slightly fresher and airier despite the longer ageing. Dark brown sugar plus vanilla and spiced apples. With water there are sweet white wine notes, honey and blossoms and even a touch of wine gums. On the palate it‘s qute drying, spritzy with sweet sherry oak notes. More citrus zest and coffee grounds bitterness. Less sherry sulphur but it‘s spent less time in sherry wood. Something slightly resinous too; wax and damp woods. Medium length and dry on the finish at present.
Both are definitely youthful but given this auspicious start I have high hopes for the end result. In 2024, both of these casks will be married before the inaugural bottling and I don‘t yet know what cask type that will be.
What have been my whisky highlights from all I have nosed and tasted in 2023? It‘s sometimes hard to remember past the more recent ones tried so better to look back all my notes of this year which include whiskies from overseas and England as well as Scotch. Well, I think the major one has to be the Cutty Sark Centenary Edition in which the youngest whisky was 23 years old and the whisky was so beautifully packaged in tribute to the blend‘s maritime associations. Loved it. The Wolfcraig 30 YO Premium Blend was another absolute beauty in terms of character and flavour. I did also enjoy the 14 YO Deluxe Blend but the 30 had it all for me. Another from Glen Moray was Twisted Vine Cognac Cask. I love what these people do with wood up there and look forward to more of their offerings in future. Fettercairn Warehouse 14 was a delightful example from the Aberdeenshire distillery. Back with blends, in March I got round to trying Chivas Ultis XX which was real treat from Sandy Hyslop at Chivas Bros. A last stand out for me was Bruichladdich The Regeneration Project grain whisky. Aromatic and delicious and put to good use at my whisky dinner in The Port Charlotte Hotel during Feis Ile. If Adam Hannett wants to play with this kind of thing again, I‘ll be waiting, glass in hand. Mention of that Islay dinner brings another highlight to mind. I‘ve so enjoyed doing those over the years. It‘s always stressful deciding the pairings of whiskies with the menu but it‘s always been worth it on the night to see them working well, to meet the diners and hear their views.
In 2023 some young Scotch distilleries launched their first bottlings, some others received planning permission and building works started. Some are still at planning stage. Sales were still largely good despite economic situations but the UK and Scottish governments continue to disappoint with their treatment of Scotch Whisky and, in Scotland, of the drinks and hospitality industries in general. Looking to the future, two drinks companies with Scotch Whisky interests have set up distilleries in China this year or at least have plans to do so and I hope to try more whiskies/whiskeys from overseas. We have other Scotch Whiskies to look forward to from young distilleries. Some whisky brands have changed ownership too so let‘s hope those changes are positive. There really is never a dull moment in this industry.
So, time to decide your drams to welcome 2024 and let‘s look forward to another fine whisky year, malt, grain and blend. All the best to you and yours for 2024.