New Tastes, New Debates

A day after I submitted last month’s blog some media releases and samples came in so we’ve got those this month. Indeed, another one came in just yesterday so I’ve squeezed that in too. It’s been a happy time for tasting!

Hot topics of the moment are Compass Box’s bid to get people to support their campaign for greater transparency in labelling and promotional information to be an option for Scotch producers and blenders. I’m amongst many who thought it was utterly daft they should have to take off the label, details of the composition of one of their creations as it flouted EU law.

Since then, John Glaser, founder of Compass Box, has produced a document of proposals to have the law changed to allow mention of the composition of a blend, if the producer so desires. You can see that on Bruichladdich, another distillery with fiercely independent mindset, has supported them. Seems they’ve lost no fire since being bought by Remy a few years ago.

Anyway, John Glaser’s proposals do seem entirely reasonable. I was concerned at first that distillers who choose not to indicate blend composition might suffer if people thought they might have something to hide (they generally don’t). After all, blend recipes have been secrets to all but a few in whisky companies for many decades for good reasons. Also, some blends contain so many whiskies you wouldn’t see the liquid for the size of the label. I used to work on Ballantine’s which had over 40 whiskies of varying ages in its widely respected Finest blend. Try adding those to a label in a print size you can read.

I’m definitely on Compass Box’s side but maybe there’s also a job to do amongst consumers to make sure those not intending to state blend composition, be it blended malt, blended grain or simply blended Scotch Whisky (the mix of malt and grain which makes up around 90% of our global sales) do not suffer for their decision. I also wonder if the vast majority of consumers who drink the less rare and exotic expressions will bother much – it may be more of an enthusiast’s issue – but I do agree the law should be changed to make it a matter of choice.

Compass Box campaign_button

Drawing near budget time, the other major chat is the lobbying of the Chancellor to cut duty on Scotch Whisky still further. Yes, he did take a few pence off it last year but more would help the industry – and the economy – a lot. The Scotch Whisky Association has been lobbying hard for this and has also completed surveys indicating that the majority of the population and of those in the hospitality industry would support a further cut. Maybe the establishment you work for was one of those. In which case, good on you!

On to the tasting part. The first of the samples which arrived just a bit late last month was a Speyside 1996, one of the new set of Single Cask malts from Wemyss Malts. This set of six uses two Islays, two Speysides and two Highland. This was the one I could get my hands on. The second was Rock Oyster Limited Edition Cask Strength (57.4%) from Douglas Laing and Octomore 7.4 (61.2% abv!) from Bruichladdich. All so different. The latecomer which just arrived this week is Longmorn – The Distiller’s Choice (40%) which was launched some weeks ago but the sample was delayed. That one bears no age statement and is a replacement for the 16 year old Longmorn we’ve been enjoying for a number of years. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to compare the two side by side.

The Speyside (46%abv) and Rock Oyster are both quite pale, a choice not to use any colouring (using it is not a sin, in my view). The former, which is from Glenrothes Distillery, I found took a while to open up but was delicate for its age and elegant. They call it Toasted Anise but I didn’t get a lot of that. I did get fruit – some tropical, some peach, a little vanilla and some mild pastis notes as well as a dab of ginger and walnut. On the palate it was slightly creamy and light with toasted malt, a hint of oak, some citrus oil bitterness and some warm spice.

Wemyss toasted-anise-1996-bottled-2015-wemyss-malts-glenrothes-whisky

The Rock Oyster is a new version of an existing Douglas Laing expression featuring all island whiskies (Islay, Arran Jura and Orkney) and is a peaty one as you might expect. We have smoke, peat, embers and a spiritous note on the nose. Plus the sweaty wool socks. It seems youthful and that’s not a criticism. With water, more floral notes, fresh sea air, a hint of cologne – oil of clary sage, I think – and a wisp of brown sugar. To taste it is smoky and peaty again with a touch of iodine, peppery, heathery and herbal plus some salt but with a residual sweetness too, It’s not mouth-coating but more cleansing and very drying.


The Octomore is much less of a brute than you might expect. At 7 years old (distilled April 2008), yes, it’s high strength. Yes, it’s smoky and peaty but there’s so much more nuance in there. This is from heavily toasted “virgin oak” plus some charred bourbon casks and the rich colour comes from the woods as they don’t believe in adding caramel at Bruichladdich. The full mix is 25% full term virgin oak; 75% 3 years first fill bourbon, 2 years virgin oak and 2 years first fill bourbon. The Scottish barley is peated to a massive 167ppm. The nose is warm, thick and syrupy as well as featuring peat fires, charred wood, resin and raisin. Also treacle toffee. It gets a bit more medicinal with water, cough sweets maybe. For all that there’s still a touch of dried fruit sweetness, some coconut, sea breeze and a hint of salt. This was definitely the longest finish of these three. I’d love to try this again when it gets to about 10 or 12 years old.

Octomore 7.4

The Longmorn I had high hopes for from the sparkling colour and the attractive nose. A touch of sherry and barely sugar, soft cake spices and vanilla custard; very rounded and balanced. Some almonds and clementines. On the palate it’s also rounded and elegant with ground almond, heather and ginger. I feel the nose promises more than the palate delivers. I didn’t dislike it at all, it’s a decent dram. I just wasn’t as impressed as I hoped to be.

Longmorn Distiller's Choice

Of these four my preference was the Octomore, though the Toasted Anise had a delightfully complex nose. I’d definitely try them all again. Till next time, happy dramming.

Caroline Dewar


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