On Taste: New Octomores, anCnoc, Tobermory; (More!) New Distilleries; Compass Box 20; Ardnamurchan First Release; Spooky Whisky for Hallowe‘en

Some snippets to start before we get down to tasting notes this time. I‘ve been sent an embarrassment of riches to nose/taste in recent weeks and just yesterday two new Kilchomans turned up but they‘ll have to wait till next time. I won‘t have room for all individual notes here but can summarise. I‘ve had the new Benriachs since the last column but we‘ll save those for next time too to give them a bit more attention. They also sent some terrific cocktail kits and I’m going to have a lot of fun with those to tell you about later this month.

News coming in thick and fast about new expressions too but then it is coming up to Christmas.

First of all it’s many congratulations to Compass Box who this month celebrate 20 years of existence. They were kind enough to invite me to their 10th birthday bash and it really doesn’t seem like 10 years ago. In honour of this birthday they’ve released Hedonism Felicitas – a new version of the Hedonism 100% grain bottling that started things off for them all that time ago. As founder, John Glazer said, “Launching our business with Hedonism was widely seen at the time as unusual, because so few Scotch whisky companies bottle 100% grain whiskies”. Well, a few more of them may have done so since but I’m not sure with the same degree of success or panache. I mean, just think of all the glorious labels they’ve had created – vibrant, thought-provoking, different from the boring norm. Hedonism is a brand they now use in limited editions “to commemorate important milestones and events.” It’s at natural colour and not chill-filtered, bottled at 53% vol. This latest creation is made up of three grain whiskies, North British, Port Dundas and Strathclyde, each one distilled in a different decade. More detail at https://www.compassboxwhisky.com/whiskies/hedonism-felicitas . Price is around £140/bottle UK and $175 US. Only 2,226 bottles were produced. No sample, sadly, as very few were available. Sometimes you make the cut and sometimes not!

I asked John what have been any high and low points, for him, of their journey so far, “There have been many of each! But far more high points than low. I have to say that it amazes me that it’s been 20 years. I feel like we are just getting going! I am as excited and engaged now as I ever have been. Looking forward to the next ten and 20!” That’s a great attitude to have. I think all of us who have watched CB will continue to be excited and engaged too. They’ve created many a cracking whisky and pushed a number of boundaries to the benefit of all of us. Lang may their lum reek, as we say in these parts!


Ardnamurchan Distillery has announced the launch of its first ever single malt Scotch whisky. It‘s bottled at 46.8% ABV, non-chill filtered and naturally coloured. It‘s been available from October 5th in all good whisky shops (at least in UK) at around £45/bottle. The media release reminds that,“The distillery produces two signature styles of spirit, one peated and one unpeated. We designed the distillery to produce a full flavoured malt true to its location (West Highland). The single malt will comprise a 50/50 split of peated and unpeated whiskies, matured in a 65%/35% mixture of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry oak casks.“ For those who like traceability in their whiskies, consumers can scan the QR code on the bottle to see ‘a fully transparent diary of each bottle’s field to bottle journey.‘ We are further told, ‘‘Due to its remote location, Ardnamurchan was built to develop and fully utilise a local circular economy. The entire heat and power requirements are supplied by renewable sources within 2 miles of the distillery: hydro electricity from the river that also supplies its cooling water, and wood chip for its biomass boiler, delivered by tractor from nearby sustainable forestry.“ All sounds very rustic and eco-friendly. Haven‘t got hold of any to try yet but do look out for it and try some yourselves.

For the first time, to my knowledge, a US company is offering a blended malt whiskey and, interestingly, refers to it as a vatted malt which is what we used to call blended malt here before the rules changed. It‘s from Lost Lantern Whiskey in Vermont who have used whiskeys from 6 different producers across the US. This Lost Lantern blend has been aged for two years and produced 3,000 bottles that will be offered at $120 each. The ABV is 52.5%, and the spirit was non-chill filtered with no added colouring. No indication of which markets will get a supply.

Just the other week, the soon-to-be most northerly Scottish mainland distillery at John O‘Groats, 8 Doors Distillery, was offering exclusive cask sales through its 874 Founders Club. Those packages sold out in a couple of days. Perhaps no surprise since it was limited to 250. If you missed that you can still sign up for the 874 Club for 1250 members to get 3 x 70cl bottles of the single malt when available. The spirit will be matured in first-fill casks from Spain, made specially for the distillery. We‘re told,“Each bottle comes from a different variety of oak cask to showcase the influence of the wood type on the final whisky flavour profile.“ I‘d like to know more about the varieties. Size? Previous content? Virgin oak? The release says simply “Spanish casks.“ Nice idea to help a new distillery get off the ground and there are other benefits (see https://www.8doorsdistillery.com/bottle-packages ). The bottle package is £420. In case you were wondering, the 874 refers to the distance in miles between John O‘Groats on our north coast and Land‘s End down in the south west of England. The distillery is intended to open in summer 2021.

Yet another mainland distillery is set to open in Stirling. The main man behind this is Michael Lunn, which is a name I remember from years back when he was Chairman and CEO of Whyte & Mackay. He‘s joined by two other directors. The distillery will be known as Wolfcraig and, we are told, will ‘include a new whisky experience, an interactive, education-focused family visitor attraction, private tasting room and 180-cover bistro restaurant and bar.‘ Well, we‘d better have covid-19 under control before then. Also involved will be Dr Alan Rutherford OBE, former production director at Diageo, bit of a legend and acquaintance of my late friend, Helen Arthur. Also former Bacardi UK operations director Iain Lochhead, and Master Distiller, Ian MacMillan, formerly at Distell and Bladnoch to name but two companies. If all goes to plan, building work should begin in spring 2021, with actual opening in summer 2022. It‘s going to have views to the Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle. Worth a visit for that alone but I have no doubt that these people will make sure the spirit is world class for future enjoyment. 

Now, down to tastings. I’m going to start with the new Octomore collection release which is always a big event now. They’ve been available since the beginning of this month. The Bruichladdich team sent some generously sized samples which means I can nose/taste more than once. Rather than show all four tasting notes here, I’ll give group and individual comments.

This is definitely an interesting and sipworthy collection again this year. Octomore 11.1 is a 5 year old from bourbon wood at 59.4% abv. 11.2 is a 5 year old (58.6% abv) from bourbon wood divided into two separate parcels, one finished in Pauillac red wine casks and the other finished in St. Julien red wine casks, both from Bordeaux (Pauillac finishing seems to be trendy at the moment). 11.3 is another 5 year old from bourbon wood at 61.7% abv while 11.4 is a 10 year old, for a change, at 54.3% abv and emanating from both bourbon barrel and virgin oak. Some have said there’s no 11.4 but a fourth edition of a 10 year old instead. Well, my sample bottle was labelled  11.4 and 10 years old from bourbon/virgin oak.

If you remember the 10 series from last year, there was a standout offering at only 3 years old. This year I’m finding nothing really strikes me between the eyes like that but there’s plenty to like here. I have tried them only once so far and all make a tasty dram for peat fans. I will try them again and may modify first impressions. Let me say first that despite the phenol levels, the peaty, smoky notes are not overwhelming and, generally, the balance is finely judged on all. Kudos to Adam Hannett for his choices again this year.

I expected to prefer the 10 year old 11.4 for that extra maturity (did I learn nothing from last year’s brilliant 3 year old?!) and was intrigued by the 11.2 because of the use of red wine casks. Turns out that the 11.2 is the one I found less moreish. Attractive red gold colour, a bit like muddied Irn-Bru (non-Scots, google that one) or cold tea. An equally attractive nose featuring fruity notes of melon and ripe plums interwoven with balanced smoke and vinous notes – plus some dried orange zest to match that colour! Oak char and wax; spicy notes – mace – from the red wine casks and a tiny waft of sulphur. It’s the palate I found more…muted, let’s say – thinner mouthfeel than the others and generally less layered for me. I really do have to try it again on its own. 11.2 is available as an exclusive from the online Laddieshop at £140/bottle. 11.1 and 11.3 both have spiritous notes indicating their youth but plenty else besides. Some soft candy sweetness on 11.1 along with sherbet and candided lemon; vanilla and soft oak. 11.3 also has sherbet fruit sweets plus pear drops, then salt. It becomes a bit vegetal (cooked beetroot) with water at first and soft florals. Definite but balanced and elegant smoke. On all of these there is much more peat smoke and cask char on the palate than on the nose. 11.4 is mellower with those same soft florals and fruits plus spices. A green leafy aroma here with light dried fruits and waxiness.

Plenty to appreciate in all of them and a fun exercise if you get all 4 to try but they’re not light on the pocket at £125/bottle for the cheapest one. You also don’t need to taste them in the 11.1 – 11.4 order. When I do these again, I’m going to start with 11.2 and end with 11.4, with probably 11.1 and 11.3 second and third respectively. I found it hard to go for a favourite here but then that’s not really necessary. Loads more detail in the Octomore section of the Bruichladdich website.  

A surprise arrival in the last couple of weeks was a sample of the new Tobermory 23 Year Old from Distell who also own Bunnahabhain. The spirit was distilled and filles into refill hogsheads in 1996 for 15 years then some transferred into Gonzalez Byass casks for several more years.  Tasting note for this one:

Appearance: Pretty, glowing amber. Caramelised orange centre. Tears clingy and slow to form.

Nose: Raisins and earthiness from the bottle. In glass a bit like rum ‘n‘ raisin ice cream. Touch of sulphu; caramel/praline and honey; baked fruits. Some nuttiness and warm spices. Gets richer and more concentrated raisin fruit as it sits. With water, a touch more of the sulphur which then fades.Baked apples with raisin and honey return. No obviously coastal notes for me. Mace, mixed spice; fruit cake; bit of vanilla and warm apple juice. Left for a while, more spices and vine fruits soaked in sherry.

Palate: Slightly unctuous mouth feel. Drying with dried herbs and slight bitter cherry plus dried citrus peel. Some residual rich barely sweetness and a touch of almond.

Finish: Long but shorter than expected. Drying, herbs and cereal sweetness with some bitterness at the end.

Another unexpected arrival was a sample of the new anCnoc from Inver House Distillers‘ Knockdhu DistilleryPeatheart Batch 2. They helpfully sent along a sample of their standard 12 year old too. Helpful as it‘s not a whisky I‘ve tasted often and can‘t remember the last time. That does need to change! The 12 y.o was delicious. Before trying this I was uncertain, thinking that this was yet another distillery jumping on the “let‘s try a peated version“ bandwagon (they had released Peatheart Batch 1 in 2017 but I hadn‘t tried that). I needn‘t have worried. Indeed, I‘m hard pressed to decide whether I prefer the original or the peated one. The latter was really impressive and so finely judged in terms of peat smoke balance and integration. I won‘t show the tasting note for the standard 12 Year Old (40% abv) here but concentrate on the new one.

They had an online tasting and chat for some of us scribes with manager, Gordon Bruce but I‘m sticking with my own notes here as Gordon was happy to let us give our own opinions. The phenols in this expression are 40ppm. The peat used is from Aberdeenshire so less coastal influence and not medicinal, unlike Islay peat. The casks used were 35-40% dechar/rechar casks with the rest being refill hogsheads. The age of the whiskies used is around 13/14 years. They started a peated spirit in 2004 but not for use as a single malt. It was only noting how well it matured that they decided to offer Peatheart Batch 1 due to the increased interest in peated whiskies. You‘ll need to be quick to get any of this. Only 1700 6-bottle cases were produced. It‘s well worth seeking out and do get some of the 12 Year Old to compare.

Appearance: Pale barley colour with lemon juice highlights. Tears glide like glycerine and not too widely spaced.

Nose: A rich peat nose; a bit of warm wool sock. That recedes somewhat to leave wine gums and the same pear drop notes as the 12 Year Old. Richly malted barley and white pepper. Despite the peat levels there is still an airy freshness about it. A touch of oak also.

With water, the smoke and rich barley notes are enhanced a little. A seductive nose with fruit and honey. Also embers from a cooling bonfire  but not strong. Plenty of estery notes here and the liquid gets fruitier as it sits longer, with more toffee aromas. Dried apple pieces.

Palate: Peaty and smoky but with plenty of barley sweetness. Definite tingle on the tongue too. A bit of oak with white and lemon pepper. Beautifully balanced and easy to sip.

Finish: Long, peaty and smoky with some spice notes. Quite astringent and mouth drying but also lingering barley sweetness.

A real find for me and one I‘d like to return to. Gordon has ideas for other expressions going forward so we can all look forward to those. This one is 46% abv and priced at around £52/bottle.

Ian Macleod Distillers has just released a new gift tin of 3 miniatures of their various Smokehead expressions – just in time for Hallowe‘en! You can get the 3 x 5cl pack for around £22.99 in the UK and it contains Smokehead original, High Voltage and the brand-new expression Rum Rebel. Find cocktail recipes at https://www.smokehead.com/ and a recipe for Smokito (!) using the new Rum Rebel version is:


o   50ml Smokehead Rum Rebel

o   25ml lime juice mixed with 25ml water

o   2 teaspoons sugar 

o   Fresh mint

o   Few flakes smoked Maldon sea salt 


Add mint and sugar to the glass and stir for 2 minutes. Add the lime and water and stir for a further minute until all the sugar has dissolved. Add ice and pour the Smokehead into your highball glass. Sprinkle with a few flakes of smoked Maldon sea salt and enjoy!

Benromach Distillery launched new packaging and core range in June and have just added their oldest ever expression to the range. It’s a 21 Year Old matured in first-fill sherry and bourbon casks. No sample but the release says, “the 21 Year Old leads with sherry aromas followed by the taste of subtle spice, raspberry and Seville orange, with a soft smoky finish.” I’d go for that flavour palette. This new expression is available at selected retailers worldwide now. Stockist information can be found on the brand website: https://www.benromach.com/stockists . It comes in at £129.99 in the UKObviously price in other markets may vary dependent on local duties and taxes.

In the last week, there is also news of also new expressions from Douglas Laing (Scallywag) and Glenglassaugh as well as the Red Collection from Macallan featuring whiskies from 40 -78 years old. More next time. I‘ve rattled on long enough for now.

Just one last thing. I‘ve been mentioning people from the Whyte & Mackay team raising money for mental health charities in a number of markets. Well, they completed the virtual twice round the world target and raised £114,841 for mental health charities around the world nominated by the team. They should be right proud of themselves!

See you in another couple of weeks with Benriach and Kilchoman notes and other bits of info, comment and opinion that come up.

Till then, happy dramming.



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