Whisky Festivals Galore! – New Benriach Visitor Centre – Clynelish a JW Highland Home – Jura Rum Cask on Taste – Jim McEwan‘s Autobiography & One Last Dram
As I write, the 2021 Spirit of Speyside Festival is getting started, a virtual one again this year but packed with interesting events – tours, talks and tastings. I did flag it up in a previous column. If you haven‘t managed to get a Festival Pass to join in (it was only £15) I‘m afraid sales ended on 28th April and you had to be earlier to make sure you got any tasting packs required for your chosen events. If you did get in before the cut-off I hope you have a great time. I‘m intending to see a number of things to alleviate the boredom of lockdown, even if we are a little more free to get out and about now. Those involved in organising the festival and the distillers and others setting up events for us to enjoy have done a brilliant job in putting together a varied and intriguing programme. A creative crew but I do hope this is the last time it has to be virtual. It will be so good to get back up there.
Continuing in the festival vein, I‘ve also previously mentioned a little about this year‘s Feis Ile from Islay. Just as a reminder it‘s from Friday 28th May – Sunday 6th June, a little longer than usual as it‘s online too and the distilleries are doubling up on days a little less this way. It‘ll be interesting to see if that extended length continues once it‘s all allowed to be in-person attendance again. Anyway, the events and Feis bottlings are gradually being announced so look on the Feis Ile Facebook page or the websites of the distilleries you‘re interested in. If you want to join events requiring tasting kits book in plenty of time and bear in mind that shipments may not be possible beyond the UK or to only a limited number of places outside UK. I covered Ardbeg Scorch Feis bottling last time and now it‘s the turn of Bunnahabhain with their 2013 Mòine Bordeaux Cask and 2001 Marsala Cask Finish. I was sorely tempted by the latter until I saw it‘s £199 per bottle but it is 20 years old and will be a special one. The Moine Bordeaux Cask is only(!) £85 as it‘s younger. They‘re available through the Bunnahabhain online shop while there are still stocks. In case you need a reminder those with Moine in the name or a Gaelic name are the peated Bunnahabhains.
Just in today, also for Feis Ile, is word from Bruichladdich about their virtual Feis event on Sunday 30th May. In person, it‘s one of the liveliest hoolies (look the word up!) on the island and always mobbed.
They‘re celebrating a number of anniversaries : 20 years since the distillery’s reopening and 10 years of The Botanist Gin with a ‘Time Travellers’ theme. „Milestones in our past helping us to plan for the future…“ as well as 140 years since the distillery was built and opened and 1 year since their B Corp accreditation. A lot to be excited about. Can‘t believe it‘s 20 years since they reopened. I was there and it doesn‘t seem that long. They‘ve been on a wonderful journey of craftsmanship, artistry, discovery, quirkiness and innovation since then and it‘s still such a friendly and welcoming place. In summary:
- They‘re releasing a Masterclass Kit of 6 x 30ml blind samples, sold via ballot process which is live now and closes on the 3rd May at 12pm BST. Entry via the distillery hub at https://community.bruichladdichdistillery.com/register . No registration, no participation.
- Their official festival bottling will go live on the 30th of May and will be limited to 3,000 bottles. Alongside a Single Cask unpeated Bruichladdich, it will also be available via ballot.
I‘d urge you to try and catch at least some of all the Islay distillery events during Feis Ile. This one from Bruichladdich is bound to be a cracker with tastings, live music, chats and more.
A third festival I‘d like to mention is the OurWhisky Festival hosted by fellow scribe Becky Paskin. It starts today too but runs till end of May with sessions every Thursday evening. You can still get tickets for the last three on 13 May (rye whiskies from round the world), 20 May (new whisky makers) and 27 May (treats to pair with whisky) to get your tasting kits in time (book minimum 10 days in advance) . For that reason it‘s for UK residents only who must be over 18. The sessions will be live on their social media platforms. Profits go to The Drinks Trust charity to support trade professionals badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Find out more at https://ourwhisky.com/ . Just to entice you to participate there are golden ticket prizes and discounts through Milroy‘s for any bottles you particularly like.
Benriach Distillery has just announced the opening of its first actual visitor centre. It will be on Friday 21st May and they‘ll be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays going forward. Back before all this Covid stuff and outwith the Spirit of Speyside Festival, the distillery did take visitors on only one specific day and only by prior arrangement. There was no visitor centre building for people to congregate or shop in around a tour. That‘s changed in a major fashion as you can see from the photograph. I‘ve been a couple of times for media events around Spirit of Speyside and it‘s such a good location to visit. Driving from Glasgow, it feels (and is!) a long way but is a classic Speyside location.
Initially the offering will be two types of tasting only, while Covid regulations do not allow tours. One tasting is for the less experienced with whiskies from the Original and Smoky ranges, also covering Benriach production and the chance to try a simple cocktail creation; the other is more in-depth with more and older whiskies to try. You must book in advance whether during or after current restrictions; no turning up unannounced and expecting to get in. You can book on https://www.benriachdistillery.com/en-gb/distillery-tours/ and find out more about the distillery elsewhere on the website. The whiskies there have such a wonderful spread of flavours and great use of cask types so it‘s a fascinating one to try. These are the casks with which Master Blender, Rachel Barrie, works her magic.
In a recent column I mentioned Jura Rum Cask single malt and the sample arrived just after the last column was posted – 40% abv; no age statement). It came with a little bag of dried pineapple pieces to try alongside it. Not done that pairing yet but will look forward to it. I have nosed and tasted the whisky and my notes are:
Appearance: Rich, brassy, old gold (24 carat) with a slight orange tint and white rim. Brass highlights. Tears are quite swift and close at first indicating some youthful whisky but then become slower and more clingy.
Nose: From the bottle, vanilla and coconut cream. The coconut dissipates a bit in the glass at first. Initially an interesting earthy and slightly tropical fruit juice note. Some warm oak wood; baked apple and pineapple notes. A touch of sweet spices and a little waxiness. Fresh sea air. Floral notes come in with stone and vine fruits and a little bit of baked clementine. Barley sugar sweetness with a touch of creamy caramel and evaporated milk. The vanilla custard notes I‘ve found in a lot of Jura expressions comes through. With water it‘s flatter and a bit more waxy at first, then more dried fruits with vanilla custard and sponge cake. The coconut returns. A juicy and enticing nose.
Palate: Medium weight with a slightly mouth-coating, waxy feel. Well-balanced cask use. Some sweet spices ( I say mace); iced sponge; bit of vanilla and coconut ice (if you remember that sweet from childhood). A hint of pineapple at the end but not long-lasting. Even a tiny hint of salt.
Finish: Finish is medium length with spices, oak wood and a dab of licorice. Finishes dry, generally, in the mouth with a little residual sweetness on the tongue.
Would I drink it again? Definitely. It’s available initially in the UK and in one particular supermarket (Tesco) at £45 for 1 litre.
Back on Islay for a moment, I mentioned a while back that my old friend Jim McEwan was bringing out an autobiography, A Journeyman‘s Journey, this year. Well, the German language version is ready now with the English one sometime in June. You may recall I mentioned it‘s a German publisher who is producing it. The euro price is 68.50 euros for the hardcover book. A note this week from the folks who made „The Water of Life“ film with him advised they are holding an online event entitled „A Last Dram with Jim McEwan“ on 23rd May at 9p.m. BST before Jim bows out of the whisky world altogether. I can‘t quite believe that since I remember him saying he would stop travelling so much on leaving Bowmore to join Bruichhladdich (told him he wouldn‘t) and also remember him retiring from Bruichladdich only to go on and work on the Ardnahoe design and whisky and gin-making in Australia. He does deserve a rest though if he can sit still long enough. Honestly, I‘m expecting a book tour. Anyway, ticket sales have opened today and there are two types with differing levels of whiskies to taste. They‘re not cheap but the whiskies are great and each type will allow a donation of £25 (gold) or £10 (silver) per ticket to Scotland‘s Air Ambulance charity. Gold level has only 50 tickets available at £185 each and 6 drams plus a personalised copy of James‘ book; silver has 300 tickets at £50 each and 4 drams. How could you miss this with whisky’s greatest storyteller?
Lastly for April, Clynelish has become the Highland Home of Johnnie Walker. You maybe remember that 4 distilleries, one from each of 4 regions, are designated Johnnie Walker „homes“ for the part they play in the blends. Glenkinchie is the Lowland one with Cardhu on Speyside and Caol Ila on Islay. Well, this is a spectacular addition with some wow-factor architecture and stylish interiors. No room to mention all the reams of info in the media release but sustainability and eco-tourism are major factors here too. If you think Benriach is a long way then this is much further on but worth it for the inside, the outside and the views over the countryside, not to mention the whiskies. It‘s open to UK visitors now and will welcome international visitors once that‘s allowed again. The celebratory whisky for this opening is Four Corners of Scotland Clynelish 16-Year-Old. It‘s the second release in the series, the first being from Glenkinchie. We‘re told, „Four Corners of Scotland Clynelish 16-Year-Old is available to purchase at the Highland distillery and a limited number of bottles will be available online for whisky fans who are not able to travel to the distillery at this time. Matured in selected American Oak hogshead casks, this exclusive bottling will retail at an RSP £195 per 70cl, bottled at 50.6% ABV with just 3000 bottles available.“
Clynelish is a much sought after dram and this one will doubtless see a scramble for bottles. Once we‘re allowed to travel that bit more, a northern whisky tour would be ideal to take in Clynelish and some other northern Highland and Speyside distilleries. If you‘re in the UK, what are you waiting for? Accommodations are open again for UK visitors. If you‘re from overseas you‘ll have to wait a bit longer but we‘re keen to welcome you.
Till mid-May, happy dramming and do try to attend some of these festivals and events or visit us up here in person if you‘re eligible to do so.