Whisky is booming. New distilleries are sprouting like mushrooms, and even old favourites are set to reopen. With the amount of distilleries numbering in the hundreds, you can’t blame whisky makers for trying to stand out from the pack. Therefore, distillers need to sell a story as much as they sell whisky. A remote location, a pure water source or traditional production methods all help to tell this story, so it features prominently on websites and packaging, whether justified or not. But if there is one company that could truly lay claim to the mantle of Scotland’s most artisanal distillery, it would be Abhainn Dearg on the Isle of Lewis.
Distillery: Glen Scotia
Age: 25 years old
Glen Scotia’s website proudly states that patience isn’t just a virtue, it’s an ingredient. Of course, no Glen Scotia whisky embodies this sentiment better than the distillery’s flagship 25 year old. Having rested in American oak for two and a half decades, the whisky is then married in first-fill bourbon casks, and bottled at an admirable 48.8%. With so much time spent in Quercus Alba, it’s unsurprising that this dram displays flavours of vanilla, toffee and touch of spice. The result is something that feels quite different, both compared to Glen Scotia’s range and other 25 year olds.
Distillery: Glen Scotia
Age: 15 years old
Oh! Campbeltown Loch I wish ye were whisky, Campbeltown Loch och aye!
With these words Scottish singer Andy Stewart famously celebrated the rich history of Campbeltown distilling. Perhaps I’m being ungrateful at entire water bodies being turned into whisky, but Stewart forgot to mention that if at all possible, that whisky ought to be Glen Scotia. For although countless Campbeltown distilleries have come and gone, Glen Scotia has somehow withstood the test of time. In the face of incredibly long odds, this can only be seen as a testament to the sheer quality of Glen Scotia’s whisky.
But even in recent years, much has changed, with Glen Scotia launching a completely revamped range. Sadly you’ll now have to imagine the Highland cows yourself (although I’ve saved you the trouble), but packaging aside, the new whiskies are stunning! To me, the 15 year old is the quintessential Glen Scotia, embodying all the qualities that make this distillery so exciting. Spicy yet smooth, rich yet robust, Glen Scotia 15 year old has it all. Slàinte!
Age: Distilled in 2001, bottled in 2012
There have been quite a few changes to Talisker’s range over the past years, but its status as a Classic Malt means that Talisker Distillers Edition is here to stay. Similar to other Distillers Editions in the range, Talisker has taken its standard expression and treated it to an additional maturation in casks that previously held Amaroso sherry. This extra finish has tempered the traditional Talisker character somewhat, but also imbued the whisky with sweet, nutty flavours, resulting in a Talisker with a twist. The packaging is different too, with the usual transparent bottle replaced by brown glass, giving Talisker Distillers Edition a dark, classy look. And given that dark and classy is precisely how you would best describe this whisky, it’s about as much introduction as this Talisker needs.
Distillery: Glen Moray
Age: 16 years old
Let’s start off with the elephant in the room… the packaging. Although decked out in typical Glen Moray colours, the 16 year old does stand out. For it comes in a tin tube amply decorated with depictions of the Scottish Highland Regiments. Love it or hate it (I love it), you can’t deny it’s educational. Inside the tube we find the distinctive Glen Moray bottle, shaped like a pot still.
Although there’s a wealth of information on the packaging, little is said about the ageing process this 16 year old has undergone. It’s reportedly a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and it’s not hard to find this back in the flavour profile. Whatever the maturation process, the 16 year old is another beauty from the ever affordable Glen Moray distillery.
Last weekend marked the 14th time that the Woudenberg Wageningen Whiskyevent was held. Hosted in Wageningen’s theatre, the event was organised by Wijnhandel Woudenberg (who seem to be big fans of alliteration). Woudenberg is an Ardbeg embassy, so in addition to being my go-to place for tastings, they also organise events whenever Ardbeg chooses to release a new bottling (usually during Ardbeg Day). Anyway, back to the event, which had the classic setup of a whisky festival. With 22 stands, each showcasing a fantastic selection of whiskies, there was plenty to choose from. While most drams were free, the older and rarer bottlings often required a small extra payment, but in return you’d be rewarded with a generous pour of liquid gold.
Age: No age statement
The latest addition to Mackmyra’s Seasons range, Skördetid is Swedish for harvest time. There’s no denying that Mackmyra is a stylish company, and Skördetid could well be the most classy whisky the Swedish distillers have ever produced. This is in no small part due to a collaboration with Italian wine maker Masi, who provided the Amarone casks in which much of Skördetid spent its final 6 months. While this finish manifests itself clearly through sweet, nutty flavours, we should be careful not to give the Amarone casks all the credit. Because lest we forget, there’s also some first fill Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez at work in this carefully crafted vatting. Clearly then, Skördetid is Mackmyra at its fruitiest. The packaging too has been imbued with a splash of Amarone, with the sleek Mackmyra design overlaid with burgundy colours. Skördetid is a delightful dram that’s well worth a try!
Age: No age statement
Tucked deep into the Bavarian hills on the shores of the Schliersee, we find Slyrs distillery, home to what is probably Germany’s best known whisky. Although founder Florian Stettler produced the first batches of Slyrs as early as 1999 at Lantenhammer distillery, it was not until 2007 that Slyrs opened its very own facilities, allowing them to upscale production significantly. As a result, Slyrs has garnered some more international exposure, racking up a series of awards and accolades along the way. Over the past years, Slyrs has not shied away from using European oak for maturing their whiskies, with Port, PX and Oloroso sherry finishes all gracing the shelves. But why choose, when you can simply bottle a combination of these casks? Or at least this is what Slyrs must’ve had in mind when releasing Fifty One, which is a vatting of whiskies matured in Port, Sherry and Sauternes casks. Fifty One refers to the bottling strength of this whisky, which, unsurprisingly, is 51% abv. Using that famed Bavarian malt, ageing in different casks, and bottling at a high abv… it sounds like Slyrs Fifty One ticks all the right boxes. Let’s see if that actually translates into a great whisky.
Distillery: Isle of Arran
Age: No age statement
The Isle of Arran distillery has been hugely successful in finishing their whiskies in a wide variety of casks, but sometimes there’s just no need to look beyond the flavours that American oak can provide. So rather than transferring your whisky from ex-bourbon casks into something sweet and sumptuous, why not finish it in… more bourbon casks? This is essentially what’s happened to Arran The Bothy, which – as its subtitle indicates – received an extra maturation in quarter casks. The use of quarter casks has regained popularity in recent years, with Laphroaig seeming particularly fond of the tactic. Historically, quarter casks were widely used, practical as they were due to their small size (also handy if you’re a smuggler). At a quarter the size of a normal hogshead barrel, quarter casks have a higher surface to liquid ratio, allowing the spirit to soak up that oaky goodness much more quickly. Add to this the fact that The Bothy is bottled at cask strength, and you’ve got a bold, flavourful whisky, packed with vanilla and caramel flavours. The Bothy shows a different side of Arran, but one no less enjoyable.
Distillery: Isle of Jura
Age: No age statement
Most whisky makers produce either only peated, or non-peated spirit, but the Isle of Jura distillery has chosen to cover the entire spectrum. As you can see on their tasting wheel, expressions such as Origin and Diurachs’ Own stretch Jura’s range from light and delicate to rich and full-bodied. At the smokiest end of the spectrum we find Jura Prophecy, the island distillery’s rendition of a peat monster. But Prophecy is more than just that; despite its relative youth, it displays layer upon layer of rich flavours. Jura is a bit secretive about the casks that Prophecy has matured in, saying only that Prophecy is crafted from a selection of the finest and rarest aged Jura single malt whiskies. Clearly though, there’s more than just bourbon barrels involved in Prophecy’s making. The result is a captivating whisky, a good example that Jura gets their NAS bottlings very right. The only shame is the heavy caramel colouring that’s needlessly been added to give Prophecy a more attractive look.