Rum Finish Tasting

rum-finish-tasting-01Rum finished whiskies are a bit of a rarity on today’s market. One reason may be that the marriage of whisky and rum is quite an acquired taste and does not sell as easily as the more traditional sherry or port finish. But it is of course also a matter of necessity. There simply aren’t so many good and affordable rum casks available for whisky to be finished in, and the reliability of supply for these casks is even more problematic.

This scarcity makes today’s tasting all the more fun, because I’ve been able to get together three different rum finished whiskies for a comparison. While these whiskies have all been finished in the same type of cask, let’s not forget that they each have a unique distillery character, which sets them apart from each other. Below is a short description of each of the whiskies, including a link to the full review.

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The Unbreakable Malt Mill That Was Simply Too Successful

If you’ve ever been on a distillery tour, chances are that the milling room wasn’t exactly the highlight of your trip. Sure, looking at the boxes with husks, grit and flour can be fun, but unless the machinery is running, there really isn’t all that much to see. And if the mill is in fact operational, the noise level is so deafening that you will quickly be ushered into the next room, where the tour guide can give an explanation.

Ardbeg Robert Boby Malt Mill

The malt mill at Ardbeg distillery, old despite its shiny paint job

While washbacks might be made out of fresh pine wood and a newly replaced still may yet be shiny, the malt mill is always the same old, worn machine, like something straight out of a dusty shed with antique, discarded equipment. There is a reason for this though, and that reason is simple: almost all the malt mills currently in use do date back a few generations. You sometimes hear the phrase “They don’t make them like this anymore”, and in the case of the malt mill, this is actually true: they stopped being produced in the 1970s. But the reason the malt mill went out of production wasn’t because it wasn’t working properly or had somehow become obsolete. Quite the contrary, malt mills were so effective and durable, that they forced the companies that produced them into bankruptcy. Never breaking down, never malfunctioning, just grinding away the tonnes of barley that are thrown at it, year in, year out. Since they hardly ever needed to be replaced, there wasn’t a whole lot of money to be made by selling them. Malt mills are an example of something that was simply too well made, and contemporary manufacturers have taken notice. While a malt mill could easily last a lifetime, cars or phones these days are made to break down in mere years, thereby boosting sales.

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BenRiach 15 year old Dark Rum Wood Finish

BenRiach Dark Rum Wood Finish ReviewDistillery: BenRiach
Region: Speyside
Age: 15 years old
abv: 46%

There are not so many rum finished whiskies on the market, but luckily BenRiach is always willing to experiment with different casks. This 15 year old Dark Rum Wood Finish was part of BenRiach’s first Wood Finish Series, released in 2006. Since then, the series has undergone periodic changes, as whiskies have come and gone. The Dark Rum Finish now falls in the ‘gone’ category, as it is no longer being produced. This perhaps reflects a lack of popularity when compared to its sherry, port or Moscatel finished siblings.

After an initial period of maturation in American bourbon barrels, this whisky was finished in casks that previously held dark rum from Jamaica. The result is rather typical, with notes of brown sugar, vanilla and toffee.

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Lagavulin 8 year old

Lagavulin 8 year old reviewDistillery: Lagavulin
Region: Islay
Age: 8 years old
abv: 48%

Released to celebrate the distillery’s 200th anniversary, Lagavulin 8 year old is a nod to the great whisky writer Alfred Barnard, who visited the distillery in 1886. While doing so, he made mention of an 8 year old Lagavulin he tasted, which he described as “exceptionally fine”. Reflecting on their proud heritage, Lagavulin has decided to recreate this 8 year old malt to mark their bicentenary. Lagavulin has a very limited range and does not usually release limited editions, so this one really is something special. It is available for one year only, and although more expensive than its older brother, the 8 year old is still quite affordable. In this sense, Lagavulin has certainly one-upped Ardbeg and Laphroaig, which chose to release exclusive, expensive bottlings to mark their respective 200th birthdays in 2015. Even the packaging is a clear departure from Lagavulin’s usual darker shades, hinting that this whisky really is something quite different from the core range. With a maturation of just 8 years, this bottling is an exuberant, smoky and utterly breathtaking celebration of one of my favourite distilleries. Many happy returns, Lagavulin!

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Whisky Royal Family

Whisky: A Drink Fit for a King (or Queen)

Ruling a country is hard work. It should therefore come as no surprise that some monarchs need a drink from time to time. History is littered with examples of royalty who liked their booze perhaps a bit too much. William IV broke his arm while drunkenly falling down a flight of stairs, George IV was known as a party animal to rival even Prince Harry, and Queen Mother Elizabeth would famously tell her attendants to hide a bottle of gin in a hatbox while being about her official duties. Henry VII spent the equivalent of £900.000 a year replenishing his wine cellar, while Queen Victoria was known for adding a splash of malt whisky to her claret. And although Queen Elizabeth II declined to drink Guinness on a recent visit to Dublin, she does enjoy a gin before lunch, wine during, and Martini and champagne in the evening, according to her cousin Margaret Rhodes.

Prince Charles - Whisky

Prince Charles is a well known whisky enthusiast

Of course not all monarchs were notorious drinkers, but there has long been an appreciation for Scotch whisky within royal circles. One way in which this can be acknowledged is through the issuing of a Royal Warrant. A Royal Warrant is a sign of recognition to a company which has provided goods or services to the royal family for at least five years. It can only be granted by the king or queen and his or her consort, as well as the heir apparent. Currently this means Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip and Prince Charles can issue Royal Warrants. Warrants are valid for a period of five years, after which they are reviewed. Examples include typical British brands such as Twinings, HP Sauce, Cadbury and Aston Martin, but also more exotic products such as Tabasco and Veuve Clicquot.

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Age Your Own Whisky – Glen Elgin Islay Finish

Age Your Own Whisky - Glen Elgin Islay Finish 01

After the Ardbeg Port Finish it was time for something new. Clearly, Ardbeg is a heavily peated whisky with a distinctive smoky character, and I’m counting on the fact that my cask will have retained some of these flavours for the next batch. The idea is to take an unpeated whisky, and impart it with some smokiness purely through the maturation process. This isn’t necessarily a new concept, as whiskies such as Glenfiddich Caoran, Scapa Glansa or Balvenie Islay Cask have all been finished in casks that previously held peated whiskies.

For this batch I have chosen Glen Elgin 12 year old. It’s a soft Speyside which I happen to like very much – partially because it’s the first malt whisky I ever drank – but also because it has quite a distinctive flavour profile. I selected a Speyside for this batch, since I think a whisky like this will be easier to ‘tame’. I reckon the peat influence from my cask will be quite subtle, which is why I need a soft whisky that easily takes on new flavours.

As I described previously, the small size of my cask means that the maturation process is incredibly quick. After continuously taking samples (not a chore at all 🙂 ), I decided that after just two weeks, my Glen Elgin Islay Finish was ready.

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