Scapa Skiren

Scapa Skiren ReviewDistillery: Scapa
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Mention Orkney, and to many whisky drinkers Highland Park will come to mind. But that’s doing a disservice to Highland Park’s southern neighbour Scapa. Because the lack of attention for Scapa has nothing to do with the quality of their whiskies, it’s a matter of availability more than anything. With an annual capacity of just 1 million litres and the distillery having been mothballed until as recently as 2005, Scapa will need some time to replenish its stocks. The fact that all of Scapa’s spirit is now bottled as malt whisky will help, but even so, the shift to NAS whiskies has been inescapable. In 2015, Skiren was the first entry to Scapa’s brand new range, followed quickly by Scapa Glansa. Old Norse for glittering, bright skies, Skiren is unpeated and matured exclusively in first fill American oak casks. The result is a soft Island whisky that gives many Speyside distilleries a run for their money. Gorgeously packaged, Scapa Skiren is as good a gift as it is a temptation to keep it all to yourself. Time to enjoy this oft-overlooked Orcadian!

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Nikka From the Barrel

Nikka From the Barrel 01Producer: Nikka
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 51.4%

Launched as far back as 1985, Nikka From the Barrel was quite a novel concept at the time. In those days, Japanese whisky consumption was in steep decline and people were more concerned with price rather than quality. Most spirit being sold contained less than 25% actual whisky, with the rest of the mix being made up of blending alcohol. In this sense, From the Barrel was a strange fish in the pond, a whisky full of  flavour at a time when Japanese consumers preferred their whisky light and smooth. The bottling strength of 51.4% was almost unheard of in those days.

Nikka founder’s son Takeshi Taketsuru’s vision was to give the consumer a taste of how a master blender might experience a whisky in the lab. This perhaps explains the unconventional way of blending, and the somewhat confusing name of this whisky. Because Nikka From the Barrel is not in fact a single cask expression, but a blend of which grain spirit from Miyagikyo and malt from Yoichi distillery are the main components. Rather than blending the liquid in a large stainless steel vatting tank, Nikka From the Barrel is placed in… you guessed it: barrels. These previously used casks help to marry the spirit for about 3 to 6 months, after which it is bottled straight from the barrel.

The result is a rich and flavourful expression at a blistering alcohol percentage. Nikka From the Barrel has withstood the test of time, and remains an immensely popular bottling. The packaging is extremely classy, and I love how understated this Nikka looks. The chaps at Master of Malt have referred to Nikka From the Barrel as one of the best value for money whiskies in the world. Given the general price level of Japanese whiskies these days, that’s quite a statement. Is their claim justified? Let’s find out!

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Arran Machrie Moor (Batch 6)

Arran Machrie MoorDistillery: Isle of Arran
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

I’ve previously described Arran’s drams as Island whiskies without an obvious Island character. Indeed, Arran distillery is known for its fruity, unpeated whiskies, but with one notable exception. I’m referring of course to Arran Machrie Moor, named after the mysterious stone circles found on the island. Peated to 20 ppm, we can expect a similar level of smoke from Machrie Moor as for other Island distilleries such as Talisker or Highland Park. Billed as a limited edition, so far a new batch of Machrie Moor has been released each year, and fortunately it’s not hard to get a hold of a bottle.

When trying Machrie Moor for the first time, I was curious to see how Arran lends itself to peaty flavours, given that its whisky usually has such a friendly character. Although I like it when distilleries come up with a peated version of their spirit, I have to say it’s not always positive news. In this case though, Arran has come up with a winner. I’d even argue the distillery should spend less time on all sorts of crazy cask finishes and focus more on peated spirit instead. Either way, Machrie Moor is a welcome addition to the range, and I hope many more batches are in the making.

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Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold

Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold 01Distillery: Dalwhinnie
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Someone once told me that if you need to freeze a drink before you consume it, it’s probably not very good. Yet here we have Dalwhinnie telling us that we should drink their precious spirit straight from the freezer. Being Scotland’s highest and coldest distillery, you may expect the folks at Dalwhinnie to know a little something about subzero temperatures. Indeed, the spirit for Winter’s Gold is distilled exclusively during the winter months, when the cold temperature of the water and the stills results in an extra smooth drop of whisky. Although I doubt whether the impact on the flavour really is noticeable, there’s no denying that Winter’s Gold is beautifully marketed by Diageo.

The idea of serving a dram chilled and having it slowly warm up as you’re drinking it is quite enticing. Adding warmth is like adding water, it changes the flavour of the whisky. I’m eager to try this dram, yet somewhat daunted by having to review a whisky that’s constantly changing. I drank Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold straight from the freezer, with an extra dram at room temperature for comparison.

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Mackmyra Vinterrök

Mackmyra Vinterrök Review 01Distillery: Mackmyra
Country: Sweden
Age: No age statement
abv: 46.1%

Of all the intriguing whiskies in Mackmyra’s Seasons range, Vinterrök is one that I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Sure, other smoky Mackmyras do exist, but a finish in strong ale casks makes Vinterrök sound like a particularly sumptuous affair. Mackmyra ages its spirit in Swedish oak, producing a rougher, more robust flavour palette that in my opinion lends itself quite well to a smoky whisky.

Last year I tried Vinterrök’s seasonal sibling Vinterdröm, which is a good whisky that nonetheless falls short of excellence. Vinterrök is another matter. Sweet without being fruity, this dram is a bold, flavourful expression that satisfies the senses yet leaves you wanting more. In Mackmyra’s usual classy packaging, Vinterrök would make a nice gift too. Or you can be sensible and decide to keep it all for yourself, this is tasty stuff!

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Flóki Single Malt 3 year old

Flóki Single Malt Review 01Distillery: Eimverk
Country: Iceland
Age: 3 years old
abv: 47%

With its football team qualifying for  both Euro 2016 and the World Cup, its tourist numbers increasing rapidly, and a geothermal energy sector that’s pushing technological boundaries, Iceland is really putting itself on the map lately (in a geological sense quite literally; due to its volcanic nature Iceland is still growing in size). To these feats we can now add another important distinction: Iceland has become an exporter of single malt whisky. Sure, Eimverk distillery from Garðabær has been knocking on the gates for a few years now, producing award-winning gins, Brennivín and an exciting whisky spirit. But due to the whims of law, Eimverk’s Young Malt was yet too young to carry the name whisky. Until now. While I have made acquaintance with the Flóki range before, this Single Malt will actually be the first time I’m trying Icelandic whisky.

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Isle of Jura Elixir 12 year old

Jura 12 Elixir Review 01Distillery: Isle of Jura
Region: Islands
Age: 12 years old
abv: 46%

Evocatively named Elixir, Isle of Jura’s 12 year old expression sounds as beguiling as Water of Life itself. In this, Elixir fits right in with other Jura bottlings such as Prophecy and Superstition. Mystical marketing notwithstanding, Elixir’s only magical property is that it never fails to put a satisfied grin on the face of anyone who drinks it. Matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and Amaroso sherry casks, this Jura has been bottled at the sensible strength of 46%.

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Suntory The Chita

Suntory The Chita 01Distillery: Chita
Country: Japan
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

The SunGrain Chita distillery is – what’s in a name? – a grain whisky distillery owned by Japanese drinks giant Suntory. Since 1972, Chita has produced the raw materials for Suntory blends such as Hibiki and Kakubin. With the current shortage of Japanese malt whisky though, Chita has taken on a more prominent role. Over the past decade, sales of Japanese whisky have skyrocketed. With stocks of aged malt dwindling quickly, distillers have been unable to keep up with the sudden spike in demand. Much like in Scotland, Japanese whisky has therefore seen a shift to NAS (No Age Statement) bottlings, but single grain has also entered the scene to fill the gap in supply. Nikka Coffey Grain was the first example of this, and The Chita followed quickly as Suntory’s answer.

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Glen Elgin 12 year old

Glen Elgin 12 year old reviewDistillery: Glen Elgin
Region: Speyside
Age: 12 years old
abv: 43%

Constructed at the turn of the 20th century, Glen Elgin distillery was initially off to an ignominious start. Although plans for the distillery were drawn up when confidence was still high, by the time construction finished, the whisky bubble had burst and the industry was in a death spiral. Glen Elgin distillery opened in May 1900, and filed bankruptcy just six months later, selling at a fraction of the price it had cost to construct the distillery. It would remain closed for much of the next three decades, until Glen Elgin passed into the ownership of DCL, the forerunner of Diageo. The distillery continued to limp on in relative obscurity, until in 1964, the number of stills was tripled to six, and Glen Elgin began distilling the raw materials for the White Horse blend. Until this day, Glen Elgin’s fate has remained largely the same, with most of the distillery’s production disappearing into Diageo’s blends. However, Diageo does bottle a widely available 12 year old malt whisky, as well as several other releases that are a lot harder to come by (including an excellent 16 year old). The 12 year old happens to be the first malt whisky I ever drank, so I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Elgin and I make sure to always have a bottle on my shelf. Lucky then that Glen Elgin 12 happens to be so affordable, this dram represents great value for money!

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Talisker 57° North

Talisker 57 North Review 01Distillery: Talisker
Region: Islands
Age: No age statement
abv: 57%

Having launched in 2008, Talisker 57° North is the longest serving member of the many NAS bottlings that now make up Talisker’s range. Of course this says something about the popularity of the 57° North, since unsuccessful whiskies don’t get to stick around for long. This expression is named for the geographical coordinates of the Talisker distillery, which finds itself at a latitude of 57 degrees North. To stay true to the theme, 57° North has been bottled at a strength of… you’ve guessed it: 57% abv. This marks a departure from the standard Talisker bottling strength of 45.8%, providing the 57° North with plenty of oomph on top of an already feisty distillery profile. This one’s going to be fun!

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