Tullibardine 225 Sauternes Finish

Tullibardine Sauternes FinishDistillery: Tullibardine
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Established in 1949, Tullibardine was the first distillery to open in the 20th century, after some extremely difficult decades for the whisky industry. Don’t be fooled by the 1488 indicated on the box, this is merely marketing: supposedly King James IV had a beer at a brewery located roughly where Tullibardine distillery now stands. Either way, a rich heritage is not required to make good quality whisky, and Tullibardine has some fabulous drams on offer indeed. This particular whisky was aged in first-fill bourbon barrels, before being transferred to casks that previously held Sauternes.   Sauternes is a sweet white dessert wine made in the Bordeaux region of France. In this case, the cask was previously filled with 225 litres of Château Suduiraut Premier Cru, lending sweet, fruity flavours to this whisky. While I’m not a fan of Genmorangie’s Nectar d’Or, I was more than happy to give Sauternes finishes another try.

Colour: Light amber

Nose: Distinctly winey, smelling more like brandy than Scotch. Scents of dried nectarines and lemon peel suffuse into the aromas of shortbread dipped in vanilla custard. Underneath hide some very subtle herbal undertones, with perhaps a waft of lavender jumping out.

Palate: Fairly subdued, with notes of marzipan and crushed almonds attempting to break through the somewhat obtrusive layer of Sauternes influence.

Finish: Medium in length. Finally the full bouquet of flavours opens up in a burst of spices, with nutmeg, pepper and cloves coming to the fore. This is followed by a mix of honeyed cereal and dried fruit. The aftertaste is bitter, like very dark chocolate.

Verdict: A pleasant enough dram, and interesting to try something different to the customary sherry or port finish. Having said that, the Sauternes influence is rather overwhelming in this whisky, and doesn’t leave much room for other flavours to develop. This is a shame, as Tullibardine produces quality spirit, but the distillery character is somewhat lost in this dram. Unfortunately then, this Premier Cru finish did not result in a premier whisky.

Fettercairn Fior

Fettercairn Fior reviewDistillery: Fettercairn
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 42%

A little known distillery, Fettercairn is situated in the eastern Highlands, south of Aberdeen. Initially operational as a grain mill, it was converted into a licensed distillery soon after the 1823 Excise Act made legal whisky distilling a profitable option. Although the distillery actually produces around 1.6 million litres of alcohol per year, the larger part of this disappears into blends, most notably Whyte & Mackay. In 2010 however, Fettercairn was rebranded as a premium single malt, of which Fior is one of the main expressions.

Gaelic for ‘pure and true’, Fior is a fusion of older sherried whisky (around 14-15 years) mixed with young, heavily peated spirit from first-fill bourbon casks. The peated whisky supposedly makes up only 15% of the total mix, providing Fior with wonderfully subtle smoky undertones. Although blends provide a vital stream of income for many distilleries, Fettercairn Fior is another great example of the pure joy that single malts can bring to the table. I hope we can expect more big things from this small Highland distillery.

Colour: Mahogany

Nose: Sweet and distinctly floral. The opening aromas are like a fruity hay barn. Then scents of dried plum and orange peel take over, finally giving way to more oaky notes. The sherry influence is clear throughout.

Palate: Initially vegetative flavours dominate, reminiscent of marshes and autumn leaves. Crushed almonds and cocoa butter give the body a smooth, oily character. Rich notes of toffee and marzipan are followed by the faintest whiff of smoke.

Finish: Medium. This is where the complex oaky character of this whisky really comes to the fore. Nutty praline and cinnamon develop into an aftertaste of toasted wood.

Verdict: Fettercairn is not a whisky that is on everyone’s radar and I was pleasantly surprised by this dram. For a whisky of this price, Fior offers amazing complexity and a wealth of rich flavours. The sherry influence is delicately balanced with oaky notes and a very subtle smokiness. This hidden gem is an absolute bargain!

Fettercairn Fior review

Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak

Macallan Sherry Oak ReviewDistillery: Macallan
Region: Speyside/Highland
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

Obtaining a license to distil legally in 1824, the Macallan distillery is located in a beautiful manor house right on the banks of the river Spey. However, due to a set of regulatory changes in 2009, the Macallan is officially no longer a Speyside distillery and its bottles are now labelled as a Highland malt. Unburdened by legal wrangling, whisky experts nonetheless continue to consider Macallan as a Speyside malt. Being located only a mile away from Aberlour distillery, which is a Speyside whisky, this seems to make sense to me.

Either way, the Speyside/Highland debate is somewhat irrelevant, as Macallan stands out in whichever category you place it. It is praised by experts as one of the finest malts in production, and often sells for record prices at auctions. Macallan can even boast the likes of James Bond and Harvey Specter among its fans. Such marketing has paid off: Macallan is now the third best selling single malt in the world by volume. While I never ranked Macallan as one of my favourite whiskies, I recently tried the Macallan 12 years old Sherry Oak in a blind tasting and placed it head and shoulders above the other drams on offer that night.  Where other whiskies might receive an additional few months in sherry casks, Macallan 12 years old was matured exclusively in sherry casks, and it shows. This is an exquisitely smooth and luxurious dram, to be savoured in front of a hearth fire on a cold winter’s day.

Colour: Burnished amber

Nose: The sherry maturation immediately leaves an impression. The nose has a deep, complex, oaky  character and could easily belong to a much older whisky. Once the initial burst of sherry fades, scents of dried fruit and walnuts swirl in. Reminiscent of an underground bodega.

Palate: The body is oily and exceptionally smooth. Rich sherry flavours also dominate here, supported by notes of caramel, Christmas pudding and more dried fruit. Then a complex layer of oaky notes opens up, with toasted vanilla and the slightest hint of nutmeg.

Finish: Silky smooth and medium in length. Sweet fruity tones give way to a pleasantly bitter aftertaste of aged wood.

Verdict: Wow, this has to be one of the best 12 year old whiskies on the market. It displays a complexity usually only found in whiskies of much more advanced maturation. Beautifully balanced, the intense sherry flavours somehow do not drown out the oaky influences. Although this is a very pricey 12 year old, it is also an exceptional whisky for this age group. Much like the Macallan 12 year old itself then, the price-quality ratio is well-balanced.

Macallan 12 year old Sherry Oak Review


Old Pulteney Duncansby Head

Old Pulteney Duncansby Head 01Distillery: Old Pulteney
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 46%

Named after a lighthouse near the distillery town of Wick, Duncansby Head forms part of Old Pulteney’s travel retail Lighthouse Collection. Like so many other travel retail expressions, this is a no age statement whisky. It has been matured in both bourbon and sherry casks and aims to combine the distillery’s maritime character with richer, fruitier flavours.

Old Pulteney is the northernmost distillery on the Scottish mainland and was established in 1826. At this time, the distillery was accessible only by sea. Coupled with a strong fishing tradition, Old Pulteney is proud to have retained some coastal influences in its whisky. Expect tangy, salty notes from this award winning distillery.

Colour: Pale straw

Nose: Pungent, with dominant notes of lemon and fresh fruit giving way to a hint of raisins. Evokes the promise of spring.

Palate: Lots of vanilla from the bourbon cask, before the salty distillery character is allowed to break through. Zesty citrus fruits are replaced by a trace of dark chocolate.

Finish: Long and very sweet, with honey, spices and more vanilla. Ends with an impression of fresh wood shavings.

Verdict: While this is a dangerously drinkable whisky, I would have liked the sherry influences to offer a bit more. As it is, the added layer of sherry maturation doesn’t really shine through. Nonetheless, this is an engaging whisky in typical Old Pulteney style.  At £45, Duncansby Head is not the greatest of bargains, but considering you get a full litre still well worth it.

Old Pulteney Duncansby Head 02

Ardmore Legacy

Ardmore LegacyDistillery: Ardmore
Region: Highland
Age: No age statement
abv: 40%

Ardmore Legacy was introduced in 2014 as a replacement for the Traditional Cask bottling, and continues the all-too-rare tradition of peated Highland malts. It is a mix of 80% peated and 20% unpeated malt and is bottled at 40% abv; 6% lower than its predecessor. Ardmore distillery is located in the east Highlands in Aberdeenshire, not too far from the Speyside. It was founded by William Teacher & Sons in 1898 as a steady supply for their Teacher’s blend, but has thankfully come into its own right as a single malt.

Colour: Pale gold, almost coppery.

Nose: Hints of vanilla, with raisins and marzipan taking centre stage. Breakfast cereal hides the faintest trace of peat bogs.

Palate: Has a silky mouth feel, with notes of honey and roasted almonds developing into creamy toffee. Only then do waves of peat smoke come gently rolling in.

Finish: Rather short, but the aftertaste of peaty malt lingers pleasantly.

Verdict: On the whole an agreeable whisky, albeit without much complexity. Lacks the punch of its Islay counterparts, yet for a peathead like me, a nice warm-up for the smokier stuff.

Ardmore Legacy