Whenever I’m asked for a recommendation on where to go in Scotland, the Isle of Skye is without fault the first thing that comes to mind. While there’s plenty to see and do on the island, its the beauty and diversity of its landscape that is undoubtedly Skye’s biggest draw. From the lush green hills near the Storr to the jaw-droppingly sheer cliffs of Neist Point, with the dark, foreboding presence of the Cuillins a continuous backdrop, Skye really does have it all. And whisky fans won’t be disappointed either. While Skye stalwart Talisker has been producing quality whiskies since 1830, with Torabhaig distillery there’s a new kid on the block too. In short, plenty of reason for another visit! Of course I’m not the only one with this bright idea, and in fact Skye has been paying a price for its popularity. In order get away from the crowds and to experience the island as it was meant to be enjoyed, I set out into the wild with two friends. Armed with a tent, waterproof clothes and plenty of whisky, we would be spending some quality time on this handsome Hebridean isle.
Age: No age statement
Macallan Amber forms part of the distillery’s 1824 Series, named for the year in which Macallan took out a license to distil. The 1824 Series is a range of four whiskies, each exclusively aged in ex-sherry casks. Nevertheless, there is a clear gradation in colour and intensity, from the light, citrusy Macallan Gold to the dark, lavish Macallan Ruby. Amber is the second bottling in the series, balancing the obvious sherry influences with Macallan’s fruity, spicy profile. Although Macallan’s website already lists 1824 under “past releases”, its whiskies are nonetheless still widely available. If you do feel like snapping up one of these drams I wouldn’t wait too long though, they’re not bound to get any cheaper…
Distillery: Glen Garioch
Age: 12 years old
First things first, let’s get those pesky phonetics out of the way. For with Gaelic nothing is ever quite what it seems, and Garioch is actually pronounced Geerie. Its namesake glen earned fame as The Granary of Aberdeenshire for its rich, fertile fields and top quality grain. With barley in such plentiful supply, its perhaps not surprising that Glen Garioch distillery established itself here as early as 1797, making it one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. Indeed, the barley profile is still very much present in Glen Garioch’s house style, with malt, honey and toffee shining through in many bottlings. Given all this, you might be surprise to hear that the distillery faced severe input shortages, but – unusually – the limiting factor was not barley, but water. Glen Garioch was mothballed in 1968 due to “chronic water shortages and limited production potential”, and subsequently sold off to Stanley Morrison, who also owned Bowmore distillery. He intiated a search for a new water supply, and struck liquid gold when a well was found on a neighbouring farm. The new water source was so good that production increased to ten times its previous level, facilitated by a new pair of stills.
Age: No age statement
When it was announced that the 1990 release of Airigh Nam Beist would be the last in the series, a collective sigh went through the Ardbeg fanbase. But of course every end leaves room for new beginnings, and fortunately Ardbeg chose to release Corryvreckan as a replacement. It’s safe to say the new bottling has been a great success, enjoying huge popularity and squarely earning its place in Ardbeg’s Ultimate Range.
Corryvreckan displays all of Ardbeg’s usual peaty, coastal characteristics, but with an amped up alcohol content. Aged primarily in bourbon barrels, there’s also some virgin French oak thrown into the mix (and even Burgundy casks it is rumoured), lending a spicy freshness to Corryvreckan. The result is an intense, eye-watering dram that’s a real feast for the senses.
Age: No age statement
Freshly rebranded, Miyagikyo Single Malt replaces the previous Miyagikyo NAS bottling, as well as the distillery’s 10, 12 and 15 year old expressions. The reasons why are obvious, as skyrocketing demand continues to put pressure on aged stocks of Japanese malt. In fact, Nikka’s other stalwart Yoichi has received identical treatment, with the entire range being replaced by a similar NAS bottling.
Having said that, all signs point to the fact that Nikka has included some older whisky into Miyagikyo Single Malt. This is very much a good thing, and reverses a trend whereby Japanese NAS whiskies were becoming ever younger. A large portion of this dram was aged in ex-sherry casks, complementing the delicate distillery character with sweet, nutty undertones. This whisky was my travel companion during a recent camping trip in Japan, and sure kept me warm and cheerful on some cold Hokkaido nights. So while for me this Miyagikyo scores points for sheer nostalgia, it’s also objectively a very pleasant, rewarding dram that I can confidently recommend to anyone taking their first steps in Japanese whisky.
Age: No age statement
As usual, the 2018 edition of Kilchoman Loch Gorm is a vatting of whiskies that were aged exclusively in sherry casks. This makes Loch Gorm a much richer, sweeter proposition than other Kilchomans, and that’s never been more true than for the 2018 version. This year’s release comprises 15.000 bottles, made up of 19 ex-Oloroso sherry butts that were filled in 2007, 2008 and 2011. These are some of the oldest sherry casks ever filled at the distillery, and it shows: Loch Gorm 2018 is a stunner, a real sherry bomb of a Kilchoman. Of course, Kilchoman would not be Kilchoman without a generous helping of peat (50 ppm), so while this Loch Gorm is sweet and rounded, it’s also still a very lively Islay dram. All of this is right up my alley, so I can’t wait to dive straight into the review 🙂
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.