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.
Age: Distilled in 2000, bottled in 2016
Lagavulin is part of Diageo’s Classic Malts range. This of course means that its standard expression is treated to a finish in something sweet and juicy, and bottled as a Distillers Edition. For other Diageo stalwarts such as Oban (Montilla Fino) and Cragganmore (Port), these periods of extra maturation have been hugely successful. To me Lagavulin is undeniably the best whisky in the Classic Malts series, and the Distillers Edition does not disappoint. Finished in casks that previously held Pedro Ximénez sherry, this Lagavulin is both mellower and richer than its 16 year old sibling, which already provides a complexity rarely seen in other Islay distilleries.
This particular release was distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2016, the year in which Lagavulin celebrated its 200th anniversary. The Distillers Edition was not the official anniversary bottling though, with that honour being shared by Lagavulin’s 8 and 25 year old limited editions. Even so, this year’s Distillers Edition is as good as any the distillery has produced, so be sure to give it a try.
Last year saw me exploring quite a number of different whiskies from the Isle of Arran distillery. While a taste of Arran whisky – along with the island’s stunning scenery – nudged me towards visiting the distillery, this trip in turn made me enthusiastic about trying more of Arran’s excellent whisky. Although the distillery’s Tutored Tasting offered a huge variety of different Arran whiskies, I felt I wanted to explore the Arran range in a bit more quantity and with some extra time on my hands. So I lined up a collection of Arran whiskies, invited some friends over, and enjoyed a very delicious tasting. Below is a short description of each of the whiskies, including a link to the full review.
Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 12 years old
With names such as Einar, Svein and Drakkar, the Viking theme has always been strong with Highland Park. Indeed, Orkney was a Viking outpost for over 600 years, and their influence is found all over Orcadian folklore. Apparently it makes for good marketing too; recently Highland Park’s core range was given a makeover, with each expression gaining a new Viking-related subtitle and an elaborately carved bottle. I actually preferred the simplicity of the previous packaging, as the new look and feel is a bit over the top.
Packaging aside though, the whisky remains very much the same. And that’s a good thing: where many distilleries have mainly focused on NAS bottlings, Highland Park’s aged range is still going strong. The 12 year old is a classic, epitomising the honey sweet, smoky spirit that the distillery is known for. Highland Park is often referred to as everyone’s friend, and you’ll be hard put to find someone who severely dislikes the distillery’s drams. That doesn’t automatically make this a great whisky though, so let’s see what Highland Park Viking Honour is actually like.
On a previous trip to Islay, I explored practically all corners of the island. And while the scenery is beautiful enough, when you’re on the west coast, you can’t help but shift your gaze across the Sound of Islay, where the Paps of Jura beckon on the horizon, tantalisingly close. But here’s the rub: while Islay boasts as many as eight distilleries, the Isle of Jura has just the one. So inevitably, most visitors are drawn towards Jura’s more famous neighbour for finding out how the Water of Life is made. While this might make sense from a whisky perspective, there are plenty of reasons to give Jura a visit, particularly if you love the great outdoors. Although Jura is the 5th largest island in the Hebrides, it has a population of only 200 people. Bleak, bare and boggy, Jura is the perfect wilderness, a truly remote piece of Scotland located just 10 miles from the mainland. Not that Jura is lifeless; quite the contrary. At any time you may expect to bump into one of the island’s 5000 deer or see a golden eagle soaring overhead. Suffice it to say, I liked Jura’s whiskies, and decided it was time I explored the island on which they are made. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I undertook this trip as much as three years ago, before I started this blog. But it’s nice to reminisce over a whisky, so I poured myself a dram of Jura Turas-Mara and started writing.
Age: No age statement
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!