Balvenie Peat Week (2003 Vintage)

Balvenie Peat Week 02Distillery: The Balvenie
Region: Speyside
Age: 14 years old
abv: 48.3%

We all know the Balvenie as the quintessential Speyside malt. The typical flavours of honey, toffee and ripe fruit are as welcoming as a cherished friend. But now this gentle friend has developed an unexpected mean streak, with the introduction of Balvenie Peat Week.

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Glenfiddich Fire & Cane

Glenfiddich Fire CaneDistillery: Glenfiddich
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Fire & Cane is the fourth instalment in Glenfiddich’s Experimental Series. Uncharacteristically for Glenfiddich, this bottling features some peated spirit, married together with unpeated stocks from ex-bourbon barrels. To top it off, this whisky then spent three months in rum casks, sourced from a variety of Latin American countries. So the name is apt, but why is Fire & Cane experimental? After all, there’s plenty of rum finished whiskies, and there are peated whiskies beyond count. That’s true, but the combination of the two is quite unique (only Kura and the upcoming Ardbeg Drum that I can think of).

Glenfiddich does have a rum finished 21 year old, and has in the past dabbled with peat in its Caoran Reserve. But Fire & Cane is a different proposition altogether. For one, the distillery actually uses peated barley to achieve its smoky notes, rather than casks that previously held peated whisky. The result is a much sharper, spicier version of Glenfiddich, which then mingles with the toffee notes offered by the rum casks. I think Fire & Cane is best described as a dessert whisky, sweet and indulgent, perhaps even a bit too much so. It’s nice to pair this dram with dark chocolate, to allow the bitterness of the cocoa to balance out the sweetness of the whisky, but I can imagine other pairings could work equally well.

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Glen Moray 16 year old

Glen Moray 16 Review 01Distillery: Glen Moray
Region: Speyside
Age: 16 years old
abv: 40%

Let’s start off with the elephant in the room… the packaging. Although decked out in typical Glen Moray colours, the 16 year old does stand out. For it comes in a tin tube amply decorated with depictions of the Scottish Highland Regiments. Love it or hate it (I love it), you can’t deny it’s educational. Inside the tube we find the distinctive Glen Moray bottle, shaped like a pot still.

Although there’s a wealth of information on the packaging, little is said about the ageing process this 16 year old has undergone. It’s reportedly a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, and it’s not hard to find this back in the flavour profile. Whatever the maturation process, the 16 year old is another beauty from the ever affordable Glen Moray distillery.

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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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Strathisla 12 year old

Strathisla 12 year oldDistillery: Strathisla
Region: Speyside
Age: 12 years old
abv: 40%

As the oldest and arguably most picturesque distillery in the north of Scotland, Strathisla can be considered the showpiece in Chivas’s whisky emporium. This is not surprising, since Strathisla is the sole single malt in the company’s portfolio and forms the heart of many a Chivas Regal blend.

Strathisla began its life as a farmhouse distillery under the name Milltown. It was destroyed in a fire in 1876, after which the distillery was rebuilt in its current form. The business changed hands several times, until it was acquired by Chivas Brothers in 1950. Since then, both Strathisla distillery and Chivas have gone from strength to strength, with Chivas becoming the world’s best selling premium blend. As a single malt, Strathisla is often overlooked in favour of its larger Speyside neighbours, and this is wholly unjustified. Sure, Strathisla doesn’t have as extensive a range as some of their competitors, with Strathisla 12 year old being the only malt in the Chivas line-up. But it so happens that this 12 year old is a quality drop of whisky, meaning Strathisla is a distillery that should be noted for more than just the beauty of its stillhouse or for being the home of Chivas Regal. If you like Speyside drams, do give this whisky a try.

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Scotch Whisky Regions

Scottish Whisky Regions Tasting

Tonight I was invited to host a tasting for a group of 25 whisky enthusiasts at the local tennis club. As is almost customary for an introductory whisky tasting, we decided to journey through each of the Scottish whisky regions to sample what its distilleries have to offer. Although the Scotch Whisky Association formally only recognises five whisky regions, I decided six whiskies is better than five, so we added the Islands as a separate region.

What I find amazing about whisky is that it’s made using only three ingredients, which are transformed into a wealth of different flavours, the variety of which is truly mindboggling. Tonight’s line-up traverses this spectrum from grassy, delicate Lowland all the way to peaty Islay. While each of the whiskies was chosen because they embody their region’s style, they have also received different types of maturation, further adding to the diversity on offer. You can find a short description of the whiskies below, including a link to the full review. Slàinte!

Scotch Whisky Regions Tasting

A fantastic line-up, ordered from left to right

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Aberlour A’bunadh (Batch 53)

Aberlour A'Bunadh reviewDistillery: Aberlour
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 59.7%

The story of A’bunadh (meaning The Origin in Gaelic) is an interesting one. How much of it is marketing and how much is truth is hard to say, but the tale goes as follows.

Business was booming in the 1970s, so Aberlour decided to put in a new pair of stills in 1975. When installing the stills, workmen had to remove a name plate, behind which they discovered a time capsule. It was a bottle of Aberlour wrapped in a newspaper from 1892, containing an article about the fire that destroyed the original Aberlour distillery. Although the workmen reportedly emptied out almost the whole bottle, the leftovers were duly handed to the distillery manager, who sent the sample to the lab to be evaluated. The lab results showed that the dram was a marriage of whiskies of different ages, all matured in European oak and bottled at cask strength.

Aberlour A’bunadh is an attempt to recreate this whisky and celebrate the origins of Aberlour. Since only a handful of people ever tasted the original I can’t say whether they succeeded, but oh my have Aberlour created a wonderful dram! A’bunadh is bottled in different batches, each very similar but subtly different. All batches are a vatting of different Aberlours, ranging in age from 3 to 30 years. With the exclusive maturation in European oak, A’bunadh is the ultimate sherry aged whisky, positively exploding with sweet, spicy flavours. Add the high alcohol content (this batch is one of only a few to fall short of 60%) and you have a truly special whisky that is unquestionably the crown jewel in Aberlour’s range.

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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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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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Glenrothes Select Reserve

Glenrothes Select Reserve ReviewDistillery: Glenrothes
Region: Speyside
Age: No age statement
abv: 43%

Glenrothes distillery is located in the Speyside and is known for its creamy, smooth, sweet whiskies. Their spirit matures rather quickly, and is very drinkable from a young age. As such, it has traditionally been very popular with blending houses, and forms the heart of such notable blends as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse. The former is owned by one of London’s fanciest wine and spirit merchants – Berry Bros & Rudd Ltd – which has made Glenrothes its house whisky. These bottlings were initially vintages only, each with their own handwritten label. Therefore it was something of a breach of protocol when Glenrothes Select Reserve was released, as this is a vatting of casks from different ages. The result is a very drinkable whisky at a much more affordable price. While vatting was somewhat of an experiment for Glenrothes, the Select Reserve has turned out well and is thankfully here to stay.

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