Bought: Prize from Lady of the Glen, 16th November 2016
91.25/100 – Whiskybase (average from 4 member votes)
If you’re interested in buying an example from the Speyside distillery my advice is to avoid anything bottled at less than 46%. This will protect you from getting early releases from the distillery such as the 10yo and Drumguish range. Drumguish is one of the few single malts on the planet where adding coke isn’t regarded as a sin. Yes, it’s that good! Your best bet is a cask strength version such as this example from ‘Lady of the Glen’, an excellent independent bottler from Fife in Scotland.
The first distillery called ‘Speyside’ started in 1895 but it only lasted 10 years. The latest incarnation dates back to 1956 but the first spirit didn’t flow from the distillery until 1990. A 10yo appeared in 2001 after several NAS (no age statement) bottlings under the Drumguish name. The distillery uses ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks with a house style of medium-sweet, medium-body, fruit, floral, malt and nuts.
One annoyance I have with the Speyside distillery is the name. It shows a total lack of imagination and naming it after the region is confusing. Most bottles with ‘Speyside’ on the label refer to the region and are mystery malts from an undisclosed Speyside distillery. And when discussing a distillery, saying “Glenfiddich, Speyside” makes sense, or “Old Pulteney, Highlands”, or “Ardbeg, Islay” but “Speyside, Speyside” is just ridiculous. It’s like someone with the surname ‘Taylor’ giving a child the first name ‘Taylor’. You’d have to question their sanity.
This 22yo single malt by ‘Lady of the Glen’ has a fantastic natural colour after spending over two decades in a 1st fill sherry butt. Still a potent 61.3% after so many years it scores an amazing 91.25/100 on Whiskybase from 4 member votes.
Tasting notes from Lady of the Glen:
Nose: Sumptuous rum raisin ice cream with chocolate strawberry notes
Palate: A black forest blend of fruits containing raspberries, blueberries and blackberries.
Finish: A sweet dark cherry finish
Bought: Prize from Lady of the Glen, 16th November 2016
86/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
When you search Whiskybase for Glenturret there are only 236 bottles listed, which isn’t that many. 84 are from the distillery so the majority are by independent bottlers such as ‘Lady of the Glen’. Glenlivet have 1203 bottles listed on Whiskybase, Glendiffich have 412 and Glenmorangie 350. Glenturret maybe considered more of a blending malt but 60 independent bottlers have managed to get casks and a mention on Whiskybase. Signatory have released the most with 61, Gordon & MacPhail have 22 and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) are third with 19.
Gregor Hannah started ‘Lady of the Glen’ in 2012. Unlike some independent bottlers you can buy directly from ‘Lady of the Glen’ on their website here. There’s usually 2 or 3 different bottlings available at any given time. As I post this blog there are still 6 bottles of the Glenturret 21yo left out of a small run of 198. It’s also currently available on The Whisky Barrel. Distilled in a bourbon cask in 1994, it was bottled in 2016 at a cask strength of 54.6%. Very typical of ‘Lady of the Glen’ it has no added colour and hasn’t been chill filtered.
Tasting notes from ‘Lady of the Glen’:
Nose: heavy toffee and yellow fruits of melon and mango peel
Palate: Honey suckle, herby and crisp with papaya and honey
Finish: Fresh and light with notes with grassy hay notes
Bought: Auriol Wines, 29th February 2016
96.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
89.29/100 – Whiskybase (average from 9 member votes)
Wow, look at those ratings! This Glentauchers must be one of the most famous whiskies in the world! Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible and 9 members of Whiskybase score it higher than the Highland Park 18yo, most of the Ardbeg Supernova releases and even the Macallan 18yo (the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Speysiders). Surely everyone knows about this stuff! And the answer is….no. Even a lot of whisky drinkers aren’t aware of Glentauchers, which sounds more like a sneeze than a whisky distillery. The distillery isn’t exactly known for producing single malt as a lot of its output goes into blending but occasionally an independent bottler such as Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) get lucky and purchase a cask or two that are something special. This seems to be the case with this Glentauchers 1994-2013.
When this Glentauchers 19yo (possibly 18yo) first came out it was £29, which is astounding when you consider the price of the equivalent Macallan and Highland Park 18-year-olds (even if they are distillery releases). Jim Murray first mentions this Glentauchers in his Whisky Bible 2014 where he says of the taste “oh my word! The barley melts on the palate, yet at the same time has enough firmness to crash land into the taste buds…but with the aid of a parachute. Hard to imagine a barley where the flavours are so pronounced, the use of muscovado sugars so well judged.” He concludes with “one day someone else who matters in the industry will wake up to just how good this malt is…probably the finest of the G&M Distillery Label fleet.”
Comments on Whiskybase are also complimentary including “this is very fine whisky. The clarity of the malt is astonishing in a whisky of this age”, “beautiful ‘whisky’ classic flavour emerges with patience, fresh and subtle complexity”, “elegant Speyside malt” and “I can see why J Murray awarded this a gold star. Displaying wonderful balance, nothing is ever too overstated or underplayed. As Speyside malts go, this is a mature 19yo cracker.”
In March 2016 I tried the slightly older 1994-2014 version in a whisky bar and was very impressed. That c.20yo scores a respectable 85.5/100 on Whiskybase so not as illustrious as its younger brother but it gave me an idea as to what to expect. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to pay £29 for my bottle it was still less than £40 even in 2016, which is amazing consider how crazy the whisky market has gone in recent years. If you’re lucky enough to stumble across a bottle – buy it!
Bought: The Whisky Shop, 28th January 2016
95.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2016
84.5/100 – Whiskybase (average from 2 member votes)
8.5/10 – Whisky Wednesday (their video review below)
In September 2014 I started a list of possible birthday presents for my brother when he turns 50 in 2018. There were 3 bottles of whisky on the list distilled in 1968, the year he was born. All 3 were similarly priced at £180. I looked at the list 18 months later and, to my surprise, one of the bottles was still available on its original shop page. The price? £430, an increase of £250, such is the crazy nature of the whisky market.
I thought of this story because of Glenfarclas and their ‘Family Cask’ range, which seems designed to answer the demand for older vintages, often caused by birthdays such as my brother’s. I sometimes see on whisky forums and Facebook pages that dram drinkers have treated themselves to a bottle from the year of their birth. The only Glenfarclas ‘Family Cask’ I can find from 1968 is selling for £2,190! Blimey! And I thought £430 was bad enough! Is it greed or market forces? If I’d increased my business prices by nearly 150% in the last 18 months I’d have lost all my clients but the whisky industry keeps on booming (for now). But, as a Scot, can I really complain about a Scottish industry coining in a fortune during the good times? I’m actually quite proud, and my brother is reduced to getting socks for his birthday.
Thankfully you don’t have to spend a fortune to get a good example of Glenfarclas. This bottle distilled in 1994 and bottled in 2014 (19/20yo) scores an amazing 95.5/100 in the Whisky Bible 2016 and cost less than £80. The Glenfarclas Family Cask 1969 scores 8 points less but costs more than £800! The author, Jim Murray, describes the taste of the 1994 as “a delivery to die for….the cleanest, juiciest grape on the vine, at times eye-wateringly juicy and proud enough to absorb the continuing waves of toasty oak; a few sharper sauternes and marmalade notes mingle before the oils begin to form”. He summaries with “not far off God’s gift to present day sherried malt whisky.” 95.5/100 classifies this malt as a “superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to live”.
Here’s Whisky Wednesday on You Tube with their review (December 2016):
Bought: Whisky Barrel, 6th May 2015
95.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
83.6/100 – Whiskybase (average from 7 member votes)
Founded in 1971, it will be a while before Mannochmore distillery will be celebrating its 200th Anniversary like Ardbeg and Laphroaig are doing this year. There are only 7 different single malts listed in the Whisky Bible 2015 by Mannochmore, 2 by the distillery, and 5 produced by independent bottlers. The 2 distillery bottlings are a 12yo scoring 84/100 and a ‘Manager’s Choice’ notching up an embarrassing 71.5/100. Of the 5 independent bottlings, here are their scores:
- 96/100 – Scottish Malt Whisky Society Cask 64.42, aged 22 years
- 95.5/100 – Gordon & MacPhail 1994 Connoisseurs Choice
- 91.5/100 – Old Malt Cask 13-year-old
- 91/100 – Cadenhead’s Authentic Collection 17-year-old
- 89/100 – Provenance Over 14 Years
As you can see, if you want to buy a bottle of Mannochmore, the Whisky Bible recommends going for an independent release, rather than direct from the distillery.
My bottle by Gordon & MacPhail is 2nd on the list with 95.5/100, which classifies it as a “superstar whisky that gives us all a reason to exist”. The Bible author, Jim Murray, says of the taste “if you locate a more spotless exhibition of intense yet clean and sugary barley this year, give me a call. The lilting poise of the oils beggars belief.” And summarises with “full of vitality, charm and class. Quite irresistible.” Definitely a worthy addition to my collection!
Bought: Malts of Scotland (now ‘Bartels Whisky’), 7th April 2015
87/100 – Whiskybase (from one member vote)
Because Facebook knows exactly what my interests are, I get various adverts that relate to whisky. One that caught my eye was from ‘Malts of Scotland’ whose website I’d visited many months before. All I could remember about them was their interesting bottle shapes, although these are only used for some of their output (sadly not this Tomatin). I ‘liked’ their Facebook page and it was here that I saw their offer on 3 different malt whiskies – “£40 each and free next day postage”. One of the three was this Tomatin 19yo, cask strength at 53.8%.
Whiskybase include 4 previous bottlings of Tomatin by ‘Malts of Scotland’ (here) all of which score very highly. Two between 85-90/100 and two above 90/100, which is exceptional. Whiskybase list my 19yo under Malts of Scotland’s new name (Bartels Rawlings International Ltd, or ‘Bartels Whisky’) where one voter gives it 87/100 and summaries with “this is a refreshingly different and yet fabulous ‘old style’ central Highlands find”.
It used to be the case that buying from an independent bottler meant good value but the price gulf between distilleries and independents has closed in recent years. So it’s nice to see that bargains can still be found, even if finding them is like a needle in a haystack. Overall, the service from ‘Malts of Scotland’ was excellent, and I’ve subsequently ordered from them again.
Bought: Best of Whisky, Holland, 2nd February 2015
89/100 – Whisky Bible 2015
89/100 – Ralfy – His YouTube review here (March 2013)
Here we have an independent bottling of a single malt from the Bushmills distillery in Ireland. It’s unusual to see both Ralfy and Jim Murray (author of the Whisky Bible) giving the same high mark. Obviously this must be good stuff! Although you wouldn’t think so from Ralfy’s opening references to bitterness. The Whisky Bible also picks up on this in its summary “not enough attention has been paid to getting rid of the oak-induced bitterness”. Ralfy’s initial impression was “I’m not really going to enjoy this” but, as he got used to it, and let the whiskey breath in an open bottle, his attitude changed. He grew accustomed to the new flavour experiences and their qualities.
89/100 in the Whisky Bible puts this single malt in the category of “very good to excellent whiskey definitely worth buying”. Jim Murray says in his review “a wonderful whiskey in the Knappogue tradition”. Although not overly happy with the bitter finish he scores the taste component 24/25.
All-in-all, a very interesting dram!
Bought – Best of Whisky, Holland, 26th August 2014
87/100 – Whisky Bible 2014
83.14/100 – Whiskybase (average from 37 votes)
Originally this bottling by Highland Park was made for Travel Retail, so only available in selected airports. Last time I travelled in July there was no sign of it in Heathrow, or Aberdeen airport. It seems it has been superseded by the HP Warrior range. I found this bottle when doing my first online whisky shop from Holland, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover something unavailable in the UK.
Although Jim Murray in his Whisky Bible gives this HP an excellent mark in the high 80s he’s disappointed that it could have been so much better. He concludes with “the finish is dull and the usual complexity of the malt is vanished behind a murky veil”. Without this it would have scored in the 90s. A shame but 87/100 still classes this HP 1994 as “very good to excellent whisky definitely worth buying”.
Video review by Frozen Summers here.
Bought – Nickolls & Perks, 17th June 2014
83/100 – Whiskybase (average from 3 member votes)
This Aberlour forms part of the 24 x 20cl bottles that make up the Carn Mor Vintage Collection. Distilled in 1994 and bottled in 2012, it’s from a limited edition of 720, Cask No: 4413. Non-chill filtered and no added colour.