Bought: Online auction, 8th October 2018
Listed on Whiskybase here but no rating as yet.
Strathearn is another relatively new distillery, which has the claim to fame of the smallest in Scotland. It’s certainly the only one I’ve seen described as a ‘micro’ distillery. Situated in the southern highlands, Strathearn got planning permission at the start of 2013 and on the 18th October of that year the first cask was filled. The bottle of single malt I purchased at auction was distilled 12 days later on the 30th October and placed in cask no.005. Production comes from 2 stills – an 800 litre wash and a 400 litre charge. Rather than use the industry standard 200 litre barrels Strathearn have opted for the 50 litre ‘octave’. Hardly surprising since a typical spirit run is only 100 litres.
Strathearn use their own maris otter barley in the whisky making process. Well it is a farm after all. Initially they distilled into American oak and French oak barrels but recent releases have young spirit maturing in mulberry, chestnut and even peated acacia wood casks. By early 2017 Strathearn had withdrawn 12 products because of issues with the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be holding them back with their experimenting. Long may that continue!
Towards the end of 2016 Strathearn’s inaugural release was done by auction through Whisky Auctioneer. I followed it with interest but even the cheapest bottle at £315 was about £200 more than I would have considered paying, especially at 50cl rather than 70cl. Bottle no.1 went for a staggering £4,150. Interestingly the pictures of the bottles on the auction site had a blank space where the cask number should go. You would assume it was cask no.001 but the distilling date was 11th December 2013, nearly 2 months after the first barrel was filled. I can only assume this is because all the early casks were bought by the distillery’s ‘Private Cask Club’. My bottle from cask no.005 is the earliest example of distilling from Strathearn that I’ve seen on the market.
After the inaugural release it seemed the only way to own a bottle of Strathearn was by being a Private Cask Club member or finding a bottle at auction. By 2018 (if not 2017) Strathearn made a bottle of single malt available from their online shop but at £145 for 50cl it was still a bit steep. Thankfully more private casks were being bottled and appearing at auction where a typical price was £65-£80 for 70cl. Time to make a purchase!
The good thing about using smaller barrels is that there is a bigger surface to surface ratio between spirit and wood compared to a bigger barrel. This might not necessarily make the spirit taste older than its years if it comes from a smaller cask than the industry standard but it can influence the taste. My bottle is less than 4 years old but the spirit has drawn an amazing colour from the French oak, along with an augmented flavour:
Nose: Very fruity with spices (cinnamon/ginger/nutmeg), hint of pepper, honey and some citrus.
Taste: The sweetness and spices come through with a creamy fruit yoghurt at play in the background. Elements of the French oak wood become clearer, which were hinted at in the nose.
Finish: A good length with a pleasant warmth of after-spices and almost a floral tinge.
Bought: Glasgow Distillery Co, 8th June 2018
87.62/100 – Whiskybase (average from 15 member votes)
It’s always nice to see another whisky distillery popping up but you have to wonder if this trend will damage the industry in the long run. But perhaps the modern customer will lean towards the new arrivals and it will be old distilleries that end up suffering. It wouldn’t take much for a cut-throat company like Diageo to close one of its many locations if they thought they weren’t profitable enough. And don’t get me started on the potential impact of Brexit! Time to pour a dram.
The Glasgow Distillery Co. was established in 2014 and proudly claims to be the first single malt whisky distillery in the city since 1902. As they waited for their whisky to mature they produced a gin they named ‘Makar’ in one of their 3 stills. And to kick-start their name in the whisky world they bottled and sold a mystery Speyside single malt they named ‘Prometheus’. Initially a 26yr, then 27yr, their latest edition is a 28yr priced at a ridiculous £699. Seriously?
In 2018 the Glasgow Distillery Co. announced a ballot for a limited release of 5,000 bottles of their first ever single malt named ‘1770’. Hardly memorable but they probably looked at the stupid names other distilleries were inventing and decided that a number would be safer. 1770 was the year Beethoven and William Wordsworth were born but what that has to do with Glasgow whisky I don’t know. Regardless, £100 for a 50cl bottle of 3yr whisky hardly felt like a bargain. I also didn’t realise when I paid for a bottle in June that I’d have to wait nearly 5 months before it would arrive. Perhaps some of the £100 was to cover the cost of oats for the blind donkey delivering my bottle. But it’s all worth it for a taste of history! Honest!
The good news is that the 1770, matured in first-fill bourbon casks and finished in virgin oak, has been well liked since its arrival. Scoring nearly 88/100 on Whiskybase is an excellent score and the distillery have announced another release during 2019.
Tasting notes left on Whiskybase:
Nose: Floral. Waxy fruits, especially pears and apples. Honey, lacquered wood and touch of saffron.
Taste: Dried and baked fruits, caramel, orange peel, pepper and touch of gum.
Finish: Medium length, spicy, sweet.
Bought: Master of Malt, 8th September 2016
76.4/100 – Whiskybase (average from 7 member votes)
Puni became the first Italian whisky distillery when building started in 2010. It took 2 years for the distillation plant to be finished and in the autumn of 2012 Puni opened a visitors centre. I can just imagine the queues! I wasn’t aware of the existence of Puni until I spotted a bottle of their 2-year-old malt spirit (Puni Alba) in a UK auction last year. The Whisky Bible rated it 82/100 but it had a lowly 75/100 on Whiskybase. Not that ‘malt spirit’ is very easy to judge. But in 2015 Puni were able to release their first legal single malt and the Alba 3yo appeared, winning a ‘silver outstanding’ at the ‘International Wine and Spirits’ competition. Whatever that means. It sounds good anyway.
In 2016 Puni are selling two varieties of whisky, the Alba and Nova, both aged for 3 years. The Alba is matured in Marsala and Islay casks with “the distinctive smoky character of the Scottish island” and the Nova is matured in American and European oak. Even though I’m an Islay fan, and the Alba scores slightly higher than the Nova on Whiskybase, I decided to go for the Nova because I sometimes like to rebel against myself. In fairness to the Nova, according to the Puni website it’s had as many awards as the Alba but also “best Italian Single Malt” in the World Whisky Awards 2016. Hmmm…except Puni is the only single malt distillery in Italy so the Nova only had to beat the Alba. It was a 2-horse race and the one with Islay body odour had a slight limp that day.
Tasting notes from Master of Malt:
Nose: Fragrant citrus sorbet with touches of caramel, wheat, apple and vanilla.
Palate: Slightly floral and punchy with yellow pear skin and a hint of fruity rye, dried grass and pink peppercorns (could be the rye or the Limousin there).
Finish: Light, clean, cereal with subtle cinnamon and cedar.
The following video is by ‘The Good Dram Show’ on You Tube tasting the Nova (which is incorrectly labelled as the ‘Alba’). He’s very complimentary and summarises by saying the Puni distillery is producing some world-class whisky and one to watch for the future:
Bought: J A Mackay, 11th March 2016
91.5/100 – Whisky Bible 2017
80.47/100 – Whiskybase (average from 462 member votes)
The first Wolfburn distillery actually started life in 1821 but stopped production in the 1850s and was in ruins by the 1870s. Jump forward 140 years and in 2012 approval was given to build a new Wolfburn distillery a mere 350m away from where the old one once stood. The water source for the whisky comes from the nearby ‘Wolf’ burn (stream), which gives the distillery its name. Production started in 2013 so by 2016 we have the first legal 3-year-old whisky ready for release, making Wolfburn the most northerly whisky on mainland Scotland (taking over from Old Pulteney).
I feel a bit sorry for new whisky distilleries because so much of their future reputation hangs on the success of their first release. Generally speaking a 3-year-old whisky is a gamble because it lacks maturity and can taste quite raw and spirity. But if good casks are sourced along with an experienced master distiller, magic can sometimes happen. Kilchoman have had a lot of success with young releases but then Islay whisky packs more punch, which can help mask immaturity. The highland flavours of Wolfburn are going to be more subtle and exposed.
So how has Wolfburn’s first release faired? The score on Whiskybase is better than average but not exactly brilliant. Nevertheless, several experienced reviewers have rated this dram between 84-85/100 and are extremely complimentary. Their thoughts aren’t just about what this whisky is but what it’s like as a building block for future Wolfburn releases, and it’s all very promising. Comments include “all present and correct, very, very good. One of the best [Scottish] 3yo’s around”, “a very fresh and nice taste for 3 year old whisky” and “this warrants a place in the cabinet. This is – keeping the age in mind – a nice introduction. What an entrance, Wolfburn!”
91.5/100 in the Whisky Bible classifies the Wolfburn as “brilliant”. Jim Murray, the bible author, says “this is a very young malt showing an intriguing wispy smokiness, it’s evenness more in line with having been matured in ex-Islay casks than using low phenol barley.” And in summary he says “for all its youth, its excellence and quality glimmers from the glass”.
Here’s Horst Luening on YouTube with his review of the new Wolfburn (April 2016):