It’s time for a fireside dram methinks; this new non-age-statement release from the good ladies and gents at Glendronach distillery is aptly timed! In the wake of this year’s Malt Maniac’s award announcements, the distillery has once again swept a host of accolades including “Supreme Winner” in the ultra-premium category and several Gold Medals besides. Of course, the Maniacs are well known for their love of old sherried malts and indeed these lofty winners were all from the now legendary early 70′s stock.
You needn’t think that Glendronach is simply the preserve of the well-heeled, and indeed favourably connected given the scarcity of some single casks, whisky-fondler though. Both the Glendronach 18 year old ”Allardice” and the 8 year old “Octarine” and the took bronze and silver medals respectively, which is no mean feat in a competition where all samples are tasted blind and by a number of sometimes disparate palates. Here though we have the latest on-going introduction to the core range, let’s see if it has what it takes to take a place among next year’s medal winners.
The whisky world must surely, if slowly, be developing a degree of desensitisation to bottlings directed toward wealthy drinkers, collectors or speculators. Be it £1000 worth of old Glenfarclas whisky, £2500 for some travel retail-exclusive exotica or the now all but ubiquitous 10k Dalmore, such release are certainly unobtainable for the larger majority of us. Debates still abound as to the merits of such bottlings, and the arguments show no sign of calming whether you fall on the “well if people pay it, they should charge it” side of the fence or take the contrasting “a fair price is not simply what the market will pay” viewpoint. Still, such whiskies never fail to court attention and this new bottling with a RRP of $3500 (the U.S.A will be the first market to receive it) will surely be no exception.
Balblair, and indeed the Inverhouse owned distilleries as a whole, isn’t a name you might instantly associate with such “ultra-premium” releases. Of course there have been a few, not least the excellent 1965 Balblair vintage we saw shortly after the brands re-packaging/launch in 2007, but in the main Balblair has remained a well-priced malt of sometimes overlooked quality. However, now that almost all of the aforementioned 65 has found its way safely into the arms/glasses/cabinets of well-heeled Whisky lovers world-wide, it’s time for a new flagship. Enter the 1969; previewed earlier this year at the distillery and formally launched this past week in London, this vintage with its elegantly understated packaging looks to be a hit, if you’re lucky enough to get a nip that is.
An excellent trip to Balblair distillery a few weeks ago left me with every intension to talk about the new vintages we were fortunate enough to taste. However, such are the complexities of whisky, the visit served as a catalyst for a more contemplativemeander through the broader themes of whisky, marketing and people. Back to the reviews today though, and being as it’s both rather affordable and starting to reach retailers’ shelves, the 2002 is an ideal place to start these new releases. Incidentally, it seems all future vintages from the distillery will be bottled un-chill filtered, without artificial colour and at a minimum of 46% abv. Certainly something everyone here at Whisky Marketplace and the vast majority of whisky lovers will be pleased to hear.
The last “entry level” Balblair was, unsurprisingly, the Balblair 2001 – you can see Pierre waxing lyrical about that one on the first episode of the rather lovely WMTV whisky podcast – a vintage that seemed to go down very well in most quarters, offering a light, fresh and rather naked example of the distilleries characteristically fragrant make. At the distillery we had the opportunity to taste a 2002 cask sample, cut to bottling strength, as an early example of the general profile for this new release. Even following some very high quality drams it managed to impress; time to find out if the final vatting carries forward the charm of that sample.
Of late, these ’77 Glenturret whiskies have been a highlight in the outturn of a great many independent bottlers. The Whisky Agency, Malts of Scotland, Maltbarn, Master of Malt and a number of others have all taken turns in sharing casks from this esoteric distillery, and without exception these have been high quality, good value releases. In many ways this veritable flood has really put Glenturret on the map as a slightly unusual yet very charming whisky, deserving of much more attention than it generally enjoys.
This particular bottling comes from the rather reliable Berry’s Own Selection range. Doug McIvor, Berry Bros and Rudd’s Spirits Manager, is responsible for the company’s own label whiskies and reportedly holds this particular Glenturret in high regard. Doug is not a man known for disingenuous enthusiasm which makes this praise, and bottling, of particular interest. It’s worth mentioning that the distillery is home to The Famous Grouse Experience, a notable tourist attraction that regularly sees yearly visitor figures in excess of 100,000 and lends Glenturrent a measure of more widespread notoriety.
As decades have rolled by the world of sherried whisky has changed dramatically. The days when old oloroso shipping casks were a primary vessel for Scotch storage have shifted to a point where the bourbon barrel is now king, with sherry maturation dominated by so called "bespoke" casks, seasoned with fresh sherry, tiered solera casks or sometimes those dressed with paxarette. These changes have affected both the flavour and perception of sherry influenced whisky dramatically, be it the clearly sulphur tainted examples we find, or the unavoidable comparisons to the remarkable Macallan whiskies, Glenfarclas or Springbank sherry monsters distilled before the mid 70s. While all whisky has changed, well-sherried malts have seen a particularly notable transformation.
Glendronach is another distillery marked by the use of ex-sherry casks, being perhaps the shining light of the style over the last few years. The 1972 single casks have led this charge, every bit as truly exceptional as the best of those previously mentioned and just as desirable for it. While, as was bee commented in our review of the Glendronach Grandeur, it’s clearly difficult to avoid focussing on such staggeringly good single cask bottlings, there is much to recommend in the distillery’s more accessible wares. The 15 year old Glendronach was particularly well received after the range was re-launched under the guiding hand of Billy Walker’s BenRiach Distillery Company, showing a wonderfully old-style sherried personality. Some batches have displayed a little more sulphur than would please certain tasters though and speaking personally it is this 18 year old, named “Allardice” in honour of the distillery’s founder, that has held greater consistency.
Knockdhu was always a fairly unsung single malt but for a faithful few who held it fondly, and if the old limited edition cask strength 23 year old was anything to go by, they had every reason to. Now the whisky finds itself branded as anCnoc – to avoid confusion with Knockando distillery – and is given a much greater presence within the single malt market. The positive reviews are flowing, the awards quotas growing and interest in the distillery has never been higher, which is certainly great news for this small and rather beautiful distillery.
As was touched upon in last week’s musing on Balblair whisky, marketing and people, this trajectory of rejuvenation is a common theme among the distilleries in the Inverhouse stable. Maybe even Balmenach has a similar future to look forward to? The anCnoc range has centred around an often under-rated anCnoc 12 year old, a yearly vintage and a good quality 16 year old over the last years. Older examples had rested on an enjoyable, if slightly tired 30 year old distilled in 1975. This new anCnoc 35 year old effectively replaces that old, leathery gent and brings with it some ultra-modern, crisply designed packaging.
Visiting distilleries is rarely anything less than a pleasure and a recent trip to the small, East-Highland distillery of Balblair was far from an exception. The rolling landscape of Ross-shire, persistent Highland rain and warm, bright eyed welcome of the staff on such a trip is instantly disarming in its charm, but as a somewhat hardened and faintly cynical whisky lover there is always a sense that things may be less than they seem.
This critical eye of concern is evident all over the whisky world, be it a blogger lamenting the loss of staff and weather beaten worm tubs or the misty eyed, pipe smoking malt-scribe mourning the fading memory of a dramming bell. Such romanticised, evocative regrets are often more than mere wistful idealism though, after all for many a bottle backed by a quaint highland tale of history and permanence there is a computer, an expansion plan and sadly, compromises in quality.
Glen Garioch is a curious little distillery with a long and varied history. Founded in 1797 and often a key name in discussions about the oldest of Scotland’s distilleries, Glen Garioch distillery is currently in the hands of Suntory alongside Bowmore and Auchentoshan. Like Bowmore, the distillery has a reputation for distinct changes in style between the 70s, 80s and 90s, as peating levels seemed to drop over time and the 80s brought about a sometimes soapy, floral component to the distillery character. Those familiar with Bowmore’s FWP years (take a look at Dave Broom’s E-Pistle for the Malt Maniacs) may approach some 80s Glen Garioch with similar caution.
Happily, the 90s take the comparison further as, like Bowmore whisky, the spirit seems to throw off its frequent lavender-soap associations and returns to an old-school, dusty, faintly smoky highland character. This is great news as some bottles from the 60s and 70s (no need to mention Bowmore again, is there?) have deservedly excellent reputations, and it’s good to see Glen Garioch’s standing among whisky geeks growing once more.
Many of Scotland’s closed distilleries command huge respect in the whisky world and Lochside distillery is no exception. Unlike classic names such as Brora or Port Ellen which succumbed to the “whisky loch” of the early 1980s, Lochside struggled on through its varying fortunes before finally being closed for the last time in 1992. Sad though it is that the distillery is no more, we can at least take consolation in the knowledge that it should still be some time before stocks disappear altogether.
Over the last couple of years it has been a range of bottlings from 1981 and a couple of well received Single Blend casks from the mid-60s that have flown the Lochside flag, and there are certainly some beautiful casks among them. Here we see another 60s example, only this time without the grain component and bottled by the ever-excellent Malts of Scotland. 1966 has long been thought of as a landmark vintage for lovers of the distillery, some of the casks were “fruit-bombs” of the highest order, while 67 has been rarely seen. Regardless, tasting a Lochside such as this is always a treat, and the bottler only increases the expectations.
After last week’s excellent 1989 Clynelish whisky from The Malts of Scotland it seemed like a good idea to try a new and younger example from Dominiek Bouckaert’s The Whiskyman classic label series. Dominiek also released a 1997 in his first batch of Whiskyman bottlings, and along with various releases from Berry Bros & Rudd, Archives and a number of others, it has been a well-represented vintage for some time.
This cask was split between this new label and the Dutch festival Whisky in Leiden and is a refill sherry hogshead, though it should be said that the colour suggests that any sherry influence will be minimal. I probably waxed lyrical about the joys of Clynelish enough in our post on the Clynelish 1989 Malts of Scotland, I doubt it will be the last, so let’s simply say that these younger examples after frequently worth keeping on your shelf.