Another week, another bevvy of delights for you to get your glasses around. This week’s offering begins with a pair of Dailuaines. The meat in the aforementioned blog title.
It’s often that you’ll hear certain whiskies referred to as ‘meaty’ and it’s usually the same distilleries in the conversation. Dailuaine, sure. Also Mortlach, Craigellachie, and Benrinnes (and many others). What on earth does the term ‘meaty’ mean, and why is it important? That’s what we want to know Ben. Oh good then. I’ll tell you.
In simple terms, meaty is used as a synonym for ‘mucky, dirty, robust, big, flavourful’, and is almost always a reference to the primary character of the spirit (as distinct from secondary flavours lent by cask type, or tertiary flavours lent by the actual time spent in cask – and the molecular interactions that happen in the presence of oxygen over time). The distilleries mentioned above don’t have identical or even similar setups giving rise to the meatiness in their spirit – that would be far, far too simple. They achieve a similar result in sometimes startlingly different ways.
Benrinnes and Craigellachie for example have enormous condensers known as ‘wormtubs’ to cool the vapour coming off the stills. This lends meaty character by allowing aroma and flavour compounds in the spirit to be snatched out of their gaseous form very quickly (and without the opportunity to break apart and turn into lighter flavour compounds) via the use of extremely cold water in the tubs. The former also employs a rather weird ‘partial triple distillation’ through the recycling of the low wines (first distillation) into two portions – the weaker of which is retained for the next distillation. Again: meatiness.
The magic of meatiness
Mortlach achieves its heft through a similarly complex distillation process involving a number of setbacks, and an extremely pleasingly named ‘Wee Witchie’ still responsible for a similar low-wines distillation to Benrinnes, and similar wormtubs to the two previously-mentioned distilleries.
Dailuaine’s meatiness comes from many of the same processes as the first three distilleries (all of which also feature comparatively slow and considered fermentation times leading to the formation of lots of heavy and complex flavour compounds), but with one key difference. Its condensers aren’t the romantic and visitor-attraction-friendly wormtubs of the previous lot, but rather a hyper-efficient stainless steel shell condenser.
This rather business-like bit of kit pumps icy water around a jacket collaring the ‘out-pipe’ from the still meaning extremely rapid condensation of the whisky vapour, again contributing to the depth and heaviness of the spirit. You’ll sometimes hear tell of a ‘sulphurous’ quality to Dailuaine, but don’t worry, this is good sulphur, not bad sulphur. They’re different. Look, here’s a picture which explains it in a needlessly esoteric manner:
We’ve got two expressions for you this week. Both are 7 years old (to really let you appreciate the full heft of the spirit), but we’ve finished one of them in a first-fill oloroso octave, and one of them in a fresh bourbon barrel. The way that the spirit interacts with each of these cask types is utterly fascinating, and no, I’m not picking a favourite, they’re both excellent, and both solid value for money: Dailuaine 7 Year Old 2015 Single Cask and Dailuaine 7 Year Old 2015 Oloroso Finish Single Cask.
A triple threat of grains
Next is three incredible single grains. I’ve spoken before about how under-rated grain whisky is as a liquid, with this underrating carried though inevitably to value as well. It’s hard to think of a liquid anywhere else in the world which is so relatively inexpensive for the care lavished upon its storage, age of the liquid, and absolute deliciousness*.
Now, this is potentially a controversial statement, but the differences between these distilleries in terms of the spirit they produce is in my view, the square root of a bag of nowt. Grain whisky is the backbone of the blended whisky industry, but truth be told due to the rather industrial process involved (leading to an extremely high ABV off the still, a maximum of 94.8%), you’d be forgiven for mistaking the liquid for a slightly grainy vodka when taken down to bottling strength without any maturation.
This stands in stark contrast to single malt spirit which is extremely flavourful and rich directly off the still. Because of this relative ‘boringness’ when immature – the maturation vessels (and to a lesser extent the grain from which the whisky was produced) are exceptionally important to the final character of the whisky – and the swing in final results can be pronounced depending on these, and the environmental factors which go into the mix whilst it matures.
There’s a dichotomy looming, however. Girvan, for a sense of scale, is capable of producing 72 million litres of pure alcohol per year. That’s enough for nearly a quarter of a billion 70cl bottles of whisky at 40%abv. If you laid those bottles end to end, they’d stretch from the Girvan distillery to Central London. Then to Sydney. And back to Girvan again. Then back to Sydney. Then around the entire circumference of the world. Then to the International Space Station. And that’s one year’s production from one-grain distillery.
The dichotomy is this; even though the cask type and maturation details are ostensibly the single most important thing about grain, can you guess precisely how many fucks were given about recording the precise cask details of each and every one of the up to half a million casks filled each year, all of which were produced with colossal-scale blending in mind? I’ll give you a clue – it’s not many. Not many at all.
This represents both a challenge and an opportunity for us drinkers some decades later. The challenge is that every grain we encounter represents something of a leap of faith. Some are truly exceptional, and some are fine. Most exist on a plane between the two. The opportunity is obvious. Try to find another liquid distilled 35 years ago, matured in oak with all the associated angel’s share losses, then presented at 50%-ish ABV for under a ton. Madness. So, without further ado, our three selections for this week: Strathclyde 35 Year Old 1987 Single Cask, Girvan 32 Year Old 1990 Single Cask, and Invergordon 25 Year Old 1991.
Onto the secrets
Next, to Campbeltown for another one of those secrets we spoke about last week. This is a beautifully-balance blended malt (and if you know Campbeltown you can probably figure out what that means) which has been on quite the cask-based journey. From its original home in a refill hogshead, it was decanted into fresh oloroso octaves, before being returned to additional hogsheads for a final marriage. The result is sublime.
Finally, (before a re-up on a past success) – we’ve got an absolute belter of a rum. This Secret Grenadian number is amazing for sipping, but (and here’s a dirty old confession), I absolutely love floating well-aged rum on top of a Mai Tai**. Rum of this sort of age and complexity lends such an incredible depth to rum cocktails even when used in minuscule amounts alongside more wallet-friendly mixing rums for the base. Think of it as the cocktail equivalent of the good olive oil you save to dress a finished dish.
The re-up is another cask of the amazing Glen Elgin 16yo finished in oloroso hoggies. This sold out in no time flat after our first release, so we’ve dug deep and found more stock for you. Enjoy.
Until next week then, folks!
**And yes – I know – Stratum.