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Tag: Master of Malt tastes

Master of Malt tastes… Lindores Abbey first whisky

Whisky’s coming home. The first Scotch whisky from Lindores Abbey Distillery is now available to the UK public, just 527 years after distillation was first recorded at the abbey in…

Whisky’s coming home. The first Scotch whisky from Lindores Abbey Distillery is now available to the UK public, just 527 years after distillation was first recorded at the abbey in Fife back in 1494. Of course, we had to try it to make sure the dram lived up to its name…

Sounds the trumpets and get drafting your social media posts. The first whisky from Lindores Abbey Distillery is here! Well, not quite here here. But the distillery has revealed in the last week that the public will be able to pick up its first official core release from 2 July. It comes a mere 527 years after distillation was first recorded at the abbey in 1494. You can read the whole history here

Very excitingly, there’s not just one bottle, but two: the Lindores Single Malt Scotch Whisky MCDXCIV (1494) Commemorative First Release and the Lindores Single Malt Scotch Whisky MCDXCIV (1494). Both contain the same liquid, however, a Lowland single malt spirit, but the Commemorative release has a special label to mark the occasion.

Co-founder Drew McKenzie Smith says the idea behind having two releases was informed by the auction market. “We want all our whisky to be accessible and enjoyed rather than only collected. We know a lot of it will be flipped. The collectors can buy the Commemorative bottle and for those who want to drink the whisky, for the same price they can have the core. Ideally, people would drink both”.

Lindores Abbey first whisky

Here it is: Lindores Abbey Single Malt Scotch Whisky MCDXCIV!

The weight of expectation

Lindores’ colourful past presumably makes marketing and tourism easier than a Roman driving test. But it also adds a considerable weight of expectation. It’s rare anyone makes history in Scotch whisky anymore. But Lindores Abbey is doing just that with its first release. “Everything has built up to this point. This is us getting to the top of the first mountain,” says McKenzie Smith. 

To be honest, my hopes are high. I’ve already peeked behind the curtain myself and learned of the brand’s production process and it ticks a lot of boxes. The barley supply is unique, sourced from two neighboring farms a ¼ mile radius from the distillery (a malting floor is also under consideration). The water source is historic, the same the monks would have used. Fermentation takes place for a huge 117 hours in traditional wooden washbacks. The stills are designed to ensure lots of copper contact and there’s been no expense spared on casks. 

“We set our stall out to be a patient, premium quality process distillery,” McKenzie Smith acknowledges. “We’re not going to start cutting corners because people will see through it. Good casks can mask some things, but not a badly made spirit. For any distiller, their new make is their DNA. If you taste the pure bourbon cask samples we have, you see that, in a drink where there’s nowhere for the new make to hide, it really shines”.

Lindores Abbey first whisky

The distillery and the spirit may be relatively new but the story is the oldest in Scotch whisky

Cheers to not taking the easy way

Fundamentally, this is a distillate-forward operation. What goes into the wood has been a priority for the family from the start, who resist a frustratingly common approach from new distilleries to talk about casks as if it’s the only thing that defines a whisky’s flavour.  The estery, fruity new make quickly sold out when it was released and was also voted as the Best Scotch New Make by the World Whiskies Awards 2020. 

Then there’s the decision to release Aqua Vitae. It’s a frankly commercially baffling choice when you consider how easy it is to make a few quid from more recognisable spirits like gin or vodka. But the move demonstrates that this is a brand that is more concerned with realising a legacy and creating authentic spirits with a story than it is with its bottom line.

This brings us to the whisky. The spirit is just over three and a half years old and was bottled at 46% ABV. It’s matured in a combination of ex-bourbon, ex-sherry, and STR ex-Burgundy red wine casks, which you might recognise as a classic Jim Swan formula. McKenzie Smith is keen to recognise his contribution in helping to get the distillery off the ground, consulting on cask quality, distillation style and more.

Lindores Abbey first whisky

The new make was award winning. Will the whisky follow suit?

Whisky by committee

But, sadly, Swan, died before spirit flowed from the still. This meant McKenzie Smith and distillery manager Gary Haggart (formerly of Cragganmore) had to forge their own path. If you read my previous piece on the distillery, you’ll know Lindores Abbey had no shortage of cask types to choose from. The eventual combination was decided samples were test tasted across numerous tasting panels. 

This involved key members of the team including Drew and Helen McKenzie Smith, Haggart, sales manager Murray Stephenson, and Lorna Baez, a Chilean native with a degree in food science who applied to be a chef and ended up becoming a blender. It was a democratic process in which everybody made anonymous picks to whittle down the selection. Eventually, there were just five possible drams that everybody agreed would all be worthy choices. 

“It was like the Euros. All the teams at this stage were great quality but somebody has to get knocked out,” says Stephenson. “A unanimous pick resulted in the whisky we’re tasting now. We didn’t know what we were looking for as we were stretching the surface of something that had never existed, and yet everybody had this connected feeling of aiming for something that ‘felt Lindores’. A rich, creamy whisky with mouthfeel that tasted older than it was. There was definitely a eureka moment”. 

Lindores Abbey first whisky

Will it prove to be worth the wait?

High hopes

In the future, you can expect a lot of special releases in small numbers showing off the numerous exotic cask types. There will always be a core range, however, very much in the Kilchoman model of doing things. What you won’t see is traditional packaging. The founders were concerned they encourage flipping and are rarely disposed of responsibly. What they’ve lost as a platform to convey information has been replaced by a QR code on the bottle. “It’s not as detailed as say Waterford who will tell you the name of the farmer’s daughter, but there’s still quite a lot of information out there for those who do love to get geeky,” says McKenzie Smith. 

The brand is proud to make Lowland whisky, although the distillery does the unique quirk of being on land which actually borders on the Highlands too. The Lowland’s ranks are swelling with an influx of new blood, but Stephenson underlines that the distillery feels it’s adding something different to the scene. “Yes, it’s light and unpeated like the Glenkinchie’s of this world, but it’s also got this full-bodied, fruity complexity and richness”.

Which gives us an idea of what to expect. As does the new make, which is creamy, slightly grassy, and fully orchard fruit sweetness. It’s hard for the expectation to not be informed by the story too. This is the same barley, sunshine and, water as the monks would have used half a millennia ago. It’s exciting to taste history. The distillery has a production process that prioritises quality. It’s thrilling to try the fruits of that labour. But despite all of this, what’s in the glass matters more than any story, no matter how compelling. And Lindores Abbey has nowhere to hide now. The reviews are in.

Lindores Abbey first whisky

The whisky will be available from MoM Towers at some point in the near future…

MoMalt tastes…  Lindores Abbey first whisky

Well, my review at least (I’m sure they’re on tenterhooks) and I’m pleased to say it’s the attention to detail has paid off. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. Combine quality casks with a well-made spirit and you won’t go wrong. This is an engaging and moreish whisky. The balance of the casks is good. The influence of the STR is here but is measured, the sherry gets a little ahead of itself at times but brings plenty to the table and the bourbon stands proud at the centre, throwing down the welcome mat for the new make with gusto. The former two need more time I think but early signs are promising.

The immaturity of youth rarely rears its head. It’s approachable for its strength. This is a well-composed dram. I’d doubt if anyone would place this as being just over three years old. Remove that rough edge and let time add an extra layer of depth and you’ve got a corker. Full tasting note below.

Lindores Abbey Single Malt Scotch Whisky MCDXCIV Tasting Note:

Nose: A malty and crisp nose opens with sherried spice, soft toffee pennies, hazelnut, and condensed milk. As it develops aromas appear that make me think I was standing by a bakery door in an orchard, with puff pastry, vanilla, Granny Smith apples, Conference pears, fresh dough, and buttercream. Figs, plums, and blueberries bring more fruitiness to the core of the nose with some orange rind, foam bananas, and dried cranberries also present for good measure. Light floral and herbal notes waft away throughout alongside a helping of posh dark chocolate, salty porridge, and pipe tobacco adding some intriguing depth.

Palate: The delivery is viscous, arriving somewhere pleasant between creamy and oily. The 46% ABV gives this an enjoyable heft and presence. Aromatic spice from nutmeg and clove, as well as some freshly cracked black pepper, cuts through some of that creamy caramel and vanilla combinations that carry over from the nose and balance nicely with darker fruits and some cooked apple. Youth and wine casks bring some occasional spikiness that needs some development, but there’s enough personality and composure here for them to give way for notes of marzipan, pears poached in red wine, chocolate digestives, burnt orange rind, and jam.

Finish: Medium in length with a pang of drying bitter oak, some syrupy anise, peppermint, and a lingering reminder of the plump orchard fruits and dairy cream that comprises the new make’s character.

Lindores Abbey Single Malt Scotch Whisky MCDXCIV will be available from MoM Towers at some point in the near future, so keep an eye out for it.

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MoM tastes: TBWC Australian Series whiskies

Our friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have landed a stash that is sure to get whisky fans all excited. Eight casks from some of Australia’s finest whisky distilleries, coming…

Our friends at That Boutique-y Whisky Company have landed a stash that is sure to get whisky fans all excited. Eight casks from some of Australia’s finest whisky distilleries, coming soon to Master of Malt. So, here’s a little preview of TBWC Australian series whiskies.

There’s been much excitement about Australian whisky ever since Sullivans Cove won the best single malt trophy at the World Whiskies Awards in 2014. The only problem was, according to Dave Worthington from That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), “people were talking about it, but nobody could find it.” That’s both the problem and the appeal of Australian whisky. Starward aside, it’s made in tiny quantities and rarely makes its way to the UK. 

Australian whisky history

That is until now: TBWC is just about to list eight limited edition whiskies but before we dive in, Worthington gave me a bit of a history lesson. We highly recommend reading his blog post on the subject. In the 1930s, Australia had the fourth largest whisky industry in the world after Scotland, Ireland and Canada; America was still suffering under Prohibition. Australia certainly had all the ingredients with its British and Irish settlers, abundant wheat and barley, and strong wine industry to provide casks.

Distilleries included Melbourne’s giant Corio Distillery, once the largest in the southern hemisphere. But in the 1980s, quality declined, and imported brands took over. Worthington suspects that nefarious actions by large multinationals were partly to blame. Corio closed in 1986 and Australian whisky was dead. 

Lark Distillery Tasmania_Abbie 1 WEB

Lark Distillery in Tasmania, the godfathers of modern Australian whisky

The rebirth

Bill Lark, however, successfully lobbied to overturn a law forbidding the use of stills smaller than 1,000 gallons (4500 litres). In 1992, he set up Larks Distillery in Tasmania. Rather like Sipsmith for craft distilling in Britain, this opened the floodgates for other distillers including Sullivans Cove, and Hellyers Road in Tasmania; Bakery Hill Distillery in Victoria, and The Great Southern Distilling Company in Western Australia.

The result is one of the most creative whisky industries in the world helped by Australia’s relaxed whisky laws. Producers, often working to a tiny scale, are experimenting with cereals, beer malts, yeasts and, of course, the richness of Australian wine casks. Most distilleries are also working in a climate substantially hotter than Scotland which speeds up ageing considerably.

Cask sniffer extraordinaire

So, to check out this burgeoning scene, TBWC sent intrepid cask sniffer Felix Dear over to find some whiskies. Despite not having much stock a lot of them had heard of Boutique-y and according to Worthington “were well up for taking part”. For the Black Gate distillery, for example, TBWC has taken 4% of its entire annual production. 

These are all single cask whiskies bottled at high strength in 50cl bottles. Oh and the labels are full of in-jokes for the eagle-eyed. As they are such limited editions, I didn’t get to try them all but the ones I did, the first three listed below with full tasting notes, were fascinating.

Here’s what you can expect:

TBWC Black Gate single malt

Black Gate 3 Year Old Batch 1 

Run by husband and wife team Brian and Genise Hollingworth who established the distillery in New South Wales in 2009. They make just 3000 litres of whisky a year from two direct-fired stills of 300 and 630 litres. They describe themselves as a ‘hot climate distillery’ so things mature pretty quickly. 

Grain: single malt
Cask: ex-Apera (ie. Australian sherry-style wine)
ABV: 46%

Nose:  Lots of sweetness coming through on the nose, with burnt toffee, honey, and fruitcake. 

Palate: That lovely sweetness continues with salted caramel and dark chocolate, as well as aromatic spicy and floral notes, marzipan and black coffee.  

Finish: Thick, creamy, and nutty, with vanilla and spice lingering in the mouth.  

TMBW Fleurieu whisky

Fleurieu 3 Year Old Batch 1

FYI, it’s pronounced ‘fleur e oo’ not like the French wine. It’s named after a peninsula in the heart of South Australian’s wine country. According to founder and distillery Gareth Andrews: “The air is very humid, and we have a lower angel’s share than other Australian distilleries.” The stills are modelled on those at Caol Ila on Islay though much smaller.

Grain: single malt
Casks: ex-Apera
ABV: 49.5% 

Nose: There’s a cheese rind note followed by some smoked bacon with gamey meaty notes. It’s like ordering a platter in a wine bar. A drop of water brings out stone fruit and spicy ginger notes. 

Palate: Peppery and spicy, from the high alcohol, and then layers of sweetness, with honeycomb and caramel.

Finish: The spice persists with chilli and black pepper balanced by sweet chocolate and fudge. 

TBWC Shed distillery

Tin Shed distillery 3 Year Old Batch 1 

Another distillery located in South Australia’s wine country. It’s stills are electrically-heated, and short and fat which creates a heavy oily spirit. It was founded by Ian Schmidtt in 2013 and its whiskies are made using local barley as well as making use of the cask riches that can be found near Adelaide. Annual capacity is just 41,000 litres. 

Grain: single malt
Cask: tawny (Australian Port-styles wine) finished in Pinot Gris casks
ABV: 48%

Nose: This is all sweetness, it’s like putting your nose in a packet of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. Mmmmm, Crunchy Nut Cornflakes! There’s also richer notes of maraschino cherries and dark chocolate.

Palate: There’s a little tannic grip and then creamy, toasty, nutty notes like an old oxidised Tawny Port followed by popcorn with cardamom and chilli spice. 

Finish: That sweetness lingers with nutty toasty notes. This is hugely distinctive.

We also have:

Belgrove Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Belgrove 4 Year Old Rye Batch 1

A tiny one man operation, the man in question is Peter Bignell, in Tasmania. The still is made from reclaimed copper from fallen power lines and the grain is malted in an old tumble dryer.

Grain: Rye
ABV: 49.8%
Cask: re-charred ex-Tasmanian whisky cask

Worthington writes: “You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Tequila/mezcal… I bloody love this oddity!

Killara Batch 1 TBWC Australian Whisky

Killara 2 Year Old Batch 1

Made by Kristy Booth-Lark, daughter of Bill Lark and previous head distiller at Lark. This was distilled in her garage before her proper distillery was built. You’ll notice the age, this is not technically a whisky by EU standards so isn’t labelled as such.

Grain: single malt
Cask: Australian tawny
ABV: 49%

Worthington writes: “Reminds me of a Panettone cake dough with lots of sultanas.”

Riverbourne Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Riverbourne  3 Year Old Batch 1

Founded by Martin Pym, this New South Wales distillery began distilling in 2016 after Pym was inspired by a trip to Tasmania.

Grain: Single malt
Cask: re-charred American & French oak
ABV: 50%

Worthington writes: “There’s a herbal note to this with hints of rosemary and raspberry leaves.”

Starward Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Starward 3 Year Old Batch 1

The big boys based in Melbourne, Starward needs no introduction to MoM customers. It was founded in 2013 and it’s now probably the best-distributed Australian whisky in the world. The team are masters at using Australian wine casks to build flavour. This is a great chance to try Starward at cask strength.

Grain: single malt
Casks: re-charred ex-red wine
ABV: 56%

Worthington writes: “Cherry syrup gives way to softer red fruits…. Sweet and fruity, with a spicy finish.”

Bakery Hill Batch 1 TBWC Australian whisky

Bakery Hill 5 Year Old Batch 1

Bakery Hill is a father and son operation founded in 1999. This is a bit unusual as it uses Highland peated malt from Scotland.

Grain: single malt
Cask type: ex-bourbon
ABV: 50%

Worthington writes: “If I’d tasted this in a blind tasting I would have guessed a Ledaig, it has that herbal leathery peated Tobermory vibe to it.”

The collection is now leave, click on links above or go to our Australian whisky page for more information. 

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Master of Malt tastes: Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series

This week we’re revelling in a gloriously aged single malt from an Islay exemplar. Say hello to Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series! It’s a truth universally acknowledged that…

This week we’re revelling in a gloriously aged single malt from an Islay exemplar. Say hello to Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series!

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that the mail is a highlight of any given lockdown day. Last week, a truly intriguing parcel arrived. I’d put my name down for a Bowmore Twitter Tasting (keep your eyes peeled this Thursday evening!), but what I held in my hands was a whole host of deliciousness from the Islay distillery all bundled up in one box. One jewel that especially stood out? Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series.

The biggest challenge was keeping the news, the sample and its tastiness quiet until today. And then saving some of the liquid for Thursday’s tasting. Damn you, embargo! TL;DR: this whisky is gorgeous, and I can’t quite believe I get to taste it.

Bowmore ditillery from the air

The beautiful Bowmore Distillery

After all this promise and hyperbole, what actually is it? Bowmore is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries with a recorded heritage stretching back to 1779. And it’s become something of an Islay icon; its signature balance of tropical fruit, approachable smoke, and a coastal influence has won it fans all over the world. The team at the distillery often talk about how its Warehouse No.1, which sits right against the glimmering expanse of sea known as Loch Indaal, is one of the longest standing maturation warehouses. With the distillery’s storied history such a key theme, it makes sense to group together a range of much older expressions under one banner, and here we have a new expression in the Timeless Series. 

Pleasingly, we get quite a lot of detail about this bottling. The single malt comprises liquid that spent 15 years in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks (although at this point we don’t know exactly what type of sherry). Then it was transferred into first-fill Oloroso butts for the remaining 12 years – and this shines through via the gorgeous heap of dried fruit and almond on the nose. It’s then been bottled at cask strength – here that means 52.7% ABV. There are 3,000 bottles available globally, and we’ve got some here at MoM Towers! (Though it may have sold out by the time you read this. In which case, sorry!) At £1,500 a bottle it’s not cheap, but it really is something wonderful. (There’s also a 31yo travel retail exclusive, but you’ll have to keep an eye on Twitter on Thursday evening for more on that!).

The longer you age a whisky, the trickier it can be to achieve that balance between spirit and cask. As Ron Welsh, Bowmore’s master blender puts it: “With Bowmore Timeless Series, the key is the careful selection of the right casks, at the right time.  This enables us to determine when the spirit has reached its peak, or if it should be left longer to develop its character further. This careful balance is vital to ensuring we allow the character of our whiskies to be optimised and can, therefore, promise exceptional flavour delivery.”

Bowmore’s also teamed up with French film director and artist Thomas Vanz to create an audiovisual digital immersion to support the launch of Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series. You can check it out here at bowmore-experience.com!

Tasting Bowmore 27 Year Old – Timeless Series

Bowmore 27 Timeless Series and its fancy box

Bowmore 27 Timeless Series and its fancy box

Crucial stuff now: what does it actually taste like? Here are my thoughts:

Appearance: Deep amber 

Nose: Opens with oodles of raisins, sultanas and prunes all wrapped up in marzipan. Then comes the gentle beach bonfire smoke, balanced out with cinnamon and toffee apple vibes. There’s a reminder of the traditional Bowmore tropical fruit too, a suggestion of mango and papaya. Then the smoke gets a smidge more medicinal with time. 

Palate: Hugely mouth-filling, pretty viscous, gently warming. The dried fruit cake elements continue, and they’re joined by just-crushed coffee bean, honey, and cigar smoke elements. Old leather, orange oil, proper vanilla pod, and black cherry come through, too.

Finish: It’s all about that cigar-bonfire hybrid smoke, cracked black pepper, and is reminiscent of seaweed. It’s long and just keeps developing on the palate. 

Overall: Gloriously complex and like smoking the most decadent cigar on a seriously sumptuous sofa in a library filled with dusty books. 

And if that’s not enough, it comes in a really rather fancy sand timer-shaped box. Complete with an actual sand timer. It’s set for three minutes, which is apparently how long you should savour the nose for. I say sit with it for as long as you can. It’s really rather lovely, and getting to taste it has been an enormous luxury, and a true highlight in these monotonous lockdown times. 

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Master of Malt tastes… Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky!

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky launches tomorrow, so we thought we’d let you know what to expect from one of the most anticipated releases of the year.  No matter how many…

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky launches tomorrow, so we thought we’d let you know what to expect from one of the most anticipated releases of the year. 

No matter how many times you see a distillery release its inaugural whisky, it never stops being exciting. When that whisky distillery is the first to be built on Skye in 190 years and only the second legal site to operate on the island, that really ramps up the anticipation. Torabhaig has been firmly on whisky fans’ radar ever since the plans to build it were announced. At long last, its first expression, Torabhaig Legacy 2017, is here. Well, it is tomorrow. Keep your eye out on the MoM blog for details of how you might be able to get hold of a bottle (UPDATE: The post is now live).

A peak behind the curtain

Today, we’re going to look at how this whisky was made, how this production process has influenced its profile and review the spirit itself. But before we get to that, the first thing to note about this release is how Torabhaig is doing things a little differently. The inaugural whisky is not a permanent expression. Instead, it will be the first of four bottlings in the Legacy Series which will straddle Torabhaig’s formative years until a single malt that has been aged for ten years (which we can expect to see in 2028) is ready. That means that what we’re tasting today is more of a peek behind the curtain. The brand is letting us see the process of its whisky’s evolution into what will eventually become its signature style.

Neil Mathieson, chief executive at Mossburn Distillers, the company behind Torabhaig, explains that since production began in January 2017 various changes have been implemented to achieve the ideal style. Over the last four years, the distillers have experimented with the peating levels, yeast and barley varieties (single farmer’s grain and speciality malts etc.), the effect of the harvest and how the mashing, fermentation and distillation process affects the Torabhaig spirit. “For the first few years we’ll be possibly surprising ourselves and hoping that everybody enjoys the journey,” he says. 

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Are you excited to try Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky?

Mathieson reveals the initial inspiration for Torabhaig whisky was the earthy, vegetal aromas of Lagavulin and the piercing phenolics on the Laphroaig. The intention was never to make a whisky that tasted like Talisker. “There is room on the island for two distinct styles. It would be a great privilege to be spoken of in the same tone as Talisker, however, because they are a standard-bearer”.

Constantly evolving process

Through this constantly evolving process, the brand has defined its ideal profile as an island-style malt whisky with “well-tempered” peat profile and a fruit-forward character that’s been “shaped by Skye”; the factors contributing to this are pure island spring water sourced from the Allt Breacach and the Allt Gleann burns and the tempestuous climate the maturation takes place in. We’ll see elements of this in the first release, but Mathieson also says that peatiness is even more gentle than people might expect and that we won’t see this profile again since then the grain and phenol levels have since been changed. “The next two releases are looking like they will be heavier in peat”. 

That gentler quality was influenced by the shape and size of the 8000-litre wash still and 5000-litre spirit still made by Forsyths of Rothes, which have traditional downward sloping lyne arms and condensers but a wider neck than typical. This adds an element of reflux which allows aromatic phenols and a more gentle flavour to come through, according to Mathieson. It was built this way due to height restrictions within the distillery, which is housed in a listed 200-year-old farmstead.

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

The beautiful Torabhaig Distillery is on the site of a 19th-century farmstead

The site for Torabhaig was actually chosen by Sir Iain Noble, who founded Pràban na Linne in 1976 (we have an article from Ian Buxton coming up delving further into this story). Sadly, Noble passed in 2010 before he could see his plan through and Mossburn Distillers took advantage of the established planning permission. Work began in July 2014, but it was a complicated construction (the roof had to be removed to get the stills in and the master stonemason actually ended up living there during the rebuild). The reward for patience and perseverance, however, was a scenic distillery that’s rich in history and local lore, which will surely appeal to tourists and whisky geeks alike. 

How the whisky is made and matured

The latter will be intrigued to learn that all of Torabhaig’s barley is sourced from Scotland and is milled on-site on a roller mill and then mashed in the 1.5-tonne capacity mash tun. The grain is currently peated to at least 75ppm, an increase for the initial 60-65ppm standard. In order to attain a more full-bodied, peaty profile, the dominant barley strain was also changed, from Concerto to Laureate, as has the strain of yeast and fermentation times. Fermentation currently lasts between 70-100 hours, on some runs as long as 120, in eight traditional Douglas fir wooden washbacks. There’s also a cooling pond on-site, which is a method of cooling hot water from the condensers before it’s returned to the river not often seen anymore. 

As for maturation, more than 50% of Torabhaig whisky is currently being aged in first-fill bourbon casks and the remaining percentage is predominantly refill. The wood programme also includes Port, Madeira, Cognac, Sauternes, Bordeaux wine and virgin European oak casks between the 200-500-litres in size, however. Each batch produces 80-100 barrels, and once you account for grain and yeast variations as well as the various cask styles Mathieson estimates there are about 40 different profiles of Torabhaig whisky currently maturing. The spread of warehouses includes dunnaged, racked and palletised, so Mathieson says an assessment on what effect these different styles of storage have will be undertaken in the coming years.

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Iona Macphie, one of the nine distillers who make Torabhaig whisky

All of this work is overseen by a total of nine distillers. Initially an experienced team of consultant brewers, distillers and malts men helped the apprentices learn the craft while they studied and achieved their qualifications before all nine were ready to take on the roles themselves. This remarkable approach was informed by a desire for a team who understood every stage of production, which in turn breeds an environment of constant experimentation and innovation. Mathieson says the influence of each distiller is profound. They’ll each have their names printed on the labels and he hopes they’ll all stay to see through the full maturation of their own distillate.

First impressions

This brings us to the whisky itself: Torabhaig Legacy 2017. It’s a single vintage expression aged solely in ex-bourbon from the first quarter’s distillation made with Concerto barley and Pinnacle MG+ yeast. The label also informs us that the in-grain phenols are 55ppm and the residual phenols are 16ppm. It was bottled at 46% ABV and there are just over 3,000 bottles available in the UK. 

The first thing you notice about Torabhaig Legacy 2017 is that it’s not full of youthful aggression or imbued with too much wood character to give the impression of more years in cask. Instead, there’s a harmonious balance of the distillery’s fresh and fruity new make character with the influence of first-fill bourbon barrels and a tonne of coastal characteristics which give it the sense of a good young island dram. It’s every bit as gentle and mellow as we were told to expect, however, and this does mean it lacks some presence and texture initially. Give it time and let it breathe though, and complexity is your reward. All in all, it’s a very promising first chapter for Torabhaig.

 

Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky

Look, it’s Torabhaig Distillery’s first whisky!

Torabhaig Legacy 2017 tasting notes:

Nose: Whispers of coastal peat pass through vanilla and a rich, warming apple note, like the inside of a freshly baked crumble. There’s also wet oak, limestone, mineral salts, seaweed, cockle brine, dried grass and a slight vegetal element among a very pleasant note of sherbet lemons. Underneath there are touches of toasted almond, darker fruits, sugary latte, white pepper and toffee.

Palate: The peat is more pronounced here and has an ashy profile with a touch of iodine. More briny sweetness and orchard fruit (apples and pears mostly) are present too, as well as notes of tinned apricots, wild herbs, fennel, brown bread with salted butter, shellfish doused in lemon juice and freshly cracked black pepper. Throughout there are some light floral and medicinal elements, while the cask adds flavours of vanilla, banana and roasted nuts.

Finish: The finish is lightly charred with wood smoke and has plenty of that salty, seaside charm (cockle brine, rock pools etc.) There’s also browning apples, eucalyptus, a little chewy liquorice and dark fruit.

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Master of Malt tastes… Tomatin core range

Nestled just north of the Speyside border, Tomatin Distillery is one of the most distinctive single malt distilleries in Scotland, and certainly in its Highland home. As 2020 draws to…

Nestled just north of the Speyside border, Tomatin Distillery is one of the most distinctive single malt distilleries in Scotland, and certainly in its Highland home. As 2020 draws to a close, we settled down for a dram – well, four drams, to be specific – with global brand ambassador Scott Adamson…

Located in the village of Tomatin, a short journey south of Inverness, Tomatin Distillery has more than 120 years of whisky-making history under its belt – and as such, some pretty distinctive claims to Scotch whisky fame. Tomatin was the first Scotch whisky producer to use a lauter mash tun, and later, the first to be owned by a Japanese firm. It was also once Scotland’s largest distillery, producing a bumper 12 million litres of alcohol per year on 23 stills in the seventies.

Scott Adamson Tomatin

Scott Adamson, Tomatin global brand ambassador. He spans the world!

Though Tomatin no longer operates at such a frenetic pace, the team – the majority of whom live within the grounds of the distillery – continue to make use of the on-site cooperage and 14 vast warehourses. “Every cask that we produce is matured on site,” says Adamson, “and that is an increasingly rare thing these days, but it’s a relic from the seventies. We’ve got the warehouses that were built for the biggest distillery in Scotland that now are used for a distillery that only produces two million litres of whisky a year, so we have that capacity.”

In addition to Tomatin’s unpeated single malt portfolio, from which we’re about to sample a few flagship drams, the distillery also produces lightly-peated single malt Cù Bòcan, made for one week a year at the distillery, and blended Scotch whisky The Antiquary. This year has been tricky for distillers around Scotland, Tomatin included – but on the bright side, 2021 looks set to be a bumper year for brand spanking new single malt releases from the distillery.

“This year we pumped the brakes on a lot of the things that we had planned,” says Adamson. “We had a lot of nice releases planned for 2020 but we had to pull the cord on those. So we’re looking forward to getting those out next year.” The first of those bottlings is said to be arriving in April, so watch this space. In the meantime, join us as we taste our way through four drams from Tomatin’s core range, guided by Adamson’s expertise…

 Tomatin Legacy

Tomatin Legacy is named for the community of workers that call the distillery ‘home’ in a very literal sense of the word. When Tomatin was established back in 1897, there was no local workforce to speak of: the isolated village was home to shepherds and cattle drovers. Generations of its employees have lived on-site ever since, and it’s one of the few Scotch distilleries that continues to accommodate its craftsmen and women today.

The creation of master distiller Graham Eunson, 85% of the liquid that makes up Legacy is fully matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, while the final 15% is fully matured in virgin oak casks, with an average age of about seven years old. The recipe was selected by the people that live at the distillery. “When Graham started pulling together the recipes, he gave samples to each of the staff and said, ‘Try this, tell me what your favourite recipe is, and that will be the whisky’,” says Adamson.

No stranger to the Tomatin way of life, Adamson himself lived at the distillery for four years. “It was an incredible place for around nine months of the year – but in the winter, it could be a gruelling place to live,” he recalls. “My wife worked at the hospital in Inverness and had shifts at ungodly hours. You’d wake up to see that three feet of snow had fallen and you had to dig a Volkswagen Lupo out of the driveway. It was amazing because I’d be out there at four o’clock in the morning and the next door neighbour would come out and give me a hand. Everyone understood that we were all in it together.”

Tomatin Legacy tasting notes

Nose: Raspberry marshmallows and lemon icing zested with fresh peel. Menthol and pine notes too, with a waft of foam bananas.

Palate: Creamy at first, with soft vanilla pods. Candy canes emerge with lemon sherbet and sweet toasted cereals,

Finish: Light and crisp. Honeycomb develops into a warming-the-cockles type of pepperiness.

Tomatin 12 Year Old

While Tomatin has released age-statement bottlings in the past  – “we’ve got records showing that we were releasing single malt whisky bottled as a nine-year-old back in 1926,” says Adamson – the aged range didn’t really begin to emerge until the 1990s. While the 5- and 10-year-old whiskies were eventually phased out, Tomatin 12 has stood strong to this day. As a quintessential Highland single malt, it’s “very much the DNA that everything else is built upon”, Adamson says. 

“It is a perfectly rounded, well-balanced whisky,” he says. “The way we do that is with a triple-wood maturation. We’re using bourbon barrels like we do in Legacy, with first-fill Oloroso sherry casks and refill casks. [Refill casks] are the unsung heroes of the whisky world, because in something like the 12 Year Old, they allow that distillery character to shine through – so you’ve got sweetness from the bourbon, dried fruit and spice from the sherry and nice fruity notes from from the refill casks.”

Where some producers favour American oak sherry casks and others favour European oak sherry casks, Tomatin uses a combination of both, says Adamson. “Every sherry cask we’re using has American and European oak staves built into it,” he says. “It’s then toasted and treated with what we call ‘sacrificial wine’ for the first year. All that wine is doing is pulling out some of the green notes from the woods that are going to be harsh in the whisky. And then that goes on to be vinegar.” The team then fills those same casks with VOS and VORS Oloroso sherries for the final two years. “These casks act like transport casks used years ago in the whisky industry, and hold sherry that is destined to be bottled,” says Adamson. “It gives so much more richness to the wood and allows us to create some pretty special drams.”

The 12 Year Old recipe has evolved over the course of the last 25 years, as you’d naturally expect. Where once the whisky was simply aged for 11 years in ex-bourbon and one year in ex-Oloroso sherry, today around 11 different types of cask go into the bottling to achieve the desired profile. It may be a headache to make, but it’s also testament to the skill of Tomatin’s whisky-makers. “To still be producing a whisky that is very similar to what was released back then, with all the differences that have happened in the bourbon industry and the supply of wood from America, the sherry industry and the supply of wood from Spain – to still be able to produce this whisky really is quite an incredible thing,” says Adamson.

Tomatin 12 Year Old tasting notes

Nose: A hit of malt extract, with green apple, fir trees, and lashings of spiced marmalade.

Palate: Buttery at first, then a kick of allspice and ginger emerges, elevated with nectarines and cloves.

Finish: Slightly musty oak, fruit cake with the merest hint of fennel and peppermint at the end.

Tomatin 14 Year Old Port Wood Finish

Each of these core whiskies tells part of the Tomatin story, and the 14 Year Old is all about the distillery’s on-site cooperage, says Adamson. “This is when we start moving away from a marriage – like the Legacy and 12 Year Old – and into the finishes,” he says. To create the 14 Year Old, “we’ll mature for the first 12 years in refill casks – mostly refill bourbon barrel casks that we’ve used once or twice before – and then for a minimum of two years, but sometimes up to four or five, we’re finishing in tawny Port pipes.”

While Port cask whisky has become incredibly popular in recent years, tawny Port remains incredibly elusive to distillers. “The vast majority of Port-matured whiskies are ruby Port,” says Adamson. “Nothing wrong with that at all – we’ve played with ruby casks and had some fantastic results.” For the 14 Year Old, however, Eunson wanted to add a certain depth and roundness that only tawny Port could offer. “With the tawny Port, there’s peach, cherry, and some darker notes – dark chocolate, a little bit of coffee, nice honey flavours in there,” he says.

Tomatin buys its tawny Port casks from Symington Family Estates. The casks have been used to hold Port two or three times over a period spanning more than 50 years before they make their way to the distillery at a rate of just 60 Port pipes per year. “They all get put to work as Tomatin 14 Year Old,” says Adamson. “We’re very fortunate that we have first refusal on those casks, but it’s by no means a product that we’re able to grow in any massive volume. We have to be very careful about what casks we’re using.”

Tomatin 14 Year Old Port Wood Finish tasting notes

Nose: Rich and full, with cranberries and apricots, mulled spices, thick toffee and praline.

Palate: Soft and round with a red wine-like sweetness. Stewed red fruits, sweet prunes, caramel and a touch of spice.

Finish: Dark chocolate, candied fruits, and oak tannins that dries up towards the end, leaving a note of fresh-cut melon. 

Tomatin Decades II

You wouldn’t watch Die Hard 2 without first watching Die Hard. So before we tuck into this rather special follow-up dram, let’s take a step backwards. The first Decades bottling was released back in 2011 to mark the 50th anniversary of then-master distiller Dougie Campbell. “He was asked to take casks that had been produced in the 50 years that he had worked at Tomatin and marry them together,” says Adamson. In doing so, “he pioneered the category of multi-vintage vattings – he had whiskies from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s, all in the one bottle.”

When Campbell retired – not before being awarded an MBE for fostering 19 children – Euson stepped into his shoes. To celebrate his transition into the role, Euson was tasked with creating Decades II. “Graham’s not worked at Tomatin for 50 years, so he went and spoke to members of staff that had started at the distillery during that time, and selected casks from the years that they started at the distillery,” says Adamson. “Decades II contains whisky from 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988, 1995, 2000, 2009 and 2013. It’s an incredible mix.”

Of the whisky’s make-up, 24% of the recipe is from the 1970s, and more than 60% is more than 25 years old. A bumper 21 casks go into the vatting; first-fill bourbon barrels, refill bourbon hogsheads, first-fill Oloroso sherry butts, re-charred Verdejo hogsheads, and second-fill French oak barrels. “Multi-vintage vatting is something that we’ve done a couple of times now,” says Adamson. “We’re going to commit to it and we’re going to be doing it in the years ahead.”

Tomatin Decades II tasting notes

Nose: Bold and fruity, with maple syrup, baked apples, green banana, beeswax and cola cubes.

Palate: Thick and sweet. Immediate tropical fruits evolve into ginger, delicate oak, and citrus oils.

Finish: Zingy, with lime and more tropical fruits. Develops into chocolate and cooked fruits with an almond nuttiness.

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Master of Malt tastes… Masthouse Single Malt Whisky

Something very special has just arrived at MoM towers, the inaugural single malt whisky from the Copper Rivet distillery in Chatham. It’s called Masthouse and we were lucky enough to…

Something very special has just arrived at MoM towers, the inaugural single malt whisky from the Copper Rivet distillery in Chatham. It’s called Masthouse and we were lucky enough to be allowed a little taste. Here’s what we thought…

We visited the Copper Rivet distillery back in 2018 and were extremely impressed by the embryonic whiskies we tried. The quality of the new make was obvious as was knowledge, commitment and sheer enthusiasm of head distiller Abhi Banik. You wouldn’t even have to try his products to know that they were top notch. Though of course we did. The distillery has been selling a young aged malt spirit called Son of Gun as an aperitif for a couple of years alongside Dockyard Gin but now we’re very pleased to announce the arrival of the main course, Masthouse Single Malt Whisky. It’s not Kent’s first single malt, that honour goes to a release from Anno Distillers in Marden earlier this year, but it is the first to be made in any great quantity.

Abhi Banek (right) with his booze-making equipment

Copper Rivet opened in 2016, it is owned by the Russell family and housed in a beautiful Italianate former pump house in Chatham Docks. The team are mad on provenance and transparency so they have come up with their own version of the SWA rules called the Invicta charter. It’s quite long, you can read the whole thing here, but the main points are that grains have to come from within 50 miles of the distillery, all operations after malting but including fermentation must take place under one roof and it includes a system for labelling whisky that is clear to the consumer stating the grains and type of still used. Co-founder Stephen Russell explained: “This is our declaration of the high standards we apply to making whisky so that our customers can trust and appreciate the spirit. Every bottle clearly details the grain variety we use, the name of the field in which the grain was grown and the barrel numbers from which the spirit was taken.”

The charter is not something the Copper Rivet team expects other people to sign up to though it does outline a possible future for regulating the English whisky. Russell explained, however, that he wanted to keep the flexibility enjoyed by this young industry: “Among the most significant differences between Scotch and English whisky is that England’s whisky distillers are not bound to using only certain types of casks and stills. So we have a big opportunity to be creative and innovative in the way we bring flavour through.” The distillery has produced a video featuring Banek explaining things further.

So let’s get onto Masthouse, the inaugural single malt whisky. It’s a single harvest, 2016, single estate spirit; all the barley was grown on the Isle of Sheppey, about 15 miles from the distillery. The variety used is Belgravia. It’s malted off-site, then at the mashing stage, Banek wants a very clear wort. “A clear wort makes a fruitier spirit. With a cloudy wort you get lots of nutty flavours which I don’t want,” he told us when we visited. For fermentation, “we use two different yeasts, and use half the quantity you’re supposed to use so that we have a slow fermentation.” The wash was pot-distilled and matured in ex-bourbon and virgin American white oak barrels before bottling at 45% ABV with no filtering. There’s a full tasting note below but what is immediately apparent is the delightful fruitiness of that new make. It’s youthful but in no way overpowered by the wood. In fact, there is already quite a bit of complexity. As Russell put it: “With Masthouse whisky we aim to go over the top in our quest to produce a fascinating and elegant whisky which competes with the best from around the world on flavour and quality.” I think they have achieved their aim.

When we visited back in 2018, we also tasted some aged column malt and grain spirits of extremely high quality. These will be released within the next 12-24 months. At some point, when there is more aged stock we hope there might be a blended whisky and the Invicta charter does allow for the release of whiskies blended from more than one distillery, which is really exciting. 

Tasting note from the Chaps at Master of Malt

Nose: Apple and peachy fruit with cereal notes like malt and oats, with vanilla, cinnamon, marzipan, and a lift of lemon peel.

Palate: Creamy, with a full cereal texture, some peppery alcohol, you can feel the ABV. Smooth and round with porridge, chocolate digestive biscuits and that citrus peel note again.  

Finish: Vanilla comes through strongly with oatcakes and custard. 

Overall: Young but by no means raw or uncomplex. It’s smooth as hell and packed with flavour.

Copper Rivet Masthouse is available from Master of Malt while stocks last.

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Master of Malt tastes… Octomore 11 Series

A host of new Octomore whisky made its way to our doorstep, so we did what any honest whisky lover would do and cracked them open and feasted on what’s…

A host of new Octomore whisky made its way to our doorstep, so we did what any honest whisky lover would do and cracked them open and feasted on what’s inside.

According to the folks behind Octomore, their process of creating whisky shouldn’t work. If you wanted to make delicious booze, you wouldn’t look at its production and exactly be rushing to take notes. Its whisky is bottled between five and ten years old, typically on the lower end of that scale, often at cask strength with an ABV in the range of 55-60%. Then there’s the phenol content. A designation of ‘heavily peated’ means a whisky with a ppm (parts per million, a measure of phenol content) above 30. The first Octomore was made with barley peated to 80.5ppm and it’s gone well above that in subsequent expressions. Bruichladdich master distiller Adam Hannett has joked that it’s undrinkable whisky. It’s too young, too strong and too peaty.

But somehow they manage to balance these disparate elements to create something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Partly this is because it is made with the tall and narrow stills, which create a very light and elegant spirit. The heavier phenols fail to climb that high and so don’t make it into the heart cut. In another distillery’s stills, a malt peated to higher than 80ppm malt would be overwhelming. The distillate is also carefully matured for just enough time to let oak mellow the alcohol, which means you get something peaty, yes, but a spirit that still retains that fruity, floral and maritime distillery character. 

Octomore has been defying expectations ever since it was created by Mark Reynier and master distiller Jim McEwan in 2002. The story goes that McEwan was sourcing peated malt from Bairds Maltings in Inverness and witnessed them malting using an open-air outdoor peat fire. The old-fashioned technique has many benefits but it is hard to maintain consistency, so Bairds blended heavily-peated barley with unpeated malt in order to achieve the desired ppm. Ever the innovator, McEwan was drawn to the uncut stuff and intrigued by the prospect that it was unusable. So, instead of picking up the 40ppm malt he needed for the Port Charlotte brand, he came home with 131ppm barley. 

Octomore 11 Series

Harnessing several potentially volatile elements is how Hannett creates great Octomore whisky

Bruichladdich soon learned that once you create charming, rustic and burly whisky bottled with headline-grabbing peating levels, you’re onto a winner. However, this can be a double-edged sword. The ‘world’s most heavily peated single malt’ became a tagline for everything the brand released. The methods and marketing used by the brand in recent times suggest it has no interest in being pigeonholed. Hannett revealed recently he’s focused on looking for differences in every series. The desire is to communicate that Octomore is created using an experimental, open-minded approach with a penchant for provenance and a willingness to explore cask profiles.

Which brings us to its new series: The 11s (they’re clearly more inventive with barley strains and ppm than names at Octomore). It’s made up of three expressions, the 11.1, 11.2 and 11.3, and features some raw material experimentation in the .1 and .3 expressions, with some intriguing cask choices explored through the .2 bottlings, which this year is sadly only available here or in global travel retail. The 11.1 was distilled in 2014 from the 2013 harvest of 100% Scottish grown Concerto and Propino barley and malted to 139.6ppm. It then spent a total of five years in first-fill casks from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Jack Daniel’s before being bottled at 59.4% ABV.

The 11.3, by contrast, was malted to 194ppm and bottled at 61.7% ABV, although it was also matured for five years in the same cask profiles, plus Buffalo Trace for good measure. Why? Because the distillery was interested in showcasing terroir. For the 11.3, the brand used barley grown on the local Octomore farm, just two miles from the distillery, which unlike barley on the mainland, is exposed to the climatic conditions and the salt spray from the wild Atlantic swells. This barley is also harvested, malted and distilled separately from other barley strains Octomore has to create single field, single vintage single malt. 

Octomore 11 Series

Introducing: The Octomore 11 Series

A quote from the press release explains: “Comparing Octomore 11.1 and 11.3 gives one of our finest lessons in stratospheric smoke and barley terroir. While both editions are malted to a Brobdingnagian 100+ ppm reading, the differences in barley character from the respective growing region are ever-present”. Aside from the outstanding use of the word Brobdingnagian, the other thing to note about these expressions is the sole use of ex-American whiskey and/or virgin oak casks. The former is the ultimate vessel for preserving distillery character, while the latter is fresh, potent wood that adds personality and colour at a very young age. Typically virgin oak is a tricky customer. Balance is the name of the game, and Octomore’s robust spirit seems a good match on paper. 

Alongside these three releases, Octomore also launched the fourth edition of its 10 Years Old bottling which was malted to a mighty 208ppm and bottled at 54.3% ABV. The whiskies that make up this elder Octomore were drawn from a total of 77 casks which included a mix of virgin oak and first- and second-fill ex-American whiskey casks from Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace and Jack Daniel’s. “Sitting alongside its 11s series counterparts, this Ten Year Old brings a subtler, more mature dimension to the otherwise youthful exuberance of the .1, .2 and .3 spirits. While we deliberately keep the barley influence forward in the .1 and .3 editions, our .2 and Ten Year Old editions introduce cask influence at varying ends of the Octomore age spectrum,” the distillery revealed.

Now that we’ve familiarised ourselves with how the whiskies were made, we should get right to it and find out how they taste. I had tremendous fun doing this because I love them. The subtlety of the 11.1 blew me away. There’s a fair chunk of peat, sure, but it’s the structure rather than the star and it rolled down an ashy carpet to present a litany of fruit and fun. As for the 11.3, the full, malty hit on the nose offers the stark contrast the brand wanted in a deeper, meatier bottling that’s not as refined but has a charming wild element to it. Although, I do think the palate is a touch overwhelmed. The Ten Year Old lacked the adventure of the 11s, but it was delightful in its own right as a fruity, mellow and refined sipper. For a more in-depth look, the tasting notes are below and include a bonus ball review. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

The Octomore 11 Series is available from Master of Malt now.

Octomore 11 Series

Octomore 11.1 5 Year Old

Nose: The initial sweetness is very striking, as is the customary peat smoke – a combination of cigar ash and charcoal. There’s tinned peaches, Granny Smith apples, golden barley, vanilla custard and shortbread biscuits present, as well as hints of wet grass, tropical fruit, floral honey and homemade stem ginger.

Palate: More smoke and some peppery spice rolls around butterscotch, vanilla and demerara sugar with Conference pears, lychee and a tropical medley of mango, pineapple and papaya in support.

Finish: The fruity notes linger with baking spice and oily tar before the finish becomes slightly menthol. 

Octomore 11 Series

Octomore 11.3 5 Year Old Islay Barley 

Nose: Wood smoke and lots of Bruichladdich maltiness is at the core of this nose, with tinned fruit salad in syrup, green apples and lemon peel in support as well as touches of seaweed, burnt heather and cured bacon. Underneath there are hints of apricot yoghurt, butterscotch, honey and marzipan.

Palate: Sweet, delicate and with plenty of ashy smoke, this palate is full of treacle, sour apple sweets, vanilla, stone fruits, black pepper and marmalade on burnt toast, with some earthy, almost mossy tones and light floral notes throughout.

Finish: Tropical fruit, drying smoke and sweet citrus.

Octomore 11 Series

Octomore 10 Year Old – Fourth Edition

Nose: Nectarines, charred pineapple, mango smoothie and orange peel lead with vanilla shortbread, some stony minerality, rock pools, heathery peat and ginger in support. The smoke takes its time and something of a backseat, smouldering in the backdrop like damp bonfire wood.

Palate: Floral honey pours out of the palate accompanied by sea salt, exotic fruit, fudge, coconut macaroons, sweet tobacco, red chilli chocolate and more measured smoky tones.

Finish: Toasted oak, roasted apricots, campfire embers and malted milk biscuits.

Octomore 11 Series

Bonus ball: Octomore 11.2 

Ok, so we decided to review this one anyway, because we got a sample and frankly, what the hell. 11.2 is malted to 139.6 PPM and matured in two separate casks. A quarter of the final product was matured full term in ex-European oak casks from a winemaker from Pauillac in Bordeaux. The other 75% parcel was first filled into ex-American oak before being transferred into ex-Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques from the St Julien, also in Bordeaux, from May 2018 to January 2020. The two parcels were brought together for a final few months, meaning that, all in all, the whisky was aged for five years on Islay before being bottled at 58.6% ABV.

Nose: Through gentle, drying smoke and sweet toasted oak comes a winter fruit salad (prunes, pears, apricots, figs and cranberries) drizzled with honey, as well as sweet tobacco, rich malt, almonds, smoked oysters, coffee grounds and earthy vanilla pod.

Palate: A plummy palate begins with strawberry jam, blackcurrant and dark cherry with a little orange blossom in support and dark chocolate, ginger, creme brûlée and toasted nuts underneath. Wisps of ashy smoke permeate the sweeter notes creating a dry, savoury backdrop alongside damp oak.

Finish: An almost medicinal smoke smoulders away among some coal dust, peppery spice and red fruit. 

Overall: The peat is understated and integrated well in this indulgent and slightly drying expression. The cask pulls the whisky into tart, intense and luxurious territory that perhaps accentuates the dryer notes too much but ultimately brings new dynamics without overplaying its hand.

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Master of Malt tastes… GlenAllachie’s Virgin Oak Series

We taste our way through GlenAllachie’s limited edition Virgin Oak Series and talk to master distiller Billy Walker about wood policy, oak species, local terroir and more, as well as…

We taste our way through GlenAllachie’s limited edition Virgin Oak Series and talk to master distiller Billy Walker about wood policy, oak species, local terroir and more, as well as how to ensure distillery character isn’t lost in experimental maturation. 

In October, The GlenAllachie Distillery tweeted that “Wood policy is an essential part of our master distiller, Billy Walker’s craft. He meticulously hand-selects all the casks from around the world”. The brand then invites fans to suggest cask types they’d like to see Walker use, and in the background, you can see a cask from Koval Distillery in Chicago, a ruby Port pipe and a Pedro Ximenez cask.

It’s a demonstration of how Walker works and what he wants GlenAllachie to be. October also marked three years since Walker bought the distillery near Aberlour in 2017 with Trisha Savage and Graham Stevenson and in this time they have become familiar with the site and its inventory and defined GlenAllachie as a distillery with a full-bodied, fruity, sweet and biscuity spirit, delivered in part by long fermentation (something of a signature of Walker’s), with a wood policy that emphasizes using oak with history and unique characteristics.

Which brings us to The Virgin Oak Series, a new range consisting of whiskies finished for twelve months in casks of different oak species from regions around the world: 12 Year Old Spanish Virgin Oak Finish12 Year Old French Virgin Oak Finish and 12 Year Old Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish. Each whisky was first matured in white American oak ex-bourbon barrels and every virgin oak cask was toasted and charred to the same level (medium, toast for 30–40 minutes, char for 30–40 Secs). They were also bottled without any additional colouring or chill-filtration at an ABV of 48%, which means every parameter was kept consistent so any distinctions and nuances between the expressions will be down to the virgin oak casks.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

Billy Walker with the new range

Walker, who was awarded Master Distiller/Master Blender of the Year 2020 at the Icons of Whisky Awards, commented: “We had already a lot of knowledge on the behaviour of a variety of different virgin oak casks and thought it might capture the imagination of the curious inquisitive consumer. We have endeavoured to showcase how different oak genera can determine the flavour and organoleptic profile of the maturing whisky. We selected three oak styles which from our experience we know would deliver significant differences that the consumer could recognise and appreciate.”

He went on to explain how the three oak species each have their own distinct flavours caused by wood structure, pore size and chemical make-up. These characteristics are exacerbated by the different lengths of time each wood is air-dried for (see tasting notes). Walker said: “Natural air-drying provides a more natural and gentle drying experience in reducing the water presence down to under 10%.” 

Experimenting with maturation in this regard is incredibly exciting, but it does come with risks. A series like this is only interesting if we can observe how the GlenAllachie distillery character is affected by the cask types. If it’s overwhelmed by the virgin oak (which can easily happen), then the series falls flat. A full-bodied distillate helps, but Walker says that to avoid this pitfall, experience and knowledge are key. “We ensure that the secondary wood management does not overwhelm the fundamental DNA of the GlenAllachie distillate by allowing the secondary maturation to continue only until the “sweet spot” has been achieved. This requires a lot of sampling to follow its development. We were checking every fortnight”.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

The GlenAllachie Distillery, home to much experimentation and tasty whisky

Tasting the Virgin Oak Series (which you can watch Walker doing here), I think it’s fair to say that the experiment worked. The contrast between each expression is stark and, while the integration wasn’t always consistent, I was impressed with how much GlenAllachie personality is here. There’s a whisky for all palates in this range. The French Virgin Oak is the finest of the three in my book, but we’d love to hear which you enjoyed the most. Looking forward, Walker confirms that GlenAllachie has a lot of interesting things going on (look out for British oak and Mizunara casks) which he assures us will lead to some absolutely stunning releases. We look forward to trying them too. For now, check out our tasting notes and details on the new releases, which you can buy here, below.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Spanish Virgin Oak Finish

The Spanish Virgin Oak was finished in hogsheads made of Spanish white oak (both it and the French oak are types of Quercus Robur) from the Cantabrian Mountains in northern Spain. Walker says this area has a cooler climate and greater humidity than the rest of the country and that the pores of the Spanish virgin oak are less tight. When combined with the length of air drying (18 months), he says it imparts distinctive spicy, treacly notes with heather honey, treacle, coconut, orange zest, nutmeg and cinnamon”

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Soft toffee pennies, Bounty chocolate bar, floral honey and orange peel with dark chocolate, bruised peach, hazelnut, buttery biscuit, mini foam bananas and hints of fresh clove and cinnamon in support.

Palate: Waves of chocolate and milky coffee come through with treacle, apple blossom, floral notes, dried fruit, black pepper and stem ginger.

Finish: Long, delicately sweet and with Sugar Puffs some lingering spice and floral elements.

Overall: The cask has brought out the citrus, biscuity and spicy elements in an approachable, bright that possesses weight and complexity. The most fun of the three, but without the depth of the French oak.

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old French Virgin Oak Finish

The French Virgin Oak Finish is made from French oak from the Haute-Garonne region near the Pyrenees and the wood was air-dried for 15 months. Walker says the wood is very finely grained and rich, which creates a subtle, sweet and earthy taste with silky tannins, honey, fruit, orange zest, honey and ginger.

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: At first there’s drying red apple skins, some earthiness, digestive biscuits and heather honey followed by a little mocha, pink grapefruit, chocolate orange, cinnamon and honeycomb.

Palate: Lots of coffee, tannins and butterscotch upfront, with orchard fruit, dried apricot liquorice and a touch of bran muffin underneath. 

Finish: Rich, sweet and long with cinnamon, white chocolate and citrus.

Overall: An earthy, more mellow and bittersweet dram that’s got so much depth and subtlety as well as the best integration of cask and distillate. 

GlenAllachie Virgin Oak

GlenAllachie 12 Year Old Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish

Finally, the Chinquapin Virgin Oak Finish is made from casks from the northern Ozark region in Missouri, USA. Chinquapin is a sub-species of quercus alba (Quercus Muehlenbergeii). The casks are air-dried for nearly four years which Walker explains creates flavours of liquorice and even hints of rosehips, which accompany complex, zesty flavours with notes of heather honey, barley sugar, toasted biscuit and orange zest, mocha, anis, fennel, cinnamon.

Master of Malt Tasting Note:

Nose: Vanilla tablet, fragrant citrus, honey and a little cacao leads with heather, polished oak, drying nutmeg and Thorntons Caramel Shortcake Bites in support.

Palate: Initially there’s butterscotch biscuits, stewed apple, hazelnut and honey on toast before that liquorice, aniseed boiled sweet elements appear among a little baking spice and sandalwood.

Finish: A big scoop of chocolate ice cream, buttery vanilla and plenty of cinnamon.

Overall: Hugely decadent and full of personality, but it’s a touch overwhelming for me.

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Master of Malt tastes… Benromach 21 Year Old

When we heard that Benromach had released a 21-year-old expression, we were intrigued to see how the brand’s distinctive style of whisky matured over the years. So, we had a…

When we heard that Benromach had released a 21-year-old expression, we were intrigued to see how the brand’s distinctive style of whisky matured over the years. So, we had a taste. And we liked.

Back in May 2018, I had the good fortune of visiting two Speyside distilleries on the same day. One was the giant Glenfiddich, a sprawling campus of creation and enterprise which makes the world’s best-selling single malt whisky and more. The other was Benromach Distillery

The contrast was stark. Benromach is a small-scale, manual distillery. Every process is carried out and monitored by a small staff and its production capacity is 380,000 litres of whisky per year (Glenfiddich makes 13,000,000 litres in that time). The humble approach and rustic charm is no accident, however. After purchasing the site back in 1993, Gordon & MacPhail’s goal was to create traditional handcrafted single malt influenced by the kind of whisky that would have been produced in Speyside in Scotch’s 19th-century heyday.

Since the distillery restarted production, we have used traditional production methods, and each stage of the process is designed to give a spirit character that is traditional, lightly peated and handcrafted,” says Keith Cruickshank, Benromach’s distillery manager. “Our small team of distillers has long relied entirely on their expertise and senses to make the finest handmade whisky and that’s something that hasn’t changed since the distillery reopened 22 years ago.

Benromach 21 Year Old

The small, charming Benromach makes a distinctive style of whisky

The distillery had passed through a number of hands after it was first established in Forres, Scotland in 1898, sadly closing in 1983 before it was revived by Gordon & MacPhail. By 1998 production had restarted using locally-grown Scottish barley which is malted with a little peat smoke, recalling the Speyside tradition of topping up fires with cuts of peat when coal ran low. The barley is ground into grist in a 120 year-old four-roller Boby Mill over a 90 minute period, before it’s mixed with water drawn from the nearby Chapelton Spring in the Romach Hills, the same source used by Benromach since it first opened.

The aim is to create a medium-bodied spirit suitable for variable lengths of maturation, which explains the long fermentation process, which lasts between three and five days in larch washbacks that Cruickshank says creates a rich, complex, fruity new make. The brand also takes the unusual step of using two types of yeast: brewer’s and distiller’s yeast. “We feel it creates a more complete fermentation – this all contributes to the development of more complex flavours”.

Distillation takes place in a 7,500-litre short and squat wash still and a 5,500-litre spirit still. Cruickshank explains that the former has an almost horizontal lyne arm to create more copper contact with the alcohol, which lends to the desired medium-heavy spirit character and that the latter has a reflux ball which pushes back down the very heavy vapours, allowing lighter vapours to travel up the still. Once the spirit is distilled, it’s hand-filled into first-fill casks exclusively and rolled into traditional dunnage style warehouses, which provide “consistent temperatures and the ideal conditions for maturing single malt whisky,” according to Cruickshank.

Benromach 21 Year Old

First-fill casks are used exclusively at Benromach

This process has enabled Benromach to establish an impressive core range in a short space of time. For my money, the 10 Year Old is one of the finest bottlings available at its price point and the brand has demonstrated an ability to experiment and innovate, with limited-edition cask strength expressions, organic bottlings and intriguing wood finishes. Its latest release is what has taken our focus today, however. Benromach 21 Year Old is the oldest permanent addition to its core range. It was matured in first-fill sherry and bourbon and bottled at 43% ABV, ready to be launched just as the distillery announced a redesign, inspired by the hand-painted sign that used to adorn the roof above the kiln, along with the distinctive red doors around the distillery and the red brick chimney.

Its release caught my eye because the dram should provide a window into how ‘new’ Benromach matures over a long period of time. Is the distillery character preserved? What effect does the commitment to first-fill casks have? For Cruickshank, the 21 year old represents a progression of the brand’s signature style. “It perfectly embodies the decades of hard work, pride and passion that have gone into recreating that lost character of Speyside whiskies from the 1950s and 1960s. As an older whisky which is still grounded in our commitment to using only the finest first-fill bourbon and sherry casks, it provides a unique take on the classic Benromach style.”

It’s a take I thoroughly enjoyed. Since the late nineties, Benromach has demonstrated the story of revival can be understated, patient and methodical, and the 21 Year Old is just rewards. It’s a dram of variety and vibrancy. The melding of sherry and bourbon casks is measured and graceful, pairing plenty of distillery character with a subtle and understated maturity. It’s got tremendous clarity and style. Take your time and savour this one.

You can purchase Benromach 21 Year Old here and the full tasting note is below.

Benromach 21 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Deep Oloroso sherry comes through, with stewed plums, raspberry jam and juicy sultanas initially followed by hints of Pinot Noir, orange peel and dried apricots. Vanilla, toasted brown sugar, milk chocolate and aromatic ginger spice appear underneath with sweet peat warmth throughout. 

Palate: Notes of stewed orchard fruit, chocolate-covered raisins and Seville orange marmalade are followed by hints of set honey, praline, red berries and gingerbread. In the backdrop, there’s cracked black pepper, tangy oak and smoke from a smouldering bonfire. 

Finish: Sherry tones lead the finish, with a hint of buttery toffee apples, oak spice and fruitcake.

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Master of Malt tastes… Glenfarclas 60 year old single cask

We got to have a taste of one of the most impressive and exciting whisky releases of the year. A 60-year-old single cask whisky from Glenfarclas Distillery. It’s every bit…

We got to have a taste of one of the most impressive and exciting whisky releases of the year. A 60-year-old single cask whisky from Glenfarclas Distillery. It’s every bit as good as it sounds. And we’re getting some.

The year 1959 did not start well for Glenfarclas. At 2 am on New Year’s Day workers at the distillery discovered that the stillman had forgotten to open a valve on the wash still. You see, he’d overindulged a tad in the festivities, and that error had catastrophic consequences. When the valve was finally opened, the heat and volume of liquid broke the spirit safe, and boiling alcohol escaped everywhere. 

Fire hoses stopped the alcohol igniting, thankfully, but most of the wash had to be replaced. The insurance company suggested that perhaps closing over the Christmas period in the future, before presumably asking themselves why they’d ever taken on a booze factory as a client. Glenfarclas took the advice and 1959 was the last time the Speysiders distilled and filled on Christmas Day. 

While 1959 didn’t kick-off in the finest of fashions, it was a record production year for Glenfarclas. A new farm steading was completed that summer and work began on a new stillhouse to increase the number of stills from two to four, effectively doubling production by 1961. Before that was completed, one particular batch of whisky was distilled and placed in a first-fill oloroso sherry hogshead on the 2nd of June 1959. It remained there in the brand’s dunnage warehouse until November 2019, when it was bottled at 40.9% ABV.

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

Behold, Glenfarclas 60 Year Old!

That whisky is the Glenfarclas 60 Year Old I sampled on Friday in the presence of sales director George Grant and production manager Callum Fraser, who hosted a virtual tasting from Warehouse 1 at the distillery. Just 105 precious bottles of this UK exclusive (until it’s inevitably flipped all over the world) have been made available, although, as Grant pointed out, we’re “bloody lucky to get 105”. Each one is made from hand-blown Glencairn Crystal and the gift boxes are produced by NEJ Stevenson, so it’s got all the luxury trimmings you’d expect for a whisky of this age.

Expectation is part of the territory when you release a whisky that’s been aged for six decades. First comes the excitement. I had to check I hadn’t accidentally started daydreaming when I got the invitation through to this tasting. This is whisky from the last cask left from 1959, for goodness sake. Then comes the intrigue. What happens to Glenfarclas distillate after all that time in the cask? Has the cask overwhelmed the spirit or created something truly special? 

Usually, you’d also expect a dram to show how the production process changed over sixty years. With Glenfarclas, however, there’s less to learn, because it has a well-established reputation for doing things differently. It has been owned by the Grant family since 1865, with over six generations handling the reins, making it one of the few independent family firms left. It heats its stills using direct fire as it has always done, believing that it adds weight to the distillate, and works with just one cooper in Jerez, Miguel Martin, to source its ex-Oloroso butts and hogsheads, all made from European oak. The whisky is stored in traditional dunnage warehouses and is only ever released at natural colour, often with an age statement and little in the way of marketing.

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old

Glenfarclas is known for its no-nonsense approach and commitment to sherry casks

All this means that Glenfarclas fans know what to expect when they indulge in the brand’s whisky: elegant, refined and sherry-tastic tipples. When it came to this tasting, I was of a similar mind.

Happily, I wasn’t disappointed. This is a stonking good whisky. It’s got all of the presence, weight and complexity you’d expect for a dram this age, but with a delightful vibrancy. The cask oozes noble, sherried goodness throughout and there’s still plenty of hallmark Glenfarclas characteristics to savour. I could have spent a fortnight just nosing it. It’s a real shame to think there will be bottles of this not opened in the name of flipping and collecting. It deserves to be shared and savoured.

It’s on its way to MoM Towers so keep an eye out on the New Arrivals page. However, as you’ve probably guessed, a whisky of this status has a price tag to match, close £20,000. You might have to live vicariously through the tasting note with this one…

Glenfarclas 60 Year Old Tasting Note:

Nose: Initially there’s Dundee cake, marmalade spread on soda bread, dark chocolate and dusty leather-bound books with a hint of sweet peat in the backdrop. Heaps of dried fruit as well as nectarines, blackcurrant coulis and apricot jam emerge, then thick molasses, drying Oloroso elements, sweet tobacco, clove, spent matches and warm gingerbread. 

Palate: Through a spark of woody tannins, some heathery smoke and a sight earthy funk comes some umami flavours of cured game, rancio, cigar ash and dried herbs which compliment citrus notes – lime peel and more marmalade – as well as red apples, Medjool dates, sour berries and an array of stewed black fruits. There’s an oily nuttiness present throughout along with ginger root, vintage cola, liquefied liquorice, bitter chocolate and a hint of Madeira cake.

Finish: Drying and bittersweet with tart dark fruit, marzipan, Earl Grey tea, menthol tobacco and just a hint of gingernut biscuits.

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