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Master of Malt Blog

Tag: Sherried Whisky

Lessons in sherry casks with Tamdhu

We take a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing with one of the very few single malts that is entirely aged in sherry casks, Tamdhu in Speyside. The last…

We take a lesson in the complexities of sherry cask-ageing with one of the very few single malts that is entirely aged in sherry casks, Tamdhu in Speyside.

The last tasting I attended in person before lockdown was with Gordon Dundas, brand ambassador from Tamdhu. We met in a tiny room in London: a few writers, lots of whisky and no social distancing. At the time it was fun and enlightening, looking back, it seems almost miraculous that such a thing was possible.

Tamdhu has to be one of Speyside’s least-known distilleries. Dundas said that he’d never even heard of it before he got the job at Ian McLeod Distillers, the parent company. “Even whisky people don’t know Tamdhu”, Dundas said. “We are not an old distillery,” he continued, “when the distillery opened in 1897, it was the most modern distillery of its time.” Tamdhu nearly disappeared a couple of times: no distillation took place between 1925 to 1947 and then after a period of expansion in the 1970s, it was mothballed by the Edrington Group in 2010. Ian McLeod acquired the distillery in 2011 and production resumed the following year. The company, Scotland’s second largest family-run distillers, now owns three whisky distilleries, Tamdhu, Glengoyne, and the soon to be reborn Rosebank, along with brands such as Smokehead, Sheep Dip and Edinburgh Gin

Sandy McIntyre and Gordon Dundas

The distillery:

At Tamdhu there’s capacity to produce four million litres of pure alcohol per year, 85% of this goes into blends. The rest is put into sherry casks to be sold as a single malt. Despite the rather trendy looking St. Germain-style bottles, introduced in 2013, it’s marketed very much at the single malt lover. There’s no line about demystifying the category or changing whisky’s image. Dundas commented: “We’re after the whisky drinker. We’re not trying to convert people nor are we after the cocktail market.” 

While sister distillery Glengoyne packs in 90,000 visitors per year, Tamdhu doesn’t even have a visitor centre. According to Dunadas it would cost £1million and they would rather spend the money on sherry casks. He also added: “We are not a pretty distillery”. The whole operation is automated. Dundas told us little about the process: “we heat the stills slowly. It’s a very different whisky when stills get too hot. It’s more of a simmer than a boil which gives us lots of reflux. Historically people used to whack the stills on full power.” 

The new make certainly tasted good. We tried it at 66.9% ABV and it showed lots of cereal character and green minty notes. Water brought out a creamy texture. You wouldn’t know it but Tamdhu uses a tiny amount of peated barley because, according to Dundas, that’s what’s always been done.

The casks:

Then we got onto the serious business of sherry casks. The distillery has its own on-site cooperage presided over by an ex-Glenfiddich cooper. The firm has produced a useful 12 minute film called Spain to Speyside (above) to explain how the casks get to Scotland. The team buys from various firms in Spain: Tevasa, Vasyma, and Huberto Domecq (scion of the great Domecq sherry family). Tamdhu uses butts (around 500 litres), puncheons (like a dumpier butt, no giggling at the back!), and Hogsheads (250 litres). These are sent whole to Scotland, not broken down. 

The casks are all seasoned for two years with oloroso sherry of roughly five years of age. This is real sherry, not sherry-style wines that some producers use. The wood soaks up about 35 litres of sherry per year. Dundas said: “The role of sherry is to modify the oak. Colour and flavour come from oak not the sherry. Sometimes it can be hard to tell sherry-infused oak from bourbon oak.” 

Tamdhu uses both American oak (quercus alba) and European oak (quercus rober). The Spanish wine industry has long-used American oak barrels which are much cheaper as you get many more casks per tree. It’s not just in Jerez, traditional Rioja owes its signature taste to long ageing in American oak. The final factor to be considered is whether the casks are first-fill or refill.

Tamdhu cooperage (you probably don’t need a caption here)

 

So when someone says ‘sherry cask’, there are a number of questions we can ask:

-What size is the cask?
-Is it European or American oak?
-What type of sherry was used to season?
-How long was the sherry in the wood for?
-Is the cask refill or first-fill?
-How long was the whisky in the sherry cask for?

It’s complicated. To demonstrate the importance of just one of these factors, European or American oak, we tried two limited edition Tamdhus:

– Representing America was a single cask bottling named in honour of Sandy Mcintyre, distillery manager, winner of best Single Cask at the World Whiskies Awards this year. It was distilled in 2003, bottled in 2019 at 56.2% ABV, and only aged in a first fill American oak sherry butt.

– And in the European corner was the Edinburgh Airport Cask which was distilled in 2006, bottled in 2019 at 58.9% ABV, and only aged in a first fill European oak sherry butt

 

Casks, very important

The American oak one had some of what you might think of as sherry notes on the nose, some dried fruits, but really it was all about fresh fruit with vanilla, crème brûlée, and caramel. Tried blind, I think most people would say something about bourbon casks. The American oak character is really strong. 

Then we tried the European one, the colour is much darker (all Tamdhu expressions are the colour they came out of the cask, unlike some other famous sherry-influenced malts that Dundas mentioned). Now this is what you’d think of as a sherry bomb: dried apricot, tobacco, leather, a smell like getting into a Jensen Interceptor. Then the mouth, it’s all about wood tannins, strong chilli spice, drying leather and maraschino cherries. 

Both are superb sherry-influenced whiskies but only one is what you’d think of as a classic sherried whisky, the European oak version. Those ‘sherry bomb’ notes come not from sherry but from European oak. It makes sense, because those flavours also crop up in old Cognacs. Old Macallan often tastes a lot like Cognac. 

Tamdhu 12 Year Old, a lovely drop

We then tried some of core range bottling that combine the two oak types, different cask types as well as refill and first fill casks: 

– The 12 Year Old leans more to American oak. The nose smells of butter and vanilla with a touch of tobacco then peachy fruit with some strong herbal new make character coming through. It’s creamy and sweet on the palate with some peppery notes.

– The 15 Year Old is matured in around 40% European oak. The nose is so fruity with apricot, pineapple, oranges in syrup, lots of rancio character. On the palate, there’s vanilla, orange peel, demerara sugar with walnuts on the finish.

– Finally, we tried the Batch Strength #4, a limited edition NAS expression bottled at 57.8% ABV.  It’s a real beastie that would appeal to lovers of whiskies like Mortlach. Nose is marmalade, dark chocolate, then the palate is like burnt sugar, thick dark marmalade, dark chocolate and chilli spice. 

My favourite of the day was probably the 15 year old, a graceful melding of European and American oak but everything we tried was spectacularly good. Tamdhu is very quietly, without making too much fuss about it, turning out some of the finest whiskies in Scotland. You should check them out. And now you’ll never use the words ‘sherry cask’ when tasting whisky without thinking carefully again. 

 

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Superb Fireside Sipping

Celebrate Bonfire Night this year with a selection of booze appropriately bursting with deliciousness. Remember, remember the fifth of November… No, seriously. Check your calendars. It’s approaching fast. Maybe you’re…

Celebrate Bonfire Night this year with a selection of booze appropriately bursting with deliciousness.

Remember, remember the fifth of November… No, seriously. Check your calendars. It’s approaching fast. Maybe you’re planning to watch all things sparkly and spectacular illuminate the sky. Or perhaps you can’t wait to get into your dressing gown and comfy slippers to wrap up warm indoors. Both sound good to us, but whether you’ll be in front of a bonfire or fireplace, we can surely all agree that it’s the perfect time to indulge in some cockle-warming drinks.

For those who need inspiration, we’ve made things nice and easy by selecting this smashing selection of spirits. Expect smoke, spice and everything nice from this round-up of bonfire-themed booze!

Smoked Rosemary Gin (That Boutique-y Gin Company)

Smoked rosemary is an absolute winner in many a cocktail, ask any good bartender. But who wants to bother with the hassle of setting fire to some fresh rosemary themselves? Save the flames for an actual bonfire and instead enjoy this delightful gin from That Boutique-y Gin Company! Sensationally smoky Martinis await…

What does it taste like?:

Well, there’s no doubt that this contains rosemary, as well as plenty of juniper, saline seashore smells, cracked black pepper, lemon, a hint of smoked bacon.

Glenfiddich Experimental Series – Fire & Cane

The Experimental Series has produced some corking expressions, and Fire & Cane is no exception. Malt master Brian Kinsman created this bottling by finishing some of the distillery’s peated single malt for three-months in rum casks from a variety of South American countries. The cask complements the peated profile perfectly and makes this one an ideal fireside sipper.

What does it taste like?:

Billowing soft peat notes, rich sweet toffee, zesty fresh fruit, oak and sweet baked apple.

Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur

Ever had a liqueur made with chile ancho (dried poblano chiles) before? No? Well now is the perfect opportunity to acquaint yourself with the delights of this Mexican liqueur. It was made by macerating chile ancho in neutral cane spirit for half a year, which was then blended with a selection of other ingredients and allowed to rest a little longer for the flavour to marry. An ideal liqueur for those who want to add smoke and spice to their cocktails.

What does it taste like?:

Plenty of woodsmoke and dry, warming spice is complemented by a touch of liquorice.

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin

Drumshanbo Gunpowder Gin gets its name from its star botanical, gunpowder tea, which is distilled with juniper, angelica, orris, caraway, coriander, meadowsweet, cardamom, fresh grapefruit and star anise as well as vapour infused oriental lemon and lime! Now try and tell me you don’t like the sound of a Gunpowder G&T.

What does it taste like?:

Bright citrus and green tea notes are complemented by the spices.

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Spice and smoke feature again as a deadly duo in this whisky, made using well-peated single malt from an undisclosed Islay distillery which was then matured in Oloroso sherry casks. Smokehead Sherry Bomb is unashamedly a powerhouse of a dram and every drop of it seems tailor-made to enjoy beside a fire.

What does it taste like?:

Dark chocolate, seaweed, a hint of medicinal peat smoke, BBQ smoke, stem ginger, sherried peels, sea salt, rum-raisin ice cream, red chilli flake, treacle, prunes and clove.

Cut Smoked Rum

Cut Rum range added an extra dimension of flavour to this Jamaican rum by smoking it using oak chips, which not only made it very tasty but also perfectly appropriate for Bonfire Night! This is one you can enjoy both in cocktails or neat.

What does it taste like?:

Struck match, coffee bean bitterness balanced by vanilla.

Black Fire

Liqueurs are extremely popular at the moment, so plenty of you will be looking for a bottling that adds some heat to your Bonfire-themed cocktails. The awesomely named Black Fire was made by combining the flavours of Blanco tequila, coffee and a kick of chilli. As well as cocktails, this is superb when splashed into some good quality coffee.

What does it taste like?:

Chocolate with red chilli mixed in, slightly earthy notes of agave and red pepper, smoky at points.

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Top picks for sherried whisky fans

Here’s a round-up of some our favourite sherry-matured expressions, either aged or finished in casks which previously held the delightful Spanish fortified wine. It’s hard to resist a good sherry…

Here’s a round-up of some our favourite sherry-matured expressions, either aged or finished in casks which previously held the delightful Spanish fortified wine.

It’s hard to resist a good sherry bomb. The indulgent, fruity and rich drams are a perfect reminder as to why sherry casks have played a massive part in the Scottish whisky industry for well over 200 years. The style is very popular here at MoM Towers and we know there are many of you booze lovers out there who are equally partial to the sweet, spice and everything nice profile of a well-sherried spirit, particularly as we approach autumn. That’s why we’ve gathered quite the selection of sublime sherried treats here for you to enjoy, from peated Scotch, American rye whiskey and even a Venezuelan rum…

Redbreast 12 Year Old

A classic single pot still Irish whiskey, Redbreast 12 Year Old was made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley, triple distilled and matured in a combination of bourbon seasoned American oak barrels and Oloroso sherry seasoned Spanish oak butts. It can’t stop winning awards and stealing our hearts.

What does it taste like?:

Nutty, rich and oily, with notes of citrus peels, ginger, linseed, melon, marzipan, dried fruits, custard and a hint of Sherry.

Bowmore 15 Year Old

For those who desire a rich and complex sherried single malt Scotch whisky with a hearty helping of peat shouldn’t look past Bowmore 15 Year Old. It was matured first in bourbon barrels before it spent its final three years spent in Oloroso sherry casks.

What does it taste like?:

Dark and punchy, with Corinth raisins, baking spices, mochaccino, sweet dates, woody, pine oil, creamy toffee and malt.

Scallywag

From the fantastic Douglas Laing, this blended malt was made entirely from Speyside whiskies, including Mortlach, Macallan and Glenrothes, with spirit matured in Spanish sherry butts and bourbon casks. It was bottled without chill-filtration or additional colouring at 46% ABV.

What does it taste like?:

Icing sugar, sultanas, candied ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, sherry, nutmeg and cereal.

James E. Pepper 3 Year Old – Oloroso Cask Finish (That Boutique-y Whisky Company)

Something a bit different, a young rye whiskey from James E. Pepper that was independently bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Three different batches were released in the series with each whiskey finished in different types of cask, one an Ale Cask, one Pedro Ximénez and this expression was finished in Oloroso casks. James E. Pepper owner Amir Peay also features on the label, which is pretty neat.

What does it taste like?:

Red cola cubes, sticky toffee pudding made with dates, blood orange rind, creamy vanilla, dusty oak spice, rich dark chocolate, chewy rye notes, red fruit and aromatic warmth from clove and cinnamon.

Glenfarclas 105

Anybody who enjoys Scotch whisky will know that you can always rely on Glenfarclas for a delightfully sherried dram. From one of Scotland’s few family-run distilleries, Glenfarclas 105 was bottled at a cask strength 60% ABV after it was matured for 8-10 years in a combination of both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon barrels. It’s superb value for money and captures everything great about Glenfarclas.

What does it taste like?:

Honey on toast, a touch of smoky coffee, almond, praline, hazelnut, dried peels, Armagnac, a hint of rancio and spicy and peppery oak.

Smögen 5 Year Old 2013 Sherry Project 2:2

We do really enjoy Swedish single malts from the Smögen distillery, and the expressions from the Sherry Project series are no exception. This bottling is Sherry Project 2:2, which was matured in first-fill sherry quarter casks, which are smaller than your run-of-the-mill casks, which allows for more surface area for interaction between the wood and whisky.

What does it taste like?:

Honey-glazed ham, dark chocolate truffle, malt loaf, Sherried sweetness, meaty peat, fudge dotted with raisins, burnt ends and a hint of orange oil freshness.

Mortlach 20 Year Old

The elder statesman of the Mortlach range, Mortlach 20 Year Old is an elegant presentation of what The Beast of Dufftown is all about. The sherry casks this beauty was matured in offers the perfect balance the robust, bold and uncompromising character of the whisky. This single malt is dubbed ‘Cowie’s Blue Seal’ in tribute to one of the original Mortlach bottlings dating back to 1909.

What does it taste like?:

Roast chestnuts, sweet tobacco, dense chocolate, meaty malt, clove, brandy butter, chewy dates, orange peel, mature oak, Christmas spice, cooked summer berries and red berry richness.

Diplomático Single Vintage 2005

A bit of a curveball to end our round-up, we’ve got a sherry-tastic rum. This expression of Diplomático Single Vintage was distilled from the harvest from 2005 before it was aged in bourbon barrels for about 12 years which was blended by the cellar master and then finished in old oloroso sherry casks for a year.

What does it taste like?:

Roasted orchard fruit, soft oak, strawberry and balsamic, espresso, cassia and star anise.

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Why sherry and Scotch are a match made in heaven

Sherry cask-finished whisky is nothing new, but just why does the combination work so well, and why have the butts become so important? We investigate the magic of sherry and…

Sherry cask-finished whisky is nothing new, but just why does the combination work so well, and why have the butts become so important? We investigate the magic of sherry and Scotch

All whisky lovers know that sherry casks and Scotch go together like Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, but the term ‘sherry cask’ isn’t as simple as it may at first appear. To get to the bottom of this much misunderstood part of the whisky process, I spoke to Donald Colville, Diageo global malts ambassador, about sherry, whisky, history, and Talisker’s super fancy recently launched Bodega Series 40 Year Old single malt.

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Reference Series – The First Batch of Extensions

This range was born almost 6 months ago with the release of the initial ‘Reference’ Blended Malt Whiskies I, II, and III, and have received some lovely reviews from all…

Reference Series First Extension

This range was born almost 6 months ago with the release of the initial ‘Reference’ Blended Malt Whiskies I, II, and III, and have received some lovely reviews from all over the web – not least of which from Serge of Whiskyfun who rated the initial batch from 83-88 points.

The theory is initially simple – we took 4 components (2 blended malt and 2 single malt), and as the range progressed from I to III, the proportion of older whisky went up. This was designed to give us all an insight into the way that age affects whisky.

Today, however, is where it all really starts to get fun.

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Highland Park Dark Origins

When we received an invite to the launch of a new core Highland Park expression, we were naturally quite excited. The invite said that we were to be taken into…

Highland Park Dark Origins

When we received an invite to the launch of a new core Highland Park expression, we were naturally quite excited. The invite said that we were to be taken into the darkness for a whisky “dark by nature and character”. Having recently released our own Darkness! range we had a pretty good idea what this meant. (Hint: yummy Sherry!)

What amused us about the invite, however, was that there was a hooded chap printed in the background that looked suspiciously like the protagonist from the ’90s computer game ‘Thief: The Dark Project’ (emphasis added). Apparently it’s actually supposed to be Magnus Eunson, the butcher/church official by day, legendary whisky smuggler/illicit distiller by night of Highland Park foundation myth (dating back to 1798). Indeed, whilst other whiskies may have adopted the dark, we’re told that the Orkney single malt was very much born in it. BaneCat would be suitably impressed.

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New Product Range: DARKNESS! Single Malt Whiskies

Doesn’t really take a huge deal of explanation, this one, does it? What we’ve gone and done is take a range of delicious single malts, and finished them for a…

DARKNESS! Single Malt Whiskies

Doesn’t really take a huge deal of explanation, this one, does it?

What we’ve gone and done is take a range of delicious single malts, and finished them for a touch over 3 months in specially commissioned, 50 litre, First-Fill Sherry casks.

Traditionally known as ‘Octave Casks’, these smaller-than-average maturation vessels give a significantly greater surface area to volume ratio, meaning more cask-influence, and more of that superb rich, Christmas-cakey deliciousness that we all know and love from heavily-sherried whiskies.

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For Christmas this year…

With plans to make Christmas 2013 closely resemble a night out with Charles Bukowski during his downtime, I’ve been thinking hard about what booze I want. Historically, I would have…

Dear Santa

With plans to make Christmas 2013 closely resemble a night out with Charles Bukowski during his downtime, I’ve been thinking hard about what booze I want. Historically, I would have written to Santa Claus, but I recently read a thought-provoking essay by biologist Dickie Dawkins and now no longer believe in his existence. This, then, is an open letter to anyone who knows me and wants to get me the boozes.

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Macallan to replace 10, 12, and 15 year old core range with no-age statement single malt whiskies

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It gets better with age”? Well, to this Macallan says, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number” as they announce a new range of single…

Have you ever heard the phrase, “It gets better with age”? Well, to this Macallan says, “Age ain’t nothin’ but a number” as they announce a new range of single malt Scotch whiskies to replace the well-known Macallan Fine Oak and Macallan Sherry Oak ranges that consumers have come to know. Their intent? To release three no-age statement expressions over the next calendar year.

This is bad news for people who believe age statement indicates quality and justifies price. But it could be great news for people who know that just because a whisky is old doesn’t make it good—or even mature.

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Bourbon vs Sherry

The two most popular choices for whisky ageing – sherry casks and bourbon barrels – offer a totally different style of single malt and here at Master of Malt, we…

Sherry vs Bourbon

The two most popular choices for whisky ageing – sherry casks and bourbon barrels – offer a totally different style of single malt and here at Master of Malt, we love both in equal measure. Just like with children, it’s wrong to have a favourite (unless one child is a maths-whiz-head-boy-sports-star-type, and the other is one of those miserable kids that dyes his hair black and combs it over his face, whilst complaining constantly about how “unfair it all is”).

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