Report by Bruce Crichton
The chips were down on the way to Dufftown and so were the salt and vinegar but not the sauce as that would have been a bit daft. Perplexed by the plethora of condiments, the Autumn Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed and after many days of great whisky, food, music, kiwi seductions, punchy one-liners, jet-setting, sniggering and dodgy Euro-disco, here is my account of it.
This report is not intended to be a definitive guide and may contain factual errors, for which I apologize in advance. Tasting notes are subjective and additional comment is added from festivalgoers and experts present during note taking. To save space, I refer the reader to previous reports and tastings if a whisky re-appears and have also assumed the reader knows widely available bottlings mentioned. Cask samples tasted are described briefly, since they are not available for the reader to buy. Finally, any water added was, literally, one drop and whiskies were 40% abv, if the strength is not otherwise indicated.
Unfortunately, I had to take Thursday evening off, missing the ‘Mates of the Museum’ with its barrel-making contest and the ‘It all started with a big dram’ event where Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) owner Mike Lord celebrated being the first man to unicycle across the English channel by warming up the festival with a taste of Aberlour Bicentenary 12 year old, Glendronach Cask Strength batch 2, his own exclusive bottling of Braes of Glenlivet and Ardbeg Galileo which is the first in a series of releases that will be followed by Ardbeg Figaro, Ardbeg Magnifico, Ardbeg Scaramouche, Ardbeg Bismillah and will conclude with Ardbeg ‘Gordon’s Alive?’ but will not include Ardbeg Radio Gaga as that’s just a bit much.
Glenfarclas distillery through the decades
Friday began with a special bus trip to family-owned Glenfarclas where we would taste whisky from this decade, working back through each decade until the 50s and Kate would be our guide for the morning.
Glenfarclas was legally established in 1836 though a painting exists from 1791 showing the distillery name. It was bought in 1865 by John Grant, who was looking for farmland and managed, for the first five years by John Smith who left to run Cragganmore distillery and was replaced by son George Grant.
We tasted the 1997 ‘Family Cask’, at 58.8%, described as a breakfast whisky, and I found it stylish, light, crisp and creamy with a playful bite on the finish, making it a whisky unsuitable for Luis Suarez.
Interestingly, the nearby Ballindalloch castle estate owned the land until 1930 and then, having sold it, cut off the water supply immediately afterward. The resulting legal case was taken to the House of Lords and the water was given to the distillery in perpetuity. A minimum of 100,000 litres are used every day.
On-site malting ceased in 1972 and some 330 tons, 2 weeks supply, can be stored on site. 16.5 tons, peated to 3ppm, are used per mash and the distillery uses a Bueller mill, from Switzerland, as opposed to the more common Porteus mill made in Yorkshire. The wash backs are stainless steel and Kate noted that the beginning of the process is modern but gets less so as the process goes on. Fermentation takes 52 hours. Heading round, we saw the bottom of a still being replaced but not the neck, a consequence of the stills being direct-fired. Direct firing is noisy, expensive and more energy-intensive than steam heating and the stills have ‘rummagers’ to stop sticking which results in wear and tear on the copper. The distillery had briefly used steam coils but this had made the new-make spirit unrecognizable as Glenfarclas.
Heading to the warehouse, we tried a 2010 cask sample that smelled of toffee-fudge ice cream and tasted of fruit crumble with only the finish betraying its youth. By contrast, a 2000 cask sample from a 2nd or 3rd fill cask had Kate declaring that she could detect the taste of ‘Sugar Puff’ cereal. Allowing the sample to breath changed it a lot and I tasted toffee sauce and a hint of smoke.
The warehouse at Glenfarclas has been constructed to ensure that the temperature does not deviate by more than 6 degrees as opposed to 40 degrees outside and, apparently, the temperature itself is not as important as the lack of change. Some 55,000 casks are maturing, dating from 1953 to the present day. The distillery does not do ‘finishes’ or ‘re-racks’ but does occasionally fully mature whisky in Port or Cognac casks. Sherry casks are sourced from a family-owned business in Spain. First-fill bourbon casks are never used for maturation but refill bourbon casks are.
Some spirit is sold for blending and is prohibited from being bottled as Glenfarclas since the distillery has had nothing to do with the maturation. Recent casks have been filled at 68% and this will ensure sufficient stocks for the popular 105 bottling. The ‘Family Cask’ series was launched in 2006 and ranged from 1952 to 1994 and it is apparently very rare for a distillery to have good stocks from consecutive years.
Working back through the years, we had a 1985 vintage, at 44.9%, bottled in 2012. Andy Ellis got citrus and orange notes while I detected blackcurrant ‘Fruitella’ sweets, noting that it would go nicely with a chocolate orange sweet. A 1976 vintage, bottled in 2007 at 49.4% had the aromas of a Fry’s orange cream with a delicate taste and spicy finish.
A 1965, bottled in 2012 at 51.8%, had an orangey nose while Andy Ellis remarked on its tannic grip before we ended with a 1957, from a first fill hogshead. Bottled in 2012 at 43.7%, it smelled of soft leather and a little orange with a very peppery taste and some very dark chocolate that gave way to ash at the end. (Finally, I must mention that the current 105 is so smooth that a pub measure of it can be drunk neat.)
Benriach, Glendronach and Glenglassaugh with Stewart Buchanan
After being introduced by Mike Lord, the man who ate 5 sharks in a feeding frenzy, Stewart Buchanan opened with his favourite, Benriach 16, which he describes as a ‘classic Speyside expression’. He then discussed the composition of the bottling, something that is described at length in the May 2011 report.
Casks have become more expensive and this has meant that the number and volume of ‘finished’ releases has been scaled back. Benriach was fortunate in the respect that previous owners Chivas had never owned a west coast whisky so experiments were carried out with peated barley and the serendipitous results are still with us. A 1983 single cask release, at 43.9%, is notable because very little whisky was produced at Benriach during that crisis year for the industry. The nose was very soft with chewy tropical fruits with spice and peppery flavours erupting from it with a drop of water. Stewart found this to have a lovely bite.
The 17 year old ‘Septendicim’ smelled like Bowmore, confirming my view that Benriach is the most Islay-like of any peaty Speysider. It had some chewy peat and saltiness with water revealing elegance and spice that gave way to a long, warm and peppery finish.
Moving on to Glendronach, we had the 15 year old ‘Revival’, at 46%, which is reviewed in the autumn 2010 report. Slightly leathery and with a robust, chewy finish, this is the distillery’s biggest worldwide seller Next up was the 21 year old ‘Parliament’, at 48%abv, covered in the autumn 2012 report and still the last word in luxury. Stewart believes that the relatively high strength is needed to preserve the character of the sherry casks used in maturation and a lower strength would destroy this character.
A 1994 Oloroso single cask, at 58.4%, had subtle, sweet softness with characteristic sherry cask notes to taste. The finish was long, sweet and charming and benefits from time to breathe and develop in the glass to become a fine digestif. Stewart said that he thinks it makes your hair stand on end but I told him that I would make the bald jokes, thank you very much, and there was no need to bristle about it.
Glendronach has made a limited run of peated spirit and some quarter casks of unpeated spirit have been there for 6 years, meaning they will probably be released next year. Batch 1 of Glendronach cask strength was released in October 2012 and sold out by Christmas. Batch 2, at 55.2%, has now virtually sold out and batch 3 is in progress. Batch 2 is composed of 80% oloroso matured whisky from 1993, 94 and 95 plus 20% Pedro Ximenez (PX) from 2002 meaning that it could be called a 10 year old though this would be underselling it. I found it very chocolaty and crisp with orange notes the reader is recommended to take a large mouthful and roll it around on the tongue. Stewart described it as the ’15 year old on steroids’ and, again, the reader is invited to buy this and the 15 year old to compare and contrast.
We closed with Benriach’s release of Glenglassaugh 30 year old, at 44.8%, taken from 3 refill sherry casks. Delicate and velvety with sweet fruits, syrup and raspberry ripple, this was another luxurious dram. Stewart finds that Glenglassaugh has both Highland and Speyside characteristics and noted that the Benriach Company has invested heavily in their newly acquired distillery to improve the site.
With a quickfire delivery to rival that of Tim Vine, Jonny McMillan of the Great Whisky Company, distributors for Berry Brothers and Rudd (BBR), presented a series of unchilfiltered bottlings. The first five of these were taken from refill hogsheads. Using PowerPoint software, Jonny compared single casks to distillery releases with a suitably pixilated bottle of a well-known island malt with its name but not the distinctive bottle shape obscured. Further comparisons were made between a sirloin steak and a horse burger with added Shergar (part of a stable diet) and between Led Zeppelin and One Direction to much audience laughter. Rolling his glass, which he says makes it appear you know what you’re doing; his first whisky was a 2000 Inchgower, at 46%, and described as a ‘classic bourbon cask Speysider’. It smelled of sherbet and refresher sweets and had a chewy, vanilla taste that became very sweet with a drop of water.
Describing BBR’s Doug McIvor as having a sense of humour so dry, it has evaporated, Jonny moved on to the WSD exclusive bottling 1994 Braes of Glenlivet, at 53.9%. This had aniseed on the nose with the taste being light and sweet with fruit syrup, refreshers and vanilla. Interestingly, BBR now own Glenrothes distillery, having swapped the Edrington group for it with the Cutty Sark blend.
A 1991 Auchroisk, at 54.6%, had a fresh, light, grassy, floral nose with hints of vanilla. This had great mouthfeel, required by Doug McIvor from his whiskies and he does not use first fill casks, believing that refill casks demonstrate a distillery’s character.
By this stage, Jonny was in full flow and aided by a willing audience member who obligingly walked into all of his jokes. Even better, while presenting a 1995 Imperial, at 46%, Jonny asked why the distillery was so called and Danny Maguire, the man who studies for his blood tests and who has vowed to never again iron his underpants while still wearing them, answered. BBR have received two royal warrants and Jonny showed us some pictures of royal family members with bottles of BBR whisky that may or may not have been altered with Photoshop. The Imperial was creamy and had notable shortbread flavours that cried out for some of Walkers finest. The finish was creamy and peppery. A 1977 Glenturret, at 46%, had fruit salad chew bars and tropical fruits on the nose while Andy Ellis found it waxy. Jonny recommends chewing this one for about 10 seconds and there was a cornucopia of fruit, wax and spice with a long, sweet finish.
A 1988 Bunnahabhain, at 49.8%, from a refill sherry butt, had Bovril, treacle and dark chocolate notes while Jonny gets struck matches from it. Jonny told us how he was once cautioned by the police over a linguistic misunderstanding he had with an American who thought that what Jonny described as a piece was a firearm, rather than a Scots term for a sandwich. A 2006 peated Bunnahabhain, at 46% and originally made from blending, smelled of smoked ham to me and smoked cheese to Andy Ellis while it tasted both minty and chewy with some slight peat.
Adelphi Tasting with Antonia Bruce
Antonia began with 2001 ‘Slaney’, a mystery Irish whiskey, at 57%, which was distilled twice. Archibald Walker, owner of the Adelphi distillery in Glasgow, owned Limerick distillery in Ireland and this is part of the new ‘Limerick’ range. Taken from a refill bourbon cask, I found the taste of lemon cheesecake while Antonia got sherbet lemons and Madeira cake. The finish was long with both syrup and bourbon flavours.
Handily, a text came in, telling us that the Ardnamurchan distillery is due to be complete in January 2014 and production is planned for next year. A 1990 Macallan, at 56%, from a refill sherry hogshead had McCowan’s toffee, Butterkist popcorn and orange peel aromas with the taste of raisins, burnt toast, coffee and toffee and dark chocolate to finish. Antonia reckons this is a classic Macallan.
2006 Glenrothes, at 67.2%, led to speculation about the filling strength of the cask and there were hints of Bovril about the nose before water opened up fudge and toffee notes. It tasted of rich and velvety wedding cake, prompting Antonia to ask for food pairing suggestions so I recommended sticky toffee pudding though I would have done that if I had been drinking Irn Bru as I’m a bit biased. 1994 Tobermory, at 58.8%, from a first fill sherry butt was found smell musty and of prunes, brandy and salt by both Antonia and Andy Ellis. It had sherry, seaweed and salty tastes with Andy finding onions and meat juices.
We ended with a 1996 Bowmore, at 52.5%, which had been matured in a Spanish hogshead. There was characteristic toffee and mints on the nose. There was a little smoke on both the nose and subtle peat and sherry notes. Andy, not a fan of Bowmore, reckoned this whisky had great balance. As we closed, Mike thanked Antonia for taking time off from laying bricks at the distillery.
Carn Mor Scottish Liqueur Centre Whiskies with Peter Mackay
In quickfire mode himself, Peter began with the blended malt ‘Old Perth’, at 43%, and a potted history of blending in the city. The Old Perth brand began as a blend 100 years ago but later changed its name to Beneagles. Carn Mor relaunched it this year as a blended malt, containing mostly Aultmore, Mortlach, 1996 Ben Nevis and 1987 Tomatin. Soft, dry and creamy with some vanilla and slight smoke to end. This blend has been described, by a German writer, as a ‘good TV whisky’, something Peter told us in a German accent as accurate as Tim Vine’s Dale Winton voice.
A 1989 ‘Celebration of the Cask’ Bunnahabhain, from a bourbon hogshead, at 43.5% was delightfully creamy and silky with notes of vanilla while Peter got banana from it. A 1994 Blair Athol, at a standard strength of 46%, was the first of 4 ‘Strictly Limited’ (SL) bottles, all of which would make excellent session drams. It was taken from 2 hogsheads that had been vatted into a sherry cask for the final 3 weeks of maturation, making it not so much as a finish as a tickle. Although hard to pick out flavours, I found it marvelously chewy with a very slight sherry character and, moreish.
A 1998 Auchroisk had also had 3-4 weeks in a sherry cask and retained a nutty and grassy nose. It also was chewy with vanilla and nuts and fruit. A 1999 Dailuaine had cereal maltiness on both the nose and taste with maltiness again at the finish with some slight pepper also.
1995 Mortlach was taken from 2 casks and Peter believes that the distillery makes the heaviest and richest spirit in Diageo’s portfolio. The nose had apple crumble and caramel while the taste was grassy, floral and malty. The finish was creamy and peppery. A cheery bonus dram arrived in the form of a sister cask to the earlier 1989 Bunnahabhain that may be released as a WSD exclusive in the future.
Tannochbrae Gala Dinner with Robin Laing and Antonia Bruce
Few things can beat dinner at the Tannochbrae restaurant with music and poetry from bard Robin Laing and more Adelphi whiskies presented by Antonia. A refreshing ‘Italian Monkey’ cocktail, made with ‘Monkey Shoulder’, began the evening, leading Robin to sing ‘Monkey Shoulder’. Our first whisky was a 1992 Longmorn, at 52.1%, from a sherry cask that imbued it with the soft taste of brandy butter. A 1987 Mortlach, at 59.4%, from a refill bourbon cask had a rich bourbon nose and water revealed the taste of cherries, pears and almonds. Dessert began with some delicious Adelphi Fascadale ice cream, available from Dufftown’s Balvenie Street ice cream shop and our final dram was 1986 Glen Moray, at 56.8%, that smelled of sharp, crisp vanilla and was creamy, spicy and peppery with a soft, bourbon-like finish.
We also tasted the Slaney whisky from earlier again, which led Robin to sing the Irish tune ‘Whisky, you’re the devil’. New track ‘Whisky Men’ had been slightly rewritten to include a verse about whisky girls and Robin also sang ‘The wee cooper of Fife’, ‘Whisky for Breakfast’ and ‘Tall tale’.
Train to Keith for the Strathisla ‘Straight from the cask’ tour
On Sunday morning, I took the journey from Dufftown train station to Keith. The line was closed decades ago but has been brought back to life by volunteers who work weekends and the train passes by the closed Parkmore distillery and the site of the former Towiemore distillery that now makes stainless steel containers for the food and drinks industry. (A café is sited at the station.)
Arriving at Strathisla distillery, Tony was our expert guide for the limited edition ‘Straight from the cask’ tour. Many of the whiskies featured on this tour had sold out in the Chivas Brothers distillery shops at Aberlour, Strathisla and Glenlivet or sold out over the course of the weekend so notes are brief.
Most of Strathisla’s details are covered in the spring 2012 report but it is worth noting that the distillery uses spring barley as winter barley doesn’t have the correct properties for whisky. Also, it had been named Milltown distillery between 1786 and 1951 though the whisky it made was always called Strathisla.
Tony told us of the financial shenanigans of a previous owner called James Pomeroy who ended up in prison and the distillery was 110,000 pounds in debt when Canadians Seagram’s bought it over.
Strathisla can make 2.4 million litres per year, 10% of which is bottled as single malt.. Heading to the old filling station at the distillery, we tasted the now sold out 1997 Strathisla ‘Cask Strength Edition’, at 58.7% which had a floral and minty nose that blossomed with water to reveal fruit loaf and spices. This series is released in batches of 800 bottles and these are not numbered, except for the first batch from a particular distillery. After heading to the tasting room, we tasted 2000 Scapa, at 55.1%, which sold out at the distillery during our visit. Matured in fill bourbon casks, it had banana chew bar notes with butterscotch and water revealed some maritime character and a dry, long and salty finish.
1997 Glenburgie, at 60.5%abv, is still available at the time of writing and water opened the whisky to reveal honey and bourbon. Again matured in first fill bourbon casks, this was soft with citrus fruits and lemon zest notes albeit with a short finish. Glenburgie distillery is the third largest of the Chivas portfolio, at 4.2 million litres capacity and the second biggest is Miltonduff, at 5.2 million litres. 1997 Miltonduff, at 58.3%, had vanilla and orange zest aromas with Edinburgh rock and bourbon flavours. A drop of water gave it a much bigger punch though the finish was very soft with some rich vanilla. .
I found it fascinating to discover that the distilleries historically associated with the Ballantines blends – Scapa, Glenburgie and Miltonduff – still have most of their product used for that blend while the Chivas distilleries – Glen Keith, Glenlivet, Longmorn and Strathisla – still go mostly to the Chivas blends.
1996 Glen Keith was bottled at 54.9% to mark the reopening of the distillery in June. (Glen Keith was built in 1958 and closed in 1999). It smelled of banana and custard yoghurt with orange notes also present. It had a honey and bourbon taste with an elegant and subtle bite to end with.
We closed the tasting with a bonus dram of 1980 Glenugie, bottled at 52.1% as part of the ‘Deoch an Doras’ series, taken from demolished distilleries. Covered in detail in Spring 2012, this is still highly recommended to the reader and, anyone able to obtain a bottle from the series is to be congratulated.
Music with Robin Laing – the whisky bard
As Sunday evening approached, the chips were yet again down and this time with a fried Mars bar and only a warm, flat bottle of Strike Cola to go with it. However, good taste was at hand as Robin Laing played a varied set list with songs about whisky and not about whisky while presenting these whiskies:
Cooper’s Choice 1998 Clynelish, at 46%, that tasted of syrup, golden honey, vanilla and cream.
20 year old Berry Brother’s Caperdonich, at 46%, that was soft, grassy, delicate and peppery.
Benriach 15, at 46%, Tawny Port finish was awesome with rich orange and milk chocolate aromas and chocolate again on the taste with subtle hints of port.
Dalmore Spey was soft and velvety and Neil Simpson reckoned it had a peppery kick to finish with.
1994 Glendronach, at 55.1%, smelled of Bovril and treacle so thick you could dance on the top of it with a silky smooth and surprisingly light taste that faded only slowly at the end.
The widely available Old Ballantruan, at 50%, has a bigger peat punch than in previous years.
As always, the whiskies are secondary at a Robin Laing gig and the tracks played included ‘Born in the wrong time’, ‘Forth Bridge Song’, ‘Black Clothes’, ‘Black Coffee’, ‘Jamie Penman’, ‘Punters’ and ‘Guernica’. Picasso’s painting of the same name inspired the latter song and Robin believes that he was a Scotsman whose real name was MacAsso. Returning after an interlude, he played ‘Black Art’, ‘Bruichladdich Dram’, ‘Queer folk in the Shaws, ‘Whisky Men’, ‘Speyside Whisky Song’ and many others including the ‘Missionary Song’ which prompted him to tell us that there is African whisky out there and he hopes it remains out there. Also, the second edition of his book ‘The Whisky River’ is now available.
As usual, highlights from Robin’s performance are available on both Facebook and www.youtube.com.
Glen Ord Distillery Tour
Taking a detour to the highlands, I headed to Glen Ord distillery, in Ross-shire. Raymond, the guide, gave the party an abbreviated tour as the distillery is currently doubling in size from its current 5 million-litre capacity. Glen Ord has a hugely impressive visitor’s centre that is very pleasing to the eye. The on-site maltings produces malt for Talisker, Clynelish, Teaninich, Cragganmore and many others.
12.5 tons of grist are used per mash and the wash backs are 25 feet tall. A fermentation of 75 hours has been found to give the spirit a dried fruit and orange peel character while; by contrast, a 48-hour fermentation gives nuttiness. There are 6 tall stills with very long necks and 8 warehouses are on-site that house the spirit of Glen Ord and many other distilleries. The current ‘Singleton’ of Glen Ord 12 year old release has a 50:50 ratio of sherry to bourbon casks and these are married together for a month in stainless steel. 70% of the whisky made is bottled as single malt while the remainder goes to the mighty Johnnie Walker blends. The previous release of Glen Ord, not known as the ‘Singleton’, was 70% sherry and 30% bourbon. Off the ‘Singleton’ series, Dufftown is sold in Europe, Glendullan is sold in North America and Glen Ord is sold to south east Asia where demand far exceeds supply. As it is, the distillery is the only place in Britain where any ‘Singleton of Glen Ord’ is available to buy.
The ‘tasting experience’ tour ended with a tasting conducted by the knowledgeable Gordon Sinclair. This tour offers the chance to taste 3 whiskies from owners Diageo’s vast portfolio. The widely available Dalwhinnie 15, at 43%, is still a tremendously easy drinking whisky and Gordon recommends freezing it and serving it straight. The current 12 year old from Glen Ord is also tremendously easy to drink with a velvety smoothness to it. Interestingly, Gordon told us of a production mistake in the past where hot water was wrongly injected into the cooling process and that gave the spirit much more sweetness so it has been left in place. A bonus dram of the 15 year old, at 43%, was slightly fuller and richer than the 12 year old. (An 18 year old is also available at the distillery).
The popular Talisker 10 year old, at 45.8%, was on form with an entertaining big punch to the taste buds and characteristic smokiness present. One final note is that Diageo, in the past, received a large order for unpeated Caol Ila that was cancelled at the last moment. Undeterred, the company pressed on and released some of it any way. Currently available from their special releases range is a cask strength, unpeated Caol Ila that has been matured in sherry casks and curious readers are invited to taste it.
Cadenhead’s Creations and beyond with Mark Watt
Arriving back from Japan was Cadenhead’s Mark Watt who, after recovering in the Royal Oak, presented some of his recent ‘Creations’ range, amongst others. (Mark got married in the summer and, appropriately, the cake was half-cut.) Mark said that we were drinking 127 years of whisky and that is not as old as the jokes of Danny Maguire, the man who recently ran a bath and came in fifth, his best performance to date.
An 18 year old ‘Creations‘ Glenrothes-Glenlivet, at 46%, was so named because the company had always called it that. According to Mark, tradition is a good thing unless it’s a bad tradition. This whisky had vanilla and creaminess on both the nose and taste. A drop of water revealed the taste of light golden honey and Mark believes this to be a dangerous whisky as it would be easy to drink a bottle of this. He also describes it as a ‘good report-writing whisky’; something that almost, but not quite, made me bristle.
A 21 year old Glengarioch, at 53.7%, led Mark to note that distillery has a one-word name though the brand has a two-word name. This had the taste of rich, golden honey and a slight peatiness lurked in the background. Danny Maguire found stewed apple, demonstrating there is nothing wrong with his palate even though he has 4 cauliflower ears from 20 years in the Austrian navy and a lifetime of playing chess.
A 24 year old ‘Small Batch’ Cragganmore-Glenlivet, at 57.5%, was made at ‘one of forty distilleries older than Cadenhead’s’. Both the nose and taste had peaches, golden syrup, cream and sponge cake while the finish had a slight smokiness and was very long.
Pausing to recount the history of his company, Mark noted that previous company owners, including Mr Cadenhead, Mr Duthie and current owner Hedley Wright, have never had heirs to leave the firm to. When he departs, Mr Wright will leave Cadenhead’s to the town of Campbeltown. Springbank distillery bought Cadenhead’s to put their bottling line to use and a new line is currently being built as they couldn’t find one to work slow enough – the fastest produced bottling line would bottle a year’s production of Springbank in one month. Current bottling ranges are now available in 23 markets worldwide, having previously only been sold in the company’s own shops, of which there are 8.
A 1979 Dufftown sample was a year older than Mark Watt is and one audience member reckoned it was a lot more mature. Mark found it beefy, describing it as a beast of a dram and reckons there will be about 140 bottles released, depending on how many tastings he does. Detailing his and the company’s modus operandi, Mark asked the legitimate question ‘when did you last lick packaging?’ pointing out that Cadenhead’s don’t spend a lot of money on packaging, thus keeping the price down. He was also promoted and given a raise before he had sold a bottle. Expecting half or quarter bottles, he was asked by veteran Frank McHardy whether he would like half or full bottles to sample and still doesn’t know why he said half.
Moving on to a 21 year old Cooley Irish Whiskey, at 56.3%, Mark began to talk about the distillery being next door to the more famous Bushmills, thus bucking the trend among whisky brand ambassadors by having James May’s sense of direction rather than his taste in jackets. Thus corrected, Mark recalled the time he found Green Spot pure pot still whiskey in a bar and ended up sweating Green Spot. The following day, he was ironically handed a glass of Green Spot and asked to identify it. This whiskey was soft and delicate with bananas and tropical fruits with many audience members finding peat, something I didn’t get.
Sitting beside me, Neil Simpson found a 2003 Bowmore cask sample to be mellow with pickle and almonds while I detected the smell of Murray Mints. This had apparently been rubbish before finishing but had been re-racked into a cask that had previously held Longrow whisky to give a fine whisky. Cadenhead’s will not do a finish if it is less than 3 years and Mark also says that he doesn’t want to walk into a bar and not buy his own whisky, as it’s too expensive.
Asking the rhetorical question ‘Can you tell if a whisky is at its best?’ he answered that it can only be answered definitively after it has peaked and you find yourself saying that it would have been so much better last year.
As the tasting ended and the stories flowed, Mark told us that he has taken to winding up a Diageo brand ambassador whose name I will withhold by singing the company’s name to him to the tune of ‘D-I-S-C-O’.
The festival ended with Mike announcing at the drams party that newcomer Hankey Bannister Heritage, at 46%, had soundly defeated the illustrious Johnnie Walker’s Platinum, last year’s winner, to win the ‘blind blends’ competition while Glendronach 12 had won the contest to see which whisky best accompanied haggis and Tomintoul 16 received 100% of the vote, saying it went best with a bacon roll and then those attending the party kept the dodgy Euro-disco theme going as the night wore on.
To end, I’d like to thank those involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord, Val and the crew Vicky, Kirsteen, Gemma, Warren, Jen, Simon and Kat, to Alan, James and the crew at the Tannochbrae, the Dufftown to Keith railway volunteers, the Coffee Pot and the Stuart Arms and to Claus and Claire for the proofreading.
I’m off to read ‘Armadillos in your sock drawer’ by Jeffrey Porbeagle-shark, and I’ll see you at the spring festival when the chips will be down again, this time with 2 sausages and a bottle of Irn Bru