It’s the first review of 2013 (whoop etc) and as is customary here at the WhiskyMarketplace blog, that will do nicely as a excuse to feature a rather special dram from one of our favourite distilleries. Glenfarclas whiskies are perhaps best known and appreciated in the form of old, well-sherried bottlings and indeed, as a result of the distillery’s continued family ownership, for its enviable stock of such casks. This release, from what is now the oldest vintage left slumbering in their warehouses, was released last year and predictably caused quite a stir. With the likes of our good friend Serge Valentin involved in the selection of this cask, the liquid was sure to be excellent.
Glenfarclas is best known for its relative focus on “drinkers” Whisky and though admittedly the older vintages within the disillery’s Family Casks series are anything but cheap, comparatively speaking they are far from the dizzying prices we are coming to expect from the world of old, “ultra-premium collectors” malt. With that in mind, this release came as something of a departure, being bottled for Polish investment firm Wealth Solutions and presented in a rather fetching, beautifully crafted oak box. Happily, the Whisky was well distributed to interested parties so at least a number have been lucky enough to taste this, the oldest Glenfarclas yet bottled.
It must surely be time for another oldie, and indeed time to feature another of Dominiek Bouckaert’s excellent Whisky Man bottlings. Tomintoul distillery certainly isn’t the most glamorous or oft-lauded name in the Whisky world, but like just about any distillery –well virtually- there are still gems to be found. It’s a relatively young plant, built in the mid-60s and now in the hands of Angus Dundee Distillers it is producing a range of affordable expressions, not to mention a beautifully packaged 76. The site also distils a peated make under the name Old Ballantruan which has recently been packaged as a rather attractive 10 year old and is worth checking out, if only for interests sake.
On to Independent examples such as this 1969 release then, and as with many distilleries where the focus has been largely placed upon producing stock for blending, the non-proprietary releases tend to provide punters with good value and perhaps the best opportunity to get a handle on what the distillery has to offer. There has been quite a number of late 60s Tomintoul casks bottled over the last few years, many of them of high quality, and given the reputation of Dominiek’s selections it can’t be easy to track down and recognise a cask that offers something new. Particularly while retaining the qualities that have given a number of these old Tomintoul’s favourable reviews in the past.
Gordon and MacPhail, a name now steeped in history and with a reputation for foresight and quality that spreads throughout the core of the industry and beyond. When blends were king and the words “Single Malt” were spoken by a reverent few, Gordon and MacPhail were quietly laying down stocks with the idea that soon enough, the output of a single distillery would be considered the pinnacle of sophistication for whisky drinkers. What was considered an eccentric idea at the time has now become an example of exceptional vision, a vision that has helped many distilleries through difficult times.
This unending faith in the quality and longevity of Scotch whisky is now paying great dividends, leaving this family owned company with some of the most enviable casks in existence. In March 2010 Gordon and MacPhail launched its Generations series and shared with the world a prime example of what has made their company different for so many years; the oldest whisky yet released. This 70 year old gem from the Mortlach distillery belied its age with a delicate grace and richly fruity personality. This was to be followed just a year later by a similarly remarkable Glenlivet whisky of the same age. The second batch – of the same bottling – has recently been launched in Canada, giving us a prime excuse to revisit and review this rather special whisky.
Balmenach distillery currently resides in the portfolio of Inverhouse, but unlike Old Pulteney, Balblair and Speyburn it is yet to receive the levels of re-branding and subsequent revival that these now more prominent names have been subject to. Indeed, it seems that such lavish treatment remains some way off for Balmench, and like many of Scotlands oft-overlooked distilleries its output will be largely destined for the blending vat.
You may not have encountered Maltbarn before, but this new bottler out of Germany (under the stewardship of former Malt Maniac Martin Diekmann) has already issued a few very nice casks. This relatively new bottling is one half of the company’s second pair of releases and was accompanied by one of the many high quality ’77 Glenturrent whiskies we have been seeing recently. A distiller you rarely encounter and a new bottler, quickly growing in stature. This should be interesting.
The good chaps at Caskstrength.net (over on the blogroll of course) issued their first bottling last year and have since professed a desire to bottle an A-Z of scotch. As such, the first release came from the Isle of Arran distillery, and a particularly good example it most certainly was. This time around Neil and Joel have selected an enticing BenRiach whisky and given my oft-mentioned fondness for the distillery, expectations are rather high.
You never quite know what to expect from BenRiach, from the ‘70s fruit bombs to the unusual finishes and peated examples it’s quite the enigma. Here we have a young/mid aged example that has spent some time in a Pedro Ximenez influenced cask. PX is an incredibly concentrated, intense style of sherry and can quite easily overwhelm a delicate spirit. Judging from the colour, such issues are unlikely here and with luck this should be a fitting follow up to that lovely Arran.
There are many distilleries that have spent most of their lives under the radar, quietly producing quality single malt for filling into blends, but scarcely ever being championed in their own right. Of course, as whisky has grown in popularity and more enterprising, highly knowledgeable independent bottlers develop their businesses, whisky fans get a chance to experience malts that only ten years ago were rarely available. Some of these have rapidly built a reputation for quality, Dailuaine whisky (pronounced Dall-Yoo-Ain) is a worthy case in point.
There have been plenty of decent examples of the distillery issued by a whole raft of bottlers but, for this taster at least, the older examples have regularly offered the greater consistence of quality. Dailuaine produces a make of fair weight and pungency it seems but the bottlings often vary in character, some being surprisingly delicate and restrained, while the occasional official releases (Dailuaine 16 year old Flora and Fauna, Rare Malts etc) have focussed on refill sherry maturation which fuses with the weighty spirit to offer a richer take on the spirit character. I have spoken of Asta Morris with much affection in the past; this could well be a nice example of a distillery that continues to grow a league of admirers.
After May’s review of the Glenfarclas 21 year old, it was never going to be long before we began to delve deeper into the distillery’s incomparably vast selection of bottlings to taste the sort of drams that typify Glenfarclas whiskies; long-aged, rich and deeply sherried. The 60s are often thought to have produced some of the distillery’s greatest moments (check out Luc Timmermans’ 1968 bottlings) so this ‘66 seemed like a fair place to start what (I hope) will be the first of many Family Cask reviews.
Glenfarclas is one of the few distilleries that can reach these advanced ages with considerable ease, even perhaps requiring great lengths of maturation for the best of its richly oily, sherry-oak-friendly spirit to develop. However, this type of whisky isn’t for everyone and while many people adore an old “sherry monster” such as this, others can find the cask influence erodes the spirit character while the age adds too much resinous oak. Personally, I often find myself in the mood for such bottlings and though many tread a fine line, few distilleries pull the style off with the regularity of Glenfarclas.
Last time we reviewed a BenRiach whisky on the blog it was a prime example of the sheer brilliance of the distillery’s output during the mid-70s. There’s no question that such bottlings are joy to taste and that any opportunity to do so should not be missed, but there is more to this reinvigorated Speyside distillery than the uber-fruity oldies. For around 25 years the distillery has done that which is quite unusual outside of the Scottish Islands and produced batches of peated spirit, originally intended for blending.
Since being taken over in 2004 BenRiach has gone from relative obscurity to a position of great importance as a single malt, thus drawing great interest in their slumbering stock of casks. The peated releases might not have gathered quite the following of the very best single casks, but there is no denying that they show a character all their own, being clearly set apart from the Islay whiskies with little medicinal or coastal presence.
After our recent review the very modern, well-presented Glenlivert Nadurra it seemed like a good idea (yes yes, any excuse) to dig out something from the distillery’s earlier years. After-all, despite what marketers might wish you to believe, whisky has changed a great deal over the last 40 or so years. While 1973 was already late enough to have seen the end of Glenlivet’s floor maltings (1966) and the conversion from coal to gas firing (1972), the stills remained direct fired until 1985 and yeast types and barley varieties would certainly have been very different from those commonly found today.
I have spoken in the past about my affection for Berry Bros & Rudd, and while I have tasted many very good casks bottled under their name I can’t deny that examples distilled in the early 70s have an extra allure to them. In this department the good gents of BBR have been rather busy recently having released both this Glenlivet, its sister cask #10822, and a pair of similarly enticing 1974 Glen Grant whiskies (of which the Berry Brother’s Glen Grant 37 year old has already received a very favourable review on the blog a couple of months back.) If anything, I am hoping for even greater things this time around as, at its best, early 70s Glenlivet can be an underrated marvel of fruity elegance.
The name Glenlivet is undoubtably one of the most recognisable of any brand in the world of Scotch, and a quick search online will yield a whole raft of reasons why. Be it the early date of licensing, the request of kings, or the reputation of quality that led so many distilleries to label their own Whisky with the name of this early pioneer, word of The Glenlivet’s quality travelled far beyond the rolling landscape of Speyside and solidified its future position as the second best-selling Scotch Whisky brand in the world. Indeed walk into almost any half-decent pub or bar, and it’s likely you will see a bottle of Glenlivet whisky on the gantry, making it one of the most commonly enjoyed whiskies by casual whisky drinkers and budding enthusiasts alike.
So then to us, the whisky geeks, the closed distillery worshiping, note scribbling fraternity of whisky lovers who frequently, to our shame, overlook the commonly encountered in favour of ever alluring obscurity, what does this grand old distillery have to draw us back? Well, a fair amount as it happens, and with Glenlivet Nadurra we find perhaps the most available example. Firstly, as you may well know, the name Nadurra means “natural” and those in charge of The Glenlivet should be applauded for offering a truly “craft orientated” bottling from a distillery more often associated with large volumes and consistency of character. It is un-coloured, non-chill filtered and bottled at its vatted strength; enough to pique the interest of many a jaded whisky cynic, particularly with it’s accessible price tag.