Highlands

anCnoc Peter Arkle Limited Edition: ‘Bricks’

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc Bricks

Can whisky be Art? To be clear, I am not talking about the art of whisky making here, that semi-magical process where the unique personality and knowledge and skills of the distiller combine during the creation of the spirit to imbue it with the essence of that particular distillery. Nope, I mean the regular, picturey type.

Bottles and tubes usually have some sort of artwork on them, but that’s not Art right? That’s just advertising. Special edition releases containing very old and rare whisky often have striking, elegant and beautiful bottles and cases… but really, that’s just advertising for the sophisticated (and rich) buyer.

What then if you commission a renowned illustrator to produce the artwork for a special edition series of bottlings (even here, there seems to be conjecture as to whether illustration counts as Art. Anyone care to put forward a position?). anCnoc (pronounced ah-nock), produced by Knockdhu Distillery, did just that, recruiting Scottish born, currently New York based illustrator Peter Arkle to create artwork for a special set of limited edition releases. The name and artwork of each bottling in the series reflects a different aspect of the distillery, such as ‘Ingredients’, ‘Casks’, ‘Warehouse’ and ‘Luggage’ (a travel retail exclusive).

The bottle I possess is called ‘Bricks’… which rather does what it says on the tin to be honest. The artwork on the tube features a wall of bricks adorned by a bright yellow warning sign announcing ‘Remarkable Liquid’. anCnoc says that the release pays homage to their dunnage warehouses, wherein the walls are adorned by signs such as ‘Danger, Explosive Atmosphere’ and ‘Flammable Liquid’ (and probably more importantly, ‘No Smoking or Naked Lights’), reminding the occupants of the powerful forces at play.

The whisky in each edition has it’s own special twist; in the case of ‘Bricks’ that means a mixture of Spanish oak ex-sherry butts and American oak ex-bourbon barrels bottled at 46% abv. Straight up on the nose you can smell the sherry; this isn’t the heavy leather and dark wood drawing room vibe you get from some sherried drops though, but more like eating a packet of chocolate coated raisins on a sun lounge on the patio. At the back there’s also a delicate splash of grapefruit, pear and cinnamon.

I have come to the conclusion that my official tasting note for anCnoc is ‘dusty’, because I’ve found the same thing in every one that I’ve tried so far. It’s kind of like walking into a wood-work shop and breathing in that light dusting of wood powder that’s everywhere. Or perhaps walking down a forest track in summer with a light breeze stirring up dust from the earth and the vegetation. The spirit coasts lightly across the tongue, not like a brick at all, and ends with a delicious, crisp burst of citrus and raisins that lingers on for some time.

I can’t really speak for whether the ‘Bricks’ constitutes Art or not, but I rather suspect it lies in eye of the beholder and the value you place on such things. There is certainly one aspect of the work that I can give a definitive answer on though: it is indeed Remarkable Liquid. The Bricks possess the bright, summery lightness of other anCnoc’s that I have tried, but the addition of sherry introduces a complexity that takes it to a whole other level and I think perhaps that is where the real artistry lies. It does look rather spiffy on the shelf though. Perhaps I shall have to collect the whole set and contemplate the matter more deeply.

★★★★

anCnoc Bricks label

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The Pot Still Exclusive Invergordon 26 Year Old Single Grain Whisky

Reviewed by: Ted

invergordon-26

It’s very rare that I come across a whisky distilled in the year of my birth; usually they seem to fall either side of it. While that’s probably just me not looking in the right places, it’s definitely rare that the dram in question is a single grain scotch whisky.

Lesson time: Single malt scotch whisky can be made using only malted barley, whereas grain whiskies (like it says on the tin) can be made using other grains, such as wheat, and can be malted or unmalted. You don’t generally tend to see single grain whiskies on their own in the wild because their normal purpose in life is to form the base of blended scotch whisky.

Alongside the prestigious single malt producers are a multitude of unsung distilleries pumping out grain whisky for use in your Johnnie Walkers and Dewars’ and the like. Case in point: Who’s heard of Invergordon? Nope, me neither, but turns out they’re a thing.

I actually came across this bottle while I was in an excellent Glaswegian bar called ‘The Pot Still’ (up the end of the mall if you want to find it). While chatting to the barman I challenged him to pour me something unusual, and so he did.

Produced at Invergordon as an exclusive bottling for the Pot Still (in celebration of something or other I think. I forget what) this particular bottle was distilled on the 3rd of March 1988 and aged for a rather astonishing 26 years in cask# 24975 (no idea what, but from the colour I’m guessing an ex-bourbon).

Bottled at a hearty 53.7%, the nose of the Invergordon is vibrant and zesty, zinging with lemon, pineapple, pine resin and wood polish. Underneath the initial sharpness sits a smoother, rounded layer of pear, plum, apricot, dates and nuttiness. Finally, gliding out underneath is a waft of vanilla.

The first mouthful hits hot and sharp, with more lemon and pineapple, and then slides down your throat with a burning coolness like you’ve just had a strong mint. A second attempt, giving more time to develop in the mouth, finds toffee, green wood and a bitter, grassy, herbal finish.

I am sorry (not sorry) to say that you are probably highly unlikely to find a bottle of this anywhere. I only happened to stumble across mine because I was in the right place at the right time and the barman still had a small stash behind the bar that he was willing to part with.

If you do have a bottle, or are in the Pot Still and they’ve got some left, well done you, you’re part of an exclusive club. As for the rest of you great and unwashed masses, I think that this serves as a reminder not to discount the humble grain whisky. While they don’t get the same love as their single malt cousins, with a bit of age they can hold their own any day.

★★★

Dalmore 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Dalmore 12

In the United Kingdom, something that is passionately loved by half the population while fervently hated by the other is known as being rather ‘Marmite’. In Australia nothing sits more squarely in the love/hate status than Collingwood Football Club. In the movie world, the title goes to Napoleon Dynamite. And in the whisky world, the ultimate love-it-or-hate-it drop could be none other than Dalmore.

For every whisky drinker shouting Dalmore’s merits from the rooftops, I have met another who just cannot fathom the appeal. Even the usually serene waters of Whisky Waffle are rocked by this divide. While we normally agree on most matters whisky related, I am partial to a drop of the stag-bedecked highland malt while m’colleague Ted couldn’t care less that their founder saved King Alexander III from a deer once upon a time (actually, scrap that, he loves the story, just doesn’t want to drink the 12 Year Old)

I rather like the 12 – although I wouldn’t regard it as an everyday whisky. To me, it calls to mind a reasonable cognac (on the rare occasion that I’ve had the chance to try that stuff). I find it distinctly grapey and full of tannins – which I like. However, I get the impression that these same characteristics are what turn Ted – and many others – off the stuff. So my theory is thus: Dalmore is a red wine drinkers whisky. While the Speysides exhibit typical Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio lightness and crispness – this dram is heavy, complex and extremely dry.

On the nose I get equal measures of ham and raspberry jam – surely a combination that could only be found by a whisky drinker. The palate is slightly yeasty with red grapes and ashy notes. The finish is medium in length and warmth, leaving you with flavours of oak and pastry.

While I could happily sip on this particular drop for an entire evening, I can utterly understand where the Dalmore sceptics are coming from. This is not a whisky for everyone. You’ll either love it or hate it. However, for all those haters out there, can I recommend trying the Cigar Malt Reserve before writing off Dalmore forever – now that is a proper whisky.

And even if you still don’t like it – you’ve got to admit – Dalmore bottles are beautiful.

Nick’s rating: ★★★

Ted’s rating: ★★

Speyburn 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Speyburn 10 year Old

It’s the very end of harvest season here in Tasmania. Fresh produce abounds, from potatoes to pears, onions to oranges, and asparagus to apples: our family-friend farmers’ pickings filling my kitchen with an alluring bouquet. The fresh fruit combines to remind me strongly of the scent of a dram I have recently acquired: the Speyburn 10 Year Old.

“Delicious” I hear you cry “a whisky with all amazing the flavours of harvest time! It must be good.” And it is. But it also isn’t. This is a whisky full of contradictions.

The contradictions start with the distillery itself. Translating literally as “River Spey”, Speyburn identifies as a highland whisky despite being found within a mile of such Speyside giants such as Glen Grant and The Glenrothes. It has received many modern awards, though it’s greatest accomplishment still seems to be being built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It also, commendably, bucks the NAS trend by releasing a 10 Year Old, a 25 Year Old… and nothing in between.

The harvest fruits are prevalent on the nose. Overripe red apples, peaches and lemons dominate proceedings in a way entirely unsubtle. It’s enjoyable but certainly citrus-heavy. The palate is sweet and malty, like children’s breakfast cereal. There is more lemon here, causing the whisky to veer dangerously towards dish-cleaner territory, though is stopped short by a bitter cooking apple note on the finish.

There are undeniably many enjoyable flavours in the Speyburn 10 Year Old. It’s well worth a try and certainly wonderful value – just don’t expect subtlety to be among its virtues. Rather than a sweet bite of an apple, it is more like the entire orchard has been emptied into your kitchen.

★★

Oban Little Bay

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Oban Little Bay WW

When you only have a little to say about a little dram, make sure the little says a lot. Oban Little Bay is a recent outpouring from a little town on the west coast of Scotland.

Oban claims its little spirit lives within the copper stills, where it rests between batches to help develop the experience. Little oak casks are the next little touch to smooth the draw and build the richness.

On the nose it spins and winks and jigs, while the taste is a warm clear heat; a dancing djinn on the warm moor. Though not smoky, it feels like fire.

This emissary from the little people doesn’t decide whether the spirit is of earth or fire or water, but being from Oban it dances between them all and lives in none. A real genie in a bottle.

★★★

How it compares:

The Little Bay has a youthful, flickery, salty warmth, whereas the 14yo is a sweeter, more complex and refined drop. Even though we would go for the 14yo, the Little Bay has its own magic touch.

Old Pulteney Navigator

Reviewed by: Ted

Old Pulteney Navigator

It is no great surprise that Old Pulteney distillery takes inspiration from the sea, seeing as it resides on the rugged north coast of Scotland. In fact, Pulteneytown, the area of Wick from which the distillery takes its name, was a major player in the 19th century herring boom and harboured (ahem) a bustling harbour.

Old Pulteney isn’t just happy to let their love of the sea infuse their whisky, oh no. You know it’s a serious passion when you sponsor a vessel in the world’s longest round-the-world yacht race. The Clipper round-the-world race tests teams across a lazy 40000NM, demanding great effort from its participants.

To celebrate its maiden voyage in the ’13-’14 race, the aptly named ‘Old Pulteney’ clipper carried a special cargo on board, the first barrel of a new limited edition NAS whisky named the ‘Navigator’, crafted from a marriage of younger aged bourbon and sherry casks.

On the nose the Navigator tacks against bursts of chocolate and salted bacon before having its sails filled with malty biscuits, while oak decking creaks underneath.

Sharp, salty waves break over the palate, prickling across the back of the tongue. A juicy citrus burst through the middle keeps away the scurvy, followed by a warm trade wind that soars down the throat.

The Old Pulteney Navigator is a dram worthy of its nautical namesake. Its youth helps enhance its maritime nature, evoking the tempestuous seas that govern life along the north coast of Scotland. If you are a maritime whisky fan then the Navigator will definitely float your boat.

★★★

Ted the Navigator

How it compares:

The Navigator is the wild, ever-changing sea, whereas the 12yo is the calm, smooth safety of the harbour, welcoming the weary sailor home. Both have their own allure, but you don’t necessarily want to be tossed about in the old briny every day.

Oban 14 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

Oban 14

Rather like the wild haggis (Haggis scotticus), Oban distillery is a curious wee beastie. Located on the craggy west coast of Scotland in the town of the same name, Oban is one of the oldest distilleries in the country, founded in 1794 on the site of an old brewery by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson. Interestingly however, despite its lengthy existence it has remained one of the smallest distilleries around, with only two pot stills in residence to make the good stuff.

Understandably, the limited production capacity has focused the Oban distillers, choosing to craft a few expressions rather than the seemingly endless releases pedalled by larger producers. Luckily this means that the Obanites have had plenty of time to refine and tinker with their creations.

Oban’s flagship dram is one that should pique the curiosity of any whisky fiend looking for something a little different. Eschewing usual ageing lengths, the Oban 14yo, part of Diageo’s “Classic Malts Selection”, exploits an interesting niche between youth and maturity, and it must be noted, at a price on par (at least in Australia) with many 12yo whiskies.

The character of the 14yo walks a fine line, balanced as it is between the highlands to the east and the islands to the west. A careful nosing reveals a light, sweet, dusty spirit with suggestions of damsons and green apples, giving it a sense of kinship with other highland drops such as Dalwhinnie.

The taste on the other hand speaks of its seaside home, beginning with a bright, slightly salty burst on the front of the palate, lifted by the 43% strength, followed by a hint of seaweed and coastal air. The mid palate smooths out and becomes much more rounded, with dried fruits, zest, spices and perhaps just the lightest hint of smoke. The finish is clean and doesn’t linger for too long.

Once you’ve knocked back a few sips of the 14yo it’s worth holding the glass up to the light and contemplating the colour, which should be a dark amber. The reason I make mention of this is that the 14yo is not aged in the sherry casks that the colour suggests, but rather ex-bourbon hogsheads.

The answer to this conundrum will cause some to shrug their shoulders unconcernedly and others to foam at the mouth in righteous indignation: caramel e150a. Why Oban chooses to use artificial colouring, while other premium distilleries go to great pains to point out that they keep their own products au naturale, is a secret known only to the Obanites. Whether or not it’s presence affects the flavour of the 14yo I will leave up to your own distinguished palates, fellow wafflers.

The small size of Oban definitely works in its favour, allowing it time to lovingly craft a quirky and interesting product that does not hurt the wallet too much. The 14yo is certainly a delightful and evocative drop; and unlike the pesky wild haggis, is relatively easy to track down for those curious to discover the ‘west highland’ flavour.

★★★

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: The Cynical Scot

Old Pultney 12 Year old Whisky Waffle

There are three places in the world where the merest mention of the name can take me back in heart and spirit. The first are the cliffs at Yesnaby on the mainland of Orkney. Here, the crash of the Atlantic is stalled by Earl Thorfinn’s walls and the salty air is scoured into the finest lines of the skin. The second is the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye, where I have swum in the ice clear waters and tasted the pure heart of the Cuillins. The third, and the subject of this review, is the bond store at the Old Pulteney distillery in Wick.

I found myself here on an overcast Saturday in 2013. It was the third distillery on a self-guided tour which was to take me around the best parts of Scotland. My true blue Australian friend (who insisted on referring to the drink as ‘OP’) and I didn’t know then that it would be one of only seven distilleries we would visit on that trip. By the time we arrived in Pulteney town, we already had the creeping realisation that most large scale whisky making operations are done along similar lines. Coupled to this, we had satisfied ourselves that whisky makers send their whisky all over the place. Since then we have regularly enjoyed our whisky without feeling the need to visit the place of origin.

The Old Pulteney distillery was built in 1826 in a town built to support the herring trade. With a lack of foresight uncommon in the Scottish, James Henderson’s lads built the roof too low for the still. When the brand new copper pot still arrived, the swan neck kept clanging off the rafters. Without any ado they applied a choice piece of Scottish logic to the problem and sliced off the top of it. Job done, the still was installed, the top sealed and a pipe bunged on the the side creating the unusual appearance you’ll see today. The bulge further down the giant copper kettle also gave them an idea of how to shape their bottles.

You’ll see all this and more on the tour, proving beyond doubt it is a whisky making process. After you’ve seen the unusual squat stills you’re taken out to the bond store. On the day we visited it started raining at this point. We made a dash towards the barrels, which in my mind were stacked six high (my photographic record shows only four), and the door was shut behind us. While we learned about the maturation process we avoided the tears of the angels and breathed in their share of the whisky; a fine ethereal vapour floating in the salty air. Yes, we all smelt that whisky, we all knew what we were doing and we yes, we all found questions to ask to keep us there longer.

IMG_0689 (Copy)

Old Pulteney has the taste of the sea in it too, they say. I can’t taste things like that, but Wick is not too far away from the places where the mighty Atlantic meets the moody North Sea and that can’t happen without seriously affecting a drink as emotional as whisky. The salt, they said, coats the barrels and works its way through the grain and into the final product. This may very well be the case. Salt for me is something I put on chips and any other food. It’s never been more complicated than that.

As for taste of Old Pulteney 12 year old, it’s a fine single malt, very fine. I find it harsh on the nose, easy on the draw and the burn is frank and satisfying. It has a rich stickling after taste like bronze coins falling over a weir and I’ll always like it because it’s the whisky I drink with my father.

I asked Dad why he drinks this particularly spirit. As a seasoned Famous Grouse drinker, it turned out his discernment was a result of him acquiring a bottle at no cost from an appreciative work colleague. His opinion of ‘Aye, it’s a nice one that’ is fair if not particularly detailed or nuanced. I confidently predict that he will continue to drink this brand so long as it remains at his personal initial price point.

For me it’s not what goes into a bond store it’s what comes out. That day in Wick an amateur whisky drinker went into the bond store. After delaying as long as I could, a happier, more philosophical and more content amateur whisky drinker came out. The OP lads do the same with their whisky. They wait and they wait and after twelve years a fine drink appears. I don’t know what makes this my homely stand-alone bottle of go-to, or why at times, when I can neither get to Yesnaby nor the Fairy pools of Skye, I can have a drop of Old Pulteney 12 year old and be at both at the same time. It’s a mystery I don’t want to think through too much and if I ever need to know, I can just ask my dad. He knows.

★★★★

anCnoc 16 Year Old

Reviewed by: Ted

anCnoc 16

One of the fun things about whisky is that it can reveal to you a time and place as part of its character. If the anCnoc 12 Year Old is a summers day, then surely its older sibling, the 16 Year Old, is the evening.

Produced by Knockdhu Distillery, founded in 1894 and one of the smaller operating distilleries in the Scottish Highlands, the AnCnoc 16yo is a burnished gold in colour, darker than the straw-like 12yo.

On the nose the 16yo is smooth and sweet, with no hint at all of the occasional raw alcoholic jaggies lurking in the 12yo. Herbs, particularly mint, garnish a bowl of caramelised pears in syrup dolloped on Weetbix. The taste is sharp and bright, striking the upper palate. The finish is hot and bittersweet, drying the mouth and lingering for some time afterwards.

The AnCnoc 16yo is much better rounded than its younger kinsman, with maturity found through age. While the 12yo has the heat, dustiness and brashness of the day, the 16yo is the relaxing warmth of the evening. A perfect companion to watch the light fade on a clear summer night.

★★★

Glendronach 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Glendronach 12 Year Old

Now, be honest with me. Raise your right hand if you have bought, with your own money, in the last six months, a bottle of sherry? Anyone? I thought as much.

The once proud sherry industry is declining slowly, but surely. While on the surface this may not seem to really affect we drinkers of distilled barley, there is, in fact, much cause for concern. Because without sherry, specifically, without the barrels that once contained the stuff, many of the most wonderful whiskies in the world would not exist.

Case in point: the Glendronach 12 Year Old. And it is a great little drop. Vibrant, spicy, balanced and heavily sherried. The latter is not a subjective tasting note. The whisky does indeed possess a highly sherried character because it has been matured in a mixture of Pedro Ximinez and Oloroso sherry barrels.

The flavour this imparts is obvious on the nose in the form of sweet creamy raisin aromas. There is a golden syrup-like quality, too, alongside dried figs and orange peel.

On the palate the flavours are, surprisingly, not as sweet as the nose suggests. However it has a smooth mouth feel and the creaminess is still present. There is a nuttiness about it as well, and more dried fruit with perhaps a touch of glace cherries. Little wonder sherry-matured whiskies are regularly likened to fruitcake.

The finish is short, disappointingly, as up to this point I was immensely enjoying the ride. Wait – there it is, ever so subtly lingering at the back of the throat with the remnants of the grape flavours. I had to go searching for this one, but I found once discovered it glows faintly, like the last few embers of a campfire.

The sweetness of this whisky is nice, although it would probably discourage me from having too many drams of this in the one night. Instead, this is the perfect choice to directly follow a bourbon-aged malt at a tasting, to really show just how radically different sherry matured whisky is.

We may as well enjoy it for the time being. Because as time rolls on there will be fewer and fewer sherry barrels around to put whisky in.

★★★