Macallan

Scotland 2018: The Ultimate Whisky Adventure Part Two

Posted by: Nick

In July 2018 I realised the ultimate Waffler’s dream and spent nine days travelling whisky’s motherland. I did not waste a moment.

9 days: 20 distilleries.

Fiddlers WW

PART TWO: Highlands and Islands

Whoever said that Scotland is freezing, windswept and rain-lashed has obviously never been to Speyside in the summertime. I was a little sad to leave what was clearly a sunny paradise and head further north, so decided it was not possible to get too much of a good thing and called into two more distilleries on my way out – and boy, these two could not be more different.

Macallan have recently opened a new visitor centre in the heart of Speyside – and it is an architectural masterpiece. The walls were all glass, revealing vistas of the distillery beyond or encasing infamously rare and valuable bottles. All this was sealed beneath a dramatically curved green roof (although in the height of summer it was more of a… well… brown roof). The whole complex was breathtaking – and yet I didn’t like it. Not one bit. It lacked the soul and warmth I love about Scottish distilleries. It was stunning but cold; glamorous but unwelcoming.

Macallan Wall WW

The complete opposite was the case at my final Speyside stop: Glen Moray. While the buildings themselves were nowhere near as spectacular as what I’d just seen at Macallan, the staff (master-distillers wife Fay, champion drinks pourer Kier, and tour guide extraordinaire Caitlyn) were among the nicest and most welcoming in the whole of Scotland. And the whisky? Wow! If you considered the Glen Moray range to be cheap and cheerful, then a visit to the distillery would reveal a few stunners that have been left a little longer in barrels. A personal favourite was the 1988 port cask matured, however the 1998 PX cask was also exceptional. I’ve always had a soft spot for Glen Moray – and this visit just made it softer.

Glen Moray paddle WW

Just as I thought my Speyside journey had come to an end I spotted a sign for Benromach and duly turned off the main road. Though I had not booked a tour the kind staff showed me around and let me try some of the varied wares.

Sadly, though, this was all I could squeeze into my Speyside trip; it was time to travel to the opposite side of the country. A trip to Scotland would not be complete without the compulsory failure to spot Nessie on the shores of a certain Loch, so I called into Drumnadrochit on my way to the west coast. While there was no monster to be seen, I was able to stumble upon a Whisky Waffle favourite whisky bar: Fiddlers. While there I sampled some local drams: a 25 Year Old Tomatin (business class whisky – you can taste the extra legroom), an Edradour matured in ex-Port Ellen casks (who could resist such an intriguing combo?) and finally a Balblair so dark is could have been black (so sherried it was almost undrinkable – naturally I loved it).

Black Balbalir WW

No filter. That really is the colour.

Before leaving Fiddlers, owner Jon Beach arrived and called me over for a chat – whilst pouring me a dram of Port Ellen as casual as can be. Seriously, this bar – cannot recommend highly enough.

Jon Tweet WW

While the west highlands of Scotland are absolutely stunning, there is one region of the country which is even more spectacular: the Isle of Skye. And this island is home to Talisker Distillery – a Whisky Waffle favourite from our early days of whisky tasting. On my only previous visit to Scotland, I was prevented from visiting Talisker by a freak hiking accident (no whisky was involved) so I was in no way going to miss out this time around. My guide, David, was not only a whisky fan, but also a chef and shared his Talisker BBQ sauce recipe with us while we had a dram of the Amarosso finished Distillers Edition. It was a tasty drop – certainly a step us from the Talisker NAS releases and even pipped the 10 Year Old. I was also able to revisit an old favourite and get my palate roasted by the winter warmer that is the 57 Degrees North.

Talisker WW

Upon leaving the Isle of Skye I had a long drive ahead of me. And yet I couldn’t resist making it even longer by stopping into a beautiful town along the way – and it just happened to contain a distillery!

The town was Oban and I slotted onto a lunchtime tour to check out yet another stillroom. What struck me about Oban was its size – or lack thereof. Of course, it’s miles ahead of the Tassie distilleries I’m used to seeing, but compared to the rest of the Scottish establishments it was rather quaint. This is demonstrated in their cask usage – Oban are the masters of the refill cask – everything they use has been already used by one of Diageo’s other distilleries to mature whisky in for ten or more years. When it gets to Oban it is re-charred, repurposed and ready to go. This is partly why a whisky 14 years old was for so long this distillery’s staple – and partly why the Little Bay is pretty light on for flavour. The real x-factor for Oban is its coastal location imparting a delicate salty layer upon each bottle in their range.

Oban WW

The cherry on the top of my visit was one final dram – from under the bar came an unmarked bottle containing promisingly dark liquid. I was sure it had been aged for longer than most Oban whiskies – and sure enough, it was a 20 year old: straight from the cask. I was assured by the friendly Oban staff it would be unlike anything I’d tried so far on my trip – and they were right, it was absolutely phenomenal. Sadly, though, after concluding this warming and delicious tasting I had to leave Oban in a hurry. You see, I had a ferry to catch…

z Ferry WW

I wonder where this could be going….

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Rye Reaps Rewards: Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2017

Posted by: Ted

jim-murray

It’s that time of year again folks. Everybody’s favourite golden eyed whisky critic (though to be honest, it’s probably just jaundice from cirrhosis after a lifetime of chugging drams) has sottedly rolled out of his all-expenses-paid cabin in the Kentucky backwoods like a panama-wearing bear and declaimed to the expectant masses his predilections for 2017. It’s like Groundhog Day if Punxsutawney Phil was a bottle of whisky and Bill Murray’s disaffected, grouchy journalist was instead played by another disaffected, grouchy journalistict Murray (oooo… I went there)!

Love him or loath him, Jim Murray’s yearly decreement of the world’s best drams in his ‘Whisky Bible’ never fails to set the whisky world aquiver with fawning adulation or frothing indignation. Last year’s selection of the Crown Royal Harvest Rye as top dog fell well into the latter camp, unleashing a raging wave of aggrieved whisky wankery around the globe. You still couldn’t find a bottle for love nor money five seconds later though…

So, what brilliant, laudable/despicable, corrupt choice has Mr Murray made this time then? Well, let’s just say that the Yanks will be (more?) insufferable (at least those in Kentucky. Tennesseeans will probably be unimpressed).

This year the big tinfoil crown goes to the Booker’s Rye 13yo 68.1% with a score of 97.5/100. Hmm, a rye again… maybe this really is Groundhog Day? Jim apparently described his new favourite as having a ‘brain-draining, mind blowing’ nose with a finish of ‘amazing depth’. Descriptions of trauma to the cranial region are probably not entirely unjustified; we previously reviewed the Booker’s Barrel Aged Bourbon 64.55% and found it delivered a solid punch to the face. To be honest, the extra age on the Rye probably does wonders for the balance, although that will be hard to verify seeing as it will be next to impossible to find by now.

bookers-rye

The Americans also took out third place with the William Larue Weller Bourbon (Bot. 2015), however the Scots are probably celebrating the hardest after finally cracking the top three after several years’ drought, with the Glen Grant 18yo taking second place. Glen Grant recently overhauled their range with a new line-up and fresh, colour-coded look (maybe they’ve been getting tips off The Macallan?). It would seem that the ploy has paid off, also earning the 18yo both the Scotch Whisky and Single Malt of the year.

Poor commoners rolling around in their muddy hovels with the pigs will be delighted to know that the 41 Year-and-Over (Single Cask) section was taken out by Gordon & MacPhail’s independently aged Glen Grant 1950 65yo. Maybe time to sell a few of those grubby little brats, peasants.

We can all give a great big disinterested ‘meh’ to the winners of the Blended Scotch NAS (Ballantines Finest), 5-12yo (Johnnie Walker Black 12yo) and 19-25yo (Chivas Royal Salute 21yo) sections. It’s hard to care much really.

Far more exciting is the winner of the Southern Hemisphere Whisky of the Year (most prestigious award of the lot, ammirite!?), Tasmania’s very own Heartwood ‘Any Port in a Storm’ 69.9%. Hooray for Mr Duckett and his obsession with bonkers cask strength releases! Sucks be to you though if you want a bottle, cos they’re already gone. Actually, I saw a picture today of someone who’d taken a bottle with them to Macchu Picchu and cracked it open for a cheeky dram. Probably for the best really…

Want to weep adoringly or fume indignantly at the best of the rest? Find the full list of Jim’s picks here https://blog.thewhiskyexchange.com/2016/10/jim-murrays-whisky-bible-2017-the-winners/

The Macallan Fine Oak 12 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

macallan-fine-oak-12-year-old

I just can’t get my head around (The) Macallan. While I can very clearly visualise and appreciate the ranges of, say, Glenfiddich, Glen Moray or Glendronach, trying to form a coherent picture of what Macallan is about is as likely to give me a headache as drinking way too much of the stuff. And not just because it doesn’t start with the word Glen…

The contradictions are plentiful: many an old-time whisky drinker will cite Macallan as their go-to drop. Yet the distillery spent a fortune to get a bottle of 50 Year Old in a Bond film. And for some reason they recently ditched age statements in favour of… colours? And yet not too long ago there was also Macallan’s ‘Fine Oak’ range, one such bottle being the subject of today’s review.

I don’t get the point of the ‘Fine Oak’ series. As far as I can tell, it takes its name from the many “exceptional quality” oak casks the whisky was matured in. But… does that mean their older range was dumped into low quality barrels? Somehow I doubt it. It seems to be another rebranding dead-end left by the wayside by an impatient marketing team.

Despite all this, the whisky itself is great to drink. The nose is light, vibrant and contains finely balanced notes of vanilla and lime. The palate is sweet without being sickly and flavours of honey and malt take centre stage. The finish is short without being unsatisfying, with a creamy nuttiness that gently lingers: it’s Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut in whisky form! All up, it’s a brilliantly balanced dram, and one that you could confidently pour to a hesitant whisky drinker.

The biggest disappointment is that this bottle is no longer available – if I were to seek something similar I would have to try a different bottle in the Macallan range. As much as I enjoyed this particular drop, I’m wary to spend up on something else from the distillery. Macallan seems to be undergoing somewhat of an identity crisis and I’m probably unlikely to go and buy a bottle until they sort it out – that is unless I get some pretty convincing recommendations in the comments!

★★★