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The St Andrews Brewing Co. Pub

The new craft brewing pub in St Andrews.

Picture it: you’re an independent brewing collective with a contemporary approach, you focus on craft, quality and novelty, and you have opened your first pub in a notoriously moneyed area of golf-mad Scotland. What whiskies do you source for the back bar?

For Bob, Tim and friends of the St Andrews Brewing Company this was their challenge ahead of opening their new BrewPub on South Street, St Andrews. Truth be told, I’ve never been able to stomach ales, stouts, porters, beers in general. Therefore, the sixteen hand-pulled brews and countless refrigerated bottles were not my main concern when the boys opened their doors last week. I was all about the whiskies.

A couple of weeks beforehand, legendary distiller Eddie MacAffer set up stall in the new BrewPub to guide us through three Morrison Bowmore single malts paired with some choice morsels (salmon smoked with Auchentoshan cask shavings paired with Auchentoshan Threewood; Bowmore Darkest with dark chocolate and Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve with Isle of Mull cheddar). Visitor Centre Development Manager for the group, Anne Kinnes, was also there to tell us a little more about the tourism facilities available at MBD’s outstanding distilleries. The BrewPub accommodated us all superbly: indulgently supple leather chairs, wholesome wood and a couple of log-burning stoves made for a homely evening and when Jordan told me that they intended to stock forty whiskies from opening – building to about a hundred - I sensed it would become my second home.

The main bar at the St Andrews Brewing Co.

So how to kit yourself out with the best spirits and ensure you aren’t playing it too safe? With the help of Graeme Broom (Straight Up Whisky), the guys have a most intriguing selection. The first thing you will notice is the heavy prevalence of Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice bottlings. I counted a Teaninich, Clynelish, Arran and Dailuaine while G&M’s own malt distillery, Benromach had a number of expressions such as the rich, pungent Organic, the smoky, soft 10yo and the bracing Peat Smoke. Another great addition is the rich, vanilla-driven Bruichladdich Scottish Barley.

The whisky cupboard.

Finally, however, I can get Compass Box whiskies at a bar in St Andrews. They carry The Peat Monster, Oak Cross and Great King Street. Checking the list, I clocked a Woodford Reserve for the Bourbon fans, Wemyss Spice King 12yo and The Hive 12yo for blended malts and even a Green Spot to keep those with a taste for Irish whiskey happy (i.e., me). The best news? I think the most expensive dram on the list weighs in at £7. As the evenings darken and the air becomes ever more frigid, the St Andrews Brewing Co. would appear to be the ideal venue to drive out the chills. Once they extend their license beyond 11PM, of course, but I’m assured that will be very soon.

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My Speyside Reboot

BenRiach Distillery on a tempestuous day.

I think we would all agree that 14 months is a ponderous age to be without the means of indulging in your chief passion. That length of time without football, an easyJet flight to somewhere warm, the use of a working television, or sex would try the patience sorely. I had endured 14 months without setting foot in a whisky distillery and righting this wrong last month wreathed me in smiles.

Wriggling from under the barbed wire cage of three assignments in as many weeks, I beheld the prospect of a period of time in which I could plant a project or two. Operation Sniff A Washback was go.

For various reasons, Speyside is my favourite of all the whisky ‘regions’. Not only is it far enough away from the Central Belt to impress upon me a suitably Highland ruggedness, but the density of high-class, diverse distilleries cannot be bettered. One hopelessly romantic train journey through the snow drifts of Aberdeenshire later and I alighted in Elgin, chilled but thrilled to be back in Morayshire. Thanks to the help of Stewart Buchanan and Ewan George, I knew that there was a whisky hearth of brilliant warmth awaiting me at BenRiach.

One very short hop on the 36 bus brought me to the swift S-bend on which BenRiach sits, the black bulk of the maltings showing up well against shards of snow driven into the grass by the determined wind. I was sent to the stillroom to warm up while Ewan finished off some recurring paperwork where I chewed the stillman fat with Fraser, custodian of the BenRiach spirit for the last four years. The quartet of copper pots pelted me with heat as Fraser told me about the various family members employed within the industry, one as far away as Laphroaig. That brought the discussion on to the peated BenRiach production regime and whether the quality of the final whisky represented satisfactory redress for the clinging cigarette smoker fragrance no worker can escape when the smoky stuff is being distilled. Like the gents at Balblair, Fraser prefers the less aromatically-invasive unpeated production.

The stills at BenRiach.

Trotting in Ewan’s wake, once his ‘t’s had been crossed and his ’i's dotted, we headed into the warehouses. Here I could Get My Geek On with a quick game of ‘Name That Cask’. Hoggies, butts, puncheons, and more than a couple of Port pipes could be discerned in the tepid gloom, teeming with the scents of perhaps the industry’s most heterogeneous whisky stocks maturing. I asked Ewan which of Billy Walker’s discoveries had most excited him when they emerged from dunnage obscurity. ‘To be honest, the Solstice stuff I thought was fantastic. I’d gone off peated whiskies for a few years, but that whisky is top class’.

'Under 25'? Hardly.

With the tour over, Ewan was kind enough to furnish me with one of the missing pieces of my BenRiach puzzle. Stewart had told us in St Andrews that more senior BenRiach acquired a tropical fruitiness, and I wanted to put his claim to the test in the shape of the award-winning 30yo. I found this to be a deeply unusual dram, a class apart from those other whiskies I have tried which can also claim to have been three decades in development.

Red fruit sweetness and rich honey came through at first on the nose, but despite its age there was a remarkable zest and life. Lime pickle came next, and then – right enough – the tropical fruits. I found banana and passion fruit were most evident, with grapefruit in time and a toffee’d weight. To taste, this was full with a spicy attack before the experience lengthened with malt, honey and plenty of vanilla. The 50:50 wood contribution between ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry lent this whisky plenty of richness and complexity, but also enough body and freshness to demand a lengthier sipping session.

Ewan had one final ticket for the BenRiach Bandwagon, however, and when I nosed the second release of the Solstice Heavily Peated Port Finish, I leapt aboard.

BenRiach Solstice 17yo 50%

Colour – toffee apple red: clear and bright.

Nose – surprisingly fresh breezy smoke, like a wintry wind blowing the peat smoke over barley fields. It is a soft (though bold and unmistakable) smokiness, like the last stages of kilning. Beneath is a citrussy cleanliness, then the Port gives a firm base of cooked strawberries and morello cherries.

Palate – tickle of peat, then mouth-coating Port flavours. Flavour everywhere especially heavy, industrial peat. There is a clean, light toffee’d malt for balance.

Finish – drying all the time on black, thick and growly peat. Garden fire fragrance. Some tiny pieces of dried strawberry. Clean green apple on the tail.

With water, the nose hinted at the kiln even more, with fat, dry barley. More of the fruits inherent within the spirit emerged: orange and ripe Comice pears, all beneath a veil of smoke. With that dash of water, the palate was more focused with heat and smoke. A trace of creamy, nutty oak heralded a singeing sweetness in the middle of the tongue: pear drops and strawberry jam. Kippery smoke appeared on the finish with citrussy oak, a satiny sweetness and the sooty smokiness of a fire grate.

At the time, I laughed out loud: by rights, it should not taste as good as it does. The Port finish is so well-executed, and the smoke such a joyous mixture of textures and aromas. Having missed my bus on to Aberlour, I contented myself with buying a bottle, the immediate rapture of my dram at the distillery fortifying me against a fierce – but not unwelcome – blizzard outside the distillery. Though certainly not a summery dram, we were hardly experiencing summery conditions. Irrespective of the time of year, however, the bizarre brilliance of this whisky will make itself felt. I am now besotted with BenRiach.

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Majestic Glenlivet

The word on the street is that there is some sort of royal shindig going on? Lizzie has reigned over us for 60 years and we Brits think that deserves bunting, scones, a few elderly gentlemen playing guitars, that sort of thing. The Macallan has grasped the spirit of the occasion a little better, I feel, with a new bottling from its regal stocks, although it cannot match – at least in terms of years – the Gordon & MacPhail Glen Grant 60yo. Either way, whisky as a fit means of honouring important occasions, usually with a calendrical application, cannot be disputed.

This brings me on to whisky as a fit means of marking notable moments in my life, and The Glenlivet in particular. It shall always be bound up with October 25, 2007, as the distillery I visited on that bright but chilly day and which launched my interest in whisky into the stratosphere. I don’t know whether this fact was consciously recalled by my friends when, in anticipation of my 21st birthday in September of last year, they pitched in for a bottle of The Glenlivet 21yo Archive (I should mention that it has shot up in price since). Upon opening it, I was ever so glad they did. Upon receiving it, I could only marvel at what a tremendous group of people I call friends. Lizzie will, doubtless, enjoy her scones this weekend and today I intend to tell you how much I enjoyed a measure of this whisky recently.

The Glenlivet 21yo Archive

The Glenlivet 21yo Archive 43% vol. £99.95

Colour – Boldly rich and burnished amber. Toffee apple.

Nose – A few choice aromas initially: clean, sweet and creamy ex-Bourbon wood with plenty of vanilla, sugary yellow fruits and fruitcake. With nose in the glass, I found the delivery a little timid at first but it was gentle and medium rich with a lovely freshness. Maltiness eventually appeared which boasted a certain oiliness whilst being wrapped in nougat and caramel. Terrific firmness of body with a fragrance like heather. The aroma seems to become ever richer with toffee and vanilla, in addition to nutty sherry and dark honey.

Water releases the creamy soft barley which makes powerful surges on a bed of vanilla. Peach, syrupy and running with juice, also Scottish tablet. The nose settles into an image of dunnage warehouses and top notch old Bourbon casks. The cereal notes are quite sharp and still somewhat oily. Plenty of nuttiness appears. With more time, shortbread, sweet mash tun and some dunnage again. Full, fresh and juicy malt.

Palate – Sweet, heavy fruits at first before oak and a slight earthiness break in. A malty flavour that combines vanilla and biscuity richness. Nutty oak dominates towards the finish.

Water heightens the creaminess, as it did for the nose. More toffee and sharp cereals. A good deal of weighty oak. A puff of vanilla after swallowing. Prune and almond.

Finish – Semi rich, oaky, but with a dusty floral note. Plum jam/ figgy residue and vanilla toffee. Quite basic and closed.

Water lent the finish real expressiveness. A crystallised sweetness to the malt introduced the oak once more, only on this occasion it had relaxed a fraction, allowing some tropical fruits to emerge: passion fruit, orange. Butterscotchy/ biscuity richness characteristic of the distillery.

So…? This is a whisky that just about succeeds in balancing delicacy and robustness. Some elements are as fresh and juicy as you could wish for with a Glenlivet, while the extra years have granted it a subtle, dark weight. The wood types have been juggled very impressively with controlled emphasis on Sherry oak but with some very high-quality refill Bourbon barrels in there, too. This is a very good whisky indeed, which does not require your full attention all the time but rewards closer inspection, too.

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Christmas Crackers at Luvians

If you feel like leaving Santa more than milk and shortbread this Christmas, I’m sure the bearded North Pole dweller would point you in the direction of Luvians Bottle Shop, stuffed like an M&S turkey with delicious festive offers. For the purposes of this post, I have only space for a fraction of the whisky deals available, never mind the masses of discounts to be had on their wines and the gins and vodkas they’re so excited about.

A whisky lover's grotto on Market Street, St Andrews.

Stocking most distilleries’ principal outfit, Daniel told me that Luvians also favour the independent bottlers. Adelphi is a darling of theirs, and they also have some of the Cooper’s Choice range on the shelves. A little harder to keep on those shelves at present are SpringbankArdbeg and one of my aboslute favourites, GlenDronach. Plainly the bolder favours are ‘in’ this Christmas.

But what have they for that special whisky-drinking someone in your life? When you consider the breadth of drams which have benefited from Peter Wood’s holiday cheer  with a drop in price, you might think it more prudent to buy your own Christmas presents and get them a nice tie, instead. All of the Glenmorangie wood finishes have £10 off, as has the Old Pulteney 17yo and Glengoyne 10yo. There’s a whopping £20 off the Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 21yo at £45.99.

Elsewhere, the Bunnahabhain 12yo looks an absolute steal at £22.99 and Gordon & MacPhail Glenburgie and Miltonduff are all under £20. The ravishingly pure and sweet anCnoc 16yo is less than £30 and at that price, my private pledge to make my next spirits purchase something other than Scotch is in dire jeopardy.

However, in this season of austerity one can be forgiven for bowing to bang-for-buck considerations, and the Luvians boardroom has anticipated this. ’Why should we give our customers one whisky when we could give them three?’ they may well have asked. Consequently, my pick for this Christmas is their Glenfarclas bundle, which includes not only the stonkingly expressive 15yo, bathed in fine orange-accented sherry tones, sweet fruit and floral characters in addition to velvet-smooth toffee malt, but also miniatures of the 21yo and the 25yo. Add a really good bar of dark chocolate from the Luvians cafe further along Market Street and you’re still looking at less than £42.

Also, if you are in the town on the 23rd of December, head along to the store where Gregg Glass will be conducting a Compass Box tasting. My advice would be to add just that little bit more Hedonism to your Christmas countdown.

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Benromach – Behind the Scenes

‘Not every distillery in Scotland could work like Benromach.’

So much became obvious after a only few minutes at Speyside’s smallest distillery, and there was more than a hint of satisfaction behind this statement, made by its manager.

Keith Cruickshank has presided over the Gordon & MacPhail implemented apotheosis of Benromach from the very beginning, as some permanent marker on a wooden beam in the filling store corroborates. He describes with typical animation the unique, semi-paternal pleasure he feels when signing out casks from the warehouses to go for bottling, with the day they were filled clearly in his mind. It says much for Benromach’s dedicated output and Keith’s powers of memory, but chiefly underlines the personal credentials of this pint-sized whisky revolution taking place in North-west Speyside. ’I always say that Gordon & MacPhail own the distillery – but it’s my distillery, really.’

Overseeing production at Benromach.

My Manager’s Tour took place on a muggier, moister day than had my standard tour in April 2010 but the distillery was still as cutely dinky as I remembered it, and the smell of rich breakfast cereal still pooled in the road between the visitor centre and the operating buildings. Inside, 1.5 tons of malt was being mashed, many thousands of litres of wort were gently mutating into alcohol, and two stills were being lovingly polished. The production area at Benromach is a delicious place to be: the handsome copper-domed mash tun cannot contain the steamy aroma of malt mixing with water and there – yes, there it is – is the scent of peat.

In stark contrast to my experiences at Balblair, all wort is fermented for at least four days. Keith explained that they had tried 48-hours in the washbacks but it simply couldn’t supply the rounded fruity requirements for the final Benromach spirit. At 96 hours, the wash undergoes a secondary phase of fermentation as lactic acid begins to build in the heavily apple-scented wash with a bold malty character, too. At the stills, I learnt of the brief for Benromach of 14 years ago: a whisky that will age quickly but also prove itself over and above 25 years in cask. ‘Not an easy thing to achieve,’ I said. ‘Not easy at all…’ came the reply.

The correct interaction with copper is encouraged, with the stills allowed air rests between charges. Once again, it was a decision made with quality of spirit – and not litres per annum – in mind. Gordon & MacPhail wanted desperately to become distillers, but not just any distillers. At Benromach, two hundred years of distilling knowledge, every possible option and permutation, was considered prior to the first batch of malt passing through the mill. That being said, despite incorporating the very latest information related to the making of whisky, this is not distilling by numbers. As Keith happily revealed, they are still tinkering for just the right result.

A social time capsule.

Not content with fully organic whisky, heavily-peated expressions, single barley varietals and wood finishes, there is still scope to explore other aspects of production, with yeast perhaps next on the check-list. If those little critters are as important as the brewing industry says they are, we could be enjoying some very eccentric whiskies in a few years to come.

The Manager’s Tour procures you not just the time and enthusiasm of Mr Cruickshank, but an impressive tasting of Benromachs from pre- and post-G&M. Here are some of my thoughts on them.

Benromach 10yo

Some beautiful Benromachs.

Plenty of woodsmoke and gooey red fruits on the nose initially, before further investigation reveals this malt’s ex-Bourbon DNA: strong wood notes together with syrupy lemon and vanilla. The sherry ageing really shows itself on the palate, with more woodsmoke and satsuma. The finish is redolent with that gentle, complex smoke again, only with a green apple and caramel flavour tacked on.

Benromach Origins

Made with Golden Promise barley and aged in Sherry, both fruitiness and a bold maltiness show on the nose. Rich caramel and malt bins at first with sweet biscuit and jellied lemon peel. The palate is a Sherry bonanza, only not quite as I like them. Mouth-clinging tannins surge in, bringing a dark syrupy quality with it.

Benromach 25yo

A pre-1993 dram, this one, and unusual in the Benromach range with complete ex-Bourbon maturation. The nose was stunningly beautiful: creamy, with golden raisin and lemon. Banana-like malt, shortbread and coconut developed in the glass. The palate bulged with fruits: apple, apricot and white plum. For all there was a clinging sensation in the mouth, I could still find delicate floral notes, too. Soft, moist gingery oak accounted for the finish.

Benromach 30yo

This one was a deep, bold Sherry specimen, all leaf mould, oak, apple and cinnamon. It gradually became more floral, although it did become almost solvent-like: boot polish, if you will. Banana loaf appeared and chocolate. On the palate a Benromach signature began to emerge: plenty of fruity malt with a bit of cling, but primarily soft and toffeed. The finish was slow, gentle and lovely with rich toffee and blackberry.

Benromach 1968

What a venerable gentleman this is. Dense, imperious smoke erupts from the glass, together with soft, rich Sherry tones. Next it is oaky, lichen-covered and earthy, while a heavy menthol note develops with time. The palate was all Sherry, but in such a wonderful way: nutty, fruity with a drying herbal lift. It was malty, too. Peat returned on the finish with an impression of wood stacks. Syrupy and treacle-textured, red apple appeared at the end before the cask-derived richness and sweetness blazed once more, to sink gently below the horizon.

As enjoyable as the tour was, however, my Project was thwarted. I had arrived at Benromach entirely in the dark with regards to their bottle-your-own cask. I had no idea what to expect. For all I knew it could be a heavily-peated batch of organic Golden Promise barley finished in a Sauternes barrique but I was excited by the prospect of siphoning off my own hand-crafted and well-loved single malt. It turned out to be a 9yo Hoggie, and not quite the complex, rip-snorting whisky I wanted. Malty, creamy and zesty on the nose, it also boasted jelly sweets and squashed banana. Dry sweet cereal aromas and a bit of vanilla rounded out a quite tense and dour first impression. The palate was remarkably soft for the strength and youth of the dram with creamy malt and smoke. It started to dry once more, however with faint citrus notes. Happily, the finish offered up a slightly richer experience, with apples and malt. It was too short, however. Water certainly helped matters, the nose growing more biscuity, blending into pastries. I found bracken and heather, as well as toffee and intense floral touches. More vanilla was pulled out. The palate was a fraction bready, with more perfumy flowers.

Maybe in a couple more years this could become a buxom and enthralling whisky, but for now I had to concede that it was a little under-powered for my needs. I will be back, because there is plenty of promise as many separate facets of the Benromach personality mature. Right enough, not every distillery could operate as this distillery does. We should be greatful, therefore, that Benromach has been granted such artistic licence.

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Burgeoning Benromach

A recent press release moved me to meditate on what G&M could stand for in addition to ‘Gordon & MacPhail’. With respect to their malt whisky distillery, Benromach, it could also signify ‘Growing & Multiplying’.

Mmm... Honey-nut cornflakes...

Mmm... Honey-nut cornflakes...

Data tells you only so much about Benromach. With an annual capacity of only 500,000 litres, it is the smallest on Speyside and if you are figuratively-minded, like me, then it is natural enough to suggest that its diminutive size is reflected in its marginal situation: the mega-giants of the region have banished the little runt to the extreme outer fringes of Speyside. However, since G&M’s take-over in 1993 the distillery has constructed a positive asset out of – and indeed exaggerated - its non-conformity. It is, geographically, a Speyside malt whisky but tastes like no make to be found in the glens feeding the river with spirit today.

We speak of expressions when dealing with whisky, and Benromach boasts so many it would have the Old Wives muttering darkly in reference to the perils of changing winds. With Organic whiskies, heavily-peated malts, drams distilled from Golden Promise barley and plentiful wood finishes, however, Benromach’s repertoire of guises has in fact contributed massively to ensuring that its personal wind is set fair.

Benromach Hermitage Wood FinishThere are now three more examples of this littlest of all little gems to savour the first of which, the Wood Finish Hermitage, continues in the same vein as the Pedro Ximenez and Sassicaia finishes of previous years. The finish, 22 months in French oak casks from the Rhone valley, brings out citrussy and berry flavours. (£31.25)

Just seven first-fill Bourbon barrels from 2001 have been vatted together to create the 2001 Cask Strength, a 9yo whisky with plenty of spice and Benromach’s signature light peatiness. (£40.50)

From the pre-G&M days comes the 30yo, matured for three decades in first and refill Sherry butts. I hear this boasts lots of ‘warming festive hints of sherry and spices’. (£149.99)

‘The Benromach portfolio now offers an expansive range – something for a variety of palettes,’ said Michael Urquhart, Joint Managing Director. ‘These latest expressions really demonstrate the skill of our master distillers in maturing and distilling the single malt. While different in taste, they all have that recognisable Benromach quality which comes from our unique whisky making process, which involves using the finest Scottish malted barley and pure spring water from the Romach Hills.’

I said it last year, after my fabulous tour of the distillery, that this was one to watch. I find that, at this precise moment in my whisky exploration, I crave those boutique, original and distinctive drams and Benromach’s titchy size brackets it with the likes of Kilchoman while its select offerings align it with Balblair and the independently-bottled single casks from all around Scotland. I am very keen to try the 2001, ticking all of my personal whisky boxes as it does: first-fill Bourbon, cask strength, non-chillfiltered and a punchy, old-style spirit.

As the photo shows, with Benromach you feel as if you could tuck the distillery into your pocket. With relatively scarce supplies of each of their whiskies, buying one has the same feeling: it is as if you are savouring a more significant chunk of a distilling enterprise - something you cannot say of those mega-giants.

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Mothballed? Why?! Glen Keith 1993

Way back in icy January I mentioned I raft of lesser-spotted Speysiders I had come across courtesy of Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range, the foundation line of whiskies demonstrating the extraordinary variety Scotland, and especially her pre-eminent independent bottlers, have at their disposal.

Gordon & MacPhail Glen Keith 1993Of the five malts I purchased, the Glen Keith was really startlingly good, and tasting notes are below. Glen Keith, although mothballed since 2000, is still a significant site for Chivas Brothers. Located in the town of Keith, it is just down and across the river Isla from Strathisla, whose spirit is filled there. When I passed from tun room to still house during my tour of Strathisla last year, I remember seeing pipes arrowing away down stream to another pagoda. The two distilleries are intrinsically connected. Glen Keith also malted its own barley until 1976, providing itself and Strathisla with malt. Chivas Bros. still use Glen Keith for important experimentation into the whisky-making process. 

Purchase this little star in 70cl form here.

Glen Keith 1993 46% (Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice). £40.

Colour – Candy yellow. Light honey gold.

Nose – At first it seems quite bold with very clean characteristics and sweet citrussy oak. Lemon butter icing and butterscotch maltiness. Closer to it is oaky and grassy with apple, chunks of tablet and a just-ripe banana note. Lemon curd. Shortbread dough – raw pastry. Soft and creamy. After a sip, deeper vanilla toffee emerges, along with poached pears and cinnamon. Toasted ex-Bourbon oak and thick whipped cream.

      Water renders the whisky softer and sweeter still. The shortbread has been cooked and topped with praline. Lemon accented vanilla cream. Clean, ‘golden’ American oak. Intense heathery aromas appear and a darker rich spice. Apple turnover. Not complex: there are simply acres of delight to be accommodated. Aberfeldy-ish.

Palate – Round, quite rich and toffeed with a sweet spiciness. Citrus appears (lemon and orange) together with drying spices.

      Water makes for a softer experience again, with gristy malt and then oak. Lemon pastries, an intense dried grassiness then clean fruitiness. Slight charring.

Finish – Butterscotch sauce. Clean and soft malt in perfect harmony with a light juicy oakiness. More lemon. Medium length. Sponge cake mixture.

      Water perhaps fractionally improves matters: clean malt and soft sweet oak combine nicely. Fruity with white grape and green apple. Rich biscuit.

So…?      The advice when collecting is to go for the closed distilleries and those bottlings which taste nice. While I haven’t heard anything from anyone else about this particular vintage, it would be no skin off my nose to purchase a couple of these and, if nothing happens price-wise, I at least have the insurance of a lovely dram. This is not complex, but shows what pleasant, sweet and fresh heights some lighter Speyside malts can reach when paired with a damn good cask. The American oak does make this malt, but it does not predominate and allows some delicious biscuit and fruit notes through.

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Respect your Elders: G&M’s Glenlivet 70yo

Glenlivet 70 Year OldSince last Tuesday’s big bang in the whisky universe, in between essay deadlines, I have been mulling over the significance of a second 70yo release from one of the world’s most illustrious whisky companies. It would appear that much of the forum-fever has dissipated, which suggests to me that the whisky industry is gradually perfecting its techniques of benumbing us to their five-figure asking prices and allows me conveniently to factor it out of my own reckonings as ‘read’. It is a lot of money, neverthless I should imagine that the vast majority of bottles will have long gone by now. Move on, basically.

I would instead like to commend Gordon & MacPhail for electing to charge anything so arbitrary as Pounds Stirling for a bottling which gives us unique reason to pause in our frenetic progress through life. Disposable furniture, buildings, art, football managers – they surround and jostle us, slackening our grip on conceptions of permanence. Peering once more in at the shop window of the whisky industry we come across younger and younger whiskies, raced through the distillery, into bottles and down our throats. As William Henry Davies lamented, ‘We have no time to stand and stare’.

Davies died in the very same year that the folk at the The Glenlivet distillery were putting this particular spirit into its Sherry butt. In all the time it spent in there, the global culture would accelerate still further. Dunkirk, D-Day, Indian independence, the accession of Elizabeth II, CND, feminism, the computer, the internet – all of this was going on while a few hundred litres of Speyside whisky were getting comfy in oak and supping on the air of north east Scotland.

I’m presently reading Gavin D. Smith’s The Whisky Men and have thus far learnt an immense amount about the dynamic change experienced by the whisky industry which has been carrying on around this cask. Peat, direct-fired stills, and the longer distillation regimes have gradually faded from distilling policy, yet the ‘old ways’ were contained in Cask # 339. This whisky carries the genetics of The Glenlivet and manifests the evolution of Scotch whisky generally. It is inconceivable that the flavour and character should not differ from the spirit produced at the highly-computerised plant we find today. Nevertheless, every bottle of 12yo hitting the shelves now in 2011 will embody all of the developments made since this unexpected study in the intricacies and mysteries of whisky-making ran off the still. Flirting with economics and markets very briefly, I very much doubt that the manager of the distillery in 1940 would have ever entertained the fancy that at some point in the future the contents of this cask, as a single malt, would receive the attention it has done. 

The Glenlivet 70yo by Gordon & MacPhail is the Scotch equivalent of the ‘missing link’ and whether you approve of the asking price and resulting exclusivity or not, at least reflect on the positive ramifications for whisky’s heritage, character and confidence. A different world inhabits those blown-crystal decanters, and I applaud the faith and patience of those individuals to realise whisky’s full potential and the skills of our forebears.

The Glenlivet

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Benromach

A handsome, even cute distillery with very much its own character. One of the nicest hours I spent on Speyside.

A handsome, even cute distillery with very much its own character. One of the nicest hours I spent on Speyside.

Invererne Road, Forres, Morayshire, IV36 3EB, 01309 675968. Gordon & MacPhail. www.benromach.com

APPEARANCE AND LOCATION:      ****      It is such a dinky little distillery - very clean and smart. You can see all of the processes in the one room: the mashing, fermenting and distillation.

TOURS PROVIDED:

‘Standard Tour’: £5. See ‘My Tour’ below.

‘Essential Tour’: £12.50. A more in-depth experience at this lovely little place, with three or four drams available for your enjoyment at the end.

‘Manager’s Tour’: £40. Keith Cruikshank will take you round for this glimpse at the minutiae of a working distillery. At the tour’s conclusion there are some seriously exciting whiskies to sample, including many of the vintages, produced prior to Gordon & MacPhail’s takeover.

DISTILLERY-EXCLUSIVE BOTTLINGS:      A single cask, bottle-your-own available in the museum across the courtyard from the visitor centre, £60.

My Tour – 28/04/2010

THE RUNNING COMMENTARY:      **

THE PROCESS AND EQUIPMENT:      **

Notes:      The production process at Benromach takes place within the one airy room: one pair of stills, two washbacks and a variety of different spirits passing through the spirit safe on an annual basis: peated, heavily-peated, organic, Golden Promise mashes…

GENEROSITY:      * (1 dram as part of the standard tour spec, but you can request samples of others.)

VALUE FOR MONEY:      *

SCORE:      6/10 *s

COMMENT:      The tour begins with a video by Gordon & MacPhail. This includes footage of the shop in Elgin, their bottling facility and their own maturation warehouses where the casks they buy acquire their character. They were gearing themselves up for the imminent whisky festival during my visit: lots of very smart banquetting tables had been laid out in the old maltings. We were in there, too, to view the small museum they have of old distilling equipment. There we also found the bottle-your-own single cask. I regret that I couldn’t find a price. It is the smallest distillery in Speyside, and the only one that produces using a lightly peated malt as standard practise. It’s about 8-12ppm. You can see all of the equipment in the one room and standing beside the mash tun I smelt for the first time the dry, rich influence of the peat. Delicious! The smell from outside had been of Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. They’re ludicrously tasty, and so was the atmosphere of Benromach. By the spirit safe the guide poured a little of the peated new make spirit into my palm and a little of the unpeated new make into the palm of the other gent on the tour with me. Letting it dry off and then smell each others hands resulted in a marked difference. Mine gained a dry and rich earthiness over the clean cereal barley of the unpeated spirit. I couldn’t stop sniffing my hands because in its fruitiness I recognised something of my beloved Caol Ila. The warehouses were as most warehouses are. There was a cask with Prince Charles’s name on it, though, having re-opened the distillery in 1998. Back to the VC for a nip of something. I was bracing myself for the Traditional, which hadn’t set my world on fire the last time I tried it. What we got instead was the new 10YO which is just tremendous. It really is gorgeous. The peating is just right and creates a whole new flavour profile for Speyside malts. I WILL be buying a bottle. So concluded Speyside, just as it was about to have its first of two major jollies of the year. Distilleries now would require a little more effort on my part to reach.

Benromach and Forres

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