Last week I attended a whisky auction at Bonhams in Edinburgh. The highlight of the day was a special bottling of Dalmore, created by master blender Richard Patterson. He used whiskies dating back to the 19th century, similar to those used to craft the legendary Dalmore 62yo - see my blog Whisky Heaven. The resulting malt was then presented in a special decanter and called the Dalmore Oculus. The bottle, the only one of its kind in the world, sold for £27,600 to an anonymous telephone bidder. The room broke into spontaneous applause on completeion of the bidding. Needless to say, I was not amongst the bidders. For more information, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/nov/22/dalmore-oculus-whisky-record-auction
After a weekend which has seen the North East of Scotland receive three quarters of its November rainfall in 24 hours, I was glad it was last Monday morning I caught the train from Aberdeen to Inverness on the first leg of my visit to Glenmorangie Distillery. It was interesting to consider the effect of the railway on the whisky industry as the train rolled through the scenic countryside, made all the more so by the vivid autumn colours.
The number of distilleries within easy reach of the tracks are numerous, and from the train it is just possible to see Ardmore Distillery, the giant Chivas Bros warehouse complex at Keith, Glentauchers & Auchroisk, Longmorn, Benromach and the final resting place of the long-closed Millburn Distillery in Inverness.
I was joined at the distillery by the rest of the party, representatives of some of Scotland's best whisky venues. Andy MacDonald, the distillery manager, proceeded to show us round the recently enlarged distillery - 2 new stills have been added to an extended stillhouse, however everything has been built to look as if it had always been there. We finished up in one of the dunnage warehouses where we tasted some barrel samples to highlight the effects of different woods on the spirit. Then we were forced to sample more whiskies in a more formal atmosphere of the conference room. These included the Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or, the 18yo, the 25yo and the recently released Sonnalta PX. The Nectar D'Or has a lovely sweet texture which should give it a wide appeal, whilst the Sonnalta is a bigger, bolder flavour. Only available from the distillery or in Travel Retail Outlets (duty free), the Sonnalta will be up on the gantry shortly.
We then headed over to Glenmorangie House, voted one of the top hotels in the UK, where we were to spend the night. Although it is only some 8 or 9 miles from the distillery, the drive is across country and by this time it was pitch black. We enjoyed a little detour which took in the picturesque village of Portmahomack (it would have been even more picturesque in daylight). Whilst our driver refused to admit he was lost, the following two car-loads of guests were not so sure.
The hotel, which is more like a private house was everything and more we had been led to expect. Before dinner we were treated to the most futuristic tasting I have yet to experience. In order to fully appreciate the creation that is Signet, we were treated to a sound and light show which talked us through a sensory tasting of this wonderful malt, a whisky that truly compares with the best vintage wines.
After a sumptuous meal, which included bread made with Ardbeg (same company), we were treated to some more whisky - Ardbeg Corryvrekan and Supernova. An ideal choice in front of a coal fire - so much so that some of us were seen to doze off! To round off our trip, we spent the following morning trying our hand at clay pigeon shooting.
Thanks are due to LVMH for making this trip possible.
Ardmore Traditional Cask (smoky) - it may come as a surprise to find a peated Highland Malt. As a major component of the Teachers Blend, Ardmore has always been produced using peated malt, but has only been available as an official bottling in the last couple of years. The distillery is in the small village of Kennethmont, some 35 miles from Aberdeen. It is only open to visitors during the Speyside Whisky Festival.
Benromach Traditional (non-smoky) - from the smallest distillery on speyside. This is the fore-runner to the newly released 10yo, which contains only whisky produced by the current owners, independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. The new 10 yo has a hint of peat, so we could feature it as a future smoky malt.
I don't know if anyone managed to catch a recent STV production called "Made in Scotland." The July 23rd episode featured the actor David Hayman (Trial & Retribution) on a visit to Whyte & Mackay's Glasgow headquarters for a private tasting session with master blender Richard Paterson.
Richard Is one of the foremost whisky experts in the world and certainly one of its most colourful characters. He has been responsible for blending the Whyte & Mackay portfolio for over 30 years and also looks after the Jura and Dalmore single malts. He recently published the story of his life in the whisky business, "Goodness Nose", and what a cracking good read it is. To read more about Richard go to his site at http://www.themasterblender.com/.
Last year I was lucky enough to win a competition for readers of On-Trade Scotland magazine. The prize was my very own private tasting session with Richard Paterson, just like the one David Hayman enjoyed. After a history lesson on whisky and Whyte & Mackay's place therein, we made our way through to the sampling room - pictures of which can be viewed at http://www.flickr.com/photos/42021660@N03/sets/72157622157567893/. Out of a number of samples tasted were the stunning Whyte & Mackay 40yo blend and a 40yo Dalmore. Richard also let me try a couple of samples of very old sherries to demonstrate the sherry-cask ageing effect. The depth of flavour in these sherries was absolutely amazing and nothing like the stuff they used to serve up at weddings!
As the session was drawing to a close, Richard produced one last dram. What was this he asked as I took my first few drops - "not a 20 year old, not a 30 year old, not a 40 year old, not a 50 year old". OK I admit I had heard of the legendary 62 year old Dalmore, but never in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would be lucky enough to taste it! This is one of the most famous single malts in history, comprising whisky from the 1868, 1878, 1922, 1926 and 1939 vintages. Only twelve bottles were ever produced. In 2005, a guest at an exclusive English hotel bought the bottle they had on display for £32,000 and shared it with 5 lucky friends.He even left the last dram for the barman. 10 of the bottles are in private collections and the last bottle was kept by Whyte & Mackay to be enjoyed by Richard and those lucky enough to share his passion.
Whisky-wise this has got to be my most memorable tasting ever, not just for the depth and range of what I sampled that afternoon, but the passion, knowledge and humour which Richard added to the occasion.
As I travelled home to Aberdeen on the train, the lingering taste and pleasure of the Dalmore stayed with me the for the whole journey. Only once I was back in Aberdeen did I dare let anything other than water pass my lips.I knew, as only an Aberdonian whose turn it is to buy the next round, that I had made my drink last as long as possible!
Non-Smokey -An 8 year old Old Pultney from Gordon & MacPhail. Pultney is one of our most popular malts and this bottling from Gordon & MacPhail is a regular in our featured malts. The distinctive sweet & spicy aromas mingling with a distinct hint of the sea.
Smokey - An unaged bottling of Ledaig, the peated version from Tobermory Distillery on the island of Mull. This malt has always pleasantly surprised our customers in the past and hopefully will continue to. Maybe a tad similar to the Pultney but with a definate peatiness to make all the difference.
Bladnoch 16yo, non chill filtered, a fruity dram from this most southerly of the Scottish distilleries. The murky appearance of this malt has created quite a bit of interest with our regulars. I have heard it referred to as the "full fat version".
The Inverarity Islay Pure Malt 8yo, from Inverarity Vaults, a small independent wine & spirit company based in the Borders.
The Whisky List has now been updated and is complete as of 20th July. For those of you who like to keep score, there are 499 Scotch Whiskies, and 73 from the Rest of the World.
Additions to the list which is currently available on the website include Jura Paps Collection, 3 bottlings at 15 yo with different wine barrel finishes, Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon & Pinot Noir. More details at http://whisky.scotsman.com/viewnews.aspx?id=366.
3 bottlings from The Whisky Exchange under their Port Askaig Single Islay Malt Range, 17yo, 25yo and the Cask Strength version. As yet a mystery malt?
Hedonism, a blended grain bottling from Compass Box.
A 1972 vintage from Glenrothes.
Glendronach 15yo Revival, the first OB from the new owners. I've also heard they are to release some single cask bottlings as well.
Several OB's from Bladnoch, including the first of their own distillations, a 6yo lightly peated version, and a 15yo non-chill filtered version which has created a fair amount of interest due to its cloudy appearance. The staff at the distillery tell me it is sometimes referred to as the full-fat version! I intend to feature this as a future malt of the week.
Notable whiskies we've run out of and are no longer available (unless someone knnows of a secret stash?) are Ardbeg's Serendipity, The Dalmore Cigar Malt (now replaced by the Gran Reserva), Balvenie 17yo Rum Cask and Glenrothes 1987.
The SWA beef with Glenora Distillery is their use of the name Glen Breton on the label. The distillery is located in a glen at Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. The SWA argue that use of the word "Glen" confuses consumers into believing the whisky is made in Scotland. I don't intend to get into the politics, there are good arguments on both sides, especially when you look at cases involving Scottish sounding names on Indian "whiskies".
Recently, one of my customers told me had family coming over to visit from Canada. I got talking to him about the Glen Breton single malt and he expressed an interest in trying it. I said I would order a bottle in for behind the bar and once he had tasted it I would order another to share with his visitors.
His Canadian cousins expressed some surprise when he told them what he was proposing to share with them, since although being well known outside the country because of the long legal battle, the whisky is not that well known in its own country.
Last week I offered to chauffeur my wife to a business meeting in Inverness, a good excuse I thought to visit another distillery.
We had a lovely run up the unusually quiet A96, with the top-down the whole way, and arrived in time to avoid a torrential downpour which lasted for nearly an hour. As I feared at the time, this proved to be the end of the heat-wave.
We awoke to a very grey overcast morning with the prospect of more rain on the way, so that ruled out a lingering thought to walk up Benrinnes with a quick visit to Aberlour Distillery. Not being a prolific walker I wasn't prepared to take a chance on deteriorating weather, and besides, there was every chance the meeting would be finished by lunchtime and I didn't want to be stuck half-way up a hill, with no phone reception, when the chauffeur's call came through.
My next thought was of course a distillery visit. My first stop was Tomatin, 16 miles south of Inverness on the A9 (I had remembered how close it was from a previous visit to Inverness) - if you carry on south on the A9 and turn off to Carrbridge/Grantown-on-Spey you have several options for returning to Aberdeen, all of them more scenic and quicker than the A96. My favourite is probably via the Lecht, although the Cabrach route brings back memories of trips to visit my Grandparents in Rothes.
The location of Tomatin is spectacular, set against the eastern edge of the Monadh Liath mountains and surrounded pine forests. Close by is the impressive Findhorn Railway Bridge. Since time was short I decided not to wait the 45 minutes until the next tour, and after a quick look round the Visitor Centre Shop, which had some miniature whisky barrel piggy banks for sale, I headed off.
I had decided it would be fun to try to find The Speyside Distillery, which because it doesn't have a visitors centre, can be quite hard to find. The distillery is located on the banks of the River Tromie, near the village of Drumguish, and takes its name from the original Speyside Distillery which was located in nearby Kingussie. The vision for the distillery came from a former whisky broker George Christie, whose family also owned the Strathmore grain distillery in Cambus. It was Alex Fairlie, a dry stane dyker, who single-handedly laid all the stonework over a twenty year period, the results of which are a wee gem of a distillery in the most beautiful of surroundings. The distillery first started producing in 1990 and in some parts is best known for the "black malt" it produces, Cu Dubh, largely for the Scandinavian market. The distillery appeared in the BBC TV series "Monarch of the Glen" as the Lagganmore Distillery.
After ten minutes driving round the area I was forced to ask a local for directions, and then I had to ignore the "Private"sign if I wanted to discover the distillery. The only signs of life were at the adjacent house, a couple of cats and some hens running about. The Mash/Still House door was open but there was no sign of activity there, obviously we were in the quiet season. Then I found a door marked "office" so I tried my luck. I was greeted by the distillery manager, Andrew Shand, who couldn't have been more welcoming, despite no doubt having loads of paperwork to catch up on. The distillery is run by only 4 men, and works a 5-day week starting with the first mash at 10pm on a Sunday evening. The distillery may be unique in having all its equipment, mash tun, washbacks, stills and receivers in the one building. The distinctive building is angled to follow the mill lade which originally powered the old mill that gives the site its name. The old mill is actually still intact and in working order! The water, which comes from the river Tromie, is used for both process and cooling in the distillery and is closer to the source of the Spey than that of any other distillery.
We will be featuring Drumguish Single Malt from the distillery as our Malt of the Week shortly
Timing was perfect - just as I took my final picture, my mobile rang, my wife would be finished her meeting in an hour - time enough to make my way back to Inverness.
We took the scenic route home although the weather was grey with squally showers. The Cabrach was closed due to road works so we went via Aberlour and Keith, on the way passing Tormore, my favourite distillery from a visual aspect.
I am a partner in The Grill, one of Aberdeen and Scotland's best known pubs. Further info about the bar can be found on My Web Page. I am passionate about whisky and try to educate my customers about whisky at the same time as encouraging them to sample different whiskies. I believe whisky has an increasingly important role to play in Scottish Tourism.