Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival Spring 2012
Report and Photographs by Bruce Crichton
After reading 'Llamas in your glove compartment' by Spearmint Honeybadger, I headed to Dufftown. Bereft of camelid perplexity, the Spirit of Speyside Whisky festival was just what I needed and after several days of great whisky, food and music, here is my account of it. Once again, this report is not a definitive guide and may contain factual errors, for which I apologize in advance. As always, tasting notes are subjective and comment is added from experts present during note taking. To shorten the report, I refer the reader to previous reports and tastings when a whisky re-appears and have also assumed the reader is familiar with widely available bottlings mentioned. Any cask samples tasted are described briefly, since these are not available for the reader to buy. Finally, any water added was, literally, one drop and whiskies were 40% abv, if the strength is not otherwise indicated.
Mates of the Museum
What better way to warm up for the festival than with the 'Mates of the Museum' on Thursday night? This brought together old friends and new over a few civilized drams and a nosing contest to win a bottle of whisky and proved to be a great evening for all present.
Strathisla 'Straight from the cask' tour
On Friday morning, I headed to Strathisla distillery in Keith – home of Chivas Regal – for the limited edition 'Straight from the cask tour' where our young guide, Rachel, would take us round.
|The Strahsila distillery|
As we warmed up with Chivas Regal 12 year old, Rachel noted that Strathisla can claim to be the oldest working Scotch whisky distillery, being licensed in 1786, bought by Chivas in 1950 then bought by Pernod Ricard in 2002. The Chivas blends gained a royal warrant in 1843 enabling them to call their products 'Royal' or 'Regal' and, historically, used Strathisla as a component for years before buying the distillery.
Strathisla uses 5.1 tons of unpeated malt per mash. One wash back is made from larch and the rest from Oregon pine. The river Isla runs past the distillery and the water is used in cooling but the water used for whisky is taken from the Broomhill spring. Four squat stills produce a heavy, full spirit.
Interestingly, the last coal-fired still ran in 1992 and the stills are now steam-heated. Neighbouring distillery Glen Keith has not produced for years but work is ongoing on the site to bring it back on stream and steam is used from there to power the stills at Strathisla which has the capacity to make 2.4 million litres per year. Unusually, Strathisla has two pagoda roofs, built simply because the owners could and a water wheel is visible outside allowing cooling water to return to the river without damaging the wildlife.
Between 5 and 10 per cent of production is bottled as single malt with the rest going to the deluxe Chivas Regal and Royal Salute blends and, as we viewed the Royal Salute vault in the warehouse for cask owners, we tasted the 12 year old malt. (In fact, even miniature bottles of Strathisla are no longer available). After finishing our tour, Rachel introduced us to the 'Cask Strength Edition' range, exclusive to visitor's centres at Chivas distilleries. These 50cl bottles are released in small batches that differ in strength and the whisky tasted here may not necessarily be the edition available to buy though the quality of these whiskies is hard to surpass and very little water, if any, was needed. Scapa 16, at 60.9%abv, smelled of peach syrup and vanilla and was exceptionally smooth. The taste was of caramel, spice and salt while water opened a little cocoa and chocolate before a long, warm finish. By contrast, Longmorn 14, at 59.6%abv, had a creamy, malty and honeyed nose and some cereal to taste along with light golden honey and a vanilla and peppery finish.
|The cask strength malts tasted|
Strathisla 15, at 55.4%abv, had hazelnut chocolate spread and hay aromas with toffee and nutty flavours and a slightly prickly finish before we closed with two whiskies associated with the Ballantines blends. Glenburgie 15, at 54.6%abv, was from a refill bourbon cask with a lovely nose of apples and fizzy chew bars. The middle was light, fruity and creamy and the finish long and delicate while a Miltonduff 18, at 51.3%abv, had both Edinburgh rock and Irn Bru on the nose and a taste halfway between oranges and marmalade that gives way to a long, dry and sweet finish. A bonus dram came in the form of 1980 Glenugie, a distillery from Peterhead that closed in 1983, long before our guide was even born and was bottled at 52.1%abv as part of the 'Deoch an Doras' series, taken from demolished distilleries. (Also available is 1973 Inverleven, from Dumbarton.) Matured in a sherry cask, there was the smell of rich fruitcake and a taste of coffee and chocolate with an incredibly long finish. This was the first 'I was there' moment of the festival and anyone who is able to obtain a bottle from this range can consider themselves to have done very well indeed. All that remains is to thank Rachel and the team at Strathisla for a tour that was the stuff of legend and to recommend that every whisky lover take this limited edition tour at least once.
Gordon and MacPhail's Secret Stills
Before the first Whisky Shop Dufftown (WSD) tasting, owner Mike Lord, made his health and safety announcements in sing-a-long fashion, complete with accompanying hand gestures. (Mike is a legend, having been in fifty fights to the death and losing only three of them though his last outing, surprisingly, ended in a draw.) After that, Mike Patterson from Gordon and MacPhail (G&M) presented five whiskies from the six available in the 'Secret stills' range, all bottled at 45%abv and non chill-filtered. This range has whisky from three Japanese-owned distilleries and three others that can reasonably be described as 'classic'. The labeling contains a geographical clue to the identity of the distillery for the knowledgeable reader and drinker and is included in brackets in this report. (Not featured but also available is an 'Edinburgh malt').
A 1991 (Clydebank) Lowland 3.5 had been in refill sherry casks that left a grassy and floral nose with some syrupy notes and a soft finish making it something of an aperitif in style. By contrast, a 1966 Speyside 2.2 (Ballindalloch Castle Estate) had come from 3 casks and had some light sherry and a hint of smoke on the nose as well as a light, floral taste with a dry, fruity and very long finish. Mike Patterson thought this was one to savour and the reader who obtains a bottle is in for a memorable treat. The 'Secret Stills' series has been around for some time and Mike recalled an encounter with a butler who had found his master's bottle had turned cloudy and the clouds would not disappear. Analysis showed that a naughty ghillie had diluted it to 28%abv, hoping not to get found out for drinking someone else's whisky.
Moving on, a 1988 Highland 6.6 (Oldmeldrum) cask, had coconut, toffee and mints aromas with a light peat taste and chewiness before some light smoke and a very long sweetness to end with. Having had the 6.4 and 6.5 editions, I recommend that no home should be without one of the series. Although not immediately gripping, few bottles are as moreish so pour a large dram and relax.
|The selection of Secret Stills of Gordon & MacPhail|
A 1986 1.2 (Isle of Skye) came from first fill sherry casks giving it smoke, sherry and fudge on the nose. The taste was chewy with raisins, treacle and fudge again with smoke and pepper appearing at the finish. Apparently, the first bottling of this, 1955 vintage, has acquired legendary status. Interestingly, Mike says that no new version of any whisky is released by G&M until the previous release has sold out. We ended with a 1999 Islay 4.16 (Lochindaal), matured in first fill bourbon and, true to that distillery's style, smelled of toffee and mints and tasted mostly of smoked fish.
Alchemy in the future: Adelphi Tasting with Alex and Antonia Bruce
With exciting news of Adelphi's planned new distillery, the opening of their new bottling hall and the return of brother Alex to Dufftown, Antonia Bruce introduced the next series of magic potions, with official tasting notes by writer and future film star, Charles Maclean.
1988 Balmenach, at 54.2%abv, was beautiful and easy to drink neat. Fizzy sweets and apple sauce were apparent when nosing and the taste was creamy with almonds and the finish silky. Coming from a refill sherry cask, 1995 Clynelish, at 55.8%abv, smelled of tangy fruit and wax. The middle had coffee, treacle, salt and chocolate and the finish was exceptionally long, with a drop of water revealing smoke, pepper and salt. As we tasted, Alex recounted the tale of the distillery's cast iron spirit receiver being removed and with it, the characteristic waxiness and it only returned when the receiver was reinstated.
|Bruce and Antonia during the Adelphi tasting|
Adelphi had recently been given planning permission for a new distillery to be built in Ardnamurchan, in the far west highlands. A very good water source, with 3 holding lochs, was found for the distillery, a key point as the area's high rainfall does drop away very quickly. A biomass boiler is planned as; otherwise, fuel costs would be prohibitive. Production will hopefully commence in the autumn of 2013 and an 'Ardnamurchan' range is planned with future Fascadale, Laudale and Liddesdale coming from the distillery – these being slightly smoky but not Islay-like in style. Local peat will be legally used for the first time and there will be a traditional maltings. It is also hoped that alliances can be made with the relatively close by Oban, Talisker, Tobermory and Ben Nevis distilleries as the local ferry service is under threat. 2000 Aberlour, 55.8%abv, from a refill sherry cask, had licorice, cinnamon and hot toffee sauce aromas with tastes of acid drop sweets as well as toffee and sherry with wedding cake and a light smoke to finish. My question 'is Aberlour like gold dust for an independent bottler?' was met with the answer 'er, yes!' Older casks are hard to get but a few younger ones are around. Fascadale (batch 3), at 46%abv, is now a 12 year old Highland Park taken, in this case, from 5 casks, 3 of which were first fill Jack Daniels barrels. There was Vanilla tablet and smoke to nose and the marvelously sweet taste was like both strawberry and vanilla ice cream with some fishy notes that Charles Maclean, appearing in the upcoming Ken Loach film 'The Angel's Share', describes as rollmop herring. (I was just pleased to get the taste of fish, to be honest.)
A serendipitous finale came with 1998 Bunnahabhain, at 55.2%abv. This had been labeled the day before at the new bottling hall in Fife and had been grabbed by accident, as the plan had been to feature a 1997 heavily peated expression from the same distillery. However, this sherry monster had managed to clog the bottling hall filter with sediment and had the 'treacle so thick you could dance on the top it' characteristic of previous Adelphi Bunnahabhains. Awesomely sweet and tasting of rich dark chocolate orange, there was leather, smoke and treacle again to end with. Most of the cask yield was bound for Taiwan but a few bottles were available and, for those who missed out, other heavily sherried bottles would come later.
Saturday Morning Whisky Fair
Highlights of the fair include: The new Benriach 12 yr (Sherry matured), at 46%abv, had been vatted together from Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez casks. Originally made for Taiwan, this was the fourth bottling and was surprisingly light, tasting of Turkish Delight.
Adelphi Liddesdale 18 yr, at 46%abv, contained some 20 year old whisky. Lighter than the previous batch, it tasted of treacle, syrup and licorice. Alex Bruce finds it cleaner than before and thought batch 1 had sulphur notes though he views sulphur as fine as long as it is in balance with other flavours. Both of us did wonder, though, how it got such a high score in the whisky bible, as the writer cannot stand such notes.
A Connoisseur's Choice 1999 Balmenach, at 43%abv, was deliciously creamy, complex and spicy while 2001 Tamdhu, at 58%abv, was from a refill sherry cask. So smooth that it can be consumed neat, this had satisfying wedding cake flavours.
The elegant Tomintoul 12 yr 'Port Wood' had fruity sweetness throughout having had 20 months finishing.
Old Malt Cask (OMC) 1993 Glen Keith, at 50%abv, had lemon and lime citrus notes and was marvelously sweet offering a rare chance to taste whisky from this soon to be revived distillery.
'Ladder Hills' 18 yr old, 58.3%abv, from Dreamdrams.co.uk offered an extremely rare opportunity to taste whisky from a popular Dufftown distillery that had 1% addition of whisky from a mighty neighbour added. Very complex and smooth, characteristic warm honey and light smoke were the prominent tastes. A Highland Park 21 yr, at 53.3%, was delicate and honey-sweet.
Kilkerran (batch 3), at 46%abv, is work-in-progress malt from the Glengyle distillery in Campbeltown. This was a fascinating dram with a taste that hovered between a young Talisker and a young Islay in taste. By contrast, Springbank distillery's Longrow C.V., at 46%abv, was sweet and tasted of smoked fish.
Continuing the peat was Benriach 17 yr 'Septendicim', at 46%abv. Containing whisky from second and third fill casks, it was sweet, retaining the classic Islay character of other peaty Benriachs. (The 21 year old 'Authenticus' has been discontinued and replace by the 25 year old of the same name.)
Finally, Adelphi 1997 Bunnahabhain, at 57.1%abv, was deliciously peaty in taste and, unusually for peated Bunnahabhain, had replicated the south Islay style. Alex Bruce noted that the taste and aroma of peanuts is often be detected from a Bunnahabhain such as this.
Whyte and Mackay with Steven McConnachie
We began with Tamnavulin 12 yr, now back online after being mothballed between 1995 and 2007 with only intermittent production during those years. A charming dram, this had grassy, hay and peach syrup notes though festival regular Danny Maguire found that it had less linseed oil character about it than of old. (It was good to see Danny again, now happily recovered from being shipwrecked in the Nevada desert.) Steven does recommend not adding water as this gives it a 'wet raincoat' taste.
Mackinlay's 'Old and Rare' malt, henceforth known as 'Shackleton malt', at 47.3%abv, has been the subject of much press coverage and contains whiskies of between 8 and 30 years old, including Glen Mhor, a long closed Inverness distillery. This is a recreation of the malt whisky that Sir Ernest Shackleton took 25 cases of on his 1907 attempt to reach the South Pole. (He got within 100 miles, the closest anyone had ever been till then and turned back). An informative video showed how the 'liqueur whisky' brand began and made its name before being taken to the Antarctic where, a century later, two cases were found with ten bottles still in tact. Painstaking analysis from master blender Richard Paterson allowed strength to be determined and flavours ascertained and recreated. 50000 bottles were released and nearly all have been sold so, should readers obtain one, they are recommended to sip it slowly while reading Roland Huntford's account of Shackleton's heroic adventures. The whisky had fruit salad chew bars on the nose while being slightly sharp but still sweet with a crisp, long and peppery finish. This whisky also grabbed Danny who once lost a hand of poker despite holding 4 aces. (His opponent had 5 aces.)
|Whyte and Mackay tasting|
Melting a square of dark chocolate on the tongue should, in this writers' view, precede a taste of the new release, Dalmore Cigar Malt, at 44%abv. The nose was of coffee, Bovril, exotic wine with tastes of toffee, honey, orange and spices. This premium whisky had been matured in 3 types of casks: ex-bourbon, 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry casks from Gonzalez Byass and premier cru Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques and is older than the previous bottling though no age statement is present.
1996 vintage Dalmore Cromartie, at 45%abv, is a limited release of 7500 bottles and Steven gets almonds and spice on the nose while I found the taste quite chewy and with lots of chocolate orange. Also watch out for the new 'Constellation' range and for a 30 year old release that is on the way.
Jura Prophecy, at 46%abv, is made from barley with 55ppm of peat. The packaging tells the story of a prophecy that accurately foretold the last Campbell would leave Jura with only one eye. With lovely had toffee and peat to nose, the taste was of smoked fish in a rich sauce with a long, soothing and spicy finish making it ideal to have when burning a wicker man though who readers put in it is obviously up to them.
The final Wemyss Whisky session with Susan Colville
Presenting her last Dufftown tasting with Wemyss Whiskies was Susan Colville who, along with her beloved tree frogs, would be moving on to pastures new after this. Each bottling of single malt, bar one, was 46%abv and, as usual, named after the dominant flavour present. My tasting notes are, unusually, free of exotic wildlife of the kind that drives Susan round the twist.
The 'Hive' 12 yr blended malt replaces the old 'Smooth Gentleman' bottling and contains 16 malts with 50% coming from Glen Moray. Susan believes that Glen Moray's 'house style' is honey and thinks the distillery is underrated with this release being an easy-drinking everyday dram. With honey, syrup and many childhood sweets on the nose and Irn Bru on the taste, this was a must for all with a sweet tooth.
1989 'Rum and Raisin' Tullibardine had been matured in a refill bourbon cask and is what Susan believes Tullibardine could be but chooses not to be. The nose was between rum and raisin and vanilla ice cream with some delicate honey flavours before a short peppery and spicy finish.
1982 'Winter Spice' Teaninich, at 44.4%abv, had Susan getting dessert spices such as cinnamon and ginger and she described it as 'heavy and delicate' at the same time. An audience member found tastes of tropical fruits and spices and the finish was short but very punchy.
Reappearing from Spring 2011 was 1990 'Mocha Spice' Dalmore that invited comparisons with the official releases presented in the previous masterclass and we closed with 1991 Bunnahabhain 'Honey Spice', reviewed in the Autumn 2011 report. A silky dram, the reader is invited to compare this to the Adelphi Liddesdale, which comes from the same distillery and is of similar age.
Tannochbrae Gala Dinner with Robin Laing
Saturday night in Dufftown brought another fantastic feast at the Tannochbrae restaurant where Allan and Susie served up some more fantastic fare accompanied by whiskies from Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and music from the great Robin Laing who opened with Bladnoch 18 yr 50.48 'capering on a river bank', at 54.6%abv, from a refill bourbon cask while showing some society magazines with pictures of Amazonian tree frogs that reminded him of my comments on the subject. Also tasted were Benrinnes 22 yr 36.56, at 53.6% 'Magic Carpet Ride', Bowmore 20 yr, at 49.4%abv, 'margarita and a cigar in one glass' (1 of 51 bottles) and Port Charlotte 127.19, at 66%abv, 'a hairy chested claymore-wielding dram'. New songs revealed by Robin were 'Taking Johnnie Walker home' and 'Ugly Betty' – about the Lomond still at Bruichladdich used for making Botanist gin. One final note, though not a fan of cocktails, a long, refreshing drink known as 'Monkey Mojito' can be made using Monkey Shoulder blended malt whisky.
WSD independent bottler's challenge – the rest of whisky
Deviating from the format of previous challenges, no brand ambassadors spoke and all the whiskies entered were presented by Mike Lord, a man who laughs with impunity at the laws of science and once shot 3 men dead with an egg whisky. (I know this because I was one of those men.)
10 whiskies were tasted and, to save space, the highlights are included below though this is not to imply
that those not described at length are in any way bad.
|The blind tasting|
A delicious Cadenhead's 1992 Brackla (rum finished), at 55.9%abv, had rum and brown sugar on the nose with thick, heavy and strong caramel and treacle. As we discussed this dram, the subject of a petard came up and some frantic 'googling' from Susan and Kate Wright revealed that it was a military mine that could blow up, hoisting the man who lit it. Mike also noted the number of brand ambassadors who were supposed to come to the festival and had not and said that gathering them together was like 'Nailing a herd of jellied cats to a barn wall' – readers are forgiven for shuffling away at this point.
Duncan Taylor's 1979 Cameronbridge, at 48.8%abv, had the nose and taste of well-aged bourbon and banana chew bars with a delicate, long and honey/smoke finish.
By contrast, Wemyss 'Honey Spice' was a particularly dark colour from its sherry maturation and the reader is recommended to pour a large measure and roll on the tongue for as long as possible for best results. 1990 Berry Brothers and Rudd Bunnahabhain, at 46%abv, smelled like golden toast and tasted of syrup and treacle with a hint of smoke on the long, peppery finish.
As we moved on, Mike floated the possibility of a hog roast for the autumn festival along with a small wicker man though who is to be burned in it has yet to be discussed. We then tasted a Carn Mor 1994 Highland Park, from the Scottish Liqueur Centre had mint and some light smoke with burnt sugar notes.
Moving to Islay, Adelphi's 1983 Caol Ila, at 54%abv, had its smoke build gently before toffee emerged on the nose while rolling on the tongue revealed considerable smoke, pepper, chewiness and warmth. Douglas Laing's 1980 Old and rare Caol Ila was more restrained to nose with a little smoke and vanilla but did have some big maritime salt, smoke and bourbon tastes while Carn Mor's 1996 Bowmore came from a refill sherry cask and had very heavy smoke, pepper tastes with Murray mints, milk chocolate and salt aromas.
Also tasted were Amrut 'Fusion' from India and G&M 1995 Brackla.
Diageo debut from David Sinclair
Presenting some of the lesser-known whiskies from whisky giants Diageo and making his first appearance at Dufftown was David Sinclair who had previously been bar manager at the prestigious Gleneagles Hotel.
Each whisky was tasted blind before the identity was revealed and we opened with the Singleton of Glendullan, aimed at the American market. Susan Colville reckoned that bottling at 43%abv would have improved it but it was still sweet with citrus and fizzy sweet notes and also lightly fruity with vanilla, although the slightly smoky finish was short. 1 of 636 bottles, the Glendullan 14 year old 'manager's choice', at 58.7%abv, had brilliant pineapple, fruit syrup and golden delicious apples on the nose with vanilla and fruit tastes while the finish was extremely long and warm.
Mortlach 12 year old 'manager's choice', at 57.1%abv, came from a bourbon cask and made this writer ask if the natural home of Mortlach is really the bourbon cask, rather than the sherry casks that have proved so popular over the years. Unusually inspired, I found the nose had bourbon, cream, vanilla, bananas, lemon and pear drops while the taste was light and delicate and the finish sweet with hints of spice. This unusually fantastic nose made it the Scarlett Johansson of whisky award winner for the festival.
A 12 year old 'Friends of the Classic Malts' Talisker, at 45.8%abv, had some light sherry and fruity notes and was delightfully sweet with a dry, long with only hints of Talisker's characteristic pepper and seaweed.
Oban 18 yr, at 43%abv, bottled for America had orange cream and spicy notes and a velvety mouth feel that gave way to light smoke and a malty dryness. (David finds this richer than the 14 yr bottling.) As David accepted a big round of applause, the question ' Did you ever get that response at the bar?' came from Mike Lord who fondly remembers the time he held 5 aces at poker. (His sad opponent only had 4).
Robin Laing – 'The Whisky Coast'
Presenting SMWS whiskies Arran 121.52, at 59.9%abv, Glen Scotia 93.49, at 57.8%abv, Berry Brothers and Rudd 1994 Bowmore, at 46%abv, his own port- matured Bruichladdich, covered in the Spring 2011 report and 2001 OMC Talisker, at 50%abv, Robin's theme for the night was 'the whisky coast' which had been the name for a brave but unsuccessful attempt at a tourist venture in recent years. The Bowmore tasted of characteristic mint and peat while the Talisker had equally characteristic smoke, seaweed and pepper that built slowly and steadily to an impressive crescendo and a very long finish.
|The Author of this article enjoying a wee dram|
Talisker had been a favourite of Robin's as a young man and the distillery is the subject of a song from his current album 'Whisky for breakfast'. Other tunes played included 'Dundee Cat', 'Isle of Arran', 'Black Art', 'Campbeltown Loch' to accompany the Glen Scotia, 'Ugly Betty', 'Black Art' and 'A'Bunadh' and there were stories of Jim McEwan, 'Black art', Heidi Klum and a German whisky anorak, Bowmore being attacked by an American warship, Eddi Reader and dinner at Macallan before Robin noted that a collector is simply ' a sad barsteward who doesn't have enough special occasions in his life'. As usual, highlights from Robin's performance are available on both Facebook and www.youtube.com.
Douglas Laing presented by Paul McKendrick
Douglas Laing's Jan Beckers was unavailable, having been cordoned off in mysterious circumstances by the police, so his place was ably Paul McKendrick, appearing for the first time at a festival in Dufftown.
A 1978 Clan Denny Port Dundas, at 54.2%, from a refill hogshead had a rich bourbon nose and taste and was wonderfully smooth and velvety with an unusually long finish for a grain, according to Paul. An exceptionally fruity 1999 Provenance Mannochmore, at a standard 46%abv, came from a third-fill cask, which Douglas Laing think allows distillery character to show, Paul describing it as a breakfast whisky.
OMC 2001 Glenlivet, at a standard 50%abv, had been in a sherry cask that Paul believed had added another dimension making it warm and rich with coffee and treacle toffee notes and a long, sweet finish.
1976 OMC Imperial, from a refill sherry cask, was the next 'I was there' moment. This year, according to the late Norwegian expert Per Lovlie, was Imperial's finest, producing their best ever distillate. Given the 70's vintage, the recurring 'Wicker Man' themes and the unusual but attractive nose, this was the Ingrid Pitt of whisky. Sweet, floral, creamy with hints of spice, fruit, vanilla and wine, it had a very long finish.
2003 Provenance Ardmore demonstrated, in Paul's view, the difference between highland and island peat. This tasted of biscuits and smoke with cream and smoke to end with. 1996 OMC Caol Ila came from what is now Scotland's fifth largest distillery. Ideal for rolling on the tongue, this full-bodied dram was lightly smoky with maritime salt and a surprisingly soft finish. Paul thinks that 15 years is the peak for an Islay whisky as more age leads the cask to dominate.
The Boss at Duncan Taylor
Euan Shand of Duncan Taylor (DTC) presented a virtually unique perspective at this festival: that of a company chief. The entire tasting was an 'I was there' moment and 90 utterly gripping minutes followed as Euan recounted his humble beginnings as a cooper at Glendronach distillery, through his years building up his own businesses with tales of youthful adventures with a valinch, jet-lagged tastings in Japan in front of a polite audience, Americans unaware of cask evaporation, laying down his own casks, fighting 'Red Bull', his aversion to colour in whisky, possible plans for a Huntly distillery that still has planning permission until December 2012 and a sad near miss in attempting to acquire Imperial distillery.
Black Bull 12, at 50%abv, demonstrated dependable deliciousness and kept us going as Euan told the story of Abe Rosenberg who had owned a huge collection of casks. Paying tribute to his vision, Euan told how the
late Mr. Rosenberg had laid down second and third fill casks with the view to them maturing for many decades, perhaps knowing that he would never see these casks bottled in his lifetime.
1998 'Dimensions' Dailuaine, at 46%abv, was the first in a series of casks picked by Mark Watt, sadly unavailable after a drunken prank went wrong and he was accidentally mailed to Timbuktu. However, Mark's absence, according to Mike Lord, meant that he was saved the expense of a large quantity of Guinness. No home should be without this masterful dram with its real bakery smell and buttered toast sweetness.
Guiding through Duncan Taylor's latest releases was Euan Shand.
90 percent of DTC casks mature at the distillery, something that amuses Euan as he thinks of Macduff maturing in a tiny warehouse while the proprietor's casks mature at sister distillery Royal Brackla in Nairn.
Euan is a big enthusiast for grain whisky and commented on the extensive stock still available to DTC, noting that one cask will reach 50 years old in 2013. 1978 North British grain, at 54.4%abv, had soft bourbon on the nose with a velvety vanilla taste. Grain spirit is bland and neutral and a good thing, in his view, as it gives a blank canvas to work with as all the flavour comes from the cask.
1995 'Dimensions' Imperial, at 53.8%abv, was of such quality that I drank it neat to get vanilla, cream, spice and pepper notes and Euan is one of the few who think that Imperial may yet produce again. His preference is for bourbon casks over sherry as he feels that sherry overpowers distillery character.
As Euan ran through the ranges available from DTC such as 'Peerless', 'Rarest', Battlehill and Octave (the viagra of casks), we tasted 1985 Glen Elgin, at 46.1%abv, and Euan recounted selling 5 'Rarest' bottles in as many minutes for a 5 figure sum in Singapore and decided to retire to the bar for the day. This inspirational whisky had refreshers and wham bar sweets on the nose with cream, fruit and vanilla flavours. Euan thinks the distillery produces 'top class blending whisky' and reckons that Elgin whiskies such as Longmorn, Benriach, Glenlossie and Glen Elgin are very close in character, a fascinating viewpoint.
Revealing that he hadn't tasted any of the whiskies, nor read any tasting notes, Euan invited us to describe the preview of the next batch of Black Bull 40, admitting he would like to know the recipe for this whisky, entirely blended by Mark Watt and of such high quality, he has decided to keep Mark on at the company.
A civilized 'Drams Party' closed the festival and Mike announced the winners in each 'challenge' category as Adelphi 1969 Glenrothes and DTC 1979 Cameronbridge, both of which won by a mile. (The best tasting notes included 'A pretend whisky made in a bucket' and 'like the doormat of the Whisky Shop Dufftown).
Finally, I'd like to thank everyone involved in organizing and running the festival and, in particular, Mike Lord and his wife Val, Steve Oliver, the wonderful people at the 'Coffee Pot', to Vicky and Kirsten at the Whisky Shop, to both Claus and Claire for the proofreading, to Rene and Glo, and everyone involved with the 'Mates of the Museum' plus Alan and Susie at the Tannochbrae.
I'm off to write my first novel, which will be titled 'Punctilious Catnip' and published under the pseudonym Ramrod Blancmange the third and hopefully, I'll see you again at the autumn festival.