Glenturret (G&M 1999/2018)

Whisky and stills and cats, oh my!

Do you like whisky? Do you like cats? If you’re anything like me then the answer is a resounding “Yes!” to both questions. The world would be immeasurably less enjoyable place if either delicious drams or furry feline friends were— *gulp*— absent from it. I have had held both whisky and cats close to my heart for some time but these loves occupy different parts of my life. Like parallel roads, whisky and cats run through the course of my life but never meet. Indeed, it never really occurred to me that they could intersect. How could this possibly even occur? Perhaps some kind of cat café, like the kind popularised in Japan, but which served whisky instead of tea alongside cat companionship? Perhaps a Maine Coon trained by search-and-rescue teams to carry miniature drams of whisky to lost travellers, akin to the barrel-carrying St Bernard dogs that historically worked in the Swiss Alps? It all seems a bit absurd. But then I found it: a point of intersection. The mediating middle of the Venn diagram where the circle “Love of Whisky” overlaps with the circle “Love of Cats”. Glenturret Distillery.

glenturret
Cold and crisp welcome to the distillery

Glenturret Distillery is located in the Southern Highlands and can be found amidst the rolling hillsides of Perthshire. Established in 1775, like many distilleries it has suffered from some stops-and-starts in production throughout the years. Glenturret might not be an immediately recognisable name to whisky drinkers as much of what it produces goes for blending and only recently have they begun to emphasise their single malt. In Australia we don’t get very much of this single malt either. The ownership of the distillery changed hands in late 2018, just a short time before our visit, so hopefully the new owners will make the Glenturret single malt more easily accessible down under.

The distillery itself is equipped with a stainless steel mash tun which, idiosyncratically, has an open top that exposes its contents to the elements and that requires stirring by hand (rather than by machine). This open mash tun is said to be the last remaining one of its kind in Scotland, which certainly explains why I have never seen its’ like in all my other distillery tours. The distillery also has eight Douglas fir washbacks and a pair of stills with vertical condensers. The stillroom is the heart of any distillery and the highlight of a tour. As you bask in the radiant heat from these copper giants you can’t help but wonder at the seemingly magical way they convert sugary wort into clear, concentrated spirit.

glenturret still
Magic of the still room

But I was broken free from their spell at Glenturret when I spied a very unusual addition to the stillroom: a small cat flap entry from the outside, complete with a tiny ramp for feline legs.

glen and turrets house
& what a glorious little house it is!

Whilst in Scotland you are spoilt for choice when it comes to planning your travel itinerary. There is simply so many great distilleries to visit but, as a tourist, only a limited amount of time. Careful planning is key and so is making some tough choices about where you have time to visit and where you do not. But how to choose between all the available distillery options? “We’re coming for your cats” I typed into the ‘comments’ section of the Glenturret tour booking webpage. “Sounds like a threat” my husband piped up. What I was trying to convey in my message was that the long, storied association between Glenturret distillery and their cats was the tipping point for choosing this particular distillery for inclusion on our latest Scottish roadtrip. I deleted the comment but I confirmed the booking.

The cats that I was “coming for”, the cats who benefit from the catflap into the warm and cozy stillroom, are Glen and Turret. They may be unusual brand ambassadors but they certainly appear to enjoy their visitor-meeting and marketing duties, indeed they each even have a special single-cask whisky named after them.

  To see a cat at a distillery is a welcome oddity in modern times but historically there would have been a more practical purpose for their presence. Given that whisky production requires huge amounts of barley, which distilleries in times past may have needed to stockpile at certain times, unwelcome visitors of the rodent variety would have plagued their premises. And who better to catch a rodent than a cat? Whilst Glen and Turret may no longer be needed to undertake these traditional mousing duties, the history of Glenturret includes a cat recognised in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful mouser of all time. Towser, a long-haired tortoiseshell cat, lived at the distillery from 1963 to 1987 and is estimated to have despatched a prodigious 28,899 mice during her tenure. Her impressive feat is immortalised in a statue erected near the stillroom as well as the merchandise bearing her proud (and somewhat scary) visage.

towser
A true legend of her time!

But let us put the cats of Glenturret aside for a minute in order to focus in on their whisky. The whisky I am reviewing today is an independent bottling from Gordon & Macphail of a Glenturret single malt, distilled in 1999 and bottled on 22 February 2018. It is a first fill sherry hogshead with an outturn of just 265 bottles at a cask strength of 51.6%.

confused merlot
Our own little resident cat

Nose: Fresh cherries, rose petals, cranberries, ripe red apple, walnut and a hint of milk chocolate

Palate: Immediate sweetness. Caramel slice, potpourri, pink grapefruit, lemon pith, a touch of oak and some quality nougat. A long finish with a viscous mouthfeel, ending in some slight aniseed notes.

An exceptional dram. One of the best I’ve tasted for a while. Restrained and complex but still approachable, at once elegant as well as a crowd-pleaser. Whilst the distillery’s cats may have lured me in their single malt is drawcard enough on its own.

17.5/20

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Scapa Distillery Reserve Collection

A wild windswept part of the world, and a distillery exclusive

Welcome whisky drinkers, I am back after a short hiatus!

Today I’ll be reviewing a whisky from a distillery located on the rugged Orkney Islands. You may have read my previous review of whiskies from Highland Park, but this will instead be a review of their nearby Orcadian compatriots at Scapa distillery.

Scapa was established in 1885 and is located just outside Kirkwall, a quick 5-10 minutes drive from Highland Park. The distillery is perched high up on the cliffs that surround the picturesque Scapa Flow and the distillery itself is a great vantage point for viewing the tumultuous swirl of waves through the bay. Apparently, this area was a very important naval base in both World Wars due to its strategic location. Many sunken wrecks of various warships now litter the surrounding seabed, hidden from view to all but the intrepid diver.

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Like many Scottish distilleries, Scapa has had its high and low points. Production ceased during World War II and the distillery was even mothballed at one stage (1994-2004). Refurbishments have since been carried out and the distillery and visitors centre were warm and welcoming during my visit to the Orkney Islands in mid-2017.

Currently Scapa produces ~1 million litres per year. A particularly interesting aspect of this process is their idiosyncratic use of a Lomond still as one of their two stills. Lomond stills look very different to the usual kind of still – they consist of a pot topped with a neck fitted with several plates, each of which can be turned on or off in order to imitate the effects of a still with a very short neck, a long neck or anything in between. These changes to the still shape consequently change the flavour profile of the spirit that the still produces. Lomond stills have now largely vanished from whisky production and only a handful remain in use in Scotland. Bruichladdich, for example, now uses their Lomond still to produce their “Botanist” gin. However, Scapa continues to use theirs for whisky and this is a rare treat indeed.

Scapa does not have a particularly large core range nor does it have much market presence in my home country of Australia. In recent years Scapa’s flagship bottling was a 16 Year Old but this has been discontinued and replaced by the NAS bottlings Skiren and Glansa. However, from time to time you can find a Scapa limited edition, often thematically linked to the naval history of the Scapa Flow area, or an independent bottling from brands like Gordon & McPhail or Douglas Laing. The particular bottle I am reviewing today is a distillery exclusive, so unless you fancy making the trek to Orkney you might need to cross you fingers that your go-to local or internet distributor gets some stock in.

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The Distillery Reserve Collection is a 12 Year Old bottled at cask strength – 58.5%. It was distilled 10 June 2003 and bottled 29 July 2015.  The high ABV is a welcome feature of this whisky.

Nose: Tropical fruits – pineapples and peaches. Bubblegum; really saccharine sweet. Definite hints of banana and toffee.

Palate: Crisp fresh pears. Vanilla. Light caramel. Cereal kind of notes – Weetbix with a generous spoonful of sugar and a splash of milk. Under-ripe almonds.

Finish: Although its not a short finish it is a little one-dimensional. More sweet caramel notes and some pleasing warmth.

Scapa dram

Conclusion: This is a nice whisky, quite straightforward and easy-drinking. The nose is very sweet and so is the palate but the palate gains some additional depth from its freshe fruit notes.

14/20

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Laphroaig PX Cask Triple Matured

PSA: drink more sherry!

Laphroaig PX Cask Triple Matured is an absolute joy. It was matured first in ex-bourbon hogsheads, like the Laphroaig 10 Year Old, before undergoing a second maturation in quarter casks and then a final maturation in European Oak casks that originally held Pedro Ximenez (PX). Pedro Ximenez is a naturally sweet dessert wine made from grapes with a high concentration of sugars, as a result of either being picked when they are very ripe or being dried in the sun after picking. PSA: every whisky fan should drink more sherry in order to ensure that sherry casks are available for these kinds of delicious maturations! The PX Cask is bottled at 48% ABV, does not carry an age statement and is available as a travel retail exclusive in a hefty 1 litre bottle.

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Nose: as always with Laphroaig the tang of peat is the first thing you notice, followed by a hint of raisins and the nutty almond flavours from the sherry

Palate: the peat and oak are undeniably forward but then rich, sultry flavours of port wine, dried figs, rich dark berry jam, a slightly sweet liquorice come through. The mouthfeel is oily and rich.

Finish: dry like a Spanish sherry, peat and oak linger. It is very mellow and very easy to down a dram.

Laph five casks

This is a truly excellent dram. The combination of peat smoke and rich sherry is in perfect balance. The typical Laphroaig characteristics shine through but are mellowed somewhat by the beautiful mouthfeel and sweetness of raisins and sultanas. If you are lucky enough to see a bottle on your travels then snap it up. I think fans of Laphroaig will appreciate it and those who are not as familiar with Laphroaig or Islay whiskies may find this to be a gentle, sweet introduction.

PX cask

18/20

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Have a look at my review of the 25 Year Old here

Edradour Chardonnay Cask Matured Aged 13 Years

A full chardonnay cask maturation is interesting to say the least!

edradour sign

“Hmm, no, don’t try that one, try this other one”. When I insisted he relented with some reluctance: “It’s really not … umm, well, it’s not to my taste”. In this way the gentleman pouring sample drams at the Edradour distillery made it pretty clear that he was not a big fan of the whisky I am about to review, even though he worked at the place that made it. Jim Murray has also condemned a similarly-matured expression from Edradour (though a bit younger and bottled at only 46% ABV) as being ‘grim’. Read on to find out if it’s as bad as these two choice comments suggest!

Edradour is a picturesque little distillery in the town of Pitlochry, Perthshire, which is situated within the Southern Highlands. Edradour previously billed itself as the smallest working distillery in Scotland— the ‘farmhouse distillery’— but the recent upsurge of micro distilleries has since usurped any such claim. Another reason to abandon this description is their plans for expansion. When I visited earlier this year construction work was happening on the second still house and set of warehouses being built onsite. Last year Edradour produced 130,000 litres and apparently hope to increase their capacity to 400,000 litres when this extension opens.

Despite no longer being quite so small, Edradour still has an old-fashioned and quaint feel to it, with the entire production process currently being managed by only three stillmen. Its white buildings with red trim, narrow bubbling stream and flower gardens full of daffodils all combine to make this a beautiful place to visit. When you factor in the extensive (and very reasonably-priced) range of Edradour expressions available for tasting then a trip there is certainly worthwhile.

edradour bridge
The quaint tasting room at Edradour, lots of expressions on offer for a very wee price!

The particular expression I am reviewing here is a distillery exclusive, the Edradour Single Cask Bottling Chardonnay Cask Matured. I should make it very clear this is not a whisky that has simply been finished in a chardonnay cask, rather it is a whisky that has been matured for its entire 13 years in a chardonnay cask. It is quite rare to see a whisky fully matured in a white wine cask like this. This particular bottle was distilled 23 June 2003 and bottled 10 August 2016 from an out-turn of just 288 bottles. It is bottled at its natural cask strength, which is a rather hefty 53.4% ABV. The colour is a rich, deep copper and is entirely natural, taking its beautiful hue only from the contribution of the chardonnay hogshead.

edradour chardonnay

Nose: Tight and restrained, I’m not getting an awful lot from it at first. It opens up after a few minutes with oak and honeysuckle at the fore followed by some sweeter aromas; jaffa and sweetshop licorice (not aniseed, something a little less intense). A drop of water reveals peach and green apple.

Palate: The presence of a lot of woody oak almost goes without saying (given the chardonnay cask maturation). Apple pie made with tart, green apples. Softening into flavours of honeyed, orange syrup.

Finish: The high alcohol gives this a bit of a rough finish, it burns a little, the mouthfeel and lasting impression is almost reminiscent of a liquor like Cointreau.

This is an interesting experiment by Edradour. It is well worth a try, though I don’t think we’re going to be seeing wine cask maturations like this taking the industry by storm anytime soon! The oakiness masks the more subtle flavours a bit but it is something different for those who like something unusual.

14/20

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Mortlach Single Cask Release 1998 (Wemyss Malts)

Ginger Glazed Gammon!

mortlach sign
Sadly, as close as we could get to Mortlach without scaling the fence!

The region of Speyside is the heart of whisky production in Scotland and nestled within Speyside is the small but picturesque location of Dufftown. Dufftown boasts not one but seven distilleries, and both The Balvenie and Glenfiddich can be found there. However, the first distillery founded in Dufftown way back in 1823 was Mortlach. Mortlach is not a whisky you usually see at your local bottle store as the vast majority of its prodigious output goes into blends and accordingly it doesn’t often end up as a single malt. Indeed, the distillery itself keeps a low-profile being closed to the public and unavailable to tour even if you make it all the way to Dufftown. This is all quite a shame really, as Mortlach’s single malt is quite distinctive and fascinating to drink: possessing a heady mix of savoury, meaty and (when sherry-influenced) fruitcake characteristics.

There are six washbacks and six spirit stills at Mortlach. These are not, however, paired off in the usual way and Mortlach’s idiosyncratic distillation process follows a labyrinthine course that cannot easily be summarised (even with a flowchart). Without getting too technical, at Mortlach one pair of stills acts as a double distillation. The low wines are redirected and in one of the spirit stills, redistilled twice. The upshot of all this is that the final spirit at Mortlach is, according to the distillery, distilled ~2.81 times. This is quite unusual for scotch as most distilleries generally just distil their spirit twice. Ordinarily, the more you distil the spirit the lighter the final product, as heavier components like oils are left behind. Think, for example, of the very clean spirit at triple-distilled Auchentoshan. However, Mortlach’s whisky is certainly not light. Instead, the multiple distillations result in a spirit that has had a lot of contact with the copper of the still but that hasn’t been stripped of heavy components, resulting in characteristics such as barbequed meat notes. If you are interested in this process, can I recommend having a look at the following explanations, which are far clearer than mine!

This is a good explanation from the folks over at Scotch Whisky and here is the even more detailed version at Whisky Science for those who understand and appreciate the chemistry of distillation.

mortlach castle
Balvenie Castle in Dufftown, originally known as Mortlach

The Mortlach whisky that I am lucky enough to be reviewing here is an independent bottling by Wemyss Malts. I bought this bottle at The Whisky Shop in Dufftown, just a few hundred metres down the road from Mortlach itself. It is a single cask release that was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2016, making it 18 years old. There were only 306 bottles produced at a respectable 46% abv. Wemyss has not provided any information about what the whisky was matured in but if I were to hazard a guess from the flavor profile I would take a punt on it being a refill sherry cask. ‘Ginger Glazed Gammon’ is emblazoned across the label which, if nothing else, made me laugh. I don’t think many people would be enticed by a drink being described that way! It is a pretty accurate description though!

mortlach dram
A lovely golden colour. Aussie wildflower in the background; I really am blogging from Perth, Australia, not Perth, Scotland!

 

 

Nose: Stewed pears moves towards apricot, then into savoury notes as the mouth-watering honey ham gains traction, a hint of sulphur, sherry (plump raisins) and woody/barky spices (cinnamon stick, ginger) round it out.

Palate: Salty green olives then spiced barbequed slow-cooked meats take their place, mellowing into beef stock, with a final foray into dark chocolate and sage.

Finish: A light metallic taste that (thankfully) fades into a more tannic, herbaceous finish with a honey sweetness.

This whisky really grew on me. I didn’t really like my first couple of drams, but I did find it intriguing and kept finding myself wanting to try it again. I am glad that I persevered as this whisky was rewarding when I finally got my head around the strange flavour profile. The meaty characteristics are certainly like nothing else. Overall, a complex, multi-layered and an interesting foray into a distillery with an idiosyncratic process. Despite the higher-profile company it keeps in Dufftown, Mortlach is not a distillery that should be overlooked.

16/20

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Highland Park Ice & Fire Editions

ASOIAF: A Sip of Ice and Fire

I couldn’t resist reviewing two very special drams to celebrate today’s premiere of the 7th season of Game of Thrones. Ever since reading the first book, I’ve been firmly in the camp of the Stark family and have been enchanted by the entire world of the North of Westeros: the ever-changing ‘King in the North’, the weird wildlings, the giants and other beasties who live Beyond the Wall, and the Greyjoys who plunder up and down the coast. So, naturally, my thoughts turn to the distillery that best captures and reflects this northern and wild spirit … Highland Park.

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Highland Park has recently rebranded itself as the ‘Orkney single malt with Viking soul’. Their new tagline is:

“Our whisky, like our island home, is shaped by a wild climate and stormy seas, and by the Vikings who settled here over 1,000 years ago, leaving their mark on our people and our culture.”

This is far from a cynical marketing ploy and truly reflects the unique history and character of the Orkney islands, which are located some 16 kilometres (but an entire world away) from the north coast of the Scottish mainland. Orkney has been inhabited for some 8500 years, first by Neolithic tribes whose houses, standing stones and burial cairns remain on the island to this day, and then by the Picts who brought their own traditions and culture. In 875AD the islands were annexed by Norway and settled by the Norse. Even though the Scottish Parliament annexed the earldom to the Scottish Crown in 1472, Orkney still retains many Norse/Viking traditions to this day and they say that one third of Orcadians have Viking DNA.

Highland Park distillery itself is located in the Orcadian town of Kirkwall and was founded in 1798. It still fundamentally operates today in much the same way it always has: the distillery maintains a traditional floor maltings where the barley is turned by hand, the peat is still cut from nearby Hobbister moor, and maturation still occurs in warehouses on Orkney.

Given the history of Orkney and the proud traditions of Highland Park, it is only natural for the distillery to integrate the local Viking history into their branding. I fondly recall the Valhalla Collection, which was a series of four limited-edition annual releases named after the Norse gods Thor, Loki, Freya and Odin. Following on from the Valhalla Collection, Fire and Ice were released in 2016 and were the next two Nordic-themed bottlings, inspired by the great sagas of the Viking age recorded in the oldest Norse poems, the Poetic Edda.

 Highland Park Ice Edition 17 Year Old

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This release was inspired by Niflheim, the Norse realm of fog, frost and darkness and home to the ice giants. It was matured in ex-bourbon casks and bottled at a respectable 53.9% ABV.

Nose: A fascinating and complex mixture of tropical fruits, milk chocolate, and milky arrowroot biscuits.

Palate: Phwoar! A cacophony of flavours vying for attention –  distinctive and fresh notes of pineapple and mango, mellowing into coconut, a hint of cherry cola, sherbet, and at the end definitely some maritime influences, a little peat, lingering smoke and baked apple.

Finish: Rich and viscous, lingering spices, dry woodiness.

Highland Park Fire Edition 15 Year Old

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This release was inspired by Muspelheim, the Norse realm of fire, the crucible of the suns and stars, and home to the fire giants. It was matured exclusively in refill port-seasoned casks and bottled at 45.2% ABV.

Nose: Comforting aromas of warm spices, coffee, mixed peel, smoke.

Palate: Opens with dark chocolate and lightly roasted coffee (absolutely no bitterness), then come the red fruits (sweetened cranberry, plum), a hint of vanilla pods, and maple roasted pecans.

Finish: Spicy and smoky.

Both releases are imposingly (and somewhat ostentatiously) packaged in their own wooden case, which is reminiscent of a jagged mountain (for the Ice Edition) and volcano (for the Fire Edition). There are also beautifully illustrated mini-books of Nordic tales included alongside the whisky.

If you can manage it, it is fascinating to trying these whiskies side-by-side because of their many contrasts. On my initial tasting I preferred the Fire Edition because of its big, rich flavours of chocolate and red fruit— something I expect and love from a port-influenced dram. However, on subsequent tastings I preferred the Ice Edition because of its incredible complexity. Coquettishly, the Ice Edition refused to give up all its secrets at once, and every time I went back to it I changed my tasting notes as I discovered that something else was coming to the fore. However, I can finally and definitively say that, for me, the lingering notes of pineapple and coconut on the palate of the Ice Edition make it the ultimate winner in this battle of ice and fire.

Ice: 17.5/20

Fire: 16.5/20

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Brainstorming Boilermakers

Welcome to the weekend!

I have only recently come to love boilermakers, which is surprising given my longstanding love of both good beer and good whisky. Over the last six months or so I have had some excellent boilermaker experiences. Firstly, I visited a bar called Boilermaker House in Melbourne which lives up to its moniker by having an entire section of their menu devoted to boilermakers. Secondly, my husband’s brother gifted him a selection of boilermakers for his birthday: three miniatures of scotch and three bottles of beer, all carefully paired. Finally, when I visited Orkney the distillery manager at Highland Park let us in on her favourite boilermaker pairing involving their whisky. I tried it that same night, and it was VERY good. I’ve included it below.

So what is a “boilermaker”? When referring to drinks and not people-who-make-boilers, the term boilermaker can mean a variety of different things and so a little explanation is in order. In parts of the UK a boilermaker means a mixture of half a pint of draught and half a pint of brown ale. By contrast, a traditional American boilermaker involves shotting a dram of whisky in a single gulp and then drinking a beer. An alternative boilermaker approach is to drop a dram of whisky (with or without shot glass) into a beer, and then drinking them both together.

Now I am a big proponent of each to their own when it comes to drinks. You want to add ice to your whisky? Go right ahead. A splash of coke? Not my style, but sure. Dropping your whisky into your beer? No worries. Life is simply too short to have others dictate to you how to enjoy your drink. That said, my own favourite way to enjoy a boilermaker is to drink a dram of whisky and a glass of beer side-by-side: no shotting or mixing, just alternating between sipping the two as and when I feel like it. This seems to be the current style of boilermaker in Australia at least.

The crucial part of putting together a good boilermaker in this style is the pairing of whisky and beer. To me, a perfect pairing involves;

  • A beer and a whisky you are happy to drink by themselves
  • Complementary flavor profiles, like a smoky dark beer and a smoky peated whisky. For example, you wouldn’t pair a stout and a light, floral whisky.
  • Trying to pair standout flavours. Spiced bacon notes in a bourbon are likely to match really well with similar notes in a dark craft beer, fruity notes in a Lowlands whisky are likely to match well with a light ale or a saison and so on.

Based on these criteria, and my own personal experience, here are a few favourites:

oogy and feral

Ardbeg Uigeadail + Feral Smoked Porter

The smoky porter with dark chocolate notes matches well with the peat in the whisky. Both have flavours of smoked bacon.

kaiju and caribbean cask

The Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask + Kaiju Crush! Tropical Pale

The pale has a bit of hoppy bitterness but mellows out with summery pineapple flavours. Their shared tropical fruit characteristics take you to an island paradise.

 

Highland Park 12 Year Old + Swanney Brewery Scapa Special

Light, easy to knock back, both have a lovely balanced sweetness with citrus notes.

Feel free to leave your suggested boilermaker pairings in the comments section. Happy drinking!