Recently I met up once again with Gregor, who is behind the Lady of the Glen independent bottlings. Honestly, you’d think we’d talk shop, but it mostly revolves around vinyl, closed distilleries and bygone whisky facts. Goodness knows what the other punters in the North Queensferry drinking hole think of our random conversations.
A constant is an exchange of whisky samples and Gregor will admit he tends to do rather well out of these – to be fair I’m sure Mark at Malt-Review would say the same. I do seem fortunate being able to pull out private cask samples, pre-war blends, 1970’s whiskies and other oddities with relative ease. I find it good to share whisky and also in my daytime profession I’m very aware of drinking responsibly. I see other bloggers consuming what must be vast amounts of whiskies, beers, ciders and other spirits on a regular basis. This gave birth to the phrase ‘death by blogging’ that may apply in the coming years to other enthusiasts!
I’m more than likely to leave a bottle when invited around for the host to finish thereafter, or depart a tasting with a cracking bottle left under the table for others to enjoy. As much as I’d like to finish every whisky I own, this isn’t healthy so Gregor will often receive half a bottle of something I believe is very tasty. For me, there is always another bottle at home to take its place.
I do believe in transparency and this includes stating where my samples come from. If I’m not a fan of a said whisky then I’ll say so, whilst trying to put my dislike into context and perhaps suggesting who may enjoy it instead.
Gregor provided the remnants of his Tobermory release in the 70cl bottle pictured above. He’ll be expecting a review of the said whisky, but I wanted to do something different rather than just a singular review. I’ve been enjoying putting together vertical tastings from specific distilleries such as Balblair and Glenfarclas. Over the past few months a whole series has been done which you read about here but I was eager to take this in another direction.
Using the handy sample service from Master of Malt, who it has to be said are excellent to deal with. I purchased another 5 samples to create this slightly smaller than normal vertical tasting. The difference being its all around Lady of the Glen. In total I’ll have reviewed 10 releases here from this independent bottler and tasted 11 or 12. Throughout, these are all natural colour, cask strength and non-chill filtered. The best prior to this vertical is the Secret Speyside although I did enjoy the tenacity of the Benrinnes.
We’re dealing with 6 distilleries that laid down these bourbon casks at similar times and for (give or take) the same period of maturation. Therefore we have a great snapshot of Speyside distilleries in the mid-90’s and hopefully a demonstration of the different effects of the spirit, distillery character and cask throughout.
Very exciting, or at least it is to me, so lets get this started.
Braes of Glenlivet 1994
Bottled 2015, 20 years old, 47.7% vol, bourbon cask, 163 bottles
Colour: has to be tablet
Nose: malted milk biscuits and cooked pears sprinkled with cinnamon. Engaging with wine gums, oranges, tablet and a floral bouquet note.
Taste: a creaminess here, unexpected as it a boldness and meaty aspect, mixed with vanilla fudge and a bag of salt n’ shake crisps without the salt added.
Overall: the distillery is known today as Braeval after changing its name in 1994. I consistently enjoy whiskies from this distillery. It’s far from a household name being created in the 70’s by Chivas to provide whisky for the blended market. Well worth seeking out.
Glen Keith 1995
Bottled September 2015, 19 years old, 51.1% vol, bourbon cask, 261 bottles
Colour: golden bamboo
Nose: pine cones, chopped fennel and white pepper. More apples and a vanilla sponge cake. A little sweetness with butterscotch fudge dynamic and a Milky Bar.
Taste: its the texture I’m enjoying most with an oily luxurious quality. Then more vanilla, honey and lemon. Dried cranberries and coconut flakes? Yes that’s it, and oats like a breakfast granola. With a salt finish.
Overall: I’ve always had as soft spot for Glen Keith imagining it as a secret whisky laboratory where they tried out all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas. Before the distillery was mothballed in 2000 the standard of its core malt was good indeed, which is replicated here.
Bottled September 2015, 18 years old, 56.5% vol, bourbon cask, 229 bottles
Colour: melted butter
Nose: a candid cereal greeting with straw bales and crushed white grapes. A little melted butter, marzipan, almonds, green apples and white chocolate. Adding water brings out more of the wood aspect but diminishes the overall character.
Taste: plenty of vanilla and almonds at first evidently the cask at work. More of the apple given time, honey and juicy plump raisins. On the fringes some Bonfire Toffee sweets. A peppery poppy seed finish of a decent duration rounds it off.
Overall: a solid if unspectacular Glentauchers offering. A classic example of a Speyside whisky being approachable, light and refreshing. I’m looking for more character and individuality yet as a starter dram it has merit.
Bottled September 2015, 19 years old, 51.4% vol, bourbon cask, 177 bottles
Colour: apple juice
Nose: some barley sweets, saw dust, pink lady apples and plasticine. Vanilla once again which is to be expected given the types of casks here.
Taste: compared to some of the other whiskies here this does taste very young, fresh and stronger than the label suggests. Freshly sliced apples mixed with candy floss and a slight char on the edge. I won’t say white vinegar as a taste, but it has that sharpness without water that cleans the palate. Not much of a finish. Water creates more of a comfortable experience with a Vanilla Slice effect with a little icing, vanilla custard and buttery pastry.
Overall: it’s a typical Speyside whisky, lacking that individuality and charisma to carry off the single malt mantle on this evidence. A starter dram once again and one that does demonstrate the benefits of water.
Bottled 2015, 20 years old, 56.2% vol, bourbon hogshead cask #1237, 259 bottles
Colour: beech wood
Nose: a very fresh and sun-kissed arrival with chopped pineapple and coconut. On the fringes I’m picking up black pepper and liquorice. Also in the mix is a crusty malted loaf and a delicate floral aspect. Water turns this into a lightness with icing sugar and juicy fruit chewing gum.
Taste: spicy initially, a little all-spice, cinnamon, damp bark and more of the pepper. I prefer this one with a dash of water and it brings out unusual characteristics such as bay leaves and a sherbet dip essence.
Overall: more approachable than many of the Tobermory’s I’ve experienced previously so an oddity which is what the single cask bottling approach should give us. Whisky production nowadays is far too efficient and consistent. This creates a boring blanket that drapes over many official releases. For me the oddities i.e. the low points are as just as interesting as the remarkable moments.
Bottled September 2015, 19 years old, 53.1% vol, bourbon cask #20279, 249 bottles
Colour: my solid oak dining table
Nose: a real playful creaminess initially, some American cream soda fizzy pop. Then Rich Tea digestives before moving into something more rustic like a syrup flapjack or syrup porridge. Then Speyside fights back with vanilla and honey. A malty characteristic and some butterscotch.
Taste: mellow at first, pineapples with vanilla dominating and a more of that porridge again and a little ginger. Interesting.
Overall: a distinctive character with a very enjoyable nose. Bodes well for my Tormore vertical tasting later this year.
A fun tour around 90’s Speyside. I did enjoy the texture of the Glen Keith, the body of the Braes of Glenlivet and the nose of the Tormore. A fascinating exploration, but I’m still drawn to that Secret Speysider which offers the full package and an air of mystery, complete with a great price as well.
From this selection it would have to be the Tormore (I really need more time with it) and the Braes of Glenlivet. These two whiskies would be my recommendations if you were faced with any of the above.