Whisky is full of trends and fashions; it’s what attracts new blood to the joys of appreciating a good dram, whether its seasonal advent calendars, cocktails or flavour additives we’re now seeing in bourbons. Such changes are necessary and keep the old diehards occupied with their ability to moan about rising prices, fancy marketing or just how things aren’t what they used to be.
The years roll by and you do begin to appreciate everything comes in cycles for whisky and trends, but modern technology and information channels are allowing the curious or cash-strapped access to reviews, comments and suggestions to help drive their purchases. Recently, you may have noticed an influx of choice around the ability to take out a mail order subscription package for whisky samples. It actually reminds me of the same buzz around whisky auction sites, where the original harbourer enjoyed success and thus prompted new sites to appear. Auction websites have come and gone through attrition and competition, leaving only the strong and those that meet customer expectations to continue in their line of business.
Noticing this frenzy around whisky tastings delivered to your door, I felt compelled to check out one such company and plumped for the Dram Team having followed their inception and launch earlier this year. Part of my interest is I’ve used the option to purchase samples from a well-known online retailer to create a bespoke tasting pack of five whiskies. It’s an ideal way to lessen the impact on your wallet and try before you buy. I’ve gone so far as to recommend the service to others when looking for a Christmas present for enthusiasts – you’d be surprised how many times I’m asked via social media or in the office for whisky recommendations. And no, the answer isn’t always Tormore although ask a stupid question…
Living in Scotland you can take whisky and the proximity and abundance of distilleries, retailers, societies etc. for granted. Whereas take my good friend the Tweed-master Mark at Malt-review. Well versed in whisky, there isn’t much locally (deepest, darkest Derbyshire it seems) within a few hours, making a postal service more attractive to those in a similar position. Whisky is unfortunately increasing in price and the quality at times can be a little bland or disappointing, making each pound you spend a significant outlay.
With all this in mind I approached the Dram Team and purchased their latest offering with a discount. Normally this one off release dubbed Incredible Indies would have been £30 but I received a generous discount. I understand the practicality to cover their costs as a business and Whisky Rover is self-financed without the need for any advertising or annoying pop-ups. It seems like a convenient arrangement for both sides and prompted this article, which I’ll hope you enjoy as its lays out the potential offered by such a service and a review of all the whiskies in their Incredible Indies October curation.
The package itself arrived very efficiently thanks to the courier updates, I was able to nominate a neighbour to receive the delivery. The actual Dram Box itself feels a little flimsy but it’s well packaged for the rigours of courier delivery. The boxset above opens up to reveal your five standard drams and a wee treat. A letter provides an outline of the whiskies featured in the pack and the companies that produced each; a nice touch as its all in the detail. Also included are tasting cards for each whisky that you can then pocket whilst whisky shopping if you’re seeking a specific bottle. They have the additional use of covering each dram whilst you let it settle in the glass.
A topic worth debating is sample sizes. Remember that these are designed to give you a taste of the said whisky and an experience that you can then decide whether to purchase a full-sized bottle. There are five standard samples in the set at 25ml (2.5cl), which is a standard bar measure plus the bonus extravagant sample of 10ml (1cl) of something special.
The 25ml may be less than others that offer 30ml (3cl) or a standard miniature of 50ml (5cl), however this is something you can work with. I often have to write tasting notes for extremely rare, unusual whiskies that are scarce and almost liquid gold. The way I achieve this is to reduce size of the Glencairn or glass I’m using. If you’re working with a smaller sample then it makes sense to make the adjustment pictured below.
Girvan 10 year old, rum finish, by Creative Whisky Company
Bottled at 50% vol.
Colour: an unwashed magnolia
Nose: my initial thought is margarine! Very floral with rose petals and a hint of Refreshers with the alcohol strength on the fringes.
Taste: an ongoing storm that arrives and suddenly vanishes with the trace of peppermint tea lingering afterwards. Marzipan forms the main body of the grain with cranberries and pecans.
Overall: a very clean and pleasant grain. The rum cask is needed as at this age it’d potentially be very neutral. The additional host adds a flourish that means it has more to offer than the Haig Club. A little safe and bland for an experienced enthusiast it’s a solid inclusion for those new to whisky.
Fettercairn 10 year old by Douglas Laing
Part of their Provenance Range this is bottled at 46% abv.
Colour: a pebble beach
Nose: a very creamy lemonade that helps wash down a mouthful of wine gums. Very fruity with the emphasis on apples and pears. Focusing on the apples they have an almost baked quality with a rich shortcrust pastry and a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar.
Taste: the fruits continue onto the palate and it benefits from the higher strength. There’s more vanilla and almonds now followed by melted butter. A slight aniseed finish almost liquorice. A limited voyage but enjoyable as this is an easy drinker.
Overall: an interesting inclusion as you rarely seen Fettercairn on its own nowadays. This Douglas Laing range presents younger whiskies in a naked form without tampering apart from reducing it to 46% strength. This is a wholesome and satisfying dram that doesn’t require water.
Craigellachie 12 year old by The Gleann Mor Spirits Company
Part of their A Rare Find range, bottled at 57.2% vol., with 233 bottles retailing at around £65
Nose: big emphasis on vanilla nougat. One of those new plastic vacuum bags that you seal contents with, a malty aspect, honeycomb and bananas to a certain extent covered in golden syrup.
Taste: juicy mangos with a hint of grapefruit on the finish. Rolling back to the beginning its the wood that dominates initially providing vanilla custard and hazelnuts. Oranges follow with some green apples and barley sugar.
Overall: drinkable at cask strength, you’re in control if water brings an added dimension. Ultimately though nothing screaming buy me about this sample.
Hoebeg Islay single malt by Robert Graham
An unspecified single malt from Islay, 40% abv, bottle price £37.99
Colour: setting tablet
Nose: that familiar costal spray from Islay. Hot dogs in brine with a sprinkling of salt. Strong white flour on the edge which if you make bread you’ll recognise. Salted caramel that mixes the salty Islay influence and sugary sweetness.
Taste: pork scratchings that indulgent treat with some bacon fat thrown in plus milk chocolate. A hint of smoke for seasoning and more of that hot dog brine influence. A really inviting finish that has you reaching for another dram.
Overall: this would have benefited from a higher strength. It’s a solid Islay blend but somewhat overpriced if you frequent a supermarket and pick up their own Islay white label offerings. However it forms part of a trio of strong offerings from this independent bottler.
Tobermory 21 year old cask strength by That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Now sold out, Batch 4 was bottled at 51.2% abv. retailing for £66.95
Colour: light pine
Nose: a surprisingly light, floral almost coastal breeze flowing through this whisky. It’s given body by a malty aspect, digestive biscuits, vanilla wafers, dried oranges, apricots and toffee.
Taste: more of the wood on the palate, dark chocolate, candy floss, a noticeable thrust of alcohol tinged vanilla. It’s very limited with a long woody finish.
Overall: just shows you age isn’t necessarily a guide to quality as this is one of the weakest offerings in the set.
Mortlach 21 year old by Murray McDavid
Part of their Mission Gold range, this Speysider was bottled at 50.4 vol.
Colour: gold bullion
Nose: Werther’s original so an approachable sweet caramel presence. The char from the cask is noticeable, toasted vanilla marshmallows freshly off the barbeque. Cinder toffee broken up with gusto and right at the end pencil shavings.
Taste: a really confident texture and arrival. Almost brimming with eagerness with more vanilla, milk chocolate, honey ham and red liquorice.
Overall: one of the better Mortlach’s of late as these can vary tremendously. I’ve had some shockers from bourbon casks over the years. This bottling is assured and a decent example – there’s just not enough of it!
This rounds off my Incredible Indies coverage. Overall it’s an impressive set and casting myself back to the early days of my whisky voyage, one that would have provided food for thought. If there was a single criticism, then it would be the lack of cask types across the six samples. However, the set exists to showcase the valuable work and alternatives that the independent bottlers can offer and in this respect it succeeds. I expect finding six drams to come in within the box budget is a challenge itself giving the inflationary whisky prices we’re seeing nowadays!
Whether or not you want to take out an actual Dram Team subscription is entirely down to you. If you have a limited budget and want to try as many whiskies as possible, faced with scarce options locally such as no clubs or societies, then it’s worth considering.