At the Spirit of Speyside festival earlier this year, possibly at Glenfiddich or in Craigellachie’s Highlander Inn, I got talking to a chap called Dirk. A tech entrepreneur, he was also a bona fide whisky geek. And he’d recently become involved with Whiskybase.
Whiskybase has been around for quite some time now, almost a decade, and it’s been a significant player in the online whisky community. Part database, part social hang-out, it’s a place where whisky geeks can list their bottlings, search for more obscure ones, and buy stuff in the marketplace and shop. Since Dirk’s involvement, the site has been rejuvenated and there are wider plans – notably to grow Whiskybase’s profile through things like the Whiskybase Gathering in November this year. The potential for the site is huge, and it’s one of the few big whisky communities that are focussed on the drink and not all the periphery nonsense one finds online (which is really just fodder to sell advertising).
Whiskybase also releases its own bottlings under the Archives label, and I have five of these bottlings today. In fact, while Dirk popped over to the Tormore 4 cottage, he brought two bottles – Littlemill and Cragganmore Archives – both of which were fabulous (though I preferred the latter). He dropped me a line to say would I like to try some more? A bit of a no-brainer really…
Speyside 1998 – 52.7% ABV
Colour: deep copper.
On the nose: my kind of whisky. Rich and oily dried fruits: raisins, sultanas, dried apricots. Slight meatiness to it, and almost a touch of coal dust. Sandalwood towards the end.
In the mouth: as expected from the nose, though a fraction less viscous than hoped. Raisins indeed, but notes of morello cherries and cranberry sauce. Strawberry jam tarts. Slightly earthy notes, burnt sugar, maple syrup in stem ginger. And it’s the ginger that lingers long into a sticky-sweet finish. That’s a beautiful whisky right there.
Glentauchers 1996 – 53.9% ABV
Colour: white wine (so we’re probably talking at least second-fill).
On the nose: grassy, but rather attractive. Old roses. A note of linseed oil. Vanilla. Hoppy, fading to a light ale. Lime juice, lychees. The grassiness returns: straw, hay barns.
In the mouth: oily, grassy, full of toffee. Floral honey. Certainly a nice malted barley note lingering. Straw. Malted milk biscuits. Olive oil. Black pepper. Certainly on the subtler side of things, yet it really works.
Glen Keith 1992 – 59.7% ABV
Colour: gorgeous russet. (It’s presumed to be an ex-bourbon barrel.)
On the nose: intense toffee notes, with golden syrup, slight touches of aniseed. Lemon meringue. Dried apricots, but then mangoes and fresh peaches. Muscavado sugar. Ground almonds. Back to toffee once again.
In the mouth: again, intense as you’d expect for the ABV, but it’s all quite tightly packed together. Cinnamon spice, golden syrup. Pumpkin spice (more the sweet Starbucks latte-type). Dry and chewy, with plenty of tannins. Ginger, black pepper. Absolutely stonking cask.
Speyside 1973 – 46.5% ABV
Starfish from the Seventies. €380. (Just dwell on that price – about what, £350 for a 44 year old whisky? Almost unheard of these days.)
Colour: a deeper gold.
On the nose: the most gorgeous golden syrup sponge pudding you’ve ever had, with vanilla ice cream heaped on top. That, in a glass. Heather honey and traces of digestive biscuits. Pastry. Baked apples, caramel sauce. It’s very mellow and attractive though.
In the mouth: not quite as amazing as that nose promised (what could match?), but very nice. With honey – or rather mead. Baked apples again. Wafts of peppermint, citrus and salt. The pudding isn’t there: it’s more conservative. Savoury notes, sun-dried tomatoes and olives, come in unexpectedly. A medium-length finish, but very elegant. A properly subtle belter.
Speyside 1973 – 46.8% ABV
Colour: yellow gold.
On the nose: fresher, livelier. Syrup, certainly, but more lemon drizzle cake. Peaches begin to show, then pineapple. Traces of ginger, but back to the syrup. Vanilla.
In the mouth: muted, hotter. Give it time and, curiously, it becomes fresher and more fruity than the Speyside at 46.5% ABV. Cocoa and marzipan. Almond oil. Slight traces of black tea on a much longer, more honeyed finish. I can’t quite decide which I prefer of the two 44 year olds. A minor difference in ABV, sure, but an excellent comparison. I think I preferred the former, at 46.5% ABV; the nose alone was gorgeous.
They were really all very good. Not often you can say that about a series of independent bottlings. For me what makes this particularly astonishing is the price. These are, let’s face it, cheap in today’s market, but the quality is still there. Clearly this is about releasing good whisky for proper drinkers to enjoy – and there’s much to love about that today.
Clearly most if not all have sold out. You might see one or two on auction, but the story of the day is to keep paying attention to Whiskybase for future Archives bottlings. And while you’re waiting, have a look around the Whiskybase website.