Speyburn is one of those curious whisky brands, which seems to exemplify the kind of hyper-romanticised nonsense from Scotch whisky marketing. From the website: “… the heart of Speyside, ideal for making exceptionally smooth whisky.” What has the location got to do with making smooth whisky? And what does smooth even mean in this context anyway? “This unique expression has been matured in American oak and Spanish oak casks, adopting the fragrant Speyside air.” Really? The whisky adopts the Speyside air – when most of it has been tankered away to Inver House Distillers’ main warehousing at Airdrie, North Lanarkshire?
Perhaps I’m picking a little on Speyburn, and perhaps this is unfair of me, because I do like the portfolio of Inver House Distillers (Old Pulteney, Balblair, anCnoc, Speyburn and Balmenach) but it seems to be the typical approach of Scotch brands that have nothing to say about how their product is actually made, which is for me what makes the stuff we find written about Speyburn appear so… insincere.
I don’t mean it unkindly, I have to say. Such romanticism is typical in Scotch whisky, but it just doesn’t seem the cut the mustard in 2017. I read an article on scotchwhisky.com where Dave Broom was moaning about some new press release claim or other – but for me, this misses the mark entirely. The problem with what brands are saying isn’t new ridiculous claims – which is merely a trick to earn clicks in the modern era of publicity – but the pervasive, almost invisible shit that has been spouted for the past thirty years, and that is regurgitated time and time again without anyone questioning what is being said (adopting the fragrant Speyside air).
The new generation of whisky drinker demands to know what goes into her products, how it is made, and she does not want a load of old stories, romanticised misinformation or hackneyed clichés about the past. This will be the thing that makes such brands forgettable in a few years’ time.
Yet, I suppose it hasn’t harmed Speyburn being one of the big selling whiskies in the USA. Then again, our American friends put Trump in power, so you can’t really vouch for popularity Stateside being a benchmark of quality.
Which brings me, eventually, to the Speyburn 15 Year Old – and less about the marketing. And that again is where I run into trouble, as someone who is curious about what goes into whisky. All I know is that it’s been in Spanish and American oak. Not what the casks held before, or indeed how many times they held whisky. Very little information is put forward about… let’s say fermentation times, for example (which is short – just 48 hours), or anything that may indicate the quality of what has gone into production.
So I’ll just tell you it’s bottled at 46% ABV (a good thing) and now costs £60 (a bit much).
Speyburn 15 Year Old – Review
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: hugely fruity: zesty lemon, tangerines, grapefruit and mango, with toffee and vanilla. Sultanas and raisins, just a little, before returning to the fruits. Basically, it’s a fruit salad.
In the mouth: again, plenty of fruitiness with a curious bready, yeasty note underneath that. Green apples, mead, a little ginger and then sultanas, dried apricots, custard cream biscuits. Chocolatey, chewy, and stacks of vanilla once the fruit drifts away.
Simple stuff, a few flavours here, yet I’d happily reach for another. I can’t help but wonder at that curious note underneath all the fruits (and what that suggests about the quality of the spirit produced all those years ago).
Too expensive for what it is though, and I can’t help but direct you to plenty of other interesting places such as anCnoc – or for a tenner more you’d get the outstanding GlenDronach 18 Year Old. And for much less you’d get a much better 15 year old from Glengoyne.
All I can say is this: it’s about time we – as interested whisky drinkers – put an end to this kind of empty romanticism in whisky.
Might have been a 5 if it wasn’t for the tripe copy cluttering up their website.
Delicious, the review not the whisky, obviously.
I have a few points I’d like to make regarding this, which I’ll list now.
1. Any whisky writer or whisky firm who uses the word smooth should be shot, what does the word mean in terms of whisky? Smooth, bland, tastes of nothing, I know it’s supposed to mean that it doesn’t have the alcohol burn but I have news for anyone who’s reading this, the alcohol burn exists for anyone who sips anything over 40% who isn’t used to it, most people I talk to about whisky are the same sort of whisky nerds and taste loads so have “lost the spirit” which is how a friend once described it and I think it’s perfect. If however you don’t tend to drink your spirits neat or with little water then you’ll always get that burn no matter how smooth or gentle or whatever else you pretend it is.
2. I’ve talked at length on the smoke and mirrors bollocks, I suggest we spend a couple of years forcing whisky companies to use plain packaging, no marketing speak (you can advertise your wares without it) and no boxes etc, then we’ll see how they all do.
3. I don’t understand how one of the most restricted products in the world manages to get away with putting this drivel on their bottles and boxes, it’s total shit, why has it not been banned under the Trades Description Act?
4. Speyside doesn’t exist, it’s just the Highlands of Scotland and was only named for taxation purposes, find me Speyside on a map and get back to me, which will be never, and then stop all this “Air of Speyside” never mind Speyburn send its stuff to Airdrie, which is a shithole of a place.
5. I’ve not tried it but £60 for a fifteen year old bottled at 46% seems alright price wise so it must be bang average.
6. I don’t know how your email conversation went but if companies don’t want negative comments then don’t send products to places like this.
Yes, “smooth” is rather pointless. I do wonder if even the use of the word makes punters thing that most whiskies are really harsh – and that it might not be for them. If they used the words “fucking delicious” then that’s a bit more positive on the whole.
The 46% was a good move, must admit. But when you can get Glengoyne at a much cheaper price, and it’s a better whisky by far, then it seems a bit silly. Maybe it’s all getting sill though.
One of my all time favorite tongue-in-cheek marketing campaigns (it was for April Fools Day) was from Westland. The BoldSmooth aka BS. Hilarious https://vimeo.com/210136198
Ha, I hadn’t seen that. It’s brilliant.
So now…………regarding “our American friends put Trump in power,” one must be politically correct to enjoy a good whiskey?!? Good to learn about whiskey judging criteria!
It’s immensely relevant: too much added colouring in whisky or on politicians is a bad thing.