What’s in a name these days anyway? We’re seeing more mysterious malts appearing in the market due to distilleries refusing to grant permission to use their name. The suggestion being it’ll harm the wonderful, heavily promoted brand. Huge longship hauls of Orkney whiskies are appearing on a regular basis alongside inventive ways of communicating the name in a roundabout fashion. It’s a new game of cat and mouse where the distilleries are missing a trick.
The trick being that the independent sector can enhance a reputation rather than destroy or tarnish whatever brand they’ve created. Let’s face the harsh reality and say quite a few official distillery ranges nowadays have slipped in quality and are living on past glories and clinging to that name or brand as the ship goes down. Take for instance Laphroaig which I’ve picked at random. I don’t own any official releases myself, as what they producing nowadays is some of the worst no age statement overpriced nonsense available on the market.
I won’t list all the reviews were have here at MALT individually but go take a look and you’ll see the general themes are lacklustre whiskies at ridiculous prices. That’s your brand and legacy right there. Literally going up in smoke.
Amongst these reviews are several independent releases that topple their official counterparts with relative ease. All of this brings about the suspicion that brands are hiding behind the name. They know what they are producing to order is a pale imitation of what the independents are delivering. Yes, it is mainly on a single cask format, but as Mark stated with his recent GlenDronach Cask Strength Batch 7 piece around vatting and multiple casks. When combined these can create a more layered and pleasurable experience. This is within the remit of Laphroaig and several other distilleries to produce. Instead, they prefer to drop things down in strength, bottle at a young age and throw in some caramel or focus way too much on the storyline and marketing. Why not get the final product right initially and then go from there?
Hence this mysterious Islay single malt from the south side of the island. A real mystery with the accompanying label giving us perhaps a hint to more informed and knowledgeable whisky enthusiasts? The label itself which I’ve shown to a couple of friends did prompt puzzled looks. Despite enjoying a whisky, many friends are happy enough to interact with the liquid rather than delving further into the history and origins of the distillery. Perhaps this is whisky-geek-domain stuff and their reactions did surprise me generally. No one identified the distinctive figure on the label and my father-in-law went so far as to exclaim who is that bloke?
In fact, it is Bessie Williamson who joined the Laphroaig team in 1932 for what was by all accounts meant to be a short summer stint. She never really left and during her time slowly took on responsibility for international markets before becoming the distillery manager in 1939. A remarkable achievement for a woman in what was a male-dominated industry at the time. A fierce protector of Laphroaig she identified its unique properties were not only in demand for blending but also the forthcoming single malt market. Some reports suggest she was the first to anticipate the demand for single malt scotch – Glenfiddich’s marketing team might disagree – but whoever it was is beside the point. She positioned Laphroaig and its acclaimed whisky in pole position to take advantage of the emerging market.
Bessie is worth a dedicated piece in her own right and hopefully one day we’ll do that right here. In the meantime, we’d encourage you to read more about this influential woman and her impact on Laphroaig and the wider industry. Thanks to Roy of Aqvavitae fame for highlighting this 1960’s television documentary. Bessie over time has become an inspiration to many and oversaw a golden period at Laphroaig that has never been matched by her successors. Her style and legacy no doubt inspired this label by artist Katie Guthrie for the team at the Dornoch distillery.
This mysterious South Side Islay malt was bottled by the Thompson brothers in July 2018 after being distilled in 2005. In total 217 bottles were struck from the American oak ex-bourbon barrel at a strength of 52.6%. The last few bottles are available online for £95 if you fancy taking a trip. Or if you fancy something different we’ve previously written about their current Crowdfunding drive that’s well worth your consideration and involves cask ownership.
Dornoch Islay Single Malt Whisky 2005 – review
Colour: a very pale pebble
On the nose: a surprisingly layered nose with a gentle eucalyptus and fresh seaweed. The coastal aromas continue with beech wood and brine mingling with smoked bacon, fresh crab meat and candy floss. There’s a chalky mineral aspect and mint freshness again that rolls into fennel, candy floss and vanilla marshmallows. Apple juice, a creamy nature and cleaning a deceased open fire the morning after round off an enticing nose.
In the mouth: now the robust peat comes through with dense autumnal notes and coastal influence deciding to linger throughout. Spent fireworks, mashed apples, hempseed oil and grapefruit combine. More smoke but in pungent haddock form with a touch of brine and chalk again followed by sea salt. Quite forceful and brash at this age with the smoke dominating towards the end.
This just underlines what is going wrong between the Laphroaig warehouse and the shop shelf? Not a sensational whisky and one that shows its youthfulness on the palate, but it has something to say with the nose being a stand out feature. The subtle nature of Laphroaig may have been lost to time but the modern day distillate is more attuned to the thriving peat market. The taste for raw power, the coastline and life inside a kiln are well served here.
My thanks to the Dornoch team for the sample and for the record I’ve bought a bottle myself.