It has been said that opinions are like arseholes, in that everybody has one. In fact it was even said recently by a visitor to the site in their comment. To this you can add any number of humorous addendums, as crude or as witty as you can imagine. I encourage you to share your efforts in the comment section so I can borrow the best ones for future use.
I have been thinking about this topic a bit lately – opinions, that is, not the other thing. Like many people with more than a passing interest in whisky, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading the musings of various writers across the blogosphere. There’s a wealth of information available even just online in all manner of guises; it may be serious or silly, informative or entertaining. There are endless tasting notes, deep dives into distilleries old and new, interviews with industry players, resources on distilling and maturation, and on and on…
Some of these topics are more dry and factual than others, but there’s no getting away from the opinions and the agendas.
As a general rule, whatever you are reading or listening to, it is coloured by the views of the person delivering it. It is perhaps bewildering at first but spend some time parsing through and you can piece together some of the poles of opinion. This process, taking in a bunch of the thoughts and sentiments of other people far better informed than I, was (still is) a part of my whisky journey. When it comes to quite a few topics, however, the regurgitation of others’ opinions is all I’ve got. I haven’t actually formed my own, and remembering the difference between these two things is important.
I should give some illustrative examples. Were old transport sherry casks so much better than the majority of their modern brethren? According to many yes, but I’ve scarcely tried any of these whiskies. Has the quality of official Highland Park really declined so precipitously over the last decade or so? I have heard so from more than a few sources but my own experience goes back just a few years. Is all Jura really Satan’s bilge water? Et cetera et cetera…
Another topic that seems to garner plenty of comment and opinion is the prevalence of brand premiumisation. It seems that you can hardly move for whisky rebranding exercises lately. Inverhouse have been busy, first overhauling Old Pulteney (including a switch-up of the age statements) before moving on to Balblair, doing away with the vintage approach and instead homogenising the product line. Similar moves were made by Glenrothes and Arran recently upped their packaging game too. Such moves are not exclusive to the distillery owners; some indies have got in on the act too, notably Gordon & MacPhail.
So what’s my outlook on all of this? After a decent amount of consideration I have to say that I’m not much bothered. Business will tend to do what it thinks is in business’s best interests and, who knows, they may yet be proven right to chase maximum profits while the going is good. In specific instances I think it’s a shame, for example the loss of Balblair’s vintages which marked them out as a bit different, but apart from that… meh. I mentioned the word premiumisation and I get how that aspect can irk long-time fans of a brand or distillery; suddenly having to stump up significantly more cash for a similar (perhaps even sub-standard) product to the one you’ve enjoyed in the past. If that’s the case, though, I suggest you just move on. Seriously, there’s an ever expanding universe of choice available in whisky today, although I understand there are spirits fans who are subject to geographical impediments and you have my sympathies.
This advice may be easier delivered than followed of course. I must admit that when I heard that Morrison & Mackay were rebranding their Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited range I felt some trepidation. I have enjoyed numerous offerings from this range over the last few years. Like many other indies they showcase a wide range of lesser known Scottish distilleries – an ideal stop for those early in their whisky discovery journey. This was backed up by very reasonable prices due to the combination of generally younger age statements and some basic but functional packaging. Was all of this about to be sacrificed at the altar of higher profits?
Happily the answer seems to be, no. The new look is not hugely different from the old: a cleaner, clearer label and the addition of a card sleeve. Having attended tastings just before and just after the rebrand I can also report that the whiskies offered remained pretty consistent with more hits than misses. A relief for sure and I commend Morrison & Mackay for their continued focus on whisky fans. Hopefully it serves them well in the future, whatever it may hold.
I had a few options for a whisky to review and opted for one that was not necessarily the best on the night (that was just shaded by a 9yo Glentauchers) but was particularly interesting. This 10yo Fettercairn was distilled in 2009 and, like the rest of the revamped Strictly Limited range, has been bottled at 47.5% which is a slight bump on the previous standard of 46%. It is available via Master of Malt for £37.95.
Càrn Mòr Fettercairn 2009 10yo – review
Colour: liquid gold
On the nose: instantly there is a huge hit of white wine vinegar (this is when I learned that recent Fettercairn is known for its acetic characteristic). Along with the sour there is plenty of sweetness, notes of pear to the fore as well as some strawberry jam. An odd fleeting note of biro pen ink was in there too.
In the mouth: a little bit of a nip up front from black pepper. The vinegar from the nose doesn’t translate across, thankfully I think, and instead there is sweetness with red apples and a light honey. There are hardly any tannins present and it is not a particularly viscous spirit. This makes for a pretty light whisky with a short finish.
While this Fettercairn is far from the best whisky I’ve had this year it was at least interesting. It is still available online for under £40, so as well as interesting I would also add affordable. I am genuinely pleased that the rebrand of Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited hasn’t changed things too much. The move to a slightly higher ABV of 47.5% can be set against any small inflation in price, although I understand the reasoning behind it was more about improved flavour and adding a subtle USP in an increasingly competitive independent sector. To my eye it remains a range that offers good value especially to anyone wishing to explore distilleries that are off the most commonly beaten path.
Photograph kindly provided by Luvians, where this release is also available. There is a commission link within this article but as you can see, such things don’t affect our judgement.