Sometimes MALT contributors go to great lengths just to ensure that readers are up to date with the latest news and offerings from the world of whisky. Sometimes that involves hanging around the top floor of a shopping centre car park, looking well dodgy, surreptitiously taking photos of the first stage of construction of the Port of Leith Distillery.

It’s been a long time in the making. When I first met with Ian Stirling – one of the two founders – way back in May 2018, as obstacle-ridden as this journey had already proved to be, it was then hoped that the distillery would be up and running by Spring 2020.

It’s safe to say that they’d really have to go some to meet that deadline now. If the goddesses, looking down on the team, were thinking that it hadn’t encountered its fair share of obstacles already, they remedied that by casually planting a few more. With red tape and soil issues now overcome, we can expect the first spirit to be running off those stills in the autumn of 2021.

So all credit to Ian, Paddy and the Port of Leith Distillery team for not giving up. But then, ‘Persevere’ is Leith’s motto, after all.

Whilst we’ve been waiting for this (quite literally) groundbreaking news, the team has been keeping itself busy with building the Port of Leith Distillery brand. We’ve seen the release of their Lind and Lime gin available from Master of Malt for £34.95 and, ahem, their Oloroso sherry also available for £14.95.

Ok; so a start-up distillery releasing a gin, you say? Sure, it’s a tried and tested path in the evolution of new distilleries. It’s the obvious route which many have chosen to go down in their early years; the perfect stepping stone product which can help to aid the financial survival of the fittest. But sherry? As Ian pointed out to me when we met, there’s no money to be made in sherry. So why release it?

This is all about presenting the backstory to what will be the Port of Leith Distillery’s first single malt release. It does so in a way which not only taps into the team’s background in wine sales but also embraces the heritage of the port of Leith where many a sherry cask would have once lined the Shore. It also plants the seed for how the distillery’s spirit will be matured in the future. Marketing aside, it’s also about building a strong and lasting relationship with a sherry producer to ensure a supply of good quality casks.

Or perhaps that should read good quality sherry seasoned casks. And, once again, fair play to the PoL team for making that abundantly clear on their site. These casks are ‘seasoned’; a word so often omitted from the barrage of otherwise intelligence-insulting key marketing terms employed by many of the big names.

The sherry itself has been produced and matured in the usual way, using the Solera system, at Bodegas Baron, and has then been bottled for the Port of Leith Distillery. So this isn’t the Oloroso sherry which has been used to season the new American oak casks which the distillery will use later; these casks are seasoned with different batches of the same sherry for a period of a year to eighteen months. Those casks will then be shipped to the Costa del Leith to be filled with the first PoL new make spirit and left to mature until the whisky is good and ready to be bottled.

It’s an interesting take on building a brand and we’ll hopefully see future releases of bourbon, port and perhaps even rum from the PoL team before the first single malt expression is released. This insight into cask procurement does quite literally give consumers a taste of things to come.

Back to the sherry. In an attempt to demonstrate any in-depth knowledge of this, I know I’m skating on thin ice. Only three pages into Julian Jeffs’ simply titled Sherry, I know I have a fair way to go. Still, here are my thoughts:

Port of Leith Distillery Oloroso Sherry – review

Colour: it matches my teak coffee table!

On the nose: syrup of figs; prune juice; a lot less sweetness than I was expecting but there is a hint of Golden Syrup in the background; strong mix of basil and coriander at the start which dissipates after a while; slightly meaty or gamey throughout – my sister once cooked jugged hare for Boxing Day dinner and that was my original thought here. Incidentally, the family has since forgiven her.

In the mouth: a real tartness at the start; slight toffee notes develop after a while; there’s bitter orange throughout with hints of walnuts; prune juice albeit a slightly diluted version; tiniest hint of menthol into the finish; thankfully no jugged hare.

Score: 6/10

Conclusions

Not at all what I was expecting when I first tried this; this is much drier and sharper than I anticipated. That dryness and sharpness isn’t something I’ve experienced coming through in ‘sherry cask’ matured whisky (where ‘sherry cask’ matured equals ‘Oloroso seasoned cask’ matured). A side by side comparison of the sherry and the whisky will make for an interesting MALT piece in the future. That’s if our livers haven’t conked out and we’re still going by then.

Full transparency: Ian (Stirling) gifted this bottle of sherry to me yonks ago. There are commission links within this article but as you can see, they don’t affect our judgement.

CategoriesSherry
  1. Graham
    Graham says:

    Interesting article Justine.

    It the distillery site behind Ocean Terminal? Have they preserved the last steel building from the days of the shipyard? Or is that going to go as part of this project?

    I’m a big fan of Leith and the spirit of the residents, including facing down residents to oppose unsuitable developments on Leith walk. So any non-air bnb development is a welcome thing. I don’t tend to drink oloroso sherry much but have noticed the attractive bottle around and had heard the story.

    It seasoned casks?! As a business plan?! That seems like lunacy to me. I can’t see the depth of flavour and richness coming through in anyway that warrants the effort to sell he sherry as a by product. I’ll stand to be corrected in due course and will give them the benefit of the doubt. But can anyone name a great whisky matured in seasoned casks?

  2. Justine
    Justine says:

    Hi Graham,

    Thanks for reading.

    The distillery is indeed being built next to Ocean Terminal (currently renamed Porta – ugh!) and the Steel Shed has been removed. I believe it will take up its new home on the other side of the building.

    From my limited knowledge of sherry, seasoning casks for later use in the whisky industry is pretty much the norm. Even Macallan use the word ‘seasoned’ on their website. Not that I’m suggesting that’s an example of a great whisky.

    Just to clarify though; the sherry used to season the casks wasn’t then bottled by PoL. The sherry was from the same batch i.e some was bottled and some was used for seasoning.

    Cheers,

    Justine

  3. John
    John says:

    Hi Justine, this is interesting. I didn’t know sherry made in Jerez could be sold by companies outside of Jerez.

    Great to see a distillery not under Edrington get access to good sherry.

    1. Avatar
      Ruben says:

      As long as it’s bottled in Jerez by a bodega in Jerez, it can be called sherry. You can then put your own label on it. Think of it as an “independent bottling” of sherry.

  4. Avatar
    Ruben says:

    Calling it “another batch” is just wrong. It’s not a part of the same wine.
    Learn how a solera system works. And then understand that the seasoning is done with a much younger wine from a criadera (usually 2-3 years), not the old wine from the bottom solera row (5-6 years) bottled here. The seasoning is done with a “base wine” which would eventually mature further to become the Oloroso bottled here. A review of this PoL oloroso and more general information on sherry can be found on my website.

    1. Avatar
      Newckie says:

      i wonder if whisky finished or matured in other casks, like rum or port are just seasoned casks too? Clarity in the whisky industry is slowly being undertaken by some distilleries , however there is a long way to go in this regard so fair play to Pol for trailblazing their transparency.

      1. Avatar
        Ruben says:

        The label states “Oloroso sherry from the casks of the Port of Leith distillery”, which is not the case… Transparency you say? Still a long way to go!

        I’ve seen the mention “Port seasoned casks” on Tyrconnel, Famous Grouse, Midleton, Bushmills, Glen Moray and other labels. Same with Madeira. “Rum seasoned barrels” has been found on labels from Balvenie for instance. I think it’s fair to say 2-3 years of seasoning is the new standard for any type of finishing cask these days.

      2. Avatar
        Newckie says:

        As not being in possession of a PoL Sherry, I’m not in a position to argue the transparency or lack of it regarding this bottle.
        However, the distillery does openly say on their website about their use of seasoned casks.
        Once the distillery is producing whisky and labelling their product as matured in seasoned casks rather than the guff spouted by others, then surely that is to be commended is it not ?

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