I don’t get the opportunity to write about MacDuff too often. It is one of those distilleries that we all recognise, but don’t seek out to any degree. So, the opportunity is welcome and even more here, as it features a Hungarian red wine cask as the finishing instrument. I expect that’s a mix I won’t have the opportunity to experience very often whatsoever.
Wine casks are divisive instruments amongst whisky enthusiasts. Some deployed as a blunt instrument to remove the individual legacy of the distillery or the remnants of a poor cask. Then on the flipside, whiskies can be transformed into enjoyable experiences. It really is a mixed bag, where you are at the mercy of the distillery, master distiller and the cask. And then there’s the issue of information. Quite often you’ll see something listed as a red cask wine finish and that’s your lot. Nothing on the particular variety of wine, the winery and the gritty details that allow us to compare and contrast. There are some exceptions to the rule, as Bruichladdich where possible, hint at the provenance of the cask using initials and some distilleries will make a song and dance about the cask where possible i.e. Dalmore. But for the most part, it is a minefield and we’re seeing more finishes and therefore wine finishes deployed.
Part of this will be the ability to disclose the provenance of the cask. Many distilleries would love to highlight the name of a particular chateau amongst their marketing of the finest wood, purest water, local legend and interactive stories. You can go out in the case of Bruichladdich and unearth where the cask came from as we did once, but the distillery kindly asked us to remove the specific reference and leave enthusiasts to do the legwork.
Happy to oblige in that situation, it is understandable that some of these illustrious wineries don’t want their name and therefore brand, being used on a non-official product. It has similarities with independents nowadays not being able to name the distillery and having to become inventive to get around such a barrier.
MacDuff itself isn’t immune to the shenanigans of names, also being known as Glen Deveron and more recently as the Deveron. Built in 1960, it was one of several newly constructed distilleries during the swinging decade as demand for Scotch continued to rise after the ending of rationing: disposable income and more freedoms meant alcohol. Its main focus is the popular William Lawson’s finest blend, but current owners Bacardi have tried to give it some single malt status as part of its Last Great Malts revamp under the name of The Deveron.
I reached out to Anatoliy of Scyfion, for more details on this release and in particular the cask. As usual, he came back a great level of detail and the background to the label scene:
‘This cask came to us from the winery Apatsagi Pannonhalmi, which is situated on the territory of Abbey Pannonhalmi. It’s the oldest Monastery in Hungary established in 996 a.d. We all know that church and its congregation as well as the Benedictines in this case, need a wine. And they started to grow and cultivate it.
The Hungarian type of Pinot Noir wine called Blauburgunder. The vineyards are occupying 50 hectares on the St. Martin hill where the Abbey is situated. The cask was filled with wine for three times each time for 10 months. Cask is made from Hungarian oak. The Macduff was then matured in the cask for 35 months.’
Bottled at 46% strength and displaying a natural colour and non chill filtered, this release was bottled in 2018 with an outturn of 160 bottles.
Scyfion MacDuff 2007 – review
On the nose: chocolate, caramel, rubbed brass, orange, walnut and marzipan. Some red apples and tobacco leaves. Adding water unlocks more oils and orange freshness.
In the mouth: dried cranberries, cherries, a rubber plant, stewed black tea and there’s a sense of heavy and old wood. Almost medieval in fact. A strong, rugged red wine influence that the monks would enjoy. Time reveals a lighter side with starwberry and raspeberries. Water unlocks red apples, more pepper and kindling.
Spending time with this bottle brought back memories of the Cadenhead’s Auchroisk from a couple of years ago that was double matured in a red wine cask. That release needed time and patience, to let the whisky relax and the benefits of experimenting with water.
In some respects, the lesser-known distilleries seem more likely to be wine finished or matured by the indies. I guess in some methodology there’s nothing to lose? Wine finishes can be a double-edged sword and very much playing with fire. Take things too far and you’re putting trust in the drinker to unlock those secrets. Utilise a bad cask, as recently seen in the SMWS 95.37 Adventurous African Safari, and things can be too dominated and rubbery.
Upon reflection, I feel this release sits between both of these examples. It is verging on, just about, too much wine influence for my liking, the MacDuff/Deveron element has to fight to be heard. Perhaps 35 months was just a wee bit too much? As such, it is more of a double maturation rather than a finish. Although, if you’re really into your wine finishes and that influence, then you’ll be more than pleased. The fleeting rubber element isn’t unpleasant and I do enjoy that characteristic in many releases that you see from distilleries such as Springbank and Glen Scotia.
I know Anatoliy spends a great deal of time sourcing wine casks such as these and many don’t make the grade. From my time in Hungary, the local wines were surprisingly good and enjoyable. This release just highlights the potential that such local casks (featuring native wood and wine) can offer us as whisky drinkers if we seek out new experiences.
My thanks to Anatoliy for the bottle and the additional information.