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Indy Bottlers All Star Tasting

The future is now. A change has occurred across the whisky hemisphere.

Distillery representatives have finally caught up with the possibilities of what social media and technology can offer us all. A by-product of the COVID-19 scenario has been the migration of traditional in-person events and experiences into the digital format. Already, we’ve brought you summaries of an online Bimber experience and an in-depth Adelphi whisky dive.

There’s more to follow with a recent Raasay experience, where attendees were able to talk to the main people behind the distillery project. Taste whiskies straight from the cask in the comfort of their own home and gauge the mood of a sizeable audience. COVID-19 has changed us all and it’ll change the way we shape and appreciate our society, and explore whisky. From an online perspective, there’s not really a need to go back: we’ve all adopted new behaviours and tried to show one another some overdue courtesy.

A good example of online tastings breaking down barriers is this Indy Bottlers All Star event hosted by the fine folks over at Royal Mile Whiskies. When they announced this glitzy array of independent bottlers as a tasting pack and online event for just £35, all 110 packs sold out within a few hours. I anticipated that this experience would have been of interest to my occasional whisky muse, Rose, who normally is excluded from such things, being based in California.

Thankfully, she managed to wake up and purchase a pack before it sold out. In doing so, actually paying more in postage than the cost of the pack itself. Fortunately, the pack arrived in time, by the skin of its teeth: the day prior to the event on 10th June. It’s exciting to think of these packs for any online tasting, making their way across the globe and uniting us all during these times of segregation. Why not reach out? Bring into your home samples of new whiskies and bottlers that normally you wouldn’t be able to experience in your neck of the woods?

Whisky should be about experiences. This must involve opening, sharing and exploring whenever we can. Not polishing, fornicating and such-like over closed bottles and their investment potential. If we can break down some of the regional barriers, become more inclusive of those further afield, raising the brand awareness and spotlighting some deserving indie bottlers, then this can only be a good thing. The full show is available on YouTube if you want to watch along.

Royal Mile Whiskies picked out a trio of names that you might not be familiar with depending on how often you visit here, or what’s stocked locally in your neighbourhood. The increasingly popular North Star Spirits bring us a taste of what’s incoming, while Morrison & Mackay tap into their impressive portfolio and Gleann Mor is overdue some Malt coverage.

With all this in mind, Rose and I pulled up a chair at 1930 UK time, or 1130 in the morning in sunny California, for 6 drams, and some insight into these bottlers and what they are releasing.

Gleann Mor Linkwood 18yo Port Finish – review

A port finish that was purchased already finished.

Colour: caramel.

On the nose: toffee, rose petals, a Turkish delight aspect and quite sweet in places. That sugary sweetness reminds you of floral honey and red liquorice. The port cask has injected its influence clearly. Apricot jam and apple strudel.

In the mouth: the port cask is less evident, arguably more integrated and only shows towards the finish with a cracked black pepper potpourri – whatever that is, but sums up the taste. Prior to that, you have an easy sipping dram with apples, a mineral chalky aspect, vanilla and a flapjack.

Score: 5/10

Gleann Mor Whisky Row Smoke & Peat – review

Chat was this is some Diageo stock with islands and Highlands featuring.

Colour: a light haze.

On the nose: industrial peat with elements of smoke, salt, earthiness but all light, fragrant with a clean style and no density. Lime juice, apples and Kiwi fruit.

In the mouth: there’s a lightness to the peat and coastal elements, a breeze rather than a raging blast off the shore. Caramel, dried bark, wet cardboard and a gentle smoke.

Score: 4/10

North Star Spirits Longmorn 2005 – review

From a 1st fill oloroso butt and bottled at 63.3% strength.

Colour: treacle.

On the nose: cranberries, blackcurrant, dark brown sugar, aniseed, some tobacco, rhubarb, star anise and Coco-Cola that brings in some vanilla vibes. A worn leather wallet, kindling, orange, bananas and toffee poking through.

In the mouth: lots of red fruits, there’s a fight for balance and some excitement as things wrestle on the edge. More cranberries, orange peel and liquorice. Leathery, coconut, chocolate and some oak bitterness, but quite a ride. I can see folk going bonkers for this and with a bottle I reckon, I’d join them as the potential is huge.

Score: 8/10

North Star Spirits Bowmore 2001 – review

Bottled at 18 years of age and 55.6% with 180 bottles released from a refill barrel.

Colour: caramel.

On the nose: an intoxicating mix of salt, mango, a rich toffee and a sandy beach. Some elements of tropical fruit, which is so rewarding and smoked almonds. I’m just being pulled in by this nose. The harmony that sings. Butterscotch? There’s another layer here: a mild Swiss cheese, popcorn, crushed walnuts, chicken flavoured crisps and Caramac.

In the mouth: so full of character with more coastal elements, less salt and bursts of sweetness with caramel, popcorn and honeycomb. Then the fruits kick in towards the end with those tropical green flavours. A little chewy in parts as well; a whisky that takes back to Islay. but dispenses with the peat and nonsense. Something for everyone: if you listen.

Score: 8/10

Càrn Mòr Ben Nevis 2015 – review

Bottled at just 4 years of age and at 47.5% strength, with an outturn of 900 bottles from 2 sherry hogsheads.

Colour: light gold.

On the nose: initial impression is that this cannot be just 4 years old. An intoxicating mix of honey, a little salt? Brass rubbing, Highland heather smoke and some fruit poking through. Returned for another glass reveals muted apples, wine gums and

In the mouth: a little more ok-ish on the palate and showing its youthfulness. Some cardboard, smoke, apples, pearts and kindling. A black tea-vibe, vanilla cream and some pepper with chocolate on the finish.

Score: 5/10

Càrn Mòr Cambus 1991 – review

This 27 year old grain is bottled at 60.6% strength, from a sherry butt with 515 bottles released.

Colour: golden syrup.

On the nose: not punchy whatsoever, vanilla obviously but some sherry influence. I’m picking up some rust, wet rust. Banana chews, but less pronounced than some bourbon cask grains I’ve had over the years. Fresh sawdust, caramel and chocolate flakes. Worn varnish and coconut. A light honey and an engaging nose. Pine needles bring a nice level of freshness and some paint stripper, or those strong felt tip pens that we used to use as kids, which are probably a health hazard now. A patient approach brings out some creaminess and custard creams. Adding water brought out some floral elements and toffee.

In the mouth: well, this is dangerous, as the 60% isn’t there on the palate. A strong wood influence, more vanilla and a gentle lick from the sherry cask – must have been used a few times prior. That lick comes in the form of a lovely sweetness; from cranberries to red apples. There’s just definition between the spirit and the wood. A moment of harmony. It can take water and honestly, I would rather just enjoy it at cask strength, but I add water to search and I do it for you. The texture is more viscous now and in some ways reminds me of an Irish whiskey. Not that blue bottle stuff, but the stuff featuring unmalted barley distilled in a pot still. So, what I’m saying is, keep it at cask strength.

Score: 7/10

Conclusions

It was good to catch up with Gleann Mor, hear their chat and spotlight some of their activities. Unfortunately, on the night, they were overshadowed by the value of Càrn Mòr and the bravado of North Star Spirits. Both whiskies were ok, but I just couldn’t see myself purchasing them online later that evening.

The Longmorn was the one on the night I wanted more of. You’ll see from the photographs, that sample sizes varied and fill levels. At least this wasn’t like some online tastings were 1.75 or 2cl measures have been dished out. You need a little more just to decide whether you really are enjoying something to make a purchase. In saying this, the Longmorn is classy and harks back to a bygone age. Big, bold, rugged, but with a certain style and swagger that wins you over.

The Bowmore is bloody good and that’s all I’m saying! If you want to experience what this distillery can do instead of the tepid dirty dishwater it bottles mainly as a core range, then, this is your opportunity.

I know some online have raised the issue of the price? You speak to any indie nowadays and they’ll tell you that the price of casks – especially good casks – is going up. This, in turn, increases their costs and the retailers have to make their cut on top. And casks with names like Longmorn and Bowmore won’t come cheap and when they are both this good, then, I’m happy to make such a purchase. And that’s the benefit of events such as this: allowing you to try before you buy.

I’m a fan of Cambus and it is hard to remember actually having a bad one. Take this release for instance. The cask has probably been filled more often than a Rolls-Royce Phantom (Tweed’s transportation of choice) and yet the outcome is still pleasurable.

The Ben Nevis is perfectly drinkable and pleasant, but it seems a midway point. The cask wood and the distillate are still sorting out their relationship. Neither wants to take the lead and you have a muddled situation. I cannot help think, given a few more years, what the outcome would be. However, this is priced accordingly and just shows at 4 years old what is possible. Heck, call it a London whisky and double the price! Solid stuff and I know it’s being enjoyed by many and rightly so. Given the choice, I’d just reach for the official 10 year old and lap it up instead.

All in all, a successful night and well-orchestrated by Arthur at Royal Mile Whiskies. I know that Rose appreciated being involved and getting a chance to try these whiskies. And as the retailer ships abroad, for those further afield, there was the option to continue their enjoyment, or at the very least expanded their knowledge and appreciate of what’s happening within the Scottish independent bottling scene. And in today’s climate that can only be a good thing, as we all need some positives right now.

Photographs taken by From Where I Dram.

  1. Avatar
    Thropplenoggin says:

    I’ve had similar issues with fill levels in sample bottles from one of the big online whisky retailers. When I queried this, I got a very poor response, to whit: “it’s just a machinery error. Unluckily, this sample has been poured a little less drink than the rest of the stock”. Surely there’s a legal requirement to give you the 3cl you pay for?

    Anyway, I’m glad you covered this tasting session, especially as those North Star bottles far exceed my wallet!

    1. Jason
      Jason says:

      Hi Thropplenoggin

      Yeah, I have heard of some online tastings only providing 1.75-2cl, which is disappointing. Samples are good publicity and with RMW selling these whiskies online the evening of the event, they can immediately result in sales and positive word of mouth.

      The NS releases are long-awaited, so this was a good preview opportunity. Both justify the price in my opinion, but I acknowledge they will be beyond the reach of many.

      Cheers, Jason.

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