Trio uisge-beatha braiche measgaichte Gàidhlig dhut an-diugh.
Sorry dear readers, I’m messing with you, and with Google Translate. What that’s supposed to say is “A trio of Gaelic blended malt whiskies for you today”. I doubt that’s even grammatically correct – if you can speak Gaelic, please do let me know. Given the small proportion of Gaelic speakers around the world, it’s probably not a surprise to you that I can’t speak/read/write Scottish Gaelic – I’ll save that pleasure for when I retire. I mention Gaelic for good reason though – today we look at some Gaelic inspired blended whiskies. But first, a little bit of background on Poit Dhubh, Pràban na Linne and Sir Iain Noble.
90% of anything is nearly all of it. In whisky terms, it’s the proportion of blended whisky sold globally more or less (total whisky sales are around 3 billion cases by my calculations, equating to 28 billion litres give or take a few million depending on the year and/or source). Now not all of that will be “amazing” or “great” we know that. To put it another way, quite a lot of it won’t be bad or awful, just not very desirable. But I appreciate the power of mathematics and in this case statistics. Within that 28 billion litres must be some good, well priced blended whisky, hence my determination in finding some. And my search has brought me to the Isle of Skye, and the indomitable character of Sir Iain Noble.
Sir Iain Noble was an entrepreneur, merchant banker and landowner who had a serious passion for the Gaelic language and its heritage. He spent a large amount of his time on the Isle of Skye, helping to ensure that its ethereal culture wasn’t lost forever, as it had been in decline for some time. His passion for the language drove him to establish the Gaelic College of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, an internationally recognised National Centre for Gaelic Language and Culture. He also allied his enthusiasm for the Gaelic culture with his business acumen, the results of which have left a legacy still felt today. He understood and realised that economic stimulation in the local area would help preserve the language by preventing a “brain drain”. So alongside the college, he established a hotel and helped develop the local fishing and knitwear industries on the island. I advise you to read more about the man here to get more of an insight into this colourful character and what the man was like. I must say I’m a bit of a fan, and the best I can do is paraphrase words written elsewhere about him.
Sir Iain was also a keen whisky buff and his legacy touched on the founding of a distillery on Skye – Torabhaig, which Adam wrote about a couple of years ago and Jason has visited recently which I expect we might hear about in more detail soon. Sir Iain was crucial in the plans to convert the existing 19th century listed farm steading into a distillery, even helping obtain planning permission for it, although he sadly passed away before he could see the resultant fruits of his labour. They started producing whisky in 2017, so we should see it for sale sometime soon hopefully. But the business venture I’m most interested in that Sir Ian founded (woollens aside) is Pràban na Linne, which he established with the chief aim of producing good whisky.
Pràban na Linne was founded in 1976 as a small independent company which offers an extensive range of Gaelic inspired whiskies and gins. There’s an entry-level (in terms of price) blended whisky range named MacNaMara – Gaelic for “the Son of the Sea”; a blended whisky called Té Bheag (a Gaelic term used when requesting a “wee dram” apparently, pronounced “chey vek”, not teabag) which claims to contain a high proportion of malt whisky. Their gins sound pretty good too; the gorse flower and the gooseberry gin liqueurs sound unique and interesting, I’m sure they would go down well in a summer BBQ cocktail or two. But today I’m exploring the range of “vatted” malt whiskies on offer called Poit Dhubh (pronounced “potch ghoo”) which in Gaelic means “black pot” or “illicit still”. Rumour has it the blends contain a fair percentage of Talisker, but this isn’t surprising given its proximity to Pràban na Linne, or vice versa depending on where you stand.
A hallmark of their ethos is quality it seems, with Sir Iain himself being an advocate of not using chill filtration, something which runs throughout their range. He clearly had a traditionalist mindset which appears to be practised today, so I’m hopeful that we might have stumbled onto something halfway decent at least.
To taste their wares I bought a miniature each of the Poit Dhubh offerings; the 8, 12 and 21-year-old (there is also a 40th Anniversary single cask single malt Poit Dhubh, but none of that today). Other malts are brought into the mix, although details are scant to non-existent on the sources of the other whiskies. These miniatures are in the usual £5-£8 price bracket you might expect. I tried them in one sitting, starting with the youngest and finishing with the oldest.
As mentioned, all Poit Dhubhs are non-chill-filtered and all are bottled at 43% ABV. Full bottles retail at £31, £36 and £58 for the 8, 12 and 21-year-old respectively from The Gaelic Whiskies company website, as well as other purveyors including The Whisky Exchange for the 8 year old at £37.95. Whereas Master of Malt have the complete trio, with the 8 year old retailing for £34.95, the 12 year old for £42.83 and the 21 year old for £62.95.
Poit Dhubh 8 Year Old – review
Colour: Dark Amber. All of these are exactly the same as each other, so I’d put money on e150 being present.
On the nose: Brine, toffee, oaky spice and typical fruitcake aromas with an underlying deep earthy peat. It’s sweet with plum jam, honey, stewed apple and cinnamon allied with cereal, malt and toasted coconut. It’s bold, punchy and has plenty of depth and potency. Time in the glass helps the oak come through a little more, with the overall aromas emanating strongly from the glass. I like this, and with time you can appreciate those layers and depth.
In the mouth: Oh this is lovely. It’s smooth and well balanced with caramel, malt, brine and nutty biscuits. The smoke teases and appears towards the end, bringing things together, with the finish lasting for quite a while. Great mouthfeel, it’s thick and coats mouth and tongue. It’s as big and bold as it is on the nose. Just my cup of tea.
Poit Dhubh 12 Year Old – review
Colour: Dark Amber.
On the nose: More peat and more smoke on the nose here than the eight. This smoke comes with stewed fruits, marzipan and toffee plus some vanilla and mollasses, but they’re not as seemingly harmonious as in the eight. It’s a little smoother and certainly richer than the eight though – more Christmas cakey than fruit cakey with a brandy-like note. There’s a theme with the peat, toffee and nuttiness going on between the two (Talisker I expect!) but it’s less joined up between the flavours. There’s some slightly acidic note – a slight soapiness, very subtle, but still jars the senses in an unpleasant manner.
In the mouth: Following on from the eight this feels like it’s missing something. Again it’s nicely smoked, more so than the eight, with wafts from a charcoal BBQ alongside brine, salted caramel and dried fruits. It’s less sweet than the eight YO and there’s more heat here too, it feels like a higher ABV than 43%. A pretty short finish and for me it’s not well balanced. My guess is something else has been brought into the mix here, which isn’t in the other two.
Poit Dhubh 21 Year Old – review
Colour: Dark Amber.
On the nose: The most sherried by far, with a big waft of sherry initially. (Again) we have brine, caramel, honey and dried fruits – dates and prunes – but the woodiness is much more prevalent. A whiff of peat and a lot of oak here, which adds nutmeg and astringency. Overall, the nose is very much like the eight with added age. Very similar in aromas, just delivered differently. Almost too woody for me – certainly woodier than I’d like.
In the mouth: Sherry rich, pepper, marzipan but with tannins and some astringency from tart redcurrant and peat with a nice long finish. A nice buttery mouthfeel. It’s smooth, well rounded and balanced, just not my favourite of the three.
Drinking these blends did bring memories of Talisker back to me, which is neither a bad thing nor a surprise. But I want to be more scientific – I want to know what the master blender has added here to move it away from a Talisker. These whiskies are similar yet different from one another. It’s a slight injustice to think it, but the question I’m left asking myself is how much of the “Talisker” character remains in these blends compared to actual Talisker itself. Alas, I wish I had a bottle of the 10 YO Talisker to hand for reference, as I haven’t tasted it for about 4-5 years. Oh well. I might run the experiment in the future and see.
Overall, all of these whiskies are pretty good. The 8 YO is my favourite here, it really reminds me of a JW Red Label from the sixties that I tried recently – that room-filling aroma you get. It’s not quite as pungent as that and lacks some depth in comparison, but it’s along those lines. It’s quality stuff. I’d like to see how the 21 compares with similarly aged and similarly priced blends. It’s pretty good, just not the best here. The 12, well that left me a little cold. I don’t know if my taste buds had been stimulated too much by the 8 YO before trying this one – it didn’t provide that same punch, unfortunately. It’s not bad by any means, I just didn’t enjoy it as much.
What I like about this is that we’ve avoided that acetone hit you get from blended whisky, which sometimes/often ruins the party, which brings me onto JW Black Label. Yes, the comparable 8- and 12-year olds are more expensive than Black Label, but both of these are far more enjoyable, they’re quality products. History and legacy aside, The Gaelic Whiskies are far better blends than any Johnnie Walker I’ve tried.
What I like here though is a distinct lack of pretentiousness with these blends and they showcase the skills of the master blender. They could have taken a decent Talisker and ruined it, but they haven’t. They’ve brought something else to the mix (I can’t put my finger on it, that awaits to be seen again in the future in a side-by-side comparison with some Talisker single malt). I like the fact that these whiskies are under the radar a bit – it might keep the price down. But linked to this lack of pretentiousness is that I like the fact that Sir Iain’s vision is still at the heart of this operation. Many of the big boys who harp on about “tradition” and “legacy” have forgotten about it and chased sales and profits over quality, and it shows. My concluding statement is that we need some more like Poit Dhubh. I look forward to a MacNaMara vertical in the future. Guyanan rum cask finished blends, anyone?
I couldn’t leave it – I had to see how different these were from bog-standard Talisker. What’s written above was ready to submit to Mark and Jason, but I decided to scratch the itch and bought three more miniatures and a quarter bottle of Talisker 10 YO (rather than the Skye, Storm etc.) for comparison to give you the complete story. How’s that for commitment to bring you a clear conclusion?!
To recap, my initial tasting process was as follows: sample the 8, 12 and 21 in order, one after the other within an evening, the results of which are discussed above.
In my second attempt, I changed things up a bit. I had a sip of Talisker 10 to get my eye in followed by the Poit Dhubhs, starting this time with the 21 and finishing with the 8. I did this over a week, with a day or two in between.
It was interesting to re-sample these with the yardstick Talisker to help illuminate my palate.
Tasting these again, I’m struggling to find a link with Talisker from a quality perspective. Sure the typical peat/smoke/toffee/dried fruit notes are there, but it’s very different. The single malt has had its arse ripped out of it – it has the flavours, but feels watered down in comparison, and is frankly quite shit really, whereas the Poit Dhubh is much more complete overall. Yet another advertisement for not using chill filtration. If I was scoring it, Talisker 10 would get a 3/10. It’s pretty bad.
In terms of batch variance with the Poit Dhuhbs, I couldn’t detect any difference between them. So, there’s at least some consistency there – the second batch of miniatures was from a different purveyor, but maybe they’re all from the same batch as they were bought at roughly the same time – who knows.
Overall, the Poit Dhubhs wouldn’t disappoint you if you picked up a bottle. The 8 year old is similarly priced to the Talisker for a full-size bottle, but I know where my money would go – on the resultant vision of a headstrong merchant banker.
Lead and 3rd image provided by The Whisky Exchange, with Master of Malt providing the 12 year old. There are commission links above and these don’t affect our verdict.