Straight from my office desk. Straight outta Fife, if you prefer. A complete jumble of bottles, samples, books and scribbled notes. I’ve braved this disorganised chaos to pluck out some worthy topic starters. Needless to say, this article goes out to all those that have sent me samples and I just haven’t had the opportunity to get around to such things until now.

A little housekeeping is in order, as well as an apology. Recently, I’ve been freeing up time. Less chasing of releases, fewer things to do around here. A little more me-time if you prefer. An opportunity to kick back with a random clutch of drams and see where they take us. Pick up a book, put some vinyl on the record player and drift away from the routine of things. Lately, we’ve all been stuck in that Groundhog Day scenario; 12 months of confinement and needing the promise of an escape, or break from that predictable itinerary.

So, my thanks to those who provided the whiskies below. The journey that we’re about to embark on is one of a random nature. A mere handful to take us on a voyage of discovery and hopefully some gold at the end of that rainbow.

Let’s start with a distillery I was writing about ages ago now. Those enjoyable distillery exclusives are consigned to history, but Deanston is firmly placed on the radar of many enthusiasts. And what a fine dram it can be with a little care, attention and faithful presentation.

Signatory Deanston 2008 TWE – review

This 11 year old is bottled at a mighty 66.6% strength from cask #900075, which was a 1st fill sherry cask. Expect to pay £79.95 for this release.

Colour: bashed copper.

On the nose: a rich assortment, but lacking the tinge of alcohol. Toffee, fresh copper bringing a metallic aspect. Gentled warmed spices including cloves and cinnamon. Fudge, marzipan, vanilla, figs, orange peel, Brazil nuts and almonds.

In the mouth: a pleasing texture and surprisingly drinkable at cask strength – this is no burn or harshness from a young cask. Leaving us to enjoy and appreciate root ginger, red berries, apricots, more orange and cranberries. Some toffee and liquorice with red apples. A sense of harmony and power, linger.

Conclusions

I quite enjoyed this and I’m of the opinion it’ll win favour with those who do enjoy this type of sherry maturation and might not have associated Deanston with such a host previously. Although, and there’s always an although with me, it does feel a touch too expensive at £80 and if you’re looking for the distillery character, this isn’t for you. However, as little as we do cover The Whisky Exchange exclusives here; a strong thumbs up.

Score: 7/10

Moving on, I must be mad opening all the Thompson Brothers releases since day 1, even swapping back their inaugural Ord bottling (which you never see nowadays), so they had more reserves for the bar in Dornoch. Regrets? None whatsoever.

It is such a shame really nowadays, we see so many of their releases on auctions or the customary hand shot over the seal on social media. These practices are growing stronger with each passing month as well. I’ll admit, my heart skips a beat when I see one open these days; good for you is my reaction. Although it does leave me disillusioned with whisky and where it’s heading right now. Namely into the clutches of those looking for a quick buck or a trophy never to be appreciated. I just find it all alien and somewhat demotivating. It’s not why I do this or enjoy a dram that’s for sure.

So, a rummage amongst the desk samples produced this rum funk from Hampden distillery, bottled for Bar Tre in Hiroshima. Maybe now is the time to jump into rum or another distillate? At this rate with all the secondary madness and hoarding, the only releases on the shelves might be Jura and a bottle of Buckie¹… don’t knock the Buckie!

Thompson Bros. Hampden 2000 – review

This 17 year old single cask is bottled at 55.1% strength and produced an outturn of just 185 bottles.

Colour: gold.

On the nose: that fruity funk, best summarised as rotting overly ripe fruit. A real assortment of prominent sundrenched citrus elements pineapple, mango and blueberries linger. Used tea leaves and all-spice come through, but this is a nose for the Hampden funk followers.

In the mouth: papaya, more mango and pineapple. A rich, oily texture that is full-bodied and lively. Brown sugar, a dirty aspect and loads of the Hampden rotting fruit with bananas and it’s just holding onto reality without becoming too foul.

Conclusions

You know, it’s been too long since I had something from Hampden, or at least, something that ups the funky aspect. I’ve noticed that such a funky decaying aspect isn’t for everyone. It’s the rum equivalent of sulphur or a touch of rubber. Fortunately, I do enjoy the characterful essence of Hampden when it’s upped and from what I know, this isn’t even the maximum amplification.

In summary, those Dornoch boys can pick a cask of rum so if you do want to grab a bottle when they do appear be quick. On a side note, if you just fancy a dram, Hop/Scotch in Liverpool often sell these things in a 25ml or 50ml option.

Score: 7/10

Now, for something completely different, as I’ll reach for a private cask bottling from Benrinnes – I must say, I keep wanting to type BenRinnes, which is probably just a byproduct of all that GlenDronach, BenRiach, GlenAllachie text in recent years. Pulling this one off the desk, reminded me that we’re probably in for quite an avalanche of private casks in the coming years. More of us than ever before own a cask or at least have a share in such a vessel. I myself have too many to mention now. I’ll have to write these down for my better half when I do pop my clogs so that she can ascertain what is out there. Although I do smirk at the idea of my former home being swamped in bottles on a regular basis. A modern infestation of glass vessels; perhaps a UK problem?

Cask investment is one of the more dubious vehicles doing the rounds right now. Something I cannot recommend whatsoever. There might be some good options and companies out there but it is very much buyer beware as this recent post from the WhiskyBroker outlined:

And it pays to do some research, as Whisky Broker posted earlier this month…

Instead, casks for future drinking, or splits with friends, is the way to go when possible. There are plenty of options out there and you can buy a split or tenth of a cask for a couple of hundred pounds. All it takes is some trust, organisation and a collective approach to enjoying the experience. Depending on the usual factors when it comes to maturation and bottling, your share can translate into a healthy enough number to appreciate over several years. It also keeps things cheap, as this particular Benrinnes was sourced via friends and came in at a mere £40 for a bottle. Mates rates? I’ll certainly be doing the same with my own casks/splits.

Interestingly, 2007, is an important date in the Benrinnes timeline as this is when they stopped their partial triple distillation process. This is a distillery that is big on flavour thanks to its production set up and the presence of worm tubs. I don’t know the specific date itself this style ended, or if it wasn’t until 2008 arrived? If anyone from Diageo wants to leave a comment, please solve the mystery.

Benrinnes 2007 – review

This 13 year old was distilled on 28th September 2007, before being bottled on 10th November 2020 from an ex-bourbon cask #310410 at 57.3% strength.

Colour: honey.

On the nose: initially dried firewood, creamy, vanilla and with a patient approach some coconut ice, caramel, custard creams and eventually some fruity aspects. Wood char, toffee/fudge and memories of a Dime bar. Polished wood, a touch of spearmint, mulch and copper. Adding water brings out apricot, more vanilla, a diluted orange and tobacco.

In the mouth: spicy and sappy, honeycomb and quite a robust dram initially. More wood spice, toffee, black peppercorn, some decayed cinnamon, gammon and adding water it loses that rugged charm. Instead, becoming more flavoursome with toffee, vanilla, honey and nuttiness.

Conclusions

I opened this originally in December and it was very wood spice-driven. Patience is the key thing in such situations. So, I put the bottle aside for 3 months to settle down, mellow out and fortunately the end results are impressive. The spice remains but its more integrated now with the fruits and meaty aspects we find in Benrinnes. There’s a lot to enjoy here for a great price, which underlines what I said previously about cask splits with likeminded individuals. Those looking for an investment opportunity should consider another realm. This whisky clearly is for drinking and thankfully so.

Score: 7/10

Hopefully, this raid from the desk has been a fun distraction for a few minutes. I’ve certainly enjoyed the break from the norm and wonder what other delights are hidden underneath all the chaos?

¹ Buckie is also known as Buckfast Tonic Wine. Originally created by Benedictine monks in Devon, England. It is now available across the UK and is seen at 15% strength, with its price point, a guaranteed way to drown your sorrows.

Hampden photograph kindly provided by Rum Auctioneer! There’s also a commission link above for the Deanston and such a thing doesn’t affect my opinion, as you can see.

  1. John says:

    Huh. I’m surprised you only gave the Hampden a 7. I had that when I was in Rum and Whisky Kyoto. I found it to be better than the Hampden Bar Finch I reviewed. But I’d still give it a 9. I guess our preferences in rum are different.

      1. John says:

        Hi Bryan, from my observations, the US is still behind the EU in terms of rum. And from what I know, that Hampden was bottled for Japan by a Japanese bar. So highly unlikely that there’ll be bottles there.

  2. bifter says:

    Thanks for the reviews, interesting reading. I have consistently found Benrinnes to be too hot for my liking, spice, chilli-heat, it seems to be a theme. I can only assume it’s something to do with the stills or the amount of copper interaction, or possibly the cuts? I’d like to see if it calms down with age but the cost/risk ratio is off-putting.

    And thank you very much for the Hop/Scotch link. I’ve been venturing into rums with help, I must say, from all the rum reviews on Malt. I’ve been cautious so far as I’m pretty sulphur-sensitive so I’m not sure whether I’m going to enjoy the likes of the Hampden hogo or the Caroni esters and have been keen to find samples somewhere to dip my toe. I know John can’t abide sulphur but enjoys the Jamaican funk so perhaps there is hope?

    1. John says:

      Hi Bifter, I’ve recently learned that fermentation can result in making a spirit hot. Something about making the yeast rush during fermentation.

      I haven’t had any sulphur issues with rum aged in ex-bourbon casks. Even the ex-wine cask matured Foursquares don’t give off any sulfur notes (sadly, I can’t review them here now). Perhaps this is due to Richard Seale having a wine background. So he knows how to treat take care of wine casks and does not rush in making use of them. Which is unlike certain Scotch companies we know.

      1. bifter says:

        Thanks John, I hadn’t considered fermentation but, yes, that couldn’t be ruled out.

        Foursquare use column stills as well as pot stills so I would venture there would be far fewer sulphur compounds in the new make to be removed by the cask than there would with 100% pot still malt, it may not just come down to cask handling. I’ve just bought the new Glen Scotia Campbeltown Festival release, finished in Bordeaux casks, so got my fingers crossed there!

        However, my concerns were more related to dunder and muck, which create those ‘decaying fruit’ notes that Jason mentions or esters, which result in petrol/new rubber. To me these descriptors align with sulphur-esque descriptors that we find in whisky – farmy/eggy or rubber/spent matches. However if you can stomach the rum but not the Scotch, then there must be some differentiation, maybe I’m getting the wrong end of the stick? I guess the only way I can find out is to try them.

        1. John says:

          The sulfur notes I get are more likely from the cask then the stills. From what I know, worm tubs have less copper contact. While shell and tube have more. But I get more sulfur notes from the more modern malts that use shell and tube which are influenced by ex wine casks.

          The dunder and muck add flavors but no sulfur. They might take some getting used to. I did. My brain had to “recalibrate” for a few days when I first had a Hampden. I love them now. They are damn delicious.

  3. Steve H says:

    Always interested to read anything about Benrinnes as the most surprising whisky I have ever drunk was a Benrinnes 10 year old (Hepburn’s Choice, spent it’s life in an ex Rum cask). I’m not saying it was the best I’ve ever tasted, but, particularly at the price point, it was truly fascinating. Perhaps more striking than the flavour, warm and sweet, was the texture, viscous and oily. As only 276 bottles were produced there’s no chance of buying it again. Anyone know of anything similar out there?

    1. Craig McEwan says:

      Fascinating, viscous and oily? Cask strength kilkerran 8 is definitely that, alongside the other odd and perplexing flavours.

  4. Steve H says:

    Thank you Craig! There tends to be little reference to the texture of whisky, so your views are helpful – I’ll follow your advice and investigate Kilkerran

    Steve

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