Staying hydrated is very important, especially if you like a dram or two.
Due to my heritage and years of tradition passed down through the generations, I enjoy drinking water, but only if it has been boiled and cooled down. My preferred temperature is probably around 37 °C, not too warm, not too cold; it is just right!
Chinese people believe that drinking warm water aids digestion and balances your body’s yin and yang. Whether this is true, or if they simply boil water to make it safe to drink, can be debated. Perhaps it is just an Eastern parallel to the well-documented Western practice of regularly drinking beer/gin/whisky etc., as water was quite unsanitary back in the day.
When it comes to water and whisky, we all have our own preferences. I am known never to add any to my glass, but I have been told that adding a splash opens up a bouquet of flavours. There are many different factors involved in taste and the volatility of the various component flavours, as well as in how they may be held or released.
This reminds me of the time I met Drew Mayville, master blender of Buffalo Trace. He described how, when batching barrels for new releases, he and his team will sit with whiskies and continue to add water until they completely fall apart, just to see how the liquid changes in terms of flavour, texture and other factors. This approach makes sense to me: adding water bit by bit simply doesn’t dilute all the flavours equally as you go along. Some may be muted as the alcohol strength drops, but at the same time, others will be enhanced.
One of the reasons I don’t add water is also probably because I do feel I manage to pick out most of the aromas and flavours without it. I am actually afraid that if I added water, the time it would take (I already spend at least an hour on each dram) and the length of my tasting notes could double. For the sake of myself and my readers, I will spare us!
Research on the internet suggests the best water to add to your whisky is the water you would usually drink. If you have a preferred bottled water brand, or you favour your own kitchen tap, then that would probably be your best option. The reasoning behind this is that you are accustomed to that taste. Essentially any type of water you add will open up the flavours, but due to the different compounds in different areas, it will also alter the flavour slightly. This is why I am not a fan of adding any to my whisky. Personally, I often can taste chlorine and a weird sweetness in tap water, but boiling it does seem to take those flavours away.
Today I am reviewing whiskies sent to both Jason and I through James at Morrison Scotch Whisky Distillers. Formerly known as Morrison & Mackay, they underwent another rebranding in October 2020. If you would like to find out more, Jason’s recent piece was an interview with this indie bottler wherein you will find out all of the gossip.
One thing I can always rely on is that Jason will add water to his whisky to see if it opens up, and since I don’t, I was interested to see how it affected our tasting notes and scores. With that, let’s get to our impressions of these new expressions… Be warned, though: there are eight sets of tasting notes to follow!
Old Perth Original, 46% – Jason’s review
Colour: Bashed gold.
On the nose: A malty arrival, pleasing and inoffensive with more substance than your supermarket fodder. Familiar aromas of rich toffee, cracked walnuts and honey. Echoes of sitting in an old leather chair with polished wood and a dusty book. Perhaps a comforting dram? Some orange zest and chocolate persist. Adding water brings out a touch a smoke, vanilla and more nuttiness.
In the mouth: a tinge of alcohol hints at its youthful nature, but this passes quickly. A fairly straightforward dram with dried fruits, honey, leather and an earthy characteristic in places. Subtle and inoffensive. A splash of water isn’t hugely beneficial, bringing out more woody elements. Overall, 46% seems right.
Old Perth Cask Strength, 58.6% – Jason’s Review
On the nose: Quite full-bodied with honeycomb, orange zest, rust and almonds. This is more lively than the 46%, featuring ginger root, cloves, used tea leaves and black peppercorns. Again, I didn’t feel water was hugely beneficial. I preferred it without.
In the mouth: Here’s where it comes alive more with a much-improved texture. Fulsome, oily and tangy. Plenty to appreciate here. More of those leathery notes with orange, malty toffee, black peppercorns and tobacco. The addition of water reveals more of that oily texture, wood spices, vanilla and ultimately, a satisfying dram.
These are pretty close ultimately if you factor in the price, the entry level bouncing nearer £30, and the cask strength variant just over £40. Both are approachable and fall into that one-more-dram easy drinking scenario. For its price point and what it provides, I’d actually see myself picking up the 46% variant quite easily. Not to slight the cask strength, which does offer more redemption, but I have plenty of cask strength whiskies on the table. Sometimes value wins us over.
Old Perth Original, 46% – Dora’s Review
On the nose: This liquid is sweet and fruity with marmalade and stewed fruit crumble; malty oats full of honey, thick toffee and gooey caramel. Vanilla adds to the sweetness but is muted with the aromas of warm printer paper and a light dusting of talcum powder in between the pages. There is a certain floral quality to the nose that hints at lipstick with violet flowers and candle waxiness.
In the mouth: There are toffee and honeyed notes. Dried fruit such as cubed sugared apricot and peels give a sweet bitterness. The mouthfeel is woody and clean with hints of tannins; though the whisky is a bit drying, a film of oil remains on the sides of the tongue, and there is a bit of viscosity to chew on. Icing sugar and white grape juice is also present with raw bread dough. Medium-lasting finish with that icing sugar sweetness, but a bitterness is present throughout. Initially I thought I detected a hint of rubber, but it doesn’t quite materialise.
Old Perth Cask Strength, 58.6% – Dora’s Review
On the nose: Candies reminding me of orange rinds and icing sugar. White pepper tickle with watery strawberries drizzled with light honey and flat orangeade. Caramel and toffee covered oats with sporadic chocolate flashes. As the liquid oxidises, hints of pungent tinned pineapple juice are present. Crunchy Bars where, every so often, the honeycomb within gives off a burnt sugar note.
In the mouth: Sweet with golden syrup and vanilla. White and black pepper are present with deeper hot ginger root burning sensations. The mouthfeel is both oily and viscous, but with tannins and a woodiness that makes it a little bit drying. Sour notes from juicy ripe oranges soaked into some old leather and oak. The finish is medium to long with a black pepper heat on the back of the throat. This whisky is sweet and oily to the end, with orange-flavoured sugar syrup and bits of rind giving a little bitterness that goes towards dryness. Heat turns to lighter white pepper towards the end.
Sweetness and oils carry these whiskies nicely. Both are tasty drams, but trying them side by side, the cask strength steals it, as it is to my preference. It has a deeper and more complex flavour, and the mouthfeel is much more pleasing. Interesting notes on both, especially with the 46%; the lipstick aroma was a first for me, but not off-putting. It actually had me picturing twisting open a lipstick to reveal its bright red contents, like how I used to play with my mother’s or sister’s makeup bag. Originally, when I sensed the lipstick flavour, I had to google what that scent was; now I can use waxy and floral sweet violets as a tasting note in the future. I have always been a fan of Old Perth, and this is not the first review I have done; again, these drams did not disappoint. I will happily sip these, and I do believe both represent pretty good value.
Mac-Talla Terra NAS, 46% – Jason’s review
Colour: Slightly peated water.
On the nose: Peat, brine, saline and a very clean and approachable arrival. Kindling, lime peel and blanched almonds. Bacon lardons and dirty vanilla. Adding water brings out more freshness, citrus, worn shoes and more bacon fat.
In the mouth: Coastal peat, nicely restrained and salted popcorn. Peanuts, more brine, cask char apples and salt. The addition of water showcases peppery, embers and smoked haddock.
Mac-Talla Mara Cask Strength, 58.2% – Jason’s review
Colour: As above.
On the nose: More citrus, definition and alcohol than the NAS. Apple peel, saline, kiwi fruit and creamier. Some smoke, and it feels more dense and oily. Cream crackers, vanilla, baked pastry and a minty freshness. Adding water is successful; now it’s a more creamy vanilla, cotton sheets, less peaty, ham hock and spent gunpowder.
In the mouth: A lovely oily texture, very pleasing with an earthy peat and fag ash. Driftwood, liquorice and adding water turns things tangy, with more peat now, and grapefruit and lemon.
Difficult to pick a favourite here. Both are well-priced and delivered. I’d reach for the NAS as an everyday option that doesn’t take much focus, whereas the cask strength does demand a more thoughtful approach. It can obviously take water and you can play with it a little more, but it isn’t uncouth or rugged. As you’d expect from Islay, these whiskies are of good quality, but the challenge will be establishing their presence in a competitive market with so many island options already out there. The pricing of these offerings is a good start, and if you do purchase a bottle, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Mac-Talla Terra NAS, 46% – Dora’s review
Colour: Fino sherry
On the nose: Sweet and smoked wet wood initially. A malted oat flavour appears splashed with salty brine. Fresh citrus peel and a lactic creaminess is present. Icing sugar with wafers, reminding me of an ice-cream truck with the scent of creamy vanilla cones and stale cigarette smoke in the dry sunny air. A handful of smoky barley you get to sniff at some distillery tours, with straw and sawdust in the air. I detect lemon sherbet without the fizz and the scent of walking along a salty, pebbled beach.
In the mouth: Sweet and drying with icing sugar and wood smoke. The mouthfeel is oily and viscous, and there is a feeling as if you have just sampled a smoked slice of lemon. Very slightly bitter with salt and oat flavours. The icing sugar becomes sugar syrup with a dusting of very light white pepper. As it oxidises, the sweetness is like white grapes with a slightly aromatic hint akin to uncracked stale Sichuan peppercorns. There is also a hint of funk to the whisky. The finish is short, with a light white pepper linger and bitter hints. The spirit is drying, despite how oily it was initially. Watered-down oats mix with ashy cigarette funk reminding me of an 80’s ice cream truck.
Mac-Talla Mara Cask Strength, 58.2% – Dora’s review
Colour: Fino sherry
On the nose: This has a sappy quality to it. Smoky and dry, bonfires down at an allotment. Prickly white pepper sweetened with honey and icing sugar. There is an estery sweetness akin to citrus-flavoured travel sweets. An aroma of clean air with a waft of sea spray plays on the senses. It is alcoholic and oaky, giving off a sharp wood spice note. Smoked kippers paired with red sweetened grapefruit and yuzu.
In the mouth: Salty and very sweet initially. Smoky pears and white grapes dusted with both white and black pepper. The mouthfeel is oily and viscous, but there is chilli spice on the throat. Tannic with a hint of bitterness with that smoky dryness. Smoked ham comes to mind; a bit savoury, like honey-glazed gammon, perhaps. A dish of citrus rinds atop smoked porridge with a curl of melting butter sweetened with fondant sugar. Those travel sweeties from the nose translate through with the fruity citrus sweetie flavours. The finish is medium to long with a smoky chilli burn. The liquid leaves a dry feeling on the teeth like eating powdery-skinned grapes. Bitter ashy notes and woody smoked citrus to the end.
I often struggle with peated whiskies these days; they can give me a sour feeling in my stomach, which is obviously not pleasant. However, both of these were not too bad, I think because they were not too heavy on the tart citrus notes. If I had to pick, I would choose the 46% expression. The lower ABV was kinder to my somewhat sensitive senses! They are evenly matched, but the only downfall I felt was the dry ashy feeling towards the finish. I am not a fan of this, but that could just be because I generally sway away from peated whiskies. Again, both of these are good value for money and could make a fine staple for the whisky cupboard, especially if you like a dose of Islay peat with your whisky.
I have always been surprised with how similar the tasting notes and scores can be with certain writers and, more often than not, Jason and mine are roughly the same. Today, the results are no different, as you can see. Usually, I would submit my piece and any other notes would be added during the editing process, so I would see the final result along with all of the readers on the publication date. To be on the safe side and to ensure this review would make sense, I asked for Jason’s tasting notes and conclusions in advance so I could add them in myself. Thankfully, after comparing both of our notes, it seems my plan worked out just as I had predicted. Very, very similar and the same scores to boot.
The other thing I was obviously banking on was that he would add water to his drams. Jason’s conclusions suggest that adding water did open up more flavours for some but wasn’t necessarily beneficial throughout. If I had added water to my cask strength Islay, would I have enjoyed it more? Maybe I should have a glass of cooled-down boiled water just for that purpose next time! Though as you can see, with or without water, you can reach the same result, so enjoy your whisky however you like!
Whisky courtesy of Morrison which, as always, does not affect our reviews or scoring. Photos Courtesy of the Whisky Exchange and Whisky Online