Do you have a whisky happy place?
“Oh no” you might be thinking – a whisky happy place? Has the Aussie had too many drams before firing up the laptop and opening Word? Allow me to explain myself: I am talking about a place associated with whisky where you can go and immediately get that contented feeling in your stomach. Like slipping into bed on a winter’s night with the electronic blanket on. Maybe to you, it just feels like coming home.
I’ve read Malt Review long enough to take a guess at the whisky happy place for some of its contributors. For Jason, I think it might be rummaging around in Edinburgh’s Cadenhead’s store; or holding court at the whisky bar of Dornoch Castle. For Taylor, it may be the rush when finding an off-profile store pick to good to turn down. [editor: it’s anywhere whiskey and friends are -tc]
I think John is happiest diving down quiet alleys in Tokyo and discovering bars with only 3 seats (in my memories of bars in Japan they only had 3 seats) and extraordinary selections to sample. I don’t know Kat’s tastes well enough, but I get the feeling a trip to Trader Joe’s is all she needs. For Mark Newton, it must either be browsing Gauntley’s of Nottingham or, just as likely, wandering the fields of an Irish paddock, digging his hands down into the soil, and breathing in deeply of the earth.
My whisky happy place is a classic good news/bad news scenario. The bad news is that it is almost 17,000 kms away (that’s 10,500 miles for the Quarter Pounder with Cheese crowd). The good news is that at least I get to go sometimes, as I am married to an expat Scot and we travel back when we can.
I refer to the Edradour Distillery Shop, about 2 miles outside of Pitlochry, Scotland. The Edradour selection is well and good; to me, though, it’s the Signatory Vintage showroom. The team behind Signatory Vintage purchased Edradour Distillery in 2002 and the Distillery Shop is now split between Signatory releases and Edradour stock, leaning heavily on the former.
Pitlochry is about an hour drive north from my mother in law’s house in the town of Dollar. The first time we visited Pitlochry (in December 2010) I was quite new on my whisky journey. I’d been in an Australian whisky club since May 2008, receiving a bottle of month on an opt-out basis. My fiancée and I were heading back to Scotland for Christmas and took a trip to Pitlochry purely as tourists. We drove up to Edradour for a quick look; I knew so little about the industry that I was unfamiliar with independent bottlers and was miffed as to why there were so many bottles from other distilleries lining the shelves! I picked up a bottle of Edradour and was perfectly happy with that.
Between December 2010 and July 2014, when we made our next visit to Scotland, I had acquired several things: firstly, a wife; next, a four-month-old, and (possibly as importantly?) a better understanding of whisky. This time, our visit to Edradour was for the Signatory Vintage releases.
Our next trip was in September 2016, by which time our children had managed to multiply themselves, and we headed back to Scotland with a two-and-a-half-year-old and a three-month-old in tow. My three purchases from Signatory on this trip are captured in the below photo, with my wife generously allowing me to dip into her duty-free allowance (2.25 litres per person when entering Australia).
Signatory releases: 1988 Balmenach, 1983 Glenburgie, 1990 Longmorn
By the time we headed back to Scotland for Christmas 2019 (just in time, as it turned out), the kids were five and three and my excitement to head to Edradour was back at a fever pitch. I’d contacted the distillery prior to departing Australia to confirm that yes, they were still going to be open on Monday 16 December, because no, the Christmas shut down wouldn’t have started at that point.
Imagine my bewilderment when I pulled into the carpark at Edradour to see a closed gate blocking access to the shop! But no fear, there was a button to press on the gate to call for someone to open the shop. After pressing the button I stood in the falling snow for around 10 minutes. Eventually, I accosted a passing distillery worker who told me that management had decided to take a day off from the shop to attend to personal affairs, and she thought they’d be back the next day.
There I was: crestfallen, in the snow, trying to conjure up excuses to explain to my wife why I absolutely HAD TO take another day out of our trip to drive back to Edradour the next day.
24 hours later, I strode into the distillery shop with a wide grin on my face, took in the glory of the rows and rows of Signatory releases, and had a feeling of having earned this.
It’s a tough choice between just spending my entire duty-free allowance on Signatory releases when I visit Scotland, or to save some capacity for visits to the whisky shops of Edinburgh. This time around, I decided to buy just the two bottles from the showroom.
Signatory 1991 Ben Nevis 27 Years Old – Review
This was matured in a Refill Shery Butt, cask number 2381. 592 bottles were produced at 57.5% ABV. Distilled on 05 July 1991 and bottled 19 February 2019. This retailed originally for around £170.
Colour: Deep gold.
On the nose: the scents here come through gradually, perhaps speaking to the 27-year aging in the cask lending a balance between robust Ben Nevis Distillate and the refill sherry cask. I get denim, musk sticks, motor oil, green olives, mown lawn and red licorice. Nothing overpowers, the scents operate in concert and rise to the surface in their own time.
In the mouth: a sulphur hit that wasn’t there on the nose, with burnt matches and campfire coals. When that passes by I get green apples, lamingtons, grapefruit, aniseed and Earl Grey tea leaves. Burnt sugar lingers on the palate. Adding water brings out floral notes but isn’t necessary.
Conclusions: I’ve drunk my fair share of Ben Nevis, and perhaps even been obnoxious with my relentless championing for this distillery. This is up there with the finest I’ve tried.
Signatory 1995 Clynelish 23 Years Old – Review
This was matured in a Refill Sherry Butt, cask number 11236. 607 bottles were produced at 57.7% ABV. Distilled on 21 November 1995 and bottled on 15 May 2019. This also retailed originally for around £170. Looking at the cask numbers, a sister cask to this release.
Colour: Cottesloe beach sand in the afternoon
On the nose: if I didn’t get sulphur on the Ben Nevis, this Clynelish is more than making up for it. Nori, Sriracha, bonfire embers, burnt steak marinade on a barbeque, an overheated motor engine.
In the mouth: more sulphur. Your enjoyment of this style will vary based on personal tastes. There is more here for those who perservere. Soy sauce, wasabi, stir fried prawns, mussels and ocean spray, oiled decking. But the alpha and omega of this palate is the sulphur. Adding water helps tame this whisky and is recommended.
A few months after I arrived back home, both these releases were available through Australian online outlets. We are lucky enough down here to have Signatory releases reach our shores very regularly. I would never have paid the Australian asking prices. Converted back into pounds, they weren’t too much more expensive than what I paid from the shop in Pitlochry, but it is the experience of being there once every few years that is worth the asking price.
Perhaps you don’t have a whisky happy place. Maybe this is only my fanciful musings. Perhaps your whisky happy place is on the couch on a Friday night, bingeing Netflix with a dram. Until the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us and I am back on a plane to Scotland, that’s where mine will be.