Posted 13 June 2019 / In Group

Historical bottlings often present enthusiasts with a dizzying air of excitement and romance – the opportunity to sample and enjoy rarity, antiquity and a piece of whisky’s history. But, whisky is packed full of romantic notions (many of them created and propagated by the distilleries themselves), and only a few of them are actually grounded in modern reality. Things were not always better then, and the grass isn’t always greener when it comes to older bottlings. Enthusiasts possess an innate desire to compare the new to the old and invariably conclude that the modern equivalent is a substandard substitute. But in many cases, this is nothing more than a rosy retrospection.

The Dramble reviews Deanston 15 year old Organic
Posted 11 June 2019 / In Deanston
The Dramble reviews Deanston 15 year old Organic

Up until the mid-19th Century all whiskies were effectively organic. The development of the artificial manure industry (treating manure with phosphates and sulfuric acid to aid growth and yield) which stemmed from the pioneering work conducted by agricultural scientist John Bennet Lawes paved the way for fetilisers becoming an integral part of the global food chain. Grain is one of the most genetically modified foods – GM strains were first introduced in 1875 by hybridising wheat with rye, but have subsequently become commonly manipulated through biotechnological genetic modifications which raise resistances to pests, diseases and the extensive chemical treatments involved in modern farming techniques. By 2014, 93% of all corn planted in the US was from genetically modified varieties.

Posted 06 June 2019 / In Group

SMWS’s June 2019 outturn ‘Beautifully balanced’ delivers 18 new single cask whiskies – and a focus on food and whisky pairings, with four of the expressions being supplied with a suggested culinary accompaniment. In all honestly, I often find whisky pairings challenging at best. To date, I’ve found that whisky errs towards being complementary rather than providing a true augmentation of either the liquid or the paired food. No bad thing in itself, but more of a melding of aromas, flavours and textures rather than a fundamentally altered composition in the manner in you can find with a well selected wine accompaniment.

The Dramble reviews Ballechin 10 year old
Posted 05 June 2019 / In Edradour
The Dramble reviews Ballechin 10 year old

I was chatting to a chap last week who was near the start of his malt journey. It was rather the familiar conversation. Having discovered a taste for peated whisky through the common Islay stalwarts (Laphroaig 10, Ardbeg 10 and Lagavulin 16), he’d noted two things – firstly that his palate seemed to be yearning to explore ever increasing levels of peatiness, and secondly that he was struggling to obtain many of the more interesting (read older or limited ed) bottlings from the Islay distilleries. Unfortunately, so it was….so shall it always be.

The Dramble reviews Speyside Distillery 1996 22 year old Whisky Broker
Posted 31 May 2019 / In Speyside
The Dramble reviews Speyside Distillery 1996 22 year old Whisky Broker

It struck me as little surprise when Speyside Distillery’s owners decided to relaunch their whisky to simply ‘Spey’ back in 2012. The choice of distillery name is so obviously ill-advised from a positioning point of view that even the owners have spent a number of years bottling their products under a wide range of different brands – Drumguich, Glentromie, Skara Brae, Loch Dhu (replaced by Cu Dubh and sadly best avoided), Beinn Dubh…the list goes on. But, there’s the problem  - and it’s akin to a wine producer calling themselves ‘Bordeaux’- by naming yourself so broadly rather than capitalising on general consumer interest you simply cause confusion.

The Dramble reviews Longrow Red 11 year old Pinot Noir Cask Matured
Posted 29 May 2019 / In Longrow
The Dramble reviews Longrow Red 11 year old Pinot Noir Cask Matured

There’s a good reason why expressions produced by Springbank are so well-regarded and sought after. To my mind, the distillery is one of Scotland’s most consistent – rarely have I tasted anything less than ‘solid’ from the cult Campbeltown producer. The quality is high, and the messaging is extraordinary simple (that’s personally exactly what I’m after) – there’s no ridiculously contrived back-story, no finding of ‘special’ casks seemingly lost in the back of a warehouse  <yawn> – just good honest whisky with a strong and definable character. Gone are the days when Springbank was an enthusiasts Mecca – the word has been well and truly out for years, and it seems that nowadays I struggle to obtain anything even smelling like a limited release for the sea of new entrants.

The Dramble reviews Ben Nevis 10 year old Batch 1
Posted 28 May 2019 / In Ben Nevis
The Dramble reviews Ben Nevis 10 year old Batch 1

Managing expectations is part and parcel of being a current day whisky enthusiast. Along with inevitable disappointment (missing out on a ballot, not possessing the fastest check out finger in the west), there’s also the hype train - which seems to continually leave the station week after week with the advent of a new release. In part, this is obviously a misrepresentation - folks deliberately talking up, or scoring highly bottles they’ve already acquired in the hope of generating a higher eventual sale price (Whiskybase previously a mainstay in my own expectation management system is rapidly becoming a catalogue of releases….and propaganda). But then, there’s good old fashioned peer recommendation, which when presented without external bias is still one of the best methods for identifying a gem beyond tasting it yourself.

Posted 23 May 2019 / In Group

Festival month is upon us – from Speyside, through Campbeltown and ending this coming weekend on Islay with Feis Ile. And that means bottlings – limited edition, notionally desirable, chasey bottlings all ripe from the secondary market <sigh>. The good chaps at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society have once again launched (or in some cases are launching) a range of new releases to celebrate each of the three May festivals. The Dramble joined a live streaming event from the Ardshiel Hotel with John McCheyne (Master Brand Ambassador) and Matt Bailey (Australia’s National Brand Ambassador) last night to taste our way through five of the new festival releases.

The Dramble reviews Glendronach 2007 Nickolls & Perks Exclusive
Posted 22 May 2019 / In Glendronach
The Dramble reviews Glendronach 2007 Nickolls & Perks Exclusive

Our sense of taste is both uniquely personal, and unlike any other of our four senses – we’re born with established likes and dislikes. Evolutionary science suggests that a ‘sweet tooth’ is partly hereditary – a holdover from when human survival depended the quality of our food coupled with the mental challenges required to acquire said food. As early humans we thrived by combining a diet rich with protein and plant nutrients, but also importantly sugars – for energy. 

The Dramble reviews Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength Batch 010
Posted 21 May 2019 / In Laphroaig
The Dramble reviews Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength Batch 010

For no reason whatsoever (no, certainly none at all) I’ve been thinking about character development over the last two weeks. Stories only become meaningful when we can relate to them, and understand their changes and their motivations on a human level. Developing a sense of loyalty and attachment can take years – and mere seconds to betray. And then there’s Laphroaig – a brand which engenders some of the staunchest supporters I’ve ever met within the whisky community – but, a brand which has dramatically altered its course over the last decade. Can this be put down to foreboding, or just the distillery’s ‘writers’ plotting a course which we didn’t expect?

The Dramble reviews Redbreast Dream Cask Pedro Ximenez Edition
Posted 20 May 2019 / In Midleton
The Dramble reviews Redbreast Dream Cask Pedro Ximenez Edition

Rarely 24 hours passes without some form of ‘World Day’ occurrence being in observation. Some promote awareness of pressing, timely subects, others social-political action. World Whisky Day is rather more focussed on first world issues – I.E. kicking back and drinking booze. And yet, there’s something more to be said about a global celebration of the water of life than just photos of charged glasses – whisky is still seen in many quarters as inaccessible, overly-masculine and to some increasingly elitist. Whilst events such as World Whisky Day look to make ‘whisky fun and enjoyable’ – doesn’t the industry and community have something of duty to leverage the heightened awareness from such a day for more than just product promotion and celebratory drinking?

The Dramble reviews Wilson & Morgan Westport 1997 17 year old
Posted 17 May 2019 / In Glenmorangie
The Dramble reviews Wilson & Morgan Westport 1997 17 year old

The official rules surrounding the clasification of teaspooned malts seems to me to be largely nonsensical. Adding a tiny amount of whisky from one distillery to a cask from another distillery means it is no longer 100% one thing or another – and technically now a blended malt. But, if you think about it, any whisky that’s come from a refilled cask is going to contain elements of its precursor liquid. On the one hand we have distilleries dumping whole bottles of sherry into tired casks to ‘season’ them, and still being able to label and sell the result as a single malt. On the other, adding a few centilitres of liquid from a neighbouring distillery means the whisky is now legally a different thing altogether. But, of these two examples which do you think will have changed the underlying profile of the whisky the most?

The Dramble reviews Bowmore Darkest 15 year old
Posted 15 May 2019 / In Bowmore
The Dramble reviews Bowmore Darkest 15 year old

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” When it comes to whisky branding, I’d argue that this Shakespeare quote still holds true. Naming a whisky as ‘Bowmore Darkest’ generates more powerful associations and connotations around colour, aroma and flavour than if the bottling was simply labelled ‘Bowmore oloroso sherry finish’ – any yet, under the hood the liquid and the drinking experience would still be exactly the same. Whether or not Bowmore Darkest is indeed the darkest Bowmore is irrelevant – the power of the brand name stems from the subtle (and not so subtle) implications its able to convey.

The Dramble reviews Balvenie 12 year old Triple Cask
Posted 14 May 2019 / In Balvenie
The Dramble reviews Balvenie 12 year old Triple Cask

I read yesterday that sales in global travel retail (also known as GTR, because the world is too fast moving to miss creating yet another acronym) rose by 9.3% over 2018, with wine and spirits currently accounting for 6% of all sales. That’s a lot of bottles of uneventful NAS whisky. However, taken in isolation these statistics are somewhat misleading (isn’t that often the case?) – passenger numbers are up – up to such an extent that the individual spend per person is actually falling.

The Dramble reviews Malts of Scotland Classic 18 year old
Posted 13 May 2019 / In Blend
The Dramble reviews Malts of Scotland Classic 18 year old

As the French novelist Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary in case you were wondering) once wrote – “There is no truth. There is only perception.” Value is in the eye of the beholder – as consumers we evaluate the merits of a product or service based on its ability to meet our needs and expectations, as compared with its peers. Any concept of value is an entirely personal assessment – open to variance, open to discussion. Not fixed in stone. Nor fixed in time. We purchase ‘stuff’ because a products’ proposition (which includes the price) aligns to our individual perceptions of value, worth and importance.

The Dramble reviews Ledaig 1973 32 Year old Chieftain’s Choice
Posted 10 May 2019 / In Tobermory
The Dramble reviews Ledaig 1973 32 Year old Chieftain’s Choice

Ledaig is something of a rite of passage for whisky enthusiasts. Its innate spirit character is rarely far from what you’d consider as accessible – or sometimes even normal. To a non-whisky lover, tasting notes of burnt rubber, farmyards, cheese and fruity meats often raise more than an eyebrow. It’s not a bottle I’d ever reach for as an introduction. But, it you are a devotee of Tobermory’s gloriously perverse and idiosyncratic peated spirit, you owe it to yourself to seek out at least one example from what many have considered to be the spirit’s zenith – the early 1970’s.

The Dramble reviews Glenrothes 18 year old Soleo Collection
Posted 09 May 2019 / In Glenrothes
The Dramble reviews Glenrothes 18 year old Soleo Collection

Brand identity is about much more than a well-recognised logo. It’s about how a company looks, sounds and behaves. It’s about ensuring a high level consumer clarity about what makes a company and its products different, trustworthy and appealing. In the case of the 2018 Glenrothes brand overhaul, owners Edrington have to my mind given themselves a new mountain to climb. Whilst the change from age statements to vintages aligns Glenrothes with Edrington’s two other distilleries, and makes stock easier to manager over the long term, at the same time, it presents a challenge to communicate to new and existing consumers what is actually unique about distillery’s whisky.

The Dramble reviews Ardbeg Drum Committee Release
Posted 07 May 2019 / In Ardbeg
The Dramble reviews Ardbeg Drum Committee Release

Ardbeg is a divisive whisky. Its profile does not suit all tastes, and over the years my wife has developed a particular (disapproving) facial expression for when the heavily peated spirit in in my glass. Similarly, it’s divisive for fans - new entrants scrabbling over each other in a bottle stampede, piles of limited releases flipped immediately, and old-timers (who remember the dearth of production in the mid 90’s) bemoaning what they see as falling standards and an increasing number of streamlined, ‘beginner’ flavour profiles. And then there’s the marketing…

The Dramble reviews Tamdhu Fine Single Malt
Posted 06 May 2019 / In Tamdhu
The Dramble reviews Tamdhu Fine Single Malt

Exploring older whisky should not always be about seeking out legendary expressions and venerable age statements. Whilst not all releases stand as milestone moments for a distillery, there are aspects of every bottling that have something interesting to say about their creation and creators. Changes to production and maturation techniques, variations in consumer tastes and expectations, and adaptations to labelling and marketing – all of these can be gleaned from exploring older whiskies. Not everything has to be radical and revolutionary - every whisky marks a certain point in time.

Posted 02 May 2019 / In Group

SMWS’s May outturn ‘Whisky with character’ delivers 22 new single cask whiskies in advance of the festivals taking place in Speyside, Campbeltown and Islay. The theme of this month is partly about celebration (there’s a few more festival goodies due mid-month – and rest assured some of them are fairly spectacular), but there’s also a firm focus on now well-established Society flavour profiles. I rather like the new #whiskycharacters surrounded by small selections of aroma and flavour illustrations. They add a bit of colourful fun and will likely prove engaging for newer, less experienced members. Who said whisky needs to be dead serious all the time?



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