Tastings

The Dramble reviews Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Caol Ila 2005 14 year old TWE Exclusive
Posted 21 August 2019 / In Caol Ila
The Dramble reviews Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur’s Choice Caol Ila 2005 14 year old TWE Exclusive

Whisky is frequently described as being a versatile spirit – often this is simply referring to its incredibly broad range of aromas of flavours, or its application across a wide variety of cocktail styles. But, the adaptability of whisky can also be looked at from the perspective of its production and maturation. Whilst commonalities can be drawn across the methods used to produce whisky – the end results are far from the same. Some spirits work better younger, some older. Some spirits shine brighter in particular cask types, and some offer their strongest personality when delivered with the addition of peat. At the same time, there are whiskies whose inherent characteristics operate equally as capably under a wide variety of conditions. Caol Ila is to my mind one such whisky.


The Dramble reviews Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Vintage
Posted 20 August 2019 / In Tomatin
The Dramble reviews Tomatin Cu Bocan 1989 Vintage

Times change. Tastes change. And unless you want to get forgotten by history, sometimes your whisky brand needs to change. We see brand makeovers all the time – a change of bottle design, a change of labelling – both seeking to alter the customer perception to one of modernity and relevance. Then there’s a change in stock policy or a change in production methods – a necessity to reaffirm the brand proposition and an ideal time to reinforce revised values. And then sometimes there’s a need for radicalism – not just a cosmetic change, not just a redrawing of the narrative, but a wholesale reinvention.


The Dramble reviews Glenfiddich Excellence 26 year old
Posted 16 August 2019 / In Glenfiddich
The Dramble reviews Glenfiddich Excellence 26 year old

Regardless of how passionately you enjoy drinking (and many prefer the drinking to the thinking), if you’re going to put yourself out there as a whisky writer, you should endeavour to offer some analysis and critical thinking. It’s not easy. It takes time. But, whether you’re a keyboard warrior or a seasoned pro, doing the research and offering an objective view allows your audience to make up their own minds based around the facts presented. It’s simply good journalism. And that’s dying.


The Dramble reviews Highland Park 2001 17 year old Gordon and MacPhail TWE Exclusive
Posted 14 August 2019 / In Highland Park
The Dramble reviews Highland Park 2001 17 year old Gordon and MacPhail TWE Exclusive

When you’re continuingly sampling dozens of whiskies all with broadly similar profiles, there’s something to be said about giving your palate a more challenging experience. Whilst it can be useful to mentally compare whiskies with characteristics, it doesn’t half get tedious and predicable when you’re facing countless honey and vanilla-led Speysiders. Forming associations helps us both determine what we enjoy in a whisky and what we might expect from a particular style. 


The Dramble reviews Glenglassaugh Peated Virgin Oak Wood Finish
Posted 13 August 2019 / In Glenglassaugh
The Dramble reviews Glenglassaugh Peated Virgin Oak Wood Finish

Sitting back and waiting for spirit to properly mature is not the plat du jour that it used to be – getting younger stocks out of the doors and onto the shelves is now a commercial imperative for many distilleries. And there are a number of ways to achieve this: smaller casks; STRs; super-charged heavy finishes; employing peat and of course utilising virgin oak. Whilst you’ll see ‘new’ oak being used more and more in the production of single malts (oft times without acknowledgement on the label), it’s a maturation tool which seems to divide the crowd. Adding additional oak and sweetness (particularly to younger whiskies) can give them additional depth and flavour beyond their years. But at the same time, it can result in a pile of whiskies which all largely taste the same.


The Dramble reviews SMWS Old Fashioned
Posted 09 August 2019 / In Blend
The Dramble reviews SMWS Old Fashioned

There’s a growing symbiotic relationship in whisky which is extending outside of the bounds of the industry itself. We’re all aware of the connection between the US bourbon industry and the Scottish malt whisky industry – the former using fresh barrels once, the latter requiring a constant source of pre-seasoned wood for a number of fills and refills. A perfect rapport. But, there’s another type of cooperation which is growing in both significance and occurrence - cask sharing.


The Dramble reviews Fettercairn 12 year old PX Finish
Posted 08 August 2019 / In Fettercairn
The Dramble reviews Fettercairn 12 year old PX Finish

I’m often asked by my non-whisky friends why I visit so many distilleries. Surely, they say “….they’re all exactly the same, haven’t you seen it all many times before?”. Well, in technical sense yes – water, barley and yeast = whisky – and the processes of mashing, fermentation and distillation are common across all distilleries in their essence. But, it’s the differences – some incredibly subtle – at each and every stage of the whisky making process which result in marked variances of the end liquid. The minutiae of the processes operated across different distilleries *are* different. And they’re important. A change here, or a change there will have a dramatic effect on the flavour and character of the eventual whisky. To the uninitiated it’s easy to understand why things might look the same, but under the hood, there’s a reason why whiskies are different.


The Dramble reviews Kilchoman 2007 11 year old TWE Exclusive
Posted 07 August 2019 / In Kilchoman
The Dramble reviews Kilchoman 2007 11 year old TWE Exclusive

Of Islay’s nine distilleries, all are located on the coast save for Kilchoman. Kilchoman is landlocked – it draws 25% of its barley requirements from the fields around the distillery and operates its own small malting floor and peat kiln. As one of the first of the modern ‘farm distilleries’ Kilchoman has provided something of a stencil for a raft of newer sites who have/are converting farms into distilleries. You’ve likely heard of Ballindalloch, Daftmill and Lindores, but there’s also Arbikie, Aberargie and Torabhaig – all follow a similar model of adopting farm steadings (in various degrees of operation or disrepair) as a base for their distilleries.


The Dramble reviews Bunnahabhain 1968 Auld Acquaintance
Posted 05 August 2019 / In Bunnahabhain
The Dramble reviews Bunnahabhain 1968 Auld Acquaintance

Unicorn (noun): something that is highly desirable but difficult to find or obtain: a mythical animal typically represented as a horse with a single straight horn projecting from its forehead (farts rainbows). There’s no set definition of what a unicorn whisky is - to many it’s simply a bottle that has become so expensive that save for a second mortgage or selling a kidney, the likelihood of obtaining one has now become very low. To others, it’s the rarity of it - the Malt Mills of this world - the never, (if ever) sighted. To me, it’s both more than that, and less than that. It's a milestone on my whisky journey. The completion of a side quest, but not the end of the story.


Posted 01 August 2019 / In Group

The SMWS August outturn ‘Hauf & Hauf’ delivers 23 new single cask whiskies whilst suggesting that as well as cask strength spirits, we all should be spending more time with beer. Timely. And potentially dangerous. During this recent bout of particularly (oh god, my brain is falling out of my head) warm weather, I’ve certainly found myself reaching more for a dank and hazy double IPA than I have a whisky. Seasonality in the form of weather and temperature plays a big part in how we assess, enjoy and even desire particularly beverages. But, for those of you who can’t make up your mind, there’s always the option of half and half. Just make sure you’re looking particular studious - going in double-handed can make it look like you’ve got some unresolved issues.


The Dramble reviews Jameson Triple Triple
Posted 30 July 2019 / In Midleton
The Dramble reviews Jameson Triple Triple

There’s quite a difference between an established company introducing a new expression vs. launching an entirely new product and associated brand. A new product line will need to find a customer base – it’ll invariably be competing with a wide range of pre-existing companies. But, introducing a new expression will often be positioned as an extension of an existing brand – leveraging underlying reputation, authority and loyalty to improve visibility, boost customer connections and of course to drive additional profits. British information and data measurement company Nielsen suggest that brand extensions are up to 5 times more successful than new launches.


The Dramble reviews Loch Lomond 1996 19 year old Select Grain
Posted 29 July 2019 / In Loch Lomond
The Dramble reviews Loch Lomond 1996 19 year old Select Grain

Grain whiskies often seem to divide enthusiasts. Whether it be their reputation as blend-filler, or the simple fact that grain distillers are about as picturesque as petrochemical plants, I know very few folks who don’t have a pre-formed view on grain – be that informed or otherwise. I’ve always been relatively agnostic myself – I’ve tasted some tremendous examples (usually very well-aged), but I’ve also experienced casks which to my mind had no right being bottled as a single cask or even a vetting. That said, in many ways, the same could be said of single cask malts – you win some you lose some. But, I’ve noticed over the past two years that bottlers have started to try to pitch grain expressions as an increasingly ‘special’ product – often without the quality of liquid to back up the marketing.


The Dramble reviews Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength
Posted 25 July 2019 / In Midleton
The Dramble reviews Redbreast 12 year old Cask Strength

Whilst I’d posit that every whisk(e)y has a natural strength where it shines the brightest, I’d also suggest that this ‘ideal’ % can vary greatly – through the type of cask that’s been utilised, to the ambient maturation conditions all the way to the personal tastes of the drinker. As enthusiasts most of us tend to gravitate towards higher ABVs – at least to the point where chill-filtration becomes a moot point – 46% and above. But that said, we’re far from the bulk of the overall market – many is the time when I’ve presented a higher strength dram to a colleague and found that their personal tastes have inclined towards the lower end of the alcoholic volume spectrum. Not everyone wants things bigger, stronger and faster - and certainly not all the time.


The Dramble reviews Glen Scotia 2008 Peated Oloroso Finish BYO Single Cask
Posted 23 July 2019 / In Glen Scotia
The Dramble reviews Glen Scotia 2008 Peated Oloroso Finish BYO Single Cask

Filling my own bottle directly from the cask is always one of the highlights of any distillery tour I attend. In this day and age, everything is about personalisation – or at least the vague pretence of it – what better personalised (self) gift can there be for a whisky enthusiast than a bottling which you’ve extracted, corked, sealed and labelled (hopefully accurately after that 6-dram tasting) yourself? I find myself surprised when I visit a distillery to find that hand filling is not an option – it seems like a near license to print money – often its absence is cited because of ‘health and safety issues’ (?!?) – though more likely I suspect this is actually due to insurance – cask strength spirit being far from an inert thing.


The Dramble reviews Balvenie Peated Triple Cask 14 year old
Posted 22 July 2019 / In Balvenie
The Dramble reviews Balvenie Peated Triple Cask 14 year old

Since 2002, Balvenie have spent one week each year running peated spirit through the distillery’s stills – replicating experimental smoky runs which were conducted in the 1950s. By using highland peat to dry their barley Balvenie have achieved an end result spirit that is tangentially different to the coastal style found at Islay’s distilleries. Peated Balvenie, once consigned to the dustbin of history is now a fairly common sight – the distillery seems to be weaving the style into all of its ranges. But, the brand education behind these newer styles of peated whisky seems to be lagging behind the launches – there’s still a customer mystic which surrounds the utilisation of peat and expectations of its intensity and medicinalness.


The Dramble reviews Bruichladdich 15 year old Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
Posted 19 July 2019 / In Bruichladdich
The Dramble reviews Bruichladdich 15 year old Duke of Edinburgh’s Award

Unless you’re a devout fanatic of a brand (and there’s plenty of them out there), it’s likely that your preferences for particular distilleries and styles of whisky will wax and wane. There’s very few (if any) distilleries whose profile and output has remained monolithic over the years – managers with their preferences change, as do owners – sometimes bringing in more sweeping modifications. What is a thing today, was likely a different thing 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Over the course of your whisky exploration you’ll find points in time when the inherent qualities of a distillery’s liquid will align perfectly with your tastes. It might a single year (Ledaig 1972) or a whole decade (90s Ardbeg), but regardless, this fondness and flavour memory is likely to stick with you.


The Dramble reviews Bowmore 18 year old
Posted 16 July 2019 / In Bowmore
The Dramble reviews Bowmore 18 year old

Whilst whisky’s steeped history and long, slumbering maturation periods may give the impression of monolithic regularity – times do in fact change – and we’re not just talking about prices, but about the character of the make itself. Sometimes change is in slow incremental steps, sometimes it’s sweeping and dramatic – such as following a change in ownership or production methods. Distillate produced 10…20…or even 30 years ago almost always has a different profile to that which is produced today. Some for the better (consistency is arguably more consistent nowadays), and some for the worse. Distillery’s go through periods where they can seemingly do no wrong (read current Springbank), but equally years where things appear to have gone rather awry. Case in point - Bowmore.


The Dramble reviews Glenmorangie 19 year old Finest Reserve
Posted 15 July 2019 / In Glenmorangie
The Dramble reviews Glenmorangie 19 year old Finest Reserve

Age takes time. Maturity takes work. An overused phase often thrown in the general direction of stroppy teenagers, but one which still has some truth in it. Likely you’ve been in this situation – presented with a 20+ year age statement, but confounded by the aromas and flavours which feel like they lack the maturity you’d expect from such an aged expression. Tired, overused casks perhaps? Or just personal choice? In my head I have a fairly well prescribed selection of aroma and flavour cues which I associate with maturity. But, they’re exactly that - personal –based on my tastes and perceptions. It turns out its far from easy to agree what maturity is.


The Dramble reviews Kingsbarns Dream to Dram
Posted 11 July 2019 / In Kingsbarns
The Dramble reviews Kingsbarns Dream to Dram

Take a look at the numbers – 54 new distilleries were opened across the UK in 2018 (39 in England, 11 in Scotland 2 in Wales and 2 in Northern Ireland). More than one a week. Nine new whisky distilleries are set to open in Scotland this year, and according to Scotchwhisky.com there are more than 40 new and resurrected sites due to open over the next decade. That’s a *lot* of spirit. A lot of young spirit.


The Dramble reviews Santis 10 year old That Boutique-y Whisky Company
Posted 10 July 2019 / In Locher
The Dramble reviews Santis 10 year old That Boutique-y Whisky Company

The tendency to try to classify and categorise absolutely everything is deeply ingrained into human nature. Over the 200,000 years of our existence we have used classification in order to survive – this mushroom is poisonous, this one is not. Fast-forward to less hunter-gatherer times and you will still see this trait in modern life. Even within the whisky world. We compartmentalise bottles by comparing them to others - by style, age, country of origin, cask type, base grains, good distillers, evil corporates – the list goes on. But, whilst it’s helpful to try to contextualise expressions – pigeon holing can be highly limiting. Everything in moderation.


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