Heavily peated Glenturret is habitually dirty in character. And that puts it well on my whisky radar. The distillate style was first created back in 2009 as a blending component for Black Grouse – where it was used only sparingly as part of a much larger recipe. But, in its purest, unblended form, the spirit clocks in at a peathead attention grabbing 80-120PPM and presents a profile that is not only highly divergent to the character of the distillery’s OBs (at least until the advent of the recently rebranded range which foists some of these traits into the new 10 year old ‘Peat Smoke’), but that is also rather lateral to many of the whiskies being produced in Scotland today. It’s simply something of an odd duck – resulting from three whole days of smoke-dried malted barley passed through the same relatively small (12,500 + 9,000 litre respectively) stills.
But as we have seen with the increasing popularity of Tobermory’s Ledaig (begone...tis all mine!), the popularity of these niche within a niche peated whiskies seems to be growing alongside the increasing price and decreasing accessibility (from a purchasing standpoint) of Islay’s smoky output. Nevertheless, this style of whisky is, in my opinion unlikely to capture the hearts quite so readily as more user-friendly spirit profiles. Take a look at the swathe of new distilleries being opened (and not just in Scotland) – a tightly cut, fruity, crisp and clean profile is on the whole what is being produced – likely due to this spirit style offering appreciable and appealing character at younger bottling ages.
Some whiskies can sometimes take a little longer to get to a point where their character is considered more even and therefore widely agreeable. The time spent under the influence of the wood offers a purifying process – necessary to all whiskies – but particularly for those that contain a higher proportion of more volatile compounds. That is not to say that these whiskies cannot offer likeable qualities at younger ages – and indeed, you’ll find plenty that do – more so that those that are bottled earlier bring with them a divergence that marks them out as being far from easily understood and in some cases obstinate. What might have been a slightly dirty whisky at age can be frankly filthy in youth.
And that’s either going to be your jam or it’s not.
But whilst I do (likely infamously now) deeply enjoy these more courageously 'difficult' whiskies, their wildness and unorthodoxy is not something I would, in reality, want much more of within the current whisky market.
Whilst regularly using these pages to champion what I see as more ‘underground’ spirit styles, at the same time, I increasingly enjoy whisky shopping experiences where I’m not one of many thousands all clamouring for the same limited number of bottles. I’m long tired of breaking a sweat in an attempt to buy booze – and therefore have somewhat moved away from several spirit styles and distilleries that are judged as presently desirous to the wider whisky community – particularly those who’s demand doesn’t stem from actual drinking.
As such, favouring and seeking out presently less-desirous 'dirty' whiskies provides me not only with less wear and tear on my F5 key, but also with bottlings which I have no qualms or compunctions in freely opening – and then taking the rough with the smooth. Some have proven to be incredible, singular whisky experiences – others, amalgamations of odd filthiness, which whilst fun, I’d not be in a hurry to repeat.
This is only down to the whisky market as it currently is. And the whisky market is changing. Producers and bottlers are, unsurprisingly, highly sensitive to market whims and desires – if the consumer is clamouring for a bottling - companies will attempt (as much as is physically possible with the inventory at a given time) to pivot to meet that demand. And so, if more of you suddenly decide that weirdly peated, tangential whisky is where you’re all at – this will invariably result in an increasing number of bottlings. This can be seen with my beloved Ledaig – once my mainstay for judging the palate of fellow whisky enthusiasts – now increasing in wider popularity and under Distell’s ownership – in price.
Will we see this with Ruadh Maor? Who’s to say. But despite the spirit style being invariably deviant and sometimes difficult to fully comprehend, the growing number of fans bubbling under the surface is in my opinion not quite yet enough to see its unusual character truly break into the mainstream of whisky consciousness. And I’m very much OK with that – the growing masses of whisky fans not (yet) fully appreciating some awkward styles only results in maor filthy whisky for me.
Today’s Turret comes courtesy of Nik (@WhiskyFlu) who sent me a very generous sample – which I tasted wholly blind until after he’d asked for my opinion on it. Produced by Morrison and MacKay for their Carn Mor range – under the ‘Strictly Limited' series this Glenturret was distilled in 2009, matured in a sherry hogshead and then bottled in early 2018. 472 bottles were produced at 46% and an RRP of sub £50.
Nose: Sherry is expressed prominent – dirty sherry. Rubber bicycle tube sits alongside a roasted ham joint and a selection of air-dried meats – jerky, biltong etc. Leather seat coverings and tobacco smoke are joined by maple syrupy and walnut oil. Balsamic and soy provide umami offset by sweeter jams and preserves, Battenberg cake and a good dose of cordite. Reduction is not necessary at 46%, though it keeps much of the original shape of the whisky – bandages and medicinal wipes are added together with a leafy, moist vegetal quality.
Taste: Brighter in the mouth – with fresher sherry offering stewed berries, walnut loaf and toasted hazelnuts before a return to the dark side. Powerful peat smoke pervades all of the mid and back-palate with log fire, barbeque briquettes and heated ceramic fireplace hot rocks. Again, there are ample meaty qualities – cooking jus and burnt ends. A cigar humidor and sack cloth give way to intense wet earthiness from forest floors and damp cellars. Reduction holds the shape surprisingly well – still thick and impactful throughout. Ashy smoke with a saltpetre bite, slate and cooling mint leaf.
Finish: Long with smoked ham, shorter on the sweeter notes of berry and background chocolate.
This Carn Mor Ruadh Moar offers surprising intricacies that stand against its relative youth. Aberrant spirit character is something I consistently enjoy, and this indy Turret expresses it throughout. Impactful sherry delivers a griminess and meaty traits that largely eschew the well-trodden path of ‘sugar and spice and all things nice’. But at the same time, this influence feels somewhat heavy-handed, burying the distillate and bringing with it occasional volcanic motes. This said, perfect perversion is a very hard thing to achieve – and in the realms of dirty whisky, beauty is most certainly in the eye of the beholder. Whilst not flawless the broadness of profile is hard to argue with here.
Sample very kindly provided by Nik (@WhiskyFlu)