My initial forays into Peated Glenturret were during 2018 – when it was first bottled by independents. These had me hooked immediately. In its purest form - Ruadh Maor – offers a uniquely irregular dive into a smoky whisky that is both off the well-walked path, but also invariably wonderfully high impact. It’s a challenging, tasting note defying spirit and a whisky that I find myself actively seeking out - and I’m here to let you know why you too should be paying more attention to it. But don’t tell anyone. It’s our little secret.
Peated Glenturret was first produced in 2009 when it was created as a component for Black Grouse. Allegedly named after a local, large red house which was submerged when a new dam was constructed, the spirit is produced from barley which has been smoke dried for three days with an intensity reportedly into the not messing around levels of 80-120 PPM. Those already salivating at those PPMs should be mindful that the distillery’s OB ‘Glenturret Peated Edition’ is only crafted from a percentage of Ruadh Maor spirit – if you’re looking for the full face-whacking, you’ll currently need to look to the growing array of indy bottlings – which are to date, I believe, all single cask offerings.
Whether the distillery decides to take the plunge into releasing the full force of the beast themselves remains to be seen. Ruadh Maor’s profile is highly lateral to both the current line-up of OB bottles and the overall image of the distillery. That’s not to say that it can’t or won’t be done – but that the intense ‘oddness’ of the spirit does seem to lend itself better to smaller, niche bottlings. I doubt that the distillate itself (when utilised in isolation) will ever hold true widespread appeal beyond the niche within a niche within a niche which is the enthusiast base for many leftfield peated whiskies.
Nevertheless, contrary to those who would say I’m letting the cat out of the bag by championing what I see as the qualities of Ruadh Maor – I do firmly believe that it’s important to do exactly this.
Whilst there’s potentially a sense of advantage in feeling like you know something that other people don’t – that’s both a strange (and lonely) method to enjoy a convivial product as well as a risky tactic for ensuring said product’s survival. Sitting alone revelling in a ‘secret’ might feel like it’s preventing the arms race that is increasingly seen for bottlings – but at the same time, without some level of recognition whiskies cannot thrive. If a bottling is only ever known to ‘those in the know’ there’s unlikely to be enough demand to sustain it over the longer term. In keeping Ruadh Maor under the radar, contrary to protecting it (for yourself), all you’re doing is limiting its growth and development.
Producers and bottlers are, unsurprisingly, highly sensitive to market whims and desires – if the consumer is clamouring for a bottling then companies will attempt (as much as is physically possible with the inventory at a given time) to pivot to meet that demand. As such, wider recognition of Ruadh Maor is likely to result in an increasingly number of bottlings of it. Something I’d be completely grateful for. Once again – let’s think about the profile of this whisky (or read on if you’ve yet to experience it) – Ruadh Maor is unorthodox and sometimes taxing – you’re not going to see it in your supermarket in its purest form – you’re not going to see it as a staple at whisky club tasting tables. Whether championed or not, it will always remain something of an underground malt. But I for one would welcome maor of it.
Chorlton Whisky’s Ruadh Maor was released at the start of 2019 with an outturn split between general sale and a smallish parcel produced for the Hellenic Whisky Society. It was distilled back in 2010, matured in an ex-bourbon hogshead (#138) and then bottled at an impressively high ABV of 62.5%. From memory the cost was close to £50. It was an immediate purchase for me - and then, as I sadly often seem to do - promptly filed under ‘accumulation’ (too much whisky too little time). But its moment came last week…
Nose: We’re not in Kansas anymore. Roquefort and Philadelphia cream cheese are joined by brined olives, soft toffee, bacon Frazzles and a tipper truck full of aggregates - gravel, sand and crushed stone. Soft toffee and buttercream run throughout and are livened by lemon oils and gooseberries, whilst rock salt and kelp provide unexpected coastalness. Changing continually – vegetable stock, hessian cloth and damp carpets are up next, followed by a developing sweetness which somehow manages to combine engine oils with apricot tarts. Reduction doesn’t result in a “no place like home” moment – we're still in Oz - pickled eggs, crumbled chorizo, barbeque briquettes and plenty of damp dog.
Taste: An intensive and demanding arrival which offers density and a ‘kaboom’ of flavour. Sunflower oil and BBQ sauce provide an umami opening before lemon syrup and honey are joined by sweet, charcoaled peat smoke. White grapes develop, with asides of sugar frosting, before liquorice, and a building (but controlled) pepperiness makes way for burnt sage and scorched pine needles. The madness continues with porridge and oats conjoined by felt roofing, mossiness and smoked oysters. The addition of water might be felt by some to be essential here given the intimidating arrival. Fortunately, this softens quickly, expressing a new array of lunacy – progressively ashier with a cup of milky latte, lime juice, angelica and building minerality.
Finish: Very long and less ‘out there’ – fudge, honey and creamy sweet peat.
Chorlton Whisky’s Ruadh Maor offers everything I look for from peated Glenturret. It’s thought-provoking, shape-shifting and supremely complicated for its relative youth. The profile is not going to appeal to all – it’s wild, untamed and straight out of the bottle, delivered at high intensity. But both patience and dilution are rewarded here in equal measure – they remarkably offer yet more diverse aromas and flavours to explore. Another 15 minutes and my notes would likely be twice as long and even more impenetrable for a peated Glenturret newcomer to decipher. Too good to keep a secret.