Scottish Grains Recap

According to our friends over at Malt Madness, today in Scotland, there are only 6 full fledged grain distilleries:

  • Cameronbridge – the oldest & largest grain whisky distillery now best known for Haig
  • Girvan – a grain distillery built in 1963 by W. Grant & Sons that has recently released a few age statements
  • Invergordon from Whyte & Mackay can primarily be found only in Independent bottles
  • North British the second largest Scotch grain distillery
  • Starlaw – opened in 2010 and owned by La Martiniquaise
  • Strathclyde – owned by the Pernod Ricard conglomerate with a few independent bottles out there

Yet this should soon be changing… with new distilleries opening such as R+B who put out  advance indicators of the style they plan to emulate… including a grain with their Borders Single Grain 51.7%.

Of these, our whisky tasting groups of Mumbai have managed to get their hands on:

  • Cameronbridge with their Haig Club 40% accessible, innocuous and frankly forgettable grain
  • Invergordon 28 year 56.5% from Douglas Laing – Think muted varnish, vanilla, salty sea water with roasted peanuts
  • Cambus Single Grain 24 year (1991/2015) Cask 55891 51.9% from Signatory Vintage – An absolutely delightful delicious and alas discontinued dram
  • Girvan 8 years (2006/2014) 46% from Berrys’ – Starts with a hit of pure alcohol then sweet bananas, some vanilla from the oak wood, lemon drop sweetness peeped out… all the elements were very subtle with the overall scent of light varnish
  • Girvan 28 years 42% – From a bio-chemistry set to sweet fruits, pudding, tasting like honey water, eclair and a caramel rum ball
  • Strathclyde 25 year (1990/2016) 51.1% from Douglas Laing – A remarkable nose that kept evolving – all elements nuanced yet distinctive. Whereas on the palate, it was came across as innocuous, something to accompany with little remarkable on its own.

Still to try something from North British and Starlaw… However not such a bad start to exploring this category of whisky!

Curious about even more grains? Check out this Grain’s page dedicated to just grain – in all its various from Scotland to Japan to North America and Europe!

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Talisker 18 year 45.8%

Last in our random session of Scottish drams, was an opportunity to revisit this Island whisky from Talisker – nicely matured to 18 years.

Here is what our Whisky Ladies found..

Talisker 18 year 45.8%

  • Nose – Seaside peat, sweet, salty, reminded a few of Douglas Laing‘s Rock Oyster, fried fish with lemon and tarter sauce, maple bacon with hickory smoke, lots of bacon, sea salt and iodine
  • Palate – Started by dancing along the surface of the palate, very sweet, cinnamon gum, cinnamon hearts, lovely sweet
  • Finish – Peaty with light cinnamon finish

Overall we found it was a fall whisky, think apple pie and autumn leaves.

Here is what the folks over at Talisker had to say:

Nose:

  • Rich and fruity – Victoria plums, greengages, perhaps dried orange peel – with some butterscotch or rum toffee and a thread of smoke behind. The smoke soon advances into the foreground and the toffee note is joined by a light mintiness. 
  • With water, appropriately, maritime characteristics emerge – dry boat varnish, edible seaweed. Still sweet; now with notes of iodine and the smokiness of an un-struck match.

Taste:

  • In brief… Sweetness and power, with less smoke and chilli than younger expressions.
  • In a sentence… Unmistakably Talisker; mild-mannered and sweet to begin with, then more assertive, warming and smoky.

Here is what else we tried in our Whisky Ladies evening:

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The Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask 43%

Gotta love how whisky becomes a world traveller. This particular Balvenie started its life in Scotland with the usual approach but then was finished in ex-rum barrels from the Caribbean. Then made its way to Taiwan where it was purchased for the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai, India.

What did we think? Read on!

Balvenie 14 year Caribbean Cask 43% (from Taiwan)

  • Nose – Lemon curd, caramel very spring-like, no question there was a rum influence, loads of rum raisins, dry fruits, nuts, chocolate, cloves, quite pronounced honeyed rum, after sipping and some time, it settled into something almost floral
  • Palate – Not as pushy on the palate as it is on the nose, toffee, mellow, then became a bit sour, then a lot more spice
  • Finish – Very sweet, ripe plums
  • Water – Don’t…. reduces it to flavoured water

Overall it was pronounced enjoyable. And while clearly part of the ‘standard stable’, the rum finish is a nice touch.

Here is what the folks at The Balvenie have to say:

  • NOSE Rich, sweet and creamy toffee on the nose combines with fresh fruit notes
  • TASTE Rounded with vanilla and sweet oak notes, with a fruity character that develops with time
  • FINISH Soft and lingering

Our core focus was a trio with a wee ‘appetizer’ blend:

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That Boutique-y Whisky Company Glentauchers 20 year for LMdW

That Boutique-y Whisky Company has crafted trade-mark labels and fine contents. One of our Mumbai Whisky Ladies picked this particularly bottle up some time ago and we’ve been patiently waiting for th right opportunity.

On the label you can see Thierry Bénitah (La Maison du Whisky CEO and son of its founder, Georges Bénitah) in the 1980s, surrounded by classic whisky bottlings and wearing a particularly snappy turtleneck…

Glentauchers 20 year (Boutique-y Whisky Company) Batch 4, 46.9% bottled for La Maison du Whisky with 327 bottles

  • Nose – Hazelnut cream, wood, almond, also some ripe fruits, maple syrup, oodles and oodles of butterscotch, a bit of menthol, green almond
  • Palate – A real tingle and oomph! A bit bitter, some sweet spice, caramel fudge and nougut, with a bit of tart sour sauce, berries
  • Finish – Spice like white pepper

Some loved this one. Others found the blend so approachable that following with this single malt was a bit of a jolt.

As this whisky came out some time ago, you won’t find it on the “That Boutique-Y Whisky Company” website, however can track down some tasting notes at The Master of Malt:

  • Nose: Fresh and floral with hints of violet and honey. Stewed berries with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Butterscotch.
  • Palate: Roasted chestnuts and black pepper. Apricot jam, quince and a whisper of cinnamon.
  • Finish: Sodabread with salted butter, floral malt once again, cumin and dried raspberries.

Our core focus was a trio with a wee ‘appetizer’ blend:

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The Appetizer – Ballantine’s 17 year Glentauchers 40%

When one of our Whisky Ladies mentioned she would be bringing a special 20 year old Glentauchers bottled by that Boutique-y Whisky Company for La Maison du Whisky, I suddenly remembered I had an old small bottle of a series presented by Ballentine’s to show off the respective character of key elements in their blend.

So pulled it out, dusted it off and hoped it wouldn’t be completely oxidized and terrible… we were in luck! It had stood the test of Mumbai storage conditions rather well!

Ballantine’s Glentauchers

Ballantine’s 17 year Glentauchers 40%

  • Nose – Fruity, nutty, lemon, butterscotch, ice cream
  • Palate – Lemon cherry, very smooth, buttery, light and balanced, a bit of chilli, slightly bitter
  • Finish – Bitter burnt caramel

Overall this whisky was pronounced “Yum!” Simply an exceedingly easy “appetizer” of a whisky. Far from being a disaster, it was actually quite delicious. Clearly this blend had stood the test of time.

What followed was a trio of single malts:

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Royal Brackla 21 year 40%

Royal favour has its benefits… including in the world of whisky.

The distillery was founded in 1812 by Captain William Fraser of Brackla House on the estate of Cawdor Castle and by 1833 was selected by King William the IV to be the royal court whisky. The distillery changed hands, had its ups and downs – including closing for some time in 1943-45 and 1964-66 then 1985-91.

And yet the “Royal” title remained, even as it changed hands eventually ending up as part of the Dewar & Sons portfolio.

We sampled this 21 year old whisky blind, with a reveal at the end. Here is what we thought…

Royal Brackla 21 year 40%

  • Nose – We were greeted with varnish, lime, sharp and direct, link control, medicinal soap, started to shift and become very sweet, cinnamon spice candy, bananas, hallowe’en corn candy, marshmallows, wood sap, toffee, burnt caramel, a puff of smoke, resin, white pear, leafy basil, curry leaf
  • Palate – Soft, a nice coating and well balanced, raisins and resin, a bit of chocolate, loads of wood, honey, with the 2nd sip was much spicier
  • Finish – Cinnamon spice – delicious!
  • Water – I never would have thought to try but others prompted – the whisky takes water quite well, opening up a complete fruit basket of aromas, butterscotch, rounds it out even more, with a lovely sweetness, revealing a nice fresh grassy element on the palate, surprisingly it also improved the mouthfeel

It was a rather nice way to finish up our Scottish traditional trio. Again it had the sense of being a combination of ex-bourbon with some ex-sherry too.

And the reveal?

A recognition this is a distillery we rarely encountered. Yet were pleased to do so that evening.

So what do the folks at Dewar (aka Barcardi) have to say? They have quite succinct tasting notes:

Richly fragrant with summer berries, dark chocolate, star anise, and a sherried sweetness.

Our original tasting group explored two other whiskies in our classic Scottish trio evening:

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Old Pulteney 17 year 46% revisited

Sometimes it is nice to be reminded of how much you enjoy a particular distillery and its whiskies. We had just such an opportunity with our Scottish “classic” evening…

Naturally half the fun was tasting completely blind with the reveal only at the end. Here is what we found…

Old Pulteney 17 year 46%

  • Colour – Copper
  • Nose – Sweet perfume, floral, vanilla, a touch of salty brine, chocolate, butterscotch, so familiar and inviting, toffee, some gentle sherry influence. After the 1st sip we found marzipan, almonds, light sweet citrus like a lemon cake. As it opened even more, there was a hint of smoke. As we let it sit even longer, the citrus shifted into a lively orange peel oil.
  • Palate – Soft sweet spice with some salt. A lovely complexity, sweet lime, lightly bitter with a subtle touch of tobacco leaf, a wisp or puff of smoke, so beautifully balance
  • Finish – Ends on a sweet note, gentle spice, really quite beautiful, a bit of liquorice
  • Water – Mellows it out… some preferred with and some without

We all really enjoyed this whisky and found it quite lovely, with a “feel good” character. While exceedingly easy to drink, it also had complexity and kept evolving. We all were confident that it must be Scottish and clearly well crafted. It also had all the hallmarks of an ex-Bourbon cask with a bit of ex-Sherry too.

A few of us kept remarking how there was something so completely familiar about it. We settled on Highland, one even mentioned Old Pulteney, another an old style Balvenie.

And our reaction to the reveal that it was an Old Pulteney 17 year?

Delight! An excellent reminder of how this whisky is simply one good dram.

Naturally this was one of many enjoyable evenings with Old Pulteney of which a few included:

Our original tasting group took an evening with a classic Scottish trio:

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Tragedy Struck! Gordon + MacPhail’s Linkwood 1998 46%

Once upon a time there was a Linkwood that was poured into a bottle in 2012… to make its way from Scotland to a World of Whisky store to a home in Mumbai, India. And then find its way into our glasses in October 2018…

We sampled it blind and here is what we found…

Linkwood 13 year (8 Dec1998 / Jan 2010) Cask No 5014 Refill Sherry Hogshead 46% for World of Whiskies

  • Colour – Very yellow
  • Nose – When first opened it was so fruity – particularly jackfruit, cashew fruit then red fruits… then as strong as it came on, the basket of fruits slipped away… Particularly after the first sip. Instead there was biscuits, cereal notes with hay, grass… more and more it became dusty, musty, woody… after even more time there was a light coconut and even some marshmallow but… something wasn’t quite right….
  • Palate – Sharp, initially fruity, then musty, sour, earthy, bitter, very woody, some spice, quite thin with little body, wet fallen leaves
  • Finish – Very short finish
  • Water – Some found it horrible, bitter vs others finding it became tart with lemons then sweet, the fruit came back with some spice yet was still very musty with dry coconut husks

We struggled with this one… it seemed oddly incomplete or off… something or other wasn’t quite right. Over and over we kept remarking on the peculiar musty element.

With the reveal we were all surprised.

Linkwood.

Gordon & Macphail.

Really?? The character wasn’t in keeping with our past experience with Linkwood whiskies and certainly not Gordon & Macphail bottles.

And that is when our host revealed that the reason he served this single malt from a lovely decanter was the cork had crumbled completely. He further shared he had purchased this years ago – likely not long after it was released in 2012.

It seemed that tragedy had struck. What could have once been a fine dram was given no favours by being stored in a Mumbai cupboard for years. There actually have been studies on the impact of storage conditions on whisky bottles. Mumbai’s heat isn’t kind to bottles… and this seems to have happened in this case. Sigh….

What about other Linkwood experiences?

Our original tasting group continued in our “classic” evening with two other Scottish single malts:

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Scottish Trio – Linkwood, Old Pulteney, Royal Brackla

Sometimes you just want to enjoy classic styled whiskies… with a flight that has a straight forward age progression from younger to older… no experimentation, just a standard combination of ex-bourbon cask and ex-sherry maturation.

That is exactly what we did this month, sampling each malt blind… And yet it wasn’t entirely as “traditional” an experience as one would think…

Our original tasting group went “traditional” with a Scottish trio:

Curious to know more about what we found? Just click on the whisky links above and get all the juicy details!

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Whisky Ladies Contributor’s Choice – Glentauchers, Balvenie, Talisker

When doing whisky tastings, themes are great but sometimes going a bit random is even better! And that’s exactly what we did this month with the Whisky Ladies…. we invited contributions and then discovered what they brought!

What did we explore in our Ladies Choice evening?

Our core focus was a trio with a wee ‘appetizer’ blend thrown in at the last minute:

Curious to know more? Just click on the whisky links to read what we thought!

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