Wolfburn Morven 46% vs Aurora 46%

Wolfburn is a newer distillery from the Highlands…

So the story goes, once upon a time there was a Wolfburn distillery based in Thurso, Caithness that was founded in 1821 by William Smith that time produced approximately 1,25,000 litres a year… yet ceased operations sometime in the 1850s. Though the old distillery is long gone, the folks who founded Wolfburn 2.0 in 2013 based it in a similar location to take advantage of the water from the Wolf Burn.

Our host was captured by the quality and character of its new make spirit and has been a believer in the distillery ever since.

And what did we think?

Wolfburn Morven 46%

  • Nose – Hard boiled sweet, bubble gum, cherry, pure sure with red dye, white grape, honeyed ham
  • Palate – Peat, very sweet, a bit of spice, sweetened condensed milk
  • Finish – Bitter sweet
  • Water – No temptation to add

Truth be told, we found it almost too sweet… for me it almost reminded me of being matured in a cognac cask like Brenne… The peat has a light touch… a mere 10 ppm.

While there are no official tasting notes on the Wolfburn website, the chaps over at  Master of Malt have something to say….

A late 2017 addition to Wolfburn’s core range, Morven is a lightly peated single malt from the northernmost distillery in mainland Scotland. This expression rounds out the distillery’s range well (which also features their signature Northland Single Malt and the handsomely Sherried Aurora Single Malt) and shows that the relatively new distillery has plenty to offer already.

  • Nose: Fresh notes of juicy apple and white grape are deliciously juxtaposed with earthy, mineral-y peat.
  • Palate: Nutty malt pairs well with soft smoke, joined by peppered oak and caramelised fruit developing later on.
  • Finish: Sweet hints of shortbread and ginger stick around on the finish.

Just to contrast we decided to try the Wolfburn Aurora side by side…

Photo: Wolfburn

Wolfburn Aurora 46%

  • Nose – Sweet, yoghurt, capsule, over-ripe pineapple, boiled sweets
  • Palate – Sweet spice, could there be some light smoke too?
  • Finish – Liquorice
  • Water – Again, no temptation to add….

This was much more our preferred style… still sweet but in moderation with enough other elements to hint at a character worth waiting to see its future avatars.

And what do the folks at Wolfburn have to say?

MELLOW AND GOLDEN
This beautiful sherried whisky is made from spirit laid down in a combination of American oak and Spanish Oloroso sherry casks. Benefitting from long fermentation and slow, gentle distillation, the spirit is laid down on site in our purpose-built warehouses. At the end of the maturation process the casks are brought together to create an exceptionally smooth and perfectly balanced dram.

We had to wonder, where is the light peat from?  Our host shared that while the malt is unpeated, it is matured in an ex-Islay cask for a “kiss of peat”… making for just a hint not more.

For those curious, Wolfburn is available in India… check out The Vault Fine Spirits or Mumbai airport duty free.

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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GlenDronach 21 year (1993/2014) 58.1%

Glendronach is known for its rich deep sherry character. Over the years we have enjoyed many a marvellous malt from this distillery.

So in our relaxed evening exploring samples we were delighted to have a GlenDronach in the mix… well-timed after just having the Dutch Zuidam’s Millstone sherry dram.

And what did we think?

GlenDronach 21 year (1.1993/9.2014) Olorosso Sherry No 35 58.1%, Official Bottling for Beija-Flor and Silver Seal, bottle 523 of 605

  • Nose – Sheeeerrrryy!! Rich, wet prunes, gigs, brown sugar, cinnamon, dark chocolate, spice, wine soaked Christmas cake
  • Palate – Full, rich, intense, dark chocolate and tobacco, such full on sherry, quite dry and astringent, betel nut, red wine tannins, with pepper that morphs into chilli chocolate
  • Finish – Fabulous finish, long warm spice, stays and stays
  • Water – Makes it super spicy, not needed

One of those whiskies which can go on and on and on… where a little goes a very long way. However not one you could have much of… however fabulous for that moment.

Here is the point we had to admit, as marvellous as the Zuidam Millstone dram was, GlenDronach is in a different class completely.

While this was an official bottling, there are no notes available… It was last found auctioned for £240 at Whisky Auctioneer.

Some other fine GlenDronach drams:

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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Tullibardine 228 Burgundy 43%

I will admit I’ve had very limited experience with Tullibardine…. My one passing sample was a 20 year old at a Winnipeg whisky bar that I didn’t even finish.

The Burgundy is part of this Highland distillery’s wood finish series with Sauternes, Burgundy and Sherry finish using the number of  litres to label the expression.

Official distillery photo

Tullibardine Burgundy 43%

  • Nose – Crisp with a piquant quality, very fruity – lots of white fruits like pear, apple then settled into a pronounced green melon like a honey dew melon, green toffee, honey
  • Palate – Light spice, quite direct
  • Finish – Spice finish
  • Water – Capers… bitter… then… believe it or not lifebuoy soap

We puzzled over the Burgundy dimension… “Where is the Burgundy” It had none of the colour or red fruit quality we tend to associate with a Burgundy finish…

To be honest, it wasn’t a “keeper” for any of us.

And what do the folks over at Tullibardine have to say about their 228 Burgundy whisky?

THE AUBURN HUE OF THIS WHISKY COMES DIRECTLY FROM ITS TIME SPENT IN THE 228 LITRE BARRIQUES THAT PREVIOUSLY HELD PINOT NOIR FROM CHATEAU DE CHASSAGNE MONTRACHET.

  • THE NOSE OF THE 228 FEATURES RED CHERRIES AND VANILLA WITH HINTS OF CHOCOLATE AND TURKISH DELIGHT.
  • ON THE PALATE, THERE IS A REAL HINT OF RED SUMMER FRUIT, MORE CHOCOLATE AND A SWEET SPICE NOTE ON THE FINISH.

What else did we try in our “Sinful Samples” evening?

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Sinful Samples – Bunnahabhan, Tullibardine, Millstone, Glendronach, Wolfburn

Tis the season to be jolly… and all that jazz! Yet before all the mad social rounds of the season kicked off, we snuck in a completely chilled out informal sampling of samples…

Call it a “Pajama Drams” night, it had no formality just a few folks, more than a few samples to put side by side to provoke some interesting tasting experiences…

What did we try?

It may seem like a prodigious amount for one sitting but we were a disciplined lot… some sniffing, swishing and spitting went on plus a swallows and discarding the balance. Sacralige to some but sensible for us.

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Sherry Element – Oban 15 year (2015) Fino Cask 43%

First up in our “Sherry Element” evening was Oban… yes Oban… with a Montilla Fino finish.

Our original club kept to its preferred tasting approach of sampling completely blind. In this case, the reveal waited until the very end after sampling all three whiskies.

Oban 15 year (2000/2015) 43% Bourbon / Fino cask Special Release OD 164.FA Limited Edition

  • Nose
    • Before tasting – Immediate brush of bourbon, super overripe bananas, coconut, fruits, very sweet… then began to take on a musty clothes quality like after the rains…. a shift into a medicinal element, paan, then watermelon, steamed rice shifting into biscuits – Crackerjack salty then mangaram sweet wafer, cereals
    • After tasting – Lemon fruit base, then plasticine… somehow it lost its distinctness
  • Palate – Spice, clove, sweet and yet also very bitter with that medicinal quality on the nose following through on the palate, neem leaf, has a certain intensity yet overall quite a light body
  • Finish – Short with a bitter edge
  • Water – Kills the nose, kicks up the spice on the palate and also dampens the bitterness, however one found it reduced it to ‘pure alcohol’… would not recommend adding water

For the most part, colour isn’t a primary focus of our tastings… more as one facet to consider. Yet speculation was rife from the outset that surely this could not be natural… I do believe one comment went along the lines of “Has an almost yellow shine like its on steroids.”

The aroma came on with a decent strength initially, then quickly dropped and became muted. As for its character? We found it quite straight in, straight out. Young, sweet and largely remains on the front of the tongue, with a bitterness on the sides.

And when we revisited after nearly an hour?

Discovered it made it much more approachable, hardly any bitterness remained and oddly came across as almost oily. Alas all the aromas we found earlier were elusive. Yet overall with extra air it became quite drinkable.

With the reveal there was surprise. There were certainly a few who have fond memories of Oban 14 year as being reliable bar stock.

Even our host admitted to being a tad disappointed… as clearly had expected more… and yet the revisit certainly showed it is not too shabby after all.

Here’s what the folks over at Oban have to say about this Distillers Edition on the label:

The Western Highland style of Malt is epitomized by Oban’s gentle sweetness and surprising richness of palate and finish. The pettiness of the Islands it faces across the Firth of Lorn is softened by the influences of the Highlands at its back. To underline its sea-laced flavours, Oban’s Master Distiller has chosen Montilla Fino. This dry, delicate cask-wood beautifully enhances Oban’s distinctively graceful style.

What did we sample in our “Sherry Elements” evening?

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Sherry Elements – Oban, Amrut, Kilkerran

As a whisky tasting group, we’ve sampled many a sherry matured cask over the years.. however we have not had an evening dedicated to different elements of sherry… until one fine evening in November 2017.

What did we sample?

And what made each of these distinctive?

1st off the Oban was not your standard familiar friend – the 14 year – no siree! It was instead a 15 year limited edition initially matured in an ex-bourcon cask then a Montilla Fino Cask.

Next up was an Amrut Intermediate Sherry purchased some 7 odd years ago and carefully kept. Again a combination of bourbon and sherry… with quite a complex and different character than the Oban.

And the Kilkerran? The Campbeltown offering was again Sherry wood… with a peaty element too.

None were full force sherry, each had a unique dimension, making our evening a most enjoyable exploration. All had been carefully collected over years by our host… none can be readily obtained today… of if you do, likely not quite the same as what we sampled.

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Dream Drams – Mosstowie 35 year (1979) 48.1%

Our Dream Drams evening in Mumbai with Malt Maniac’s Krishna Nakula, continued with this Mosstowie 35 year from Signatory Vintage‘s mature cask strength series.

Krishna shared the distinctive feature of this whisky is it was produced using Lomond stills.

Founded in 1964, it was “closed” in 1981 with the Lomond stills removed from the Miltonduff Distillery. These stills were built in the 1960s with the idea of using the 3 adjustable rectifier plates to play around with “the position and temperature of the plates the reflux of the ‘boiling’ whisky could be controlled. The angle of the ‘lyne arm’ at the top of the still could be modified as well to influence the character of the whisky further.” (Malt Madness) The thinking was this would produce exactly what blenders needed and hence would be in demand.

However this innovation fell into disfavour as the maintenance and cleaning was very labour intensive. And more importantly, the demand from blenders did not come close to expectations… Hence while the distillery Miltonduff remains, you won’t find much Mosstowie single malt these days.

What did we find?

Mosstowie 35 year (30 November 1979/15 May 2015), Bourbon Barrel Cask Mo 25756, 48.1% (Signatory Vintage Cask Strength) 171 Bottles

  • Nose – We were greeted initially with sweet varnish, then as that subsided, citrus creamy spice took over, some star anise, lots of oriental spices, sour cherry, cork, fermented sour dough starter, desiccated coconut, kopra, nuts… there was a ‘bourbonesque’ quality, with old wood furniture… one even suggested smelly socks!
  • Palate – Lovely coating, wonderful mouth feel, a dash of salt and almost too much honey, yet settled into something both enjoyable and sufficiently complex to be interesting
  • Finish – Dry, again a bit salty, very sweet, a bit of beeswax, muted but very much there
  • Water – We found it dampened the nose, sweetened it even more, made it less multi-dimensional, only advantage was it gave the finish a nice spicy pick-up

We concluded this whisky had a very interesting complexity. A wee sample bottle of this made it home and was revisited a few weeks later. If anything, it was even more exceptional.

Tasting notes by the chaps at Master of Malt:

  • Nose: Oily toffee, marmalade, vanilla, ginger and cocoa.
  • Palate: Smoky wood spices and honeycomb with touches of menthol and kumquat.
  • Finish: Malty and warming.

This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange in London in 2016 and is no longer available through them. However it was last seen on WhiskyBase.com for € 429.50.

What else did we sample?

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Dream Drams – Lochside 1981 43% (Gordon + MacPhail)

Years ago I tried in Singapore at The Auld Alliance a Gordon + MacPhail bottling of Lochside 1981 at cask strength 51.2%.

To say it was superb was an understatement. Til date it remains in my mind as the singularly longest finish I’ve experienced.

When asked by folks to share one whisky I’m dying to try again… this came top of the list.

Unbelievably, during the last London jaunt, a slightly different avatar of this beauty was tracked down at The Whisky Exchange, now reduced in strength to 43%.

Trusting the gents over at Gordon + MacPhail that they know what they are doing and haven’t ruined this lovely dram watering it down, my whisky sampling companion took the plunge and made the huge sacrifice to his wallet to acquire the bottle.

It was saved for a very special evening – Dream Drams – held with Krishna Nakula with the balance carefully preserved to share with the Whisky Ladies.

Lochside 1981

Lochside 24 year 1981 (bottled 2005) 43% (Gordon + MacPhail Rare Old)

  • Nose – Lovely old furniture, stewed fruits, amarula fruity Bailey’s, fresh eucalyptus, bitter almond, fish oil, old leather, fresh brioche or french toast with a sprinkle of powdered sugar, maple syrup, light citrus spice, milk chocolate, beeswax, truffles, salted caramel, zesty citrus, and behind cinnamon spice… it all keeps evolving
  • Palate – An absolute show stopper! Spices dancing, unctuous, simply delicious, honey sweet, spice and bitter, causes mouth watering salivation
  • Finish – A fantastic long finish with incredible staying power. Herbal, bitter almond, puff of smoke that still lingers

In short, this whisky is completely stellar. It is very complex, pronounced by Krishna Nakula as an “old style whisky”, with a gift of aromas, flavours and finish that keeps on giving.

After sitting with it for some time, it continued to evolve… coming back, it was like sniffing a fruit salad of pear, apples, nestled in custard creme… such a beautiful whisky with a delightful sweet spice.

The Whisky Ladies concurred with the original assessment and added a few of their thoughts:

  • Nose – Lovely with so many elements. Soft, sweet to piquant and herbal, nutmeg, cotton candy, slight salt
  • Palate – Warm spice, light leather, so smooth, yet also tingles then back to just silky smooth. Truly beautiful with such complexity and nuance, a fully body experience of delight!
  • Finish – What a finish! It keeps changing, starts with a warm spice, then dark raisins, sweet spices of clove and cinnamon, then fruits, simply stays and stays and stays

In short. A complete stunner.

Here is what the folks over at Gordon + MacPhail have to say:

Without water:

  • Nose – Sweet, oily and herbal aromas. Some dry grass, with cereal notes.
  • Taste – Sweet, rich fruits flavours and a touch of green grass/leafy flavours. Spices and a hint of plain chocolate.

With water:

  • Nose – Some fruit, oiled wood, earthy and sweet toffee aromas all present. Hints of smoke on the edge.
  • Taste – Sherry wood with sweet, nutty flavours. A touch of smokiness.

If you are curious to know more about the Lochside Distillery, Gordon & MacPhail has this to say:

Lochside Distillery began life as a brewery in the 1890s. After closing in the 1950s the site was bought by Joseph Hobbs, who also ran the Ben Nevis Distillery and converted it into Lochside Distillery. The new distillery contained 4 pot stills and a 21 metre high Coffey Still. Lochside Distillery was one of a few distilleries which produced both malt and grain whisky. Following the death of Joseph Hobbs, his son, also Joe, ran the distillery until it was acquired by Destilerias y Crianza, of Madrid, in 1973. The main purpose for the distillery was to produce Scotch Malt to blend with their own Spanish spirit. After years of industrious production Lochside Distillery fell victim to the drinks industry over-production problems of the early 1990s.

PS This whisky was purchased in 2016 at the Whisky Exchange in London for an unmentionable price. A different bottling recently sold for £450.00. This one can no longer be found…

Other whiskies savoured in our “Dream Drams” evening:

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Douglas Laing’s Old Particular – Invergordon 28 year Single Grain 56.5%

After the Girvan 8 year and Strathclyde 25 year, the last of our Single Grain Trio was from Invergordon from the Highland region – at the ripe age of 28 years.

Invergordon 28 year (Aug 1987/Nov 2015) DL 11004 56.5% Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, 490 bottles

And what did we find?

  • Nose – Muted varnish, honey vanilla, more wood with a sharp element too, lemon, herbs, quite musty, one even described it as a ‘dirty dish rag’
  • Palate – Burnt toast like marmite, very salty, like sea water, some cinnamon and spice
  • Finish – Dry roasted spicy salty peanuts, very dry
  • Water – Brought out even more spice with a hint of liquorice

On 1st sip one remarked “makes an impact”… that sharp element on the nose came through as a bit harsh on the palate initially. It was exceptionally dry and it was certainly the saltiest finish I’ve ever come across. One even said “It’s like gargling salt water.”

Was it our style of whisky? No. Was it worth trying? Absolutely.

Here is what the folks over at Douglas Laing have to say:

  • Nose: Opens with a spiced toffee character, with polished oak and a sweet home baked quality
  • Palate: Mouth coating and sweetly spiced, with caramel butter cream and a treacle character
  • Finish: A spicy, sweet and pleasantly long finish, showing late oak

For another perspective, here is what the chaps at Master of Malt have to say:

  • Nose: Cinnamon and rich toffees, vanilla, resin and oak.
  • Palate: Soft fudge, dates, brioche, molasses and a hint of pot pourri.
  • Finish: Spicy oak.
  • Overall: A rich and dignified single cask grain.

What else did we sample in our Single Grain Trio with Indian Whiskies Duo evening?

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R+B Distillers – Borders + Raasay

There are a dizzying array of new distilleries popping up all over the world. And yet setting up a new distillery – nay two – is no small feat.

The team at Raasay & Borders Distillers (R&B Distillers) recognize that “Building distilleries takes time though, so we are satisfying our impatience by working with a Highland distillery to very deliberately craft the styles of whisky representative of what’s to come.”

As part of our Monsoon Malts & More evening, we dove into two wee samples…

Borders Single Grain 51.7%

Here’s what we found:

  • Nose – While clearly a grain, it is soft not pushy, old flowers like chrysanthemums, slight sulfur, fruits and acetone, sweet the sour then sweet again
  • Palate – Sweet spices, lots of character, creamy, slightly astringent yet not unpleasant, hints of coffee
  • Finish – Staying power

Not in the least bit harsh and as we continued sipping, thought more and more of Koffee Toffee… and pronounced it as “rather a good grain!”

What do we know about it? It is distilled in the highlands, non-chill filtered and natural colour.

Here’s what they have to say:

  • Aroma: Prominent sherry notes on the nose, hints of sugar-coated nuts.
  • Taste: Surprisingly dry on the palate with the sherry influences dominating. Walnuts balanced with vanilla, herbaceous and floral notes coming through towards the end, and just a touch of warm spice.
  • Finish: Lingering, dry and complex.
  • Food Pairing: Pairs well with Cocoa Black dark praline chocolates.

What more do we know about it? It has 50% wheat & 50% malted barley, finished in Oloroso Sherry casks. In their words:

Our Borders highland single grain whisky is a testament to our 19th century heritage and a nod to our future. Our Co-founder Alasdair Day’s great-grandfather blended whisky in the Coldstream – marked by the golden dot on this bottle.

The River Tweed is iconic to this uncommon provenance. It is integral in our R&B story and in forming part of the border between Scotland and England. The soft rolling landscape that surrounds it is reflected in character through the light, sweet notes of this lowland-style whisky.

We then shifted gears to their second offering – Raasaay.

Raasay “While We Wait” 46%

Here’s what we found:

  • Nose – Iodine, light leather, oils
  • Palate – Sharp and initially an off quality, a bit rancid, olive oil, sour, peat, chewy and bitter then sweet
  • Finish – Sweet

You would think from the notes this would be a rather unpleasant whisky. But here is the thing, as we sipped it began to grow on us more and more.

For two of us, it reminded us of a Ledaig from Tobermoray, particularly when we added a few drops of water.

Here’s what they have to say:

  • Nose: Chocolate, pear, raisin. Blackcurrant, chocolate cake, slight kirsch brandy note, red wine note.
  • Palate: Cherry at the front palate, smoke, more chocolate notes, orangey notes, slight burnt oak note. Vanilla and oaky notes. Dash of orange and raspberry.
  • Finish: Slightly floral. More oak. Cookies.

What more do we know about it?  In their words:

While waiting for the Isle of Raasay Distillery to rise beneath Dùn Caan, we’ve crafted a single malt demonstrating our whisky making skills to offer a tantalising taster of what’s to come.

We achieved this by blending two expressions from one distillery; one peated, one unpeated. The whisky then finished in French oak Tuscan wine casks from three vineyards that produce Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Naturally, one turns so speculate, which Highland distillery produces both grain and malt whisky? Could it be Loch Lamond…?

Other whiskies sampled in our Mumbai monsoon malts evening included:

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