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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A delightful, delicious yet alas discontinued dram – Cambus 24 year grain 51.9%

Every once and a while there is a chance to sample a piece of whisky history. In this case from a Lowland grain distillery that shut its doors in 1993. Before that, Cambus produced grain from early 1800s, with a hiatus from 1913 to 1938 when a fire destroyed much of the original distillery before it was rebuilt.

Like most grains, it mostly went into blends and you won’t find any official bottles. However – if you are lucky – you may come across a few select independent bottles… such as the one from Signatory that I snagged in Singapore at Whisky Live.

Cambus Single Grain 24 year (1991/2015) Cask 55891 51.9% (Signatory Vintage), Bottle 22 of 447

  • Nose – Floral, tempting, subtly complex, honey lemon, shifting between a heady perfume and light ginger, cinnamon, butterscotch and rich vanilla cream
  • Palate – Spice, with a great mouthfeel, cream like Amarulla with a bit of a hazelnut too, fruity, there was depth and character yet with a soft touch
  • Finish – Lightly bitter, closing on more of that delicious vanilla
  • Water – Brings out even more vanilla and toffee, think of a butterscotch ice cream

Overall it was exceedingly tasty… and far far far too easy to drink! It was hard not to say things like “Really nice!” and other happy murmurings.

And that’s just the thing about this whisky – it is simply delicious! A happy companion for a pleasant evening. It doesn’t challenge you but it does have enough substance and spice to make it a sprightly delightful dram.

What else do we know? It quietly matured for 24 years in a single refill butt and was bottled at cask strength.

While I didn’t find any tasting notes from the bottlers, I did check out what the  chaps at Master of Malt had to say:

  • Nose: Yep, that’s yummy grain – thick vanilla, summer fruits boiled sweets and gentle oak spice.
  • Palate: Spicy and honeyed, more vanilla and red fruit, almond pastries and a touch of treacle.
  • Finish: Quite long with a fruity tang.
  • Overall: Mid-twenties grain with a little fruity cask influence.

This bottle was purchased at Singapore Whisky Live 2017 (La Maison du Whisky) after sampling it at the Signatory kiosk. While not readily available, I paid SGD 203 / USD 150 / INR 10,800 in November 2017 and we opened the bottle in September 2018.

Since then I will admit to taking another nip or two as it is simply a rather enjoyable whisky. I keep telling myself to stop and keep it for others to try a sip of history but it sits in my cabinet temptingly tasty. And did I write more tasting notes? No… it was simply too tasty a treat to do anything but enjoy.

What else did the Whisky Ladies try in their Grain evening?

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Grain Whiskies – Haig, Chita, Nikka, Cambus

Though the humble grain is mostly found in blends, the Whisky Ladies are no stranger to exploring grains…

Just a couple that come to mind include….

All of our earlier grain experiences were mingled with trying malts or blends, so when it came time to decide a theme anchored by Suntory’s grain whisky Chita, we decided to go all out with grains!

We put out the word and here is what turned up!

And here is a selection of other grain tasting experiences:

You can find more on a page dedicated just to Grains here.

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Whisky Live 2017 – Signatory’s Linkwood 8 year and Cambus 24 year

The last in the Whisky Live 2017 sniff, swish and move on was a stop by the Signatory booth. While they had a range of offerings, two caught my eye…

Cambus 24 year (1991/2015) Cask No 55891, Bottle No 431/447 51.9%

  • Nose – Subtle, nuanced, floral with a light perfume, citrus, salted caramel
  • Palate – Simply delicious, nothing harsh, a lovely softness, perfectly executed, honey, vanilla
  • Finish – Herbal spice

Cambus is a discontinued distillery from the Lowlands… one I hadn’t before encountered but would be keen to try more…

Linkwood “Very Cloudy” 8 year (14 May 2008/15 Jun 2016) Bourbon Cask No 800029 – 8000031 40%

  • Nose – Don’t laugh but this had a fruity bubblegum aroma, then light oak, honey
  • Palate – Some spice, ginger bread
  • Finish – Woody, spice

While fleeting impressions, particularly the Cambus stood out… yet both where worthy drams.

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Douglas Laing’s Lowland Blend Epicurean 46.2%

Last in our Douglas Laing’s Remarkable Regions blends was Epicurean from the Lowlands

Douglas Laing Epicurean 46.2%

  • Nose – Yheasty, butter caramel, slightly raw, herbal, sour peaches, basil, almonds, quite tangy with tamarind, puckering citrus, almond face oil, the peaches quality became increasingly pronounced from raw to steamed to canned peaches
  • Palate – Sweet almond paste, spice, cinnamon, bitter, burnt citrus
  • Finish – Quite nutty, light sweet and lingers, rubber, coffee
  • Water – Initially brought out honey then dissipated almost immediately

For many this was a favourite of the Douglas Laing trio… for others the salty quality of Rock Oyster was a welcome departure. What we can say is the Epicurean paired rather well with a cigar.

Here’s what they have to say:

Douglas Laing’s The Epicurean Lowland Malt Scotch Whisky tells the story of a 1930s Glasgow man, a real cheeky chappy who was ever the life and soul of the party, and a real connoisseur of fine food and drink. A dram we describe as “city born and bred”, The Epicurean is a blend of some of the finest Lowland Malts; a marriage of the best that the East and the West of Scotland have to offer. This small batch bottling is proudly without colouring or chill-filtration and bottled at 46.2% ABV.

Tasting notes:

  • Nose – In a tipple of our Small Batch “The Epicurean”, you can bet on a nose that is barley-rich, citric, floral and herbal.
  • Palate – The mouth-coatingly sweet palate displays crunched sugar, burnt citrus, mixed spices, thyme, peaches and hard candy…
  • Finish – All charmingly underpinned and enriched in the finish with more of that earlier herbal character, in a gristy style with almonds, cut grass and burnt sugar.

Photo: Nikoulina Berg

What were the whisky blends explored?

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Peat Unusual – Ailsa Bay 48.9%

1st up in our Peat Unusual session was Ailsa Bay…

This Lowlands distillery is part of the Girvain complex, owned by William Grant & Sons. Most of the output makes its way to blends however there was a recognition that a single malt expression should also make it to market.

What did our cigar chomping gents think?

Ailsa Bay 48.9%

  • Nose – Sweet and peat, raw bacon, honey cured ham, black pepper then cinnamon spice, smoked paprika, very sweet
  • Palate – Nice light spice, dry oaky candy, acrid smoke
  • Finish – Long bitter then turns sweet…. long
  • Water? Sweet toffee, butterscotch, no bacon and almost syrupy, even more sweet on the palate, still a bitter long finish

We set it aside to revisit… much more enjoyable however still more on the sweet side, not much variety, could even be described as ‘linear’ with a wintry quality.

Overall we thought not a bad start but not one we would run out to grab another bottle immediately.

So  what do we know?

Alisa Bay is purported to find balance between sweet and peat… which they strictly adhere  to 21 PPM for the peat then also measure the ‘sweet’ side too with their SPPM – at a level of 11 SPPM. They also use a ‘micro maturation’ process with the new make spirit filled into Hudson Baby Bourbon casks (25-100 Litres vs standard barrels with unto 200 Litres) for 6-9 months for an ‘intense rapid maturation’ then transferred to a mix of virgin and 1st fill American oak casks.

And Alisa Bay’s  tasting notes?

  • Nose: FRESH WOOD SMOKE WITH NOTES OF SMOULDERING DAMP HEATHER AND AN EXTINGUISHED BONFIRE. FOLLOWING THE SMOKE IS A WAVE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND HOT BUTTERED TOAST WITH AN INTRIGUING HINT OF CARAMELISED APPLE.
  • Taste: AN IMMEDIATE PUNCH OF PEAT IS QUICKLY BALANCED BY A BURST OF VANILLA OAKINESS. THE FLAVOUR MEANDERS BETWEEN SMOKE, FRUIT, CREAMY TOFFEE AND BACK AGAIN. WITH EVERY SIP THE COMPLEXITY OF THE WHISKY DEEPENS AS LAYER UPON LAYER OF FLAVOUR IS REVEALED.
  • Finish: AN INTRIGUING BALANCE OF OAKY SWEETNESS AND PEATY DRYNESS.

Would we agree? Mostly… however complex? Not what we found.

While I can’t definitively confirm, I suspect this particular bottle made its way to us via The Whisky Exchange where it can be purchased for approx £55.55.

Our “peat unusual” whiskies….

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BMC Peat Unusual – Alisa Bay, Ledaig “Very Cloudy”, Loch Lomond Peated, BenRiach 25 Peated

It is finally slipping into “winter” (by Indian standards), with the pollution smog haze rarely lifting, and somehow the weather and climatic conditions seem to be influencing whisky preferences… to peat.

And no ordinary peat… an exploration of a few whiskies one would not normally have on the top peat picks list from regions not immediately associated with peat. Because why should our familiar friends over in Islay corner the market when other options exist?

As this was a BMC session, we had no pretence of hiding the bottles… instead merrily dove in to our discoveries eyes wide-open!

Our “peat unusual” whiskies….

Our host shared that it began with acquiring the BenRiach 25 year peated… and morphed from there… each selected to be peat with a twist.

For example, you don’t typically find BenRiach whiskies peated…

Then it continued with Loch Lomond – again not normally peated….

So why Ledaig you may ask? By their “nature” Ledaig is Tobermoray’s peaty whiskies. Yes indeed. However the “Very Cloudy” Vintage 2008 is known to have a lighter dusting of peat rather than full force peat one normally associates with a Ledaig….

And Alisa Bay? Not only is it newer to market as a single malt, it breaks with typical Lowland convention to combine peat with sweet…

Then our evening closed with cigars. How perfect!

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Auchentoshan Heartwood 43%

What to do when you discover a common thread in standard duty-free offerings? Coin a new term! In our case, none were “nasty” merely “NASpy.” Confused? Read on….

Auchentoshan is known for its lighter whiskies, triple distilled in the Lowlands. Their Heartwood combines ex-bourbon and ex-sherry Olorosso casks.

Auchentoshan Heartland 43%

  • Nose – Fermented fruit, pear, light honey, melon, pine, warm vanilla, a slight piquant (not spice), pear tart, fresh fruit basket, custard which settled into a soft caramel with basil
  • Palate – Light on the palate, there like a whisky rinse
  • Finish – Bitter light burn with wood

Overall quite fruity – particularly pear – sweet, light and a dash of other elements. In short, we found it not unpleasant though entirely innocuous.

Between this and the Highland Park Einar we sampled next, we coined a category of whisky where one could say “You know, it just simply is rather NASPy.” Referring to a generic travel retail breed of No Age Statement palates that aren’t awful but are certainly not awesome either… in other words something that may be acceptable for parties but not a whisky we would deliberately buy.

Here is what the folks over at Auchentoshan have to say on the bottle note:

Released for travel retail, the Auchentoshan Heartwood is made with triple distilled single malt Scotch whisky which has been matured in both Oloroso Sherry casks and bourbon casks, resulting in a very well balanced expression from the Lowland distillery.

No other tasting notes… so for your amusement, I suggest you check out what the Whisky Wafflers have to say about Auchentoshan’s Heatwood.

I sampled it initially from a freshly opened bottle in a social context in August, then later from a mini sample with friends in September 2017.

Curious about other Auchentoshan whiskies sampled?

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Douglas Laing’s Old Particular – Strathclyde Single Grain 25 year 51.5%

Our Single Grain trio evening continued with Strathclyde single grain from Glasgow. Originally built in 1927 on the site of an old cotton mill to produce gin, it has gone on to pump out grain spirit, primarily for blends for its current owner – Chivas Bothers Holdings, part of the Pernod Ricard group.

Strathclyde Single Grain 25 year (Aug 1990/Sep 2016) Refill Barrel DL11335 51.5% Douglas Laing’s Old Particular, 116 bottles

  • Nose – Unmistakable varnish – full-on, then caramel, banana, light flowers, then nuts like walnut, coconut, dried fruits, shifted into a creamy aroma – like sweet coconut cream, becoming increasingly sweet like butterscotch – loads and loads of butterscotch, then baked banana bread, roasted almonds, a bit of chocolate, then just as earlier it was unquestionably butterscotch, it was sawdust or fresh wood shavings, after airing even more like marshmallows!
  • Palate – Cinnamon sweet, the 2nd sip was quite bitter and a bit harsh, the settled into mulled wine, while pleasant, nothing remarkable
  • Finish – Bitter long, with a spice chaser, very dry and closed with nail polish
  • Water – Don’t. Loses the nose which is by far the best aspect. However it did bring out the most compelling nescafé instant coffee taste!

The nose was the most interesting element of this grain whisky. It was remarkable how it 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.

And yet, as we re-calibrated ourselves to grain, there was no doubt this was the clear favourite of the three single grains sampled!

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

  • Nose: Round and full of sweet golden syrup with a floral, herbal and gristy style
  • Palate: Carries a mouth coating molasses character plus spice-studded orange
  • Finish: Long, with gentle vanilla toffee, muscovado sugar and late sweet spices

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

  • Nose: Milk chocolate, thyme honey and a pinch of spicy clove.
  • Palate: Cardamom and cinnamon up front, followed by waves of caramel and brown sugar.
  • Finish: Minty, with heaps of chocolate-fudge brownie later on.

While I can’t say where this particular bottle was purchased, it is available through Master of Malt for $82. We sampled it on 31 August 2017 from a closed bottle.

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

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Berrys’ Girvan Single Grain 8 year (2006/2014) 46%

Our Single Grain trio evening began with a ‘statutory warning’… a not so gentle reminder to free ourselves from expectations of superior single malts and instead consider the humble grain that mostly goes disguised into blends…

And what did we find?

Girvan 8 year (2006/2014) Cask 532398 46% (Berrys’)

  • Nose – Though only 46%, had an initial ‘hit’ of pure alcohol! Quite grainy, then slowly 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
  • Palate – First pronouncement was “Well… it isn’t unpleasant” Hmm… Oddly, the 2nd sip was a bit harsher, back to the initial nose of alcohol… as we continued to sip, a bit of coconut could be found..
  • Finish – Yes… there is a finish… of pepper and spice
  • Water – Add a few drops or dollop and it pumps up the spice, shifting to quite a bitter quality
  • After airing – We set it aside and returned after nearly an hour to find it had settled into quite a sweet nose – almost cotton candy like! Whereas the palate and finish remained much the same

Overall… it was interesting to sample a single grain but it wouldn’t be the whisky of choice for any of us. I flipped back to notes from an earlier experience with the Girvan 28 year – clearly age helped yet there was enough to discern some similarities.

Distilled in 2006 and bottled in 2014 unchillfiltered and uncoloured.

For another perspective, here are the producer notes:

”This ex – Bourbon barrel single grain whisky has pronounced fragrances in vanilla, custard creams and some lively citrus. The palate is surprisingly full and oily with waves of coffee cream, spice and juicy lime. To finish there is a delicate spicy prickle.”

While I can’t say for certain, I strongly suspect this bottle was purchased from LeClos, Dubai Airport for $42. We sampled it 31 August 2017 from a closed bottle.

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

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