Lagg Distillery – new kid on Isle of Arran

We didn’t actually plan to go to Lagg Distillery… our primary intent for a day in Isle of Arran was to spend time at the Lochranza Distillery and then explore a castle or two, maybe do some hiking.  However as we drove around the Island… we found ourselves passing Machir Moor, lunch at the golf club just up from Blackwaterfoot…. and there we were in Lagg… how could we simply drive past?

And yet in these strange COVID times, a visit to a distillery is a cautious and limited activity. Care is taken to reduce entry and minimize contact. Yet even with these restrictions, it was clear it would be worth stopping and spending a few moments getting a glimpse of might be possible when fully open.

What about a distillery tour? Alas not possible. A tasting? Not a proper sit down affair. However you can go to the rather lovely visitor centre’s shop. Here you can peruse books and art celebrating whisky and the island. Meander through a lovely assortment of whiskies and related paraphernalia.

And around the corner from this section was a generous range of Arran whiskies… including an opportunity to purchase some of the new Lagg distillery’s new make spirit, miniatures….

Alternatively… there is a whole wall of full bottles… just waiting to be taken home… with friendly staff happy to help share insights into the different expressions.

Or, best of all, a chance to pour your own 200ml bottle from a cask. I couldn’t resist… just haven’t decided if it will go home to hubby to Mumbai or join me back in Nurnberg.

It is a beautiful site and I can just picture enjoying a light bite in the bright central cafe area overlooking Alisa Craig, also known as Paddy’s milestone.

What about Arran samples? Though there were a few wee drops available at the shop to help decide what to buy, I skipped. However here are a  few notes from previous tasting experiences:

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Minis – Cambus 24 year 52.7%

I will admit I had high hopes for this one – both as it is from North Star and also my last Cambus stood out as my favourite grain yet!

Cambus 24 year (May 1993/Sep 2027) 52.7% (North Star – Series 003)

  • Colour – Light gold
  • Nose – Big old dusty cupboard, fruity yet also sour, some leather reminiscent of a tannery, earthy, dry old leaves – that distinctive neem leaf in particular, sweet dry flowers… started to shift into vanilla toffee, caramel cream
  • Palate – Light yet slightly sharp, a bit piquant, sour fruits, curiously “slim”
  • Finish – Negligible
  • Water – Softens the grain on the tongue, making it milder… settled into cured leather with toffee cream, a bit of an odd combination

We set it aside for a bit and returned to find the sulfur of matchsticks with sweet cinnamon! It wasn’t bad but it didn’t exactly rock our boat.

Though we originally tasted the Cambus in February 2020, there was a bit remaining which I revisited in May. What did I find? The sour fruits were quite pronounced on the nose, however the sharpness we found earlier was gone, replaced with sweetness that became quite tasty on the palate. Not a bad way to finish the last few drops!

What do the folks at North Star have to say?

  • Nose: Cinnamon & warmed cloves
  • Palate: Buttered toffee and shortbread
  • Finish: Sweet rum & raisin

What more do we know? Only that it was bottled from a refill Pedro Ximenez sherry butt.

Here are a few others I tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Dubai Dream Drams – SMWS “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (1977) 49.6%

In our special “Dream Drams” evening in Dubai early 2019, we went from a lively and most enjoyable Irish whiskey to a completely different direction with a single grain.

And no ordinary grain, it was a Strathclyde bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) from 1977, matured for 38 years, producing only 72 bottles from a refill ex-bourbon cask…

And in their trademark way, it was creatively dubbed “Busy Buzzing Bees” by the SMWS folks.

What did our merry tasting group in Dubai have to say about it?

SMWS G10.10 “Busy buzzing bees” 38 years (23 Nov 1977) 49.6%

  • Nose – It greeted us with fresh pepper, then mellowed in vanilla, nougat, eucalyptus, emerging a distinctive farm-like quality, cedar wood, light lavender
  • Palate – Honey and caramel, a few found it “buttery”, delightfully sweet
  • Finish – Bitter almond
  • Water – Beautiful and silky

How rare it is to have a grain whisky that has matured nearly 40 years… we were honoured to have such an opportunity.

What did the SMWS folks have to say about this whisky?

A light, sweet and floral aroma greeted the Panel. Sugar dusted fruit flavoured bonbons and candy corn were mentioned before a picture full of promise emerged; sitting in the garden sipping on a Lemon Drop Martini and listening to the bees buzzing in the laurel hedge.

The taste had honey-roasted peaches with lavender ice cream whilst the overall impression was one of an almost perfect balance between delicate, perfumed sweetness and dry wood spice.

A drop of water and a plate of seafood pasta in a creamy marinara sauce and a glass of chilled, slightly mineralic, Riesling Auslese was being served.

DRINKING TIP: Perfect to replace a dessert wine

For those curious to try, it is still showing as available through the SMWS for £278.40.

Here are a few more whiskies we sampled in our Dubai Dream Drams evening:

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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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