London Whisky Show – Colourful Watt Whiskies

Back in June, I caught in Cape Town, South Africa a rather unpleasant version of COVID. It not only knocked me flat for weeks, it also robbed me of my olfactory senses – a complete disaster for a whisky aficionado!

I’ve often described the experience as akin to seeing only in shades of grey instead of a burst of brilliant rainbow colours. Gradually over the months, some sense of smell has returned but it remains muted compared to the previous clarity – where I could usually easily discern distinct elements, today it can be trickier and I often know there is something more a layer deeper that I just can’t quite penetrate or surface enough to describe. Frustrating indeed… but I’m at least grateful some sense has returned!

This brings me back to colours – in a recent impromptu tasting in Germany, I shared that when first exploring different types of whiskies, one idea is to consider what colour one would associate with that particular whisky profile? This is a great technique to start processing more creative impressions – Does it remind you of a hot and fiery red? A verdant cool green? Or more seaside in style, bringing hints of blue to the fore? What about sunshine yellow?

I’ve seen some “colour coding” before – most recently Gordon & Macphail’s discovery series uses green for ex-bourbon casks, purple for ex-sherry, and grey for peaty drams. However what if the colour wasn’t according to such strict logic?

Enter Watt Whisky – a new independent bottler started by a husband / wife duo Mark and Kate Watt in Campbeltown. As Kate shared, they both came from the industry and decided to set-up their own range with a view to bringing interesting affordable whiskies to the world. The colour approach comes from her husband’s synaesthesia, where he literally smells colours!

We were tipped off that the Paul John was worth checking out, so this was the 1st we sampled.

Intrigued by Kate’s story of how they began their independent bottler journey in challenging times (2019 then….COVID!) with this being their 1st big whisky event, we continued on to the Dunbarton 21 year followed by the Belair Athol 13 year.

We were highly tempted to continue, however, this was getting into the later stage of our whisky wanderings where you know you need to become highly selected else every impression will simply blur together, losing its magic of discovery!

Well worth exploring more another time… enjoy our quick impressions from a small sniff, swish tasting at The Whisky Show London 2022!

Paul John 4 year (2016 / June 2021) 57.1% (Watt Whisky) 1 of 279 bottles

  • Nose – So incredibly tropical – taking the normal PJ tropical fruits and ramping them up several degrees
  • Palate – Intense spice, a bit of a flavour bomb, tropical fruit bowl, chocolate
  • Finish – Ahh… there is that spice shifting into bitter
  • Water – Yes, please!

It was great trying Paul John‘s character as selected by Kate & Mark Watt. What do they have to say:

Fully matured in an underground warehouse in Goa. Tropical fruits, spices, cloves & plums.

We shifted from India back to Scotland with a discontinued Lowland distillery – Dumbarton is a Lowland grain distillery, which also housed Inverleven and Lomond malt distilleries. Previously used primarily in Ballentine’s blends, the distillery closed in 2002 and is now demolished.

Dumbarton 21 year (2000 / June 2022) 57.1% (Watt Whisky) 222 bottles

    • Nose – It started off quietly, gently unfurling, caramel, light smoke
    • Palate – Clearly a grain, what was a light peat influence on the nose became a full-fledged smoke bomb…. frankly more like sipping an ashtray
    • Finish – Closed on more smoke

Wow! I don’t know what exactly I expected. One normally thinks of Lowland grains as being either gentle or harsh alcohol. I think this may be the 1st that I’ve tried which was finished in an ex-Caol Ila Hogshead,

What do the Watt Whisky folks have to say:

Finished for 9 months in an ex-Islay cask. Light, dry smoke, butterscotch, syrupy, ashy and medicinal.

We then moved on to the Highlands with the Blair Athol 13 year (2008 / Sep 2022) 56.7% (Watt Whisky) 301 bottles.

    • Nose – Nice! Extra berry, jammy
    • Palate – Well rounded
    • Finish – Dry and peppery

What a brilliant contrast to Dumbarton! Kate shared it was matured in a Hogshead and then finished in an ex-Red wine cask.

What do the Watt Whisky folks have to say:

Rested in a red wine barrique for 16 months. Strawberries, jelly sweets and cured meats.

This pair – Dumbarton and Blair Athol – had the same coloured labels and yet could not be more different in character! Fascinating.

What fun being introduced to another interesting independent bottler. Wishing Kate & Mark the very best with their venture!

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Lost love or true love? Rosebank 21 year 55.1%

At any whisky fair, there is usually one absolutely unforgettable whisky that stands out! At the 2022 London Whisky Show, this Rosebank was my personal “dream dram.”

From the moment it splashed into my glass, it was magic! And I kept only the Rosebank in my tasting glass from that point onwards, redirecting any additional tasting to my companion’s glass.

So what was it about this lost Lowland?

Rosebank 21 year “True Love” 55.1% (Elixir)

  • Colour – Gold
  • Nose – Absolutely beautiful, floral, mandarin oranges, honey
  • Palate – Nuanced and complex, a lovely balance of light milky chocolate with a hint of spice, simply marvelous
  • Finish – Carried through

Exquisite! The nose was absolutely captivating! For the next hour or so as we wandered through other explorations… I kept coming back to the entrancing aromas of the Rosebank, leaving just a couple sips til the very end.

As the sun set… I drained the last drop by the Thames and considered it a proper close to a brilliant Whisky event.

What do the folks at The Whisky Exchange / Elixir have to say about this bottle?

This first release from the Rosebank Roses series is composed solely of bourbon-cask-matured whisky. It displays all the sublime fruity character for which Rosebank is famed.

The Rosebank Roses series has been created by Elixir Distillers, which previously operated under the name Speciality Drinks Ltd.

Tasting Notes:

  • Nose; Crisp and sweet apples mix with honeysuckle, barley sugar, cough candy and vanilla toffee.
  • Palate: Oaky spice and liquorice root lead to white grapes, vanilla cream and chilli-spiced white chocolate.
  • Finish; Peppery spice fades to leave orchard fruit more white chocolate and grassy notes.

Would I agree with the tasting notes? Certainly… Even more remarkable, two days later, the empty glass was exceptional – a joyful perfume….. It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences that I’m very grateful for!

Is it still possible to purchase it? Yes! If you happen to have a mere GBP 15,000 lying around. Yowza! I knew it would be pricey but was completely unaware of just how rarified it has become!

My thoughts turned to an earlier Rosebank 21-year, sampled from an open bottle in Winnipeg at The Cabinet meeting in 2016. At that time, I was astounded to learn the bottle was auctioning for US$650. Fast forward 6 years and you might be lucky to find a similar bottle for US$2,000! Oh my!

This just proves my point – dream drams are just that – beautiful near-mythical creatures you rarely encounter and so appreciate those magical malty moments for what they are – dreams.

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Lost Lowland – Inverleven 1985 (Gordon + Macphail Private Collection)

One of the best things about a really good Whisky Fair is the opportunity to try something rare and special that you would ordinarily never be able to access or afford – a dream dram. For that reason alone, it is always worth stopping by the Gordon & Macphail section. This year, their offerings at the London Whisky Show were truly exceptional!

After whetting our whistle with the GlenAllachie 14 year & Bunnahabhain 11-year (Discovery range), Ardmore 21-year (Distillery Labels), and progressing into the “extra good stuff” with Old Pulteney 23 year & Tormore 29-year (Connoisseurs Choice), we shifted into rarified realms with a pair from their Private Collection.

This line was created to feature: 

truly exceptional and unique range of greatly aged single malts from a mixture of celebrated, little-known and now closed distilleries across Scotland.

As Stephen Ranking, Director of Prestige puts it:

“When a whisky from our Private Collection leaves it’s spiritual home in Elgin, it’s like saying farewell to a family friend.”

So what about this lost Lowland?

Inverleven 33 year (1985/2018) Refill Bourbon Cask 562 57.4% (G&MP Private Collection) 130 bottles

  • Colour – Burnished gold
  • Nose – Dusty, a touch of solvent, then it slowly started to open with cream, fruity like warmed pineapple
  • Palate – Pure magic! Fruity, then nutty, changing in the most delicious way, like having an indulgent dessert smothered with vanilla custard
  • Finish – Initially thought it was light, then realized it was such a delight with a subtle nuanced sweetness that lingered

Don’t let the 1st whiff put you off! This is an absolutely lovely Lowland and such a treat to try! In a word – wow!

What do the folks at Gordon & MacPhail have to say?

The unique distillation process at this now-silent site produced an aromatic and fruity Lowland dram typified in our Gordon & MacPhail 1985 from Inverleven Distillery. This rare single malt provides a delectable medley of white pepper notes and subtle spicy undertones on the palate, with a long and lingering charred oak finish.

  • Nose – Intense tropical fruit aromas to begin – cooked pineapple, honeydew melon, coconut cream, and little burst of sharp yet sweet lime. A sweet creaminess continues with notes of vanilla ice-cream, sugared red apples, apricot jam, and white chocolate. Hints of overripe cherry and almond marzipan develop into flowering gorse.
  • Palate – Creamy and mouth-coating; warming white pepper notes transform into sweet flambéed banana, madagascan vanilla pod, and salted toffee. subtle spicy undertones remain as toasted malt comes to the fore; a drying cocoa and charred oak edge develops.
  • Finish – A long and lingering charred oak finish with a subtle floral edge.

What more do they share?

A relatively young distillery, Inverleven Distillery was built in 1938, very close to the Lowland and Highland boundary line on the banks of the River Leven in the town of Dumbarton. Established by Hiram Walker and Sons, Inverleven was originally built as a sister site to the Dumbarton grain distillery. Featuring two copper pot stills, Inverleven was thought to be the first distillery to steam-heat both its wash and low wine stills, as opposed to the regular method of the time – direct fire. In 1956, an unusual Lomond Still, which has three perforated plates that can be cooled independently allowing for different styles of whisky to be produced, was added. The stills at Inverleven unfortunately fell silent in 1991 when the distillery closed before the site was demolished in 2002 but under Gordon & MacPhail’s watchful and nurturing eye, the distillery’s legacy lives on.

As for what this would set you back? Well… I knew it was well beyond my budget so didn’t check at the Whisky Show, however, when I later looked online, discovered it seems to now only be available via an auction for around GBP 1,000.

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Port Dundas 10 year 47.9%

Port Dundas distillery closed in 2011, demolished by its owners Diageo two hundred years after its operations began. The folks at Whisky Warehouse No 8 selected this discontinued grain as the Lowland whisky for its regions set. And what a chance to taste something that will not be repeated!

So… what did we think?

Port Dundas 10 year (26 Oct 2009 – 31 Oct 2019) Refill Sherry Hogshead 47.9% (288 bottles)

  • Colour – Dark amber
  • Nose – Moss, seaweed, wet leaves, petrol… then began to shift into Port, prunes, cherry syrup, herbal with a medicinal edge…. then after the 1st sip delightful vanilla cream, rum raisins
  • Palate – Oh my! What a contrast! It reminded us of a dark single rum such as Criterion or Hampden…. super smooth, heavy and rich, molasses and wood elements… all of this in the 1st sip! As we went in for the 2nd sip, we
  • Finish – Consistent with the palate… rummy and long
  • Water – We didn’t add but instead took a nice swig of cold water between sips… brought out more of the dark fruits and berries, tempering the rum quality slightly

Wow! This was quite an interesting one! It was hard to believe it was a ‘mere’ grain, however, we’ve learned to not underestimate the liquid magic that makes a blend.

We found it had such a distinctive character with a huge difference between nose and palate. And whilst we knew it was a refill sherry cask, the intense rum flavours from just 10 years in a refill sherry hogshead was remarkable.

What more did we have in ourWW8 Regions set?

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A venerable Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8%

One of the best things about a good Whisky Festival or very well stocked bar is an opportunity to try something that ordinarily you would never be able to buy on your own… That is exactly why at Berlin’s  Union Jack we shared a very clear brief – we wanted to end our evening with something truly exceptional and rare. Our preference was a discontinued distillery – something that we would otherwise never ever have a chance to experience….

My tasting companion mentioned interest in a Port Ellen however we were open to anything. Our whisky guide for the evening consulted the Union Jack owner and came up with a remarkable short-list: Rosebank 25 year, Glen Ord 1975, Brora 27 year (2015), Macallan-Glenlivet 1968/1983 (Berry Bros)… to which we also added the Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965), which my eye had spotted as soon as we walked in the door… A light sniff of each bottle made the choice very clear…

Obviously you can tell which one we selected!

We had earlier discussed the Glenglassaugh distillery and how challenging it is to have stock of remarkable old vintage whiskies produced before its closure vs a young upstart that was – frankly speaking – initially bottled before it was ready. I shared how malt maniac Krishna Nakula was so enthusiastic about the “old” and had once shared a sample of the “new” make spirit from the re-start.

For those not familiar, Glenglassaugh followed the path of many a Scottish distillery. Founded in 1875 until its closure in 1986. It was re-opened in 2008 and had a wee bit of a rocky re-start however understand it is getting its game together and was joined a few years ago by master blender Rachel Barrie.

However enough pre-amble… what matters most is what we discovered!

Glenglassaugh 40 year (1965) 47.8% (Murray McDavid Mission) Bottle 084/411

  • Nose – Simply superb, berries mashed and fresh, nuanced, like an Eaton mess – full of crunchy mirage, berries and cream, an antique quality opening up further to reveal a hint of coffee richness, a fruity compote, red liquorice, red candies
  • Palate – Exquisite, soft yet big, silky smooth, full flavoured yet elegant, more of that hint of coffee, so balanced with a curl of smoke sneaking up from behind, chocolate coffee cream
  • Finish – Gorgeous – such a long fruity fabulous finish

Having the great fortune of sampling a few venerable, I was poised for something a bit shy… instead this was an absolute delight. Classic and yet still full and flavourful, not a single off note instead it was pure indulgence.

There was such sophistication – from bursting berries to that hint of smoke… it was simply outstanding and well worth choosing as our grand finale.

What more do we know? The label shares it was matured in Sherry and Rivesaltes Casks. I’ll admit I had to look up “Rivesaltes” to find it is a sweet wine made from red or white grapes from the Languedoc region of France. Like sherry, it is a fortified wine of which there are several variations using Grenache, Muscat, Malvoisie with styles ranging from amber, garnet, tuilé or rosé. I will certainly keep my eye out for “Rivesaltes” in future as it clearly did great things for this particular whisky along with the Sherry cask.

The best quote of the evening came from our guide?

“I just cry that they don’t make whisky like this anymore.”

To put into perspective, the average value of this bottle in auctions is approx € 1755 though likely impossible to find now. As for us? It set us back a hefty EUR 80 for a glass however we both felt privileged to have had an opportunity to try.

Before this “penultimate” dram, we had  explored three sets of “pairings” which included:

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Singapore’s The Swan Song

Imagine a place that has only one of a kind drams… those rare bottles where there are merely a few hundred or so ever produced. And once gone, they are no more!

That is exactly what you can expect at The Swan Song in Singapore.

It is tucked away behind the main Prinsep Street, up a flight of stairs and open only Thursday to Sunday or holidays. Why? Put simply this is a passion project run by individuals who were brought together by a philosophy that sharing is caring.

Here you can try a rare open bottle from a closed distilleries such as Lochside, Port Ellen and Brora or explore mature marvel from the 1960s.

Kelvin Hoon and Arun Prashant are the men behind this remarkable place. Arun I had met years before when he managed The Auld Alliance where he was responsible for one of my most memorable tasting evenings in Singapore. Amazingly after many years, when we walked in, he remembered that night too.

So under his able guidance, what did we try November 1, 2018?

We began with a Cadenhead’s Linkwood-Glenlivet 28 year (1989/2017) 43.7% with only 289 bottles from a barrel purchased by The Swan Song, The Writing Club, Quaich Bar and Ubin Seafood.

It was rich, complex, one that makes you slow down and unravel its many layers. In short, it was the perfect way to get into the mood for something truly special.

Curious to know more? Just check out Justin Choo’s post on Spirited Singapore with some insider insight.

Then my companion and I each selected one dram:

Lochside 22 year (May 1979/Jan 2001) 50% (Douglas Laing’s Old Malt Cask) 1 of 276

I had such fabulous memories of the Lochside 1981, that this was an easy pick. And it absolutely did not disappoint!

Port Charlotte 12 year (2004/2016) 57.3% (Highland Laird) Bottle 81 of 225

Spot on for my friend – peat, complexity and just a damn good dram!

And an incredible experience in honour of my birthday…

Longmorn 1969 61.5% (G&MP), bottled in the 1980s

Can I just say… words failed me. This was by far the highlight of my entire trip to Singapore.

Huge thank you to Arun and team for your generosity of spirit with your spirits – a unique collection that is there to be enjoyed by the discerning or those who simply want to discover! Bravo to the team and look forward to more opportunities to enjoy a dram there on my next trip to Singapore… before it sings its swan song.

You too can enjoy your Swan Song experience in Singapore at:

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