Tag Archives: single malt

Feis Ile 2016

Islay 2
The secret fishermen pools near Port Ellen, Islay

Nick Morgan serenaded us with a whimsical rendition of ‘Riders in the storm’. The Paps of Jura broke through wispy clouds across the Sound of Ila. A festival edition of Caol Ila in hand. How extraordinary. Even more impressive was the Australian gentleman in the crowd who had made the pilgrimage every year for the last eight years…such is the pull of Feis Ile.

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Lagavulin Day in the distillery’s 200th year
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Cooperage demonstration, Lagavulin Distillery

My first ever Islay whisky festival coincided with the 200th anniversary of Lagavulin. A 3 hour queue for the festival bottling was avoided. I made a promise to myself not to get caught up in the buying frenzy and to instead focus on soaking up the atmosphere of this very special occasion. I loved the cooperage display and speaking to enthusiasts from all over the world. So many good stories and so many happy faces. The drams flowed freely from the distillery but also amongst the whisky geeks. Sample bottles emerged from clunking bags and eyebrows raised with interest at each new arrival.

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The Yellow Submarine arrives at Bruichladdich!

At Bruichladdich, the locals came out in force. We were treated to a wonderful performance from the pipeband and a dram of ‘Yellow Submarine’. I took an impromptu tour of the distillery and got acquainted with ‘Ugly Betty’, the Lomond still used for The Botanist gin. The highlight of the day was sampling a 23 year old rare malt Port Ellen which appeared out of nowhere from a friend of a friend. Serendipity and the stuff you can’t plan is the part I enjoy the most about these gatherings of the faithful!

With hitch-hiking proving to be the best way around the island, I headed for Port Ellen maltings. A fascinating peek at the inside of drum maltings and the wonderful smell of peat smoke roaring through the kilns. It proved to be a welcome addition to the distillery events and added an element of  education to the festival experience.

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Beautiful Islay, Port Ellen

I wish I could have stayed for the full eight days but a four day trip had to suffice. I have no doubt I will be back as Islay is whisky Mecca and the Feis Ile is whisky Hajj. To all the Ilachs dedicated to organising such a remarkable festival, I raise a dram to you.  Lang may yer lum reek Feis Ile!

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Camping whisky enthusiasts

10 (Empty) Green Bottles…

…Sitting on the Wall.

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10 empty green bottles that contained superb single cask whiskies

Each empty bottle reflects the passing of time and the true nature of impermanence. Every one of these green soldiers is gone forever. Each a single cask whisky and each like a snowflake – never to be repeated again. Most casks contain only 200-300 bottles and I am unlikely to acquire another. Like the passing of clouds, lightning and morning dew the only constant is change. I could mourn the loss of each of these marvelous drams, stuck in melancholy and attachment to the past. However, I rejoice in the fact that I was alive when mother nature and humankind combined to produce such exquisite, delectable spirits.

I compare the experience of drinking single cask whisky to the creation of a Mandala. Buddhist monks will spend days carefully painting with sand, producing detailed and intricate geometric shapes, only to wipe them away in an instant upon completion. Art is used as a metaphor to be mindful of the transient nature of life.

Every cask’s journey started in the fields and rivers. Water and barley subject to the climatic and environmental conditions of the time. Then, differing production techniques take over. Floor maltings, drum maltings, Saladin boxes, still shapes, fermentation times, heating sources, wooden washbacks, stainless steel washbacks to name but a few. Then, selection of the cask – Bourbon, Sherry, Port, Wine, Rum. The number of variables is limitless. Years pass in a changing world and then finally the spirit must pass its final test….. The Tasting Panel. Only then will it be bottled by The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and made available to members around the world. What an incredible journey, and what a wonderful privilege to experience malts so unique and rare. Single cask whisky rewards the serendipitous adventurer. The senses await in anticipation as to what organoleptic delights the next ten green bottles might bring!

The 10 whiskies were:

  1. 3.226 – Cigar Smoke and Newhaven Fish Boxes – 16 year old Bowmore in a refill butt ex-sherry cask, 1 of 615 bottles, 58.3%
  2. 27.105 – Too Cool for School – 13 year old Springbank in a refill hogshead ex-sherry cask, 1 of 288 bottles, 53.9%
  3. 29.132 – Hospitals and Japanese Restaurants – 21 year old Laphroaig in a refill butt ex-sherry, 1 of 543 bottles, 56.6%
  4. 31.26 – BBQ Smoke by a Rolling Sea – 24 year old Jura in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 262 bottles, 53.6%
  5. 36.65 – Apple Flavoured Tobacco in a Hookah – 15 year old Benrinnes in a refill barrel ex-bourbon, 1 of 208 bottles, 58.6%
  6. 42.13 – Picnic on a Puffer – 8 year old Tobermory (Ledaig) in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 328 bottles, 61.1%
  7. 53.202 – A Bracing Outdoors Loving Character – 17 year old Caol Ila in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 164 bottles, 56.4%
  8. 73.58 – Simple and Seductive – 21 year old Aultmore in a refill hogshead ex-bourbon, 1 of 253, 57.0%
  9. 121.61 – Maggie Thatcher at the Funfair – 14 year old Isle of Arran in a refill barrel ex-bourbon, 1 of 203 bottles, 54.5%
  10. 127.39 – Intensely Tasty – 11 year old Port Charlotte in a refill butt ex-sherry, 1 of 579 bottles, 66.7%

End of the Golden Road

…and the birth of ‘The Hearach’

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First glimpse of the Hearach

Ensconced in Fasgadh Cottage for one last night, listening to the crackling of logs on the fire, I reflect upon my Isle of Harris adventure. I came to the island to assist in the optimisation of the Harris Gin. I leave with a community close to my heart, valuable distilling experience and memories of spectacular scenery in all weathers.

Perhaps the most valuable teaching from my time here is that ‘life takes time’. Why rush? The journey itself is often the most rewarding part of any adventure. And so it is with much gratitude that I find myself lucky enough to witness the start a new journey in whisky.

‘The Hearach’ was born on the 17th of December 2015. The new make spirit ran from Eva clear and bright. My first nosing revealed a spirit strong in character but with subtle estery notes and an underlying sweetness. I discovered bold sulphury and meaty flavours,  a good hint of peat and creme brulee. The mouthfeel was oily, yet creamy, with stewed fruits filling the mouth with flavour. There is complexity and intrigue in the new make. The makings of a great whisky are present, but only the long wait to maturity will reveal the true nature of ‘The Hearach’.

To celebrate the Tarbert team headed to the Harris Hotel to enjoy a Christmas night out. Turkey, venison and puddings were served and a good dosage of liquid cheer. My favourite part of the evening, however, was listening to the speeches from the visionaries and directors that brought this dream into reality. It was only then that I realised just how much effort, dedication and determination was required to reach this wonderful milestone. In effect, ‘The Hearach’ is already EIGHT years in the making.

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The Golden Road in Harris winding through the rocky landscape

The golden road in Harris was so named because the locals claim it cost so much to build that it must be paved with gold. My journey along the golden road is now over but I will no doubt return in the future to see the next chapter in this whisky story. Memorable will be the day when I finally taste Harris’s liquid gold.

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The ‘Hebrides’ awaits the next load of passengers in Tarbert before returning to Uig in Skye… so long Harris, you will be missed!

Slàinte mhor a h-uile là a chi ‘s nach fhaic!

Scenic Scotch No.6 – A BenRiach in Austria

BenRiach 25 year-old in the snowy Alps of Tyrol
BenRiach 25 year-old in the snowy Alps surrounding Mieming, Tyrol

The 25 year-old Authenticus peated BenRiach is an intense experience. Rich fruits, wild honey and a warming blast of peat. The texture is silky smooth, the body deep and complex, the finish long and luxurious. This whisky is exquisite. It stood tall and bold against the dramatic, rugged scenery of the Austrian Alps. The moody dark clouds threatened further snow as the milky turquoise waters from mountain glaciers trickled by. Alpine chalets, with plumes of wood smoke emanating from their kachel-ovens, dot the Mieming plateau. The sound of a cow’s bell is never far away.

Admire the Riedel crystal single malt whisky glass containing the golden liquid. The Austrian artisanal glass maker, George Riedel, set about producing the perfect whisky glass in 1992. He designed a thistle shaped glass with a short stem. The lip of the glass helps to accentuate sweetness and creaminess by directing the spirit to the tip of the tongue. A panel of experts tested the glass against a range of other glasses and agreed that the Riedel glass produced the best tasting experience. However, perfection does not come cheap, these glasses are at least £30 each. Just as well the BenRiach 25 year-old whisky is befitting of such a valuable vessel.

This wonderfully Scenic Scotch comes courtesy of Peter in Mieming, Tyrol, Austria.

Please send your whisky pics to scenicscotch@gmail.com

Scenic Scotch No.5 – Bruichladdich Links on the Old Course

Bruichladdich Links in its natural surroundings
Bruichladdich Links in its natural surroundings

When I was given the gift of a miniature ‘Bruichladdich Links’, festooned with an image of the Old Course at St. Andrews, I knew there was only one place to go to enjoy this delightful dram. The majestic view of the famous 18th hole leading up to the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse had me reminiscing of the great moments that have graced the home of golf. Tiger Woods clinching his inaugural grand slam here in 2000 and Jack Nicklaus (two-time winner at the Old Course in 1970 and 1978) standing on the Swilcan bridge waving goodbye to the rapturous Open crowds for the last time in 2005.

Jack Nicklaus's iconic moment
Jack Nicklaus’s iconic moment

The feeling of such history and grandeur imparts a majestic quality to a walk around the Old Course. Therefore, I was grateful that a wee Bruicladdich Links had led me on this journey. Furthermore, the spirit within kept me warm as the long shadows of the winter sun began to fade. As I enjoyed the whisky I noticed citrus fruits, especially lemon and orange peel, followed by salty sea spray and peat smoke. The salt character mingled well with the sea air which whispered over the undulating fairways. A lovely dram in lovely surroundings.

The last task was to replicate the image on the miniature. With a bit of survey work and favourable light at dusk, I snapped the following image….

Replicating the glorious scence as depicted on the bottle
Replicating the glorious scene as depicted on the bottle

When I watch The 2015 Open Championship in St Andrews this summer I will have fond memories of a Bruichladdich Links on the Old Course. For more information please visit: http://www.theopen.com/

If you would like to contribute an image of a scenic scotch in your part of the world please submit to scenicscotch@gmail.com and I’ll get it posted.

Sláinte!

Scenic Scotch No. 3 – Scapa in New Lanark

The third Scenic Scotch in the series comes from New Lanark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.

A Scapa in misty New Lanark
A Scapa in misty New Lanark

New Lanark is a model industrial village dating from 1785. It is located a short distance downstream from the great Falls of Clyde, the largest waterfall in the UK by volume. In partnership with Glasgow businessman David Dale, the visionary innovator Richard Arkwright sought to harness the power of the fast flowing water to create a global powerhouse of textile production. In 1799, ownership changed hands to Welshman Robert Owen, an astute idealist who turned New Lanark into a centre of social reform. Workers were housed in superior living conditions to those typical of that time and benefited from more humane working practices. New Lanark’s credentials as a utopian society were further reinforced by an emphasis on the education of children. Communal buildings such as the Nursery Buildings, The Institute for the Formation of Character, The Co-operative Store and the School for Children were all monuments to a paternalistic leader who sought a better society as well as profit. By 1821, New Lanark had become one of the largest planned communities in Europe with a population of 2,300 and was as an example to the world of a more dignified and co-operative way of life.

In 1832, William Cobbett wrote of New Lanark during his Tour of Scotland,

“..you come to a spot, as you descend the hill, where you have a full view of the great Falls of Clyde, with the accompanying rocks and woods which form the banks of the river. At the same time you see the green hills, and cattle and sheep feeding on them, at the summits of the banks on each side, and over the tops of the trees. The fine buildings of the factories are just under you: and this, all taken together, is by far the most beautiful sight that my eyes ever beheld.”

Such inspirational surroundings deserve an inspirational whisky. The Scapa from Orkney is be-fitting of such grandeur. The distillery is the second most northerly in Scotland (a mere half mile further south than Highland Park) and is perched above another strategic and powerful body of water, Scapa Flow. Scapa is a genteel whisky compared to many of its island cousins being less peated and more floral and sweet with hints of heather honey and salt. Scapa complements New Lanark with its delicate sophistication. A model malt for a model mill town.

Please send all Scenic Scotch submissions to: scenicscotch@gmail.com

Photo credits: Maxi Zimmermann, Berlin, Germany.

Scenic Scotch No.2 – Caledonia

This Scenic Scotch was taken by Maxi Zimmerman on a recent trip to Edinburgh from Berlin. She beautifully captures the Caledonia atop Calton Hill, overlooking the festivities in Princes Street below as the sun fades for the last time in 2014. Thank you Maxi!

Scenic Scotch No.2 - A Hogmanay Caledonia atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Photo credits - Maxi Zimmermann
Scenic Scotch No.2 – A Hogmanay Caledonia atop Calton Hill in Edinburgh. Photo credits – Maxi Zimmermann

On the shores of Brittany in 1977 Dougie MacLean wrote his love song for Scotland, ‘Caledonia’. The Perthshire folk musician’s most famous work resonates to all those far from friends, family and the familiar surroundings of home. It also resonated with Andrew Symington, the owner of Edradour Distillery, who teamed up with Dougie Maclean to produce ‘Caledonia’, a 12-year-old single malt whisky. Edradour is a small traditional farm distillery in Perthshire, Scotland, with delightful whitewashed buildings nestled in a rustic setting. It continues to make whisky the old way, making it the perfect partner for a timeless folk song.

If you would like to sing along while enjoying this Scenic Scotch, here is the chorus:

“Let me tell you that I love you and I think about you all the time

Caledonia you’re calling me and now I’m going home

But if I should become a stranger you know that it would make me more than sad

Caledonia’s been everything I’ve ever had”

Isn’t that lovely….Sláinte!

Please send all Scenic Scotch’s to: ScenicScotch@gmail.com