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Wednesday 31 March 2021



<FROM 2011 TO 2015>

When Kilchoman came into the Scottish distilling scene 15 years ago, they were entering an industry that could not have been more steeped in tradition. In fact, they were the first new Scotch distillery on Islay in over a hundred years. So, how could they stand out and create their own identity in a region that had a well-established status? They looked to the past, present, and future and started their own traditions.

The location of Kilchoman on Islay’s west coast has some historical resonance. It was in this parish that the MacBeatha/Beaton family settled when they came across in 1300 from what is now County Antrim in Northern Ireland.

They were doctors (a Beaton was the hereditary physician to the kings of Scotland for hundreds of years) who translated medical texts about distillation from Latin into Gaelic. There is therefore a theory (albeit unproven) that Islay was the first place where distillation took place in Scotland – and that Kilchoman parish was where it occurred.

It wasn’t so much this which caused Anthony Wills to build his farm distillery here in 2005 – it was more the fact that there was a spare steading available at Rockside Farm. In building Kilchoman, the Wills family has brought farm distilling back to Islay.

Now surrounded by barley fields, the distillery expanded in 2007 and built new warehouses. In November 2017, an additional malting floor and kiln were built on site. 

In May 2019, Kilchoman doubled production with the construction of a new stillhouse containing two more stills, along with a new mash tun and six new washbacks. That has taken production capacity close to 0.5m litres of pure alcohol a year and will enable experimental runs using different yeast and barley varieties.

Kilchoman has done a fantastic job of championing the merits of young whisky. Their first single malt was released in 2009 as a three years old. With that success, they looked to the past and revitalised the once-common practice of farm-scale distilling. Just like 200 years ago, they grow, malt and peat their own barley, and also all distilling, maturation, and bottling are all done within the farm distillery limits. The intended experience is to transport the imbiber to the midst of their barley fields as they sip.

These days 25% of its barley requirements come from Islay (mostly from fields around the distillery). It has two small malting floors and kilns which produce a medium-peated malt – the heavily peated with which it is mixed comes from Port Ellen. Inside the distillery, fermentation is long, helping to create fruitiness to balance the shoreline/shellfish-like phenolics. At the same time, an enlightened (and pricey) wood policy has seen a high percentage of first-fill ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks being used. The result was that Kilchoman hit the start of its mature period at a remarkably young age.    

Kilchoman Distillery on Islay has quaint names for its NAS whiskies and is often asked what the names stand for in some of their core range expressions.

Kilchoman Machir Bay: Their first continual release was launched back in 2012 and it seemed obvious to name it after the beautiful beach nearby– Machir Bay. This bay is located on the west coast of Islay, just along the road from the distillery. The area surrounding the Bay is sparsely populated today, but archaeological evidence shows a long history of humans settling in the parish of Kilchoman. There are remnants of two hamlets to the southeast, Dun Neadean and Dun Chroisprig, located on a rocky knoll by the coastline, near the old road between Kilchoman and another small hamlet to the south, Kilchiaran.

Machir Bay is a beach that is equally as stunning on a stormy day in the middle of winter as it is on a warm, sunny day in summer. On bad weather days, storms can be really frenzied. It has had its share of shipwrecks too, three of them in the past 200 years. Perhaps the most famous incident was the wreck of HMS Otranto in October 1918, shortly before the end of WW I. A navigation error caused it to collide with HMS Kashmir. The casualty toll was estimated at 470 men, which makes it one of the worst convoy accidents of the war.

With almost two km of beautiful sandy beach, a fresh sea breeze and stunning sunsets, it is easy to see why it is such a popular place with both locals and visitors. Named after this spectacular beach, the award-winning Machir Bay is the flagship of the Kilchoman Range. It has a vatting of approximately 90% bourbon barrels and 10% oloroso sherry casks.

Now for the spirit. The body of the bottle is round and thick with a gently sloping shoulder that matches up with a relatively short neck. The whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper, and there’s a metal emblem of the distillery embedded in the glass. Be careful; the bottle is very heavy and the neck/cork small. DO NOT lift these bottles by the neck-no point testing your luck.

The labelling here is nice, above average for a Scotch whisky, with a large colour-coordinated label for the distillery name and then a smaller label underneath with the specific brand and bottling details. It’s the right balance: a good thickness to catch the eye and understand what you’re getting, while still allowing you to see the spirit on the other side of the glass no matter how much has ‘evaporated’ over time.

The foremost thing you’ll notice is that this is definitively on the lighter side of the colour spectrum when it comes to Scotch whisky: a hay-coloured liquid, almost light gold. This whisky does not use artificial caramel colour, e150A. Moreover, at 46% ABV, it is not chill-filtered and states so on the label.

The first immediately noticeable aroma is the peat smoke note that you would expect from an Islay scotch, but with an unusual and unmistakable tang. That will be the maritime air buttressed by a citric influence mixed with some honey and flower blossoms. The excellent nip stays on, showing a little bit of tangy fruit in there —peach, lemon, orange, kinoo, pear and just a touch of nuttiness.

The taste is intense; not as big a hammer as Ardbeg but close to a Lagavulin 16. The known ppm is 50, making the taste something to remember. There’s the peat smoke up front but there’s also much more to it than that. The citrus of the lemon and the peach as anticipated from the aroma, some vanilla off the oak, a bit of maltiness from the grains, and a heavy helping of minerals — the salty note from the sea breeze.

The finish is graceful and the first time you get a trace of bitterness, rounding off the overall profile.

ICE: If you add ice, the bitterness withdraws, reducing its complexity. It becomes too smooth. Some may like that experience. But, on the other hand, the peat smoke is significantly diminished. This version of the spirit becomes more fruity and floral-forward, with friendly peat to balance things out, making it closer to a Highland scotch than an Islay product. What cannot leave are the mineral notes. It retains that briny note that you always note in spirits aged by the seaside, very Talisker-like.

Kilchoman Sanaig: Sanaig, the second continual release which was launched in 2014, is named after a rugged coastal inlet north of the distillery.         

The west coast of Islay is regularly battered by strong Atlantic storms. These high winds and rough seas have carved into the coastline to dramatic effect, none more so than at Sanaigmore, the north-western tip which is where their Sanaig release has gained its name. With clear waters and white sand, Sanaigmore is a beautiful place to visit. With stunning views from the clifftop, you can see the hills in the northeast of Islay and the Paps of Jura in the far distance. On a very clear day, you can even see as far as the islands of Mull and Colonsay 30 km to the North.

This predominantly sherry cask matured scotch whisky consists of approximately 70% oloroso hogsheads and 30% bourbon barrels, imparting a balance of dried fruits, dark chocolate and rich peat smoke into the spirit.

Sanaig neatly balances the contrasting influences of rich sherry maturation, bourbon barrel finesse and Islay peat smoke

This Kilchoman is more towards sherry casks, as opposed to the bourbon-forward Machir Bay. In Sanaig’s case, it’s a 70:30 ratio between sherry and bourbon casks, an extra 25 months of ageing in oloroso sherry casks. Sanaig is also bottled at 46% ABV without chill-filtration or added colour, a classical craft presentation. It’s a 50 ppm whisky, so one can expect a punch.

There is a curious mixture of sweet peat and ashes in the aroma plus prickly warmth from the wood. A hint of incense. Once the smoke fades, fruitiness clearly develops along with black pepper and strong woody peat. There are persistent notes of lime peel. Sherry notes come in somewhat late, seconded to the peat.

In the mouth, the peat is more forward, half sweet and half smoke. A medium to lightweight texture – it’s not especially viscous, but still pleasant. Not much tongue burn. A good balance between peat and sweet notes. Again, the peat appears to be more Highland peat style with more green notes and few seaweed and iodine medicinal notes.

The finish is long, bordering on savoury, like seafood with Limca. Ends with dry peat and oak tannins.

Overall: An elegant, if straightforward peated malt with sherry in the background. You have to let the Kilchoman Sanaig breathe. When it first rolls out it’s an unruly ball of char and smoke, but let it breathe and good things begin to happen. Sweetness, oils and earthier notes arrive and get pinned together with the peat. It’s an exercise in patience. This is a good whisky after it’s had a moment to wake up. It’s truly a marvel of what they’ve achieved for it to overshoot Machir Bay.

Despite the utilisation of sherry casks, Kilchoman Sanaig remains a particularly coastal whisky. There’s certainly a fair amount of sweetness here, but this is played off against some sharp mineral aromas and flavours, making for a balanced and well-integrated expression. Those searching for big overt sherry-driven flavours from Kilchoman should probably focus on either Loch Gorm or on one of the distillery’s single-cask releases. Sanaig offers more gradation – its vatting of casks creating an expression where the sherry influence is supporting the wider array of spirit and peat flavours, rather than taking charge.

Kilchoman 100% Islay 10th Edition: Kilchoman’s 100% Islay range is the world’s only Single Farm Single Malt Scotch Whisky. It represents the revival of traditional farm distilling; growing their own barley before malting, distilling, maturing and bottling every bottle of their 100% Islay range on site. The 100% Islay 10th Edition 50% ABV was distilled from their 2007, 2009 and 2010 barley harvests before being matured in 39 bourbon barrels and 2 oloroso sherry butts for a minimum of 9 years, resulting in a release of 12,400 bottles in 2011.

One can even trace the origins back to the barley variety, field and farmer who planted it. This edition was matured in the on-site dunnage warehouses before it was bottled at 50% ABV. As with all 100% Islay releases, it only weighs in at 20ppm compared to Kilchoman's usual 50ppm, allowing the tropical notes from the bourbon barrel to really shine through. 100% Islay still packs enough peat to fully satisfy your cravings. The fumes and plumes form a wonderful union with the other notes, which are predominantly fruity, grainy, creamy and sweet. Tremendously approachable and full of character. 

Nose: Floral notes with citrus sweetness, light peat smoke and apricots.

Palate: Prunes, cinnamon and cooked apples & pears with hints of fresh smoke.

Finish: Waves of mildly spiced peat smoke, lasting sweetness and rich sherry notes.


Loch Gorm is the name given to Kilchoman’s annual sherry matured limited edition.  Named after Islay’s largest freshwater lake neighbouring the distillery, the dark, peat-coloured murky colour of the loch’s water is reflected in the rich coppery tones of the sherry-matured Loch Gorm release. Loch Gorm is also Islay’s biggest freshwater loch with an abundance of wildlife. The Allt Gleann Osamail burn, from which Kilchoman collects their production water, is one of the loch’s major tributaries.

Overlooked by the distillery, Loch Gorm is situated less than a mile from the Atlantic coast, roughly between Machir Bay in the south and Saligo Bay in the west. With a four-mile circumference, it is Islay’s biggest freshwater loch with an abundance of wildlife and dark peat-coloured waters.  The Allt Gleann Osamail burn, from which we collect our production water, is one of the loch’s major tributaries.  Loch Gorm also has a very interesting history.  An example of this is the small island in the southeast called Eilean Mor.  There are overgrown remains of a castle which dates back to the late 16th and early 17th centuries.


Kilchoman Loch Gorm: Loch Gorm, named after this famously dark and peaty loch, is a sherry cask single malt matured exclusively in oloroso casks, extracting the rich spicy character of the European oak as it ages in their Islay warehouse.  These ex-oloroso sherry casks impart a combination of heavy sherry notes, spicy dark chocolate, rich fruits and burnt sugar. This balances beautifully with the Kilchoman peat smoke.  Limited editions of Loch Gorm are launched annually.

The Oloroso sherry maturation of Loch Gorm gives it a neat balance of big rich sherry flavours which pair very nicely with the peat smoke, soft fruits and typical sweetness of Kilchoman

The always hotly anticipated Loch Gorm release for 2021 is a vatting of 24 oloroso sherry butts filled in 2011 and 2012. It is thus a minimum of 9 years old. Jam-packed with juicy-fruit and dry barbeque smoke, excellent as usual from the Islay farm distillery.

The 50 ppm Kilchoman Loch Gorm is exclusively matured in oloroso sherry casks from the renowned bodega, Jose Miguel Martin. It is common for distilleries to use a variety of sherry producers but for consistent quality and character, it is vital that Kilchoman sources them all from just one bodega. They select a combination of sherry butts and hogsheads from Jose Miguel Martin that provides two separate styles of maturation.

These ex-oloroso sherry casks impart a combination of heavy sherry notes, spicy dark chocolate, rich fruits and burnt sugar. This balances beautifully with the Kilchoman peat smoke and citrus fruits found within the farm-crafted spirit.

Nose: Macerated lemons, buttery shortbread and Moroccan spices give way to rich sherry notes and faint notes of peat smoke.

Palate: Cloves, dark chocolate and juicy prunes with waves of roasted almonds, sultanas, nougat and peat embers.

Finish: Herbaceous, earthy and maritime with liquorice, leather and a distinctly dry sherry-soaked finish.

"Although we have always filled the bulk of our spirit into ex-bourbon barrels, the Loch Gorm releases have shown how well our peated Islay spirit can combine with sherry casks, which is not always an easy task. Rich bold flavours with a breadth, depth and balance of character that sets it apart, the 2021 edition is packed with juicy fruit, macerated lemon and sweet char-grilled BBQ smoke” says Kilchoman.

<FROM 2016 TO 2020>

Monday 29 March 2021



Exactly two years and 144 days in the making, the new Ardbeg Stillhouse was completed in March 2021. Altering the character of the whisky was a risk they weren’t prepared to take, so the new stills were built to the exact specifications as the old ones were – right down to the millimetre. In true Ardbeg style, even the things that didn’t matter, mattered. Every nut, bolt and rivet had to be in the right place!Now they have four stills (instead of two) looking out to sea, and the ever-increasing demand for their whisky is secured for future generations of Ardbeggians.

In a grandiose plan floated way back in February 2019, Islay single malt whisky distillery Ardbeg was almost set to add two more stills, doubling its distillation capacity while moving production into a new Stillhouse.

The multi-million-pound project, funded by distillery owner The Glenmorangie Company, was due to start work that year, subject to planning permission, with completion scheduled for 2019. Plans included the construction of a new still house on a site once occupied by warehouses, with the current still house converted to house new washbacks.

The expanded distillery’s four stills – its existing duo of wash and spirit stills, plus a new pair of wash and spirit stills – would be housed in a ‘traditional-style’ building, Ardbeg said. Planning permission had already been granted to move Ardbeg’s boiler house a little further away from the distillery, and work on this had begun. Plans for the new still house had been submitted to Argyll & Bute Council, and the distillery was set to hold a meeting for local residents on Islay to discuss the project in the near future. Ardbeg would ‘continue its normal operations’ while construction work took place alongside.

Ardbeg’s current era of high demand and expansion is a world away from its near demise two decades ago, when it was acquired by Glenmorangie in a poor state of repair. The distillery spent most of the 1980s and 1990s either silent, working intermittently and conducting experiments or being used for spare parts by nearby Laphroaig, then under the same ownership. News of the planned expansion came just weeks after Glenmorangie unveiled plans to build its own new still house to accommodate two new stills, in addition to the six currently used at the distillery in Tain.

It also came at a time of expanding whisky production on Islay: Kilchoman said it would double production capacity in November last year, and Laphroaig is also planning to add more stills. Meanwhile, the new Ardnahoe distillery was due to start production that spring, plans for a distillery at Gartbreck Farm had been resurrected and the long-silent Port Ellen distillery was to be revived by 2020.

As anyone who’s read the recent feature outlining the 20-year-old story of the resurrection of Ardbeg will know, Dodson was the whisky veteran sent in to patch up the Islay distillery and get it up and running again following its acquisition by Glenmorangie in 1997. Dodson was clearly fascinated by the Ardbeg spirit character – had been since the 1970s during his ‘Islay period’ of single malt drinking. ‘I’d never been there, and it didn’t make sense to me,’ he recalls. ‘I always thought Laphroaig and Lagavulin were really heavy compared to Ardbeg. But it wasn’t until I began to nose the new make spirit [in June 1997] that I thought: “This is why.”’

But where does that quintessential Ardbeg character – the lush fruit keeping the smoke in check – come from? Dodson has a sacrilegious hypothesis: ‘My theory – which didn’t go down well with the marketing department – was that, when they were starting up Ardbeg, the whisky was probably crap, so they decided to put an angle on the lyne arm. ‘And it was probably still no good, so they put in the purifier, collecting any liquid and directing it back into the body of the still, allowing it to run back down, but not stopping the vapours from heading up the still. ‘It’s serendipity. A lot of the things that have happened in the Scotch whisky industry came about by accident.’ Serendipity, yes, but also the willingness to make mistakes and the good sense to learn from them, to improve, hone, tinker to get the best possible result out of the raw materials and equipment at your disposal.

Distilleries, it seems, have an almost human character, full of temperament and idiosyncratic traits that defy scientific analysis. Dodson had thought that he’d be able to get 1.3m litres of pure alcohol a year out of Ardbeg – until he faced the challenge of working with a spirit still that’s almost as big as the wash still. ‘I could only get to the 1.1m-litre mark because of the need to get a balanced distillation,’ he says.

On the night that the first spirit ran again from the stills at Ardbeg, the plan was to bring the wash still in slowly and gently. ‘That won’t work,’ said Duncan Logan, 35-year Ardbeg veteran and, despite no longer working there, an invaluable source of advice to Dodson at that time. ‘You have to let it come in, then slow it down afterwards. If you shut the steam off, you’ll lose it.’ Logan was ignored – but not for long.

At Ardbeg, the pre-pandemic talk was no longer that of survival, but of expansion, with its own challenges and potential pitfalls. Intervening in the serendipitous evolutionary process that has made Ardbeg 'Ardbeg' over a period of more than two centuries is something that has to be done with care and sensitivity.

Ardbeg is a distillery, not a museum. And if a distillery is like a person, then change is part of what makes you realise you’re still alive. What will the serendipitous discoveries of tomorrow be? Well, the demand for the peated Ardbeg Single Malt Whisky is growing insatiably. The distillery has now completed its expansion on the Scottish Island of Islay and will in future be able to almost double the production volume from 1.4 million litres of alcohol annually to 2.4 million litres.

The newly built Stillhouse, which is situated next to the waterline, is home to four stills: The previous pair of stills has moved here and a new pair has been added. The new wash still and the new spirit still are identical to the old ones so that the style of the Ardbeg Whisky does not change. A special highlight that visitors can look forward to on future distillery tours is a view of the Atlantic from the still house‘s large panorama window.

The construction of the project lasted around two and a half years, although it should actually have been finished in 2019, as originally planned. It was delayed considerably, not least because of the pandemic.            


The first distillation with new stills, is of course a special event and is traditionally celebrated by adding special ingredients that characterise the distillate. At Ardbeg, this is undoubtedly peat. Dugga Bowman, Head Warehouseman at Ardbeg, was the one to take on the task of digging the peat at Kintour Moss, which Distillery Manager Colin Gordon then symbolically placed in the still for a short time. "It is not often that a distillery manager has the privilege of inaugurating new stills. With our new Stillhouse we will keep the soul of Ardbeg and hope that our ultimate Islay Single Malt will delight many more Ardbeggians," he said.

Tuesday 23 March 2021



It's often said that, in the bottle of fine alcohol, people can sense the spirit of the nation from which it came. Simply giving a freshly uncorked bottle a whiff will make you say: “Well, well. So this is what it’s about.” Out in the Scottish Highlands, one man gets to live that every day, to smell and taste the spirit of his home. That’s Jim Beveridge, the man behind the distilled magic at Johnnie Walker, their Master Blender.

Diageo has given its eponymous Black Label a makeover to celebrate 200 years since John Walker started his journey. Johnnie Walker has launched its Black Label Origin Series in India. A collection of four 12 year old blended Scotch whiskies, the series resonates with flavours that represent the Origins from the four annotated Regions of Scotch Whisky in Scotland, viz. Speyside, Highlands, Lowlands and Islay.

They believe that this will be a limited-edition design for a timeless classic. Johnnie Walker Black Label used to be sweetness wrapped in drifting smoke at 43% ABV. It is still touted as a masterful blend of single malt and grain whiskies from across Scotland, aged for at least 12 years but bottled at 40% ABV. The result is a whisky with depth and balance of flavour. Sadly, it has lost its charm and vice-like grip on the deluxe blended Scotch whisky market, as the original malts have gone into posterity. Jim Beveridge is due to retire soon. I believe it is only a matter of time till JWBL goes NAS.

Blender George Harper, who created the successful White Walker release in early 2019, describes the four elements in Johnnie Walker Black Label as “smoke, fresh fruit, rich fruit and creamy vanilla. No one flavour should dominate.” But with four new blends, his brief was to do the opposite. The idea was to pull it apart, focus on one element, and accentuate the regions. This would be an impossible task, considering ground realities and the final decision was to create three Blended Malts for the Islay, Speyside and Highlands regions and a Blended Scotch for the Lowlands, centred around Caol Ila, Cardhu, Clynelish for the Blended Malts and Glenkinchie and Cameronbridge distilleries for the Blended Scotch. The hardest one to get right was the Highland because of the sheer variety of styles and complexity in the region.

Jim Beveridge said that the modern generation is more interested in the end result and time is only relative. The right taste at the right price and damn the brand. Very true, considering the numerous new distilleries that are opening now. More and more people are interested in flavour, they are increasingly very open-minded. Knowledge is the new currency. Diageo aims at Johnnie Walker drinkers and people wanting to know more about Scotch. In the past, blends tended to be secretive. Now the story is opening up.

The Origin series encourages traffic between blended and malt whisky customers, but the team at Diageo also sees them as breaking down barriers in other ways. These are meant to be as happy mixed in cocktails as in dram form. To prove the point, a series of cocktails were made by their bartender Joey Medrington: the Islay in a Highball with Fever Tree orange and ginger; the Highland in a Rob Roy made with PX sherry, the Lowland in an Old Fashioned with honey syrup, and the Speyside in another long drink with elderflower and soda water. The Islay Highball was breathtaking, but it’s the Lowland with its creamy profile that is particularly cocktail-friendly.

All four whiskies are 12 years old and bottled at 42% ABV. They are great tasting whiskies, and a testament not only to the skill of the blenders at Johnnie Walker but the amazing palates they have to play with. The best thing about them is the price: they will sit just above standard Black Label.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Lowlands Origin Blended Scotch has a sweet, creamy vanilla character and notes of toffee. It is made exclusively from a variety of single malt and grain whiskies from the Lowlands including Glenkinchie and Cameronbridge.

Colour: Honey.

On the nose: It’s a bit hot with a semi-coarse texture. But they go away the longer the whisky sits in the glass. Scents of honey, toffee, some sort of apple-flavoured candy with apricots and marzipan. At the end are lasting scents of butterscotch and caramel.

In the mouth: A bit of chocolate raisins and prunes which are coated by a pepperiness. There’s that caramelized apple flavour again, only the caramel is bolder and more layered.

The Lowland Origin is sweet and simple. Reserve it to enjoy when you’re having a lazy day and just want something simple and easy to drink.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Speyside Origin is a light and fruity whisky with hints of cut green apples and orchard fruit. It is made exclusively from quality single malts from the Speyside region of Scotland, with whisky from the distilleries of Cardhu and Glendullan at its heart.

Colour: Honey.

On the nose: Tropical fruit notes with confectionery and a bit of heat. I get bold scents of peppers, cantaloupe, winter melon tea, toffee and barley tea. There are undertones of butterscotch, clementines, lemon peel, dried apricots and tobacco. At the end are more subtle but lasting scents of thyme and star fruit.

In the mouth: A layered wave of rushing star-fruits, peppers, cloves, tannins with butterscotch and honey to start. I get some sort of floral yet bitter note which makes me think of hibiscus tea and yellow bell peppers. At the end are more pepperiness followed by tastes of almond nuts, and cloves. There’s a quick flash of not unpleasant sulfur. Undertones of cloves, caramel, butterscotch and dried apricots appear at the end. A sneaky Milky Way chocolate bar-like flavour pops up the very end.

This Speyside Origin has more layers and complexity to it. But with the complexity comes some off note and off-note flavor combinations like the heat, yellow bell peppers and cloves with the confectionaries.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Islay Origin is the most succinct of the Origins series. With its maritime bouquet, it stands for the rough Islay region through and through. In terms of taste, it is mildly spicy but has a clear smoke aroma, as one is used to from the whisky region. The heart of every Islay whisky lover beats faster here, but it is also ideal for those who want to get to grips with this maritime smokiness. This blend is for people who want to explore Scotch whiskies with warming, maritime smokiness. This whisky is crafted exclusively from a variety of quality single malts from Islay, focussing on the distilleries of Lagavulin and Caol Ila.

Colour: Pale Gold

On the nose: Notes of sweet peat and bonfire embers with a slight spice. Iodine paired with toffee and delicious sweet orange. The peated character of Caol Ila wafts through, whereas the smoke of Lagavulin swirls around the nostrils.

In the mouth: Like all Johnnie Walker whiskies, this is best enjoyed however you see fit. It is a perfectly balanced 12-year-old Scotch whisky is best served straight for the flavour and first sip, after which a teaspoonful of water will release the whisky’s full maritime smokiness. The briny taste is unmistakeable, an undercurrent of rock salt around your tongue. Ashy, with the marine soul balanced by citrus and cloves. Spicy with pepper in the foreground, followed by delicious sweet notes of dried fruit, red fruit dipped in honey. Smoke is certainly present, but not too strongly so as to overwhelm the palate.

A long, lingering smoky finish and soft notes bloom from toffee.

Johnnie Walker Black Label Highland Origin: Of the four Johnnie Walker Black Label Origin Series bottling, the hardest one to get right is the Highland because of the sheer variety of styles in the region, from Clynelish Distillery to Dalwhinnie to Blair Athol to Glen Ord to Teaninich among others. Teaninich is one of the larger distilleries in Diageo’s portfolio but without much recognition.

A lot of expansion has taken place there. The end result is an expected annual capacity of nearly 10 million litres which is a phenomenal amount for a distillery that remains largely unknown. There is talk of a separate distillery appearing on the extensive site to further increase production. It’s Diageo’s policy to let every distillery have its own release, if not with a proper distillery label than as part of the Flora & Fauna range.

Clynelish has that waxy quality that many are addicted to and it is certainly present. Perhaps not so much in the independent releases. The distillery has an ability, an umami ability to produce something tasty that unites many. It is far from simplistic. So many complex layers on the nose and palate.

The Highland Origin is made for people looking to explore Scotch whiskies with a rich and dark fruitiness and red berry and stone fruit notes. It is crafted exclusively from Highland’s single malts, with Clynelish and Teaninich whisky at its core. The malt whiskies have been blended well, but the discerning nose and plate will recognise the individual characteristics.

On the nose: At the start one gets an aroma of sweet, rich/dried fruit notes (fruit cake), waxy and soft spice notes. Quite fragrant with fruit and a greenness. Notes of cut hay and chamomile, hints of wood resins and potpourri with a little winter spice and a gentle citric acidity.

In the mouth: Mainly aged in European oak ex-sherry casks. On tasting one gets rich flavour of dried fruits, slight warm peppery spice. Fruit cake, marmalade and fresh wine notes, takes on some tobacco with time. Very fruity, with a winey tang to it like a Cognac.

Finish: Marzipan and dried apricot. Some notes of laurel leaves, olive oil, orange zest and rice. A touch of nutmeg, but mainly pepper, a bit nutty maybe pecan.

A complex blend, it has prominent notes of orange rind, marmalade and honey; it takes a moment or two to settle with and has a long, soft spice finish. 

I might as well add the 2018 edition of Johnnie Walker Black Label Sherry Finish here, for want of a more appropriate space. It doesn't command a blog of its own.


The Black Label Sherry Edition explores a new style of Black Label. It's a whisky with all the quality of Black Label 12 Years Old with a special twist - part of the blend is matured in former Sherry casks, giving the whisky a richer fruitiness. Complex fresh fruit with orchard fruitiness, sweet vanilla and gentle smoke.

Whisky’s marketing and messages follows the same trends as fashion cycles and if you’ve been in this caper long enough, you notice whisky doing exactly the same as fashion: The same things keep coming back, just with a slightly different twist.

The current trend getting a re-work is the focus on sherry maturation.  After many years of extolling the virtues of the bourbon cask (a virtue borne of necessity), the brands are now reminding everyone that sherry-matured whiskies are a vital part of the product’s spectrum.  The difference this time around is that both the landscape and the tools to work with are very different to the era in the early 2000’s when sherried whiskies were a different prospect.

Johnnie Walker Black Label’s Sherry Edition achieves its objective by injecting into the blend a greater proportion of ex-sherry casks.  Interestingly, the official press release makes no mention of finishing, but implies that whiskies that have spent their full lives maturing in ex-sherry butts and hogsheads have been worked into the blend.  Regular Black Label is already a reasonably complex and well-rounded blend as is, but the Sherry Edition also makes use of malt from Blair Athol, Cardhu and Strathmill to enhance the blend’s flavour profile – specifically looking for fresh orchard fruits, sweet vanilla, and some gentle smoke.

Colour:  For what it’s worth, the Sherry Edition is a tiny shade darker (a slightly more auburn tinge) than the regular Black Label, but it’s hard to make anything meaningful of this.

On the nose:  The Sherry Edition has a distinctive high note of fruit – particularly red currants.  There’s also some wood resin, a touch more spice (cinnamon and star anise), and raspberries.

In the mouth: The palate of the Sherry Edition definitely reflects some sherry influence, although nowhere near a Glendronach or Glenfarclas!  The palate is drier, there’s a touch of tannins and drier oak, and the dial is turned up slightly on those spices.  There’s some white pepper in the mix, oak-driven vanilla, and a slight spike of barley malt.

Finish:  The finish is spicier, with a wee bit of heat and an ashy dryness that lingers a little longer.

The Sherry Edition’s distinction and differences from the regular Black Label are subtle. In itself, the Sherry Edition is a perfectly good and acceptable blend, but it doesn’t scream sherry.  There’s no real overt oloroso to be found, leading this palate to suspect that fino is the prime contributor. The whisky is drier and spicier and works well as an interesting, 12 year old deluxe blend.  

Friday 19 March 2021



Johnnie Walker Double Black is inspired by the iconic flavours of Johnnie Walker Black Label and turns them up to create a blend of unprecedented intensity.

JOHNNIE WALKER BLACK LABEL: You wouldn’t be far wrong in saying that Johnnie Walker Black Label was a true icon, recognised as the benchmark for all other deluxe blends globally from 1920-2005. It was at top spot in Asia from the mid 1980s till 2005. Phipson’s Black Dog ruled the roost in Asia from 1889 to 1980. Something Special came to the fore between 1960 and 2010, when it was packed off to South America to leave the market open for Chivas Regal to strengthen its hold of numero uno in China and Asia. Johnnie Walker Black Label, created using only whiskies aged for a minimum of 12 years from the four corners of Scotland, had an unmistakably smooth, deep, complex character, now lost to the masses.

Yesterday's Johnnie Walker Black Label 12 Years Old Blended Scotch Whisky had Cardhu as its core malt, backed up with the super-smooth Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Linkwood, Teaninich, the multi-faceted Cragganmore, Clynelish, Dailuaine, Talisker and Caol Ila. Today, the recognisable Single Malts for me are Clynelish 14 YO, Cardhu, Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie and Talisker. Mortlach, Linkwood and Dailuaine are lost to posterity. JW claims that there are at least 25-28 more Single Malts and they must be right; it is a 40-whisky blend, after all. The Single Malts need not be from different distilleries; any distillery can provide tens of Single Malts, of the same or different ages.

The recognisable Grain Whisky is Cameronbridge, one of probably five. All whiskies named above are 12 YO or older. Talisker, most popular as a peated 10 YO, remains casked for two years more to contribute to the blend. This particular 12 YO, which is not of the peated variety, is not sold in the market, and has, sadly, not been used for over five years, with detrimental effect on the Blend.

The slightly smoky taste comes from the Cragganmore and Talisker (unpeated). The hint of peat comes primarily from Caol Ila, strengthened by Clynelish and Benrinnes; the smoothness comes from Cardhu, Glenkinchie, Blair Athol and the 4-5 Grain Whiskies that are used to tame and meld the malts perfectly. A 1-litre bottle of Black Label costs $ 28. A bottle of 0.70 L Caol Ila 12 YO costs $56, or $80 per litre. The Caol Ila 12 YO is far more expensive and Diageo is losing money on the peated malt diverted to making the Black and other Labels. The same is true for ALL other Single Malts that made up the once fabulous concoction of JW Black Label! The Malt whiskies tot up to 45-50%. The Grain whiskies, 49%, are also 12 YO. The last one percent is taken up by E150A Caramel colourant.

It is rated as an impressive whisky to share on any occasion, whether you're entertaining at home with friends or on a memorable night out. But it has lost top spot amongst 12 YO Blended Scotch whiskies simply because Diageo has run out of single malts that met the original recipe. No amount of experimenting with other single malts-up to 35 or even more of them can replicate the Extra Special Old Highland 12 YO, the original name of the Black Label till 1909. Dewar’s 12 YO, Grand Old Parr and Chivas Regal deluxe whiskies are rated higher than Black Label.

JOHNNIE WALKER DOUBLE BLACK LABELThe turn of the millennium saw a trend towards peated and smoky whiskies. Using the Black Label as a baseline, peat and smoky single malts were introduced to the mix, while removing quite a few standard single malts. Strongly influenced by powerful West Coast and Island whiskies, Johnnie Walker Double Black is best enjoyed with a teaspoon of water to unlock its complex layers of smouldering spice and smoke. An impressive blend to share, whatever the occasion.

The heavier influence of the ‘big’ flavours of Scotland’s West Coast and Islands is immediately apparent, with swirls of peat smoke over rich raisins and fruits - apples, pears and citrus. These soften into sweet vanillas and spice, before developing into a warming finish of oak tannins and lingering smokiness.    

The International Whisky Competition is an event that takes place annually in Chicago in the first week of May, in which whiskies are blind tasted and rated by a professional tasting panel. The results are used to produce tasting notes for an International Whisky Guide. There is no Scotsman on the panel- it is entirely American. This esteemed panel selected Glenmorangie Signet NAS as the Whisky of the Year 2016 with 97 points and Johnnie Walker Double Black Label was awarded the Gold Medal in the Best Blended Scotch NAS (No Age Statement) category with 94 points, ahead of Johnnie Walker Blue Label (91.3 pts). JWBL managed only the Bronze Medal in the Best Blended Scotch Whisky 12 YO category with 89.8 points. That kills the Double Black vs Black Label controversy! That also confirms that Johnnie Walker Black Label is no longer the bar for premium Blended Scotch Whisky.

JW Double Black has an easier structure compared to Black Label, with important differences. The number of Single Malts and Grain Whiskies has reduced. It primarily uses the well-peated Talisker 10 YO and Caol Ila 12 YO, with the lightly peated Cragganmore, Clynelish 14 YO and Benrinnes in support. One or two Single Malts have been replaced. Single Malt from the new distillery at Roseisle that opened in 2006 produces 7-8 m litres a year (designed for 10 million litres), and a fair share of young malts join the group. All Single Malts in JWDBL are 8 YO and more, with a few drops of a couple of smoky peated Single Malts added: probably Caol Ila 8 YO and Lagavulin 8 YO. Peated whiskies are more expensive than non-peated expressions.

The peating process between kilning, drying and mashing is tricky and time consuming. Following the kilning, the peated malt is removed and stored in bins for five or six weeks. This allows the heat to dissipate naturally. Hot malt can affect the fermentation process negatively. The Malt whiskies tot up to 55-57%. Put together, these are the reasons why the brand costs $5-8 (12-20%) more than JW Black Label (non-discounted). In Bangkok, however, they cost the same.


Sunday 7 March 2021



This is a hugely exciting time to be a whisky drinker, with brands emerging from across the world. Science and technology are filling in many gaps in the hitherto preserve of the epicureans, the aficionados and the cognoscenti. Small distilleries are sprouting every other day with a variance from time-honoured traditions, standing tall alongside the best whisky brands that have been pleasing lovers of the spirit for years. These whisky brands are introducing unique flavour profiles, unusual ageing methods, and thinking up new tricks as time passes to keep the drink at the forefront of our minds.

I have lined up a few brands that you can mull over and, where possible, buy. They range from the moderate to the slightly expensive, so you have many options.


Glen Moray: In an on and off style, which most old distilleries are victims of, production started in real earnest in 1923. Two additional stills were added in 1958, along with a new still house; increasing capacity to two million litres. In 2004, LVMH took control of Glen Moray when it bought its parent company Glenmorangie. The distillery was sold in 2008 to La Martiniquaise.

It is believed that the closeness of the fast flowing river Lossie and the high water table produces a slightly warmer and more humid microclimate which assists maturation. Since the La Martiniquaise takeover, a higher percentage of first-fill American oak is used, adding more buttery notes to the mix. It was one of the first whiskies to be ‘finished’ in wine casks – Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay specifically – as well as Port. After a few quiet years, new releases are beginning to appear. Some peated malt is now being run as well.

The bulk of its production, about two-thirds, goes into La Martiniquaise’s best-selling blended whiskies, Label 5 and the Glen Turner. The other third goes into single malt bottlings. Following its purchase, the distillery underwent a third expansion with the addition of two more stills—for a total of six—increasing capacity to 3.3 million litres. A fourth expansion in 2016-2017, added three new wash stills. The six older stills were reserved for use exclusively as spirit stills. The expansion increased capacity to 6 million litres, and expanded warehouse capacity from 90,000 barrels to 250,000 barrels.

Glen Moray was among the earliest of the Scottish distilleries to experiment with innovative cask finishes. In 1999, five years after its parent, Glenmorangie, released its first cask finished expressions, it released whiskies that had been finished in barrels that previously held either Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc. The practice of cask finishing continues.

The distillery’s present core range consists of Glen Moray Classic Single malt. A non-age statement (NAS) expression that is aged for an average of six to seven years in ex-bourbon casks; the majority of which are first fill. There is also the Glen Moray Fired Oak, which is aged for 10 years and then finished in heavily charred virgin American oak casks. The resulting whisky has pronounced caramel and spice notes, and is slightly “bourbon-like” on the nose and palate.

In addition, there is the Elgin Heritage of 12, 15 and 18 year old, plus a hard to find 21-year-old expression. The 12 YO and 18 YO are matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks with the latter being all first fill. The 15 YO is matured in a 50-50 combination of sherry and ex-bourbon casks. The 21 YO is matured in ex-bourbon casks for 19 years and then finished for two years in Tawny port pipes from Porto Cruz.

Glen Moray also offers a range of whiskies that are finished in a range of different types of wine casks. These include sherry cask, port cask, and ex-Chardonnay and ex-Cabernet barrels. There is also a peated single malt whisky and an expression finished in casks of rhum agricole from the St. James distillery in Martinique. A second peated version is expected after 2022.

The Chardonnay cask whisky originally carried a 10-year age statement. You can still, on occasion, find some of these expressions at retail. These “wine cask whiskies” are all NAS now. They spend an average of six years in ex-bourbon casks followed by eight to twelve months of cask finishing in an ex-wine barrel. The ex-Cabernet cask whisky is finished for 14 months.


Glen Moray is a classic Speyside malt. It is a light and smooth whisky, with distinctive notes of fruit and honey sweetness. Tasting notes on the Classic are placed infra.

Nose: At full strength, the aroma is fragrant and lightly drying with warming malty notes. The first impression is of butterscotch and shortbread with fresh herbal/grassy notes. Lemon curd and meringue are discovered in the background. With water, malt and spices combine to reveal oatmeal with a hint of freshly ground black pepper. Lemongrass, tea-tree oil and heather aromatics give the whisky a fragrance throughout.

Taste: The mouthfeel is lightly spiced with a warming and gently mouth watering effect. Malty toffee sweetness is present throughout with blackcurrants and a fragrant citrus lemongrass tang.

Finish: Shortbread, fresh herbal notes (lemongrass) and the sweet spiciness of ginger marmalade.


Speyburn is a light, natural, sweet, classic Speyside whisky.
It is Speyside. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Tradition and innovation are regular bedfellows in the world of single malt and Speyburn is a classic example. Its parent, International Beverage Holdings, is a believer in the old way of making whisky and has kept the distillery pretty much the same as when it was first designed by Charles Doig with inputs from Hopkins. It is a very picturesque distillery and is rated accordingly as the most photographed distillery in Scotland. 

Speyburn's stillhouse is the same (albeit now with steam driven stills) and the worm tubs have been retained. As is characteristic with worm sites, this method of condensing produces a deliberately sulphury new make which changes in cask to reveal the singular delicate, fragrant character which lies underneath.           



In 1896, John Hopkins discovered a unique spot, in the heart of Speyside located opposite Glen Grant, which seemed suitable for making exceptionally smooth whisky. While hunting for the perfect spot for his distillery, John, along with his brother Edward, discovered the Granty Burn - an untouched stream hidden in that secluded Speyside valley. They knew that the exceptionally pure water of this burn would produce a remarkable whisky with a naturally refreshing character. The Hopkins trusted John's intuition and built the Speyburn distillery right there in the glen, using authentic river stones from the bed of the fast-flowing River Spey itself. Over 100 years after its founding, Speyburn remains the only distillery to use the pure, crystal-clear water of the Granty Burn. Water for other requirements is taken from the Broad Burn, another proximal tributary of the River Spey.

Set in a steep valley with limited space, Hopkins, with Charles Doig, the world famous distillery designer and innovator, designed an entirely new shape of distillery, building up through the trees rather than building out. Instead of one vast drying floor, he raised his malt upwards using layer upon layer of mesh, infusing it with the vibrancy of the Speyside air. 

Speyburn started operating rather late, in 1897, one of a number of distilleries with a pagoda designed by Doig (the inventor of the distillery pagoda, for most people the defining feature of any plant). The pagoda was originally built to help ventilate the distillery’s kiln. Doig also installed the first ‘pneumatic’ (drum) maltings in the Highlands on site, allowing production not to be tied to the size of its malting floors. These stayed in use at Speyburn until 1968.


In time, it was absorbed into Scottish Malt Distillers (the malt arm of DCL) but changed hands in 1991 becoming part of Inver House till 2001, till bought by Pacific Spirits, which, in turn, morphed into International Beverage Holdings, a Thailand-based beverage company in 2006. Clan Speyburn, an online community for this brand was formed in 2012.

Its start was dramatic. 1897 marked the 60th anniversary of Queen Victoria’s reign and Hopkins promised all and sundry that he would create a distillery and bring out a bottle to mark that year. Nobody believed him! Production began on 01 November. Hopkins and his crew were able to get their new make flowing by Christmas. The team toiled through a storm of Arctic proportions to craft a whisky in time to toast the Queen’s Jubilee. Determined that their first bottle would bear the year 1897 on its label, the men battled against the elements wearing overcoats and mufflers to protect them from the freezing snow. After hours of hard work and with heroic efforts of his distillery men, Hopkins finally triumphed and, on the last night of the year and was rewarded with the first barrel of Speyburn whisky.

120 years since distilling its first drop, Speyburn is now more than a whisky. Bold, bright and full of character, their Speyside single malts are as inspiring to newcomers as they are to seasoned whisky enthusiasts, allowing everyone everywhere to enjoy the beautiful simplicity of Speyside. To celebrate Speyside, they currently offer a range of expressions. Whichever Speyburn offering is selected, you can expect to enjoy the classic taste of Speyside in every dram. After all, Speyburn is Speyside.

In recent years, however, Speyburn has been marketed as a value for money malt in the US. While this has resulted in large volumes in terms of sales, the price pot hasn’t helped the whisky’s reputation. Strangely, this ninth ranked malt brand in the USA is still unknown to most of the world and probably under-appreciated where it’s a best-seller.

Speyburn goes to great lengths to draw on the best this land has to offer. By sourcing consistently high quality malted barley from their long-standing UK suppliers, they ensure that this key ingredient is the perfect first step to creating our award-winning single malt whisky. Before they fully extract the excellence locked in the grain, their 10 tonne twin-roller ‘Boby’ mill crushes the malt into grist 5.6 tonnes at a time. They then take four hours to complete one mashing cycle, to produce clear and flavoursome ‘wort’.

Speyburn uses both stainless steel and wooden washbacks, the latter made of Douglas fir. They are large tanks where wort meets yeast and the fermentation takes place, in a spectacle of frothing and churning; this is the most visually spectacular part of the process. Long fermentation times add to the character of the finished single malt whisky. The ‘wash’ already has much of the Speyburn character locked in it.


Sitting proudly at the heart of Speyburn Distillery is one large wash still used for first distillation and two smaller spirit stills for the second. The wash still charges both spirit stills at the same time, an unusual distillation regime which helps them achieve a light yet flavoursome spirit.

The stills are of classic Speyside shape, broad at the base with slender necks. They work in tandem with traditional worm tub condensers. This time-honoured method of turning vapour into spirit adds the familiar body and rich character to their whisky. The birth of charismatic Speyburn distillate is satisfying but the work is far from done. In fact, the wait is only beginning. All Speyburn single malt is matured in air-dried oak casks seasoned with bourbon or sherry. These excellent vessels help the spirit fully develop its natural qualities. Speyburn is matured in traditional dunnage warehouses. Those dark, cavernous buildings provide the optimum temperature and humidity for a long and even maturation process. As the whisky slowly ages it becomes smoother, sweeter and more flavoursome, resulting after many years is a single malt whisky they’re proud to call Speyburn.

Speyburn has a production capacity of 1.9 million litres of pure alcohol. There are several interesting features about whisky production at Speyburn. The fermentation is relatively quick at 48 hours. It utilises a six-ton mash tun and six 26,200 litre washbacks. The malt is slightly peated. Speyburn was the first distillery to introduce drum maltings. It maintained these until 1968, when it switched to a commercial malt producer.

The distillery has two pear shaped stills. Pear shaped still are characterised by a wider neck than traditional Speyside stills. The wider neck promotes reflux, the condensation of the vapour within the neck of the still, so that it falls back into the pot and is redistilled. The process maximises the amount of copper contact experienced by the spirit.

Worm Tub Condensers: Such condensers are the traditional copper spiral, now largely replaced by modern shell and tube condensers. The latter maximise copper contact in the condensers, while the former minimise it, creating a deliberately sulphurous new make, often expressed as a meatier robust spirit. The average new make strength is 69.3%. Speyburn uses a combination of ex-bourbon casks and also ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) sherry casks to mature its whisky. PX is a type of sherry made from partially raisinated grapes. It is very sweet and viscous, almost syrupy, and imparts flavours of raisin, fig and other dried fruits, along with a distinct sweetness. The company operates two dunnage warehouses. These are the traditional Speyside warehouses with earthen floors and barrels stacked three high.

There are many different expressions of Speyburn malt from independent bottlers, the majority of which were released by Gordon and MacPhail and Douglas Laing. Distillers Choice also has a range of bottlings from a 13-year-old to a 30-year-old.

The distillery’s current core range consists of five expressions: 10 YO, 15 YO, 18 YO, Arranta Casks and Braden Orach. Arranta Casks are a non-age statement (NAS) bottling of specially selected casks that have a “uniquely bold and characterful flavour profile.” They are only available in the U.S. Bradan Orach, Gaelic for golden salmon, is also a NAS whisky. It has a light and fruity, classic Speyside style. Its name commemorates the world class salmon fishing found on the River Spey.

Speyburn 10 YO, 40% ABV, 750 ml, $24

This is the bestselling of all of the Speyburn expressions. It is similar to Bradan Orach, but the aromas and flavour are more intense. The colour is a light gold.

On the nose, the whisky is sweet. There is the distinctive lemon aroma typical of lowland malts. There are additional notes of honey, apple, pear and apricot, along with some anise, caramel and a hint of peat.

On the palate, there are the classic fruity Speyside flavours. The pear and apricot notes are quite distinctive, along with some ripe apple and cooked cereal notes, and a bit of anise and biscuit. The whisky has a sweet element, along with noticeable smoke and peat notes.

The finish is medium length, smooth, with lingering sweet fruit notes and a touch of smoke.

This is a great whisky. At an average retail price of around $24 it’s an exceptional value.

Speyburn 15 YO, 46 % ABV, 750 ml, $64

According to the company this expression is matured in a combination of American and Spanish oak casks. Presumably, these casks previously held bourbon and PX sherry but, if so, that is not disclosed. There is an obvious sherry cask element in this expression, although that can often be imparted by Spanish oak casks. The term Spanish oak refers to French oak (Quercus robur) grown in Spain./p>

The colour is a rich amber. On the nose, it is incredibly fruity, with notes of citrus, especially lemon, tangerine and grapefruit, along with tropical fruit notes of mango and melon. There are dried notes of golden raisin, fig and prune, along with caramel, some wood spice and vanilla notes.

On the palate, there is a veritable fruit salad of flavours, including apple, tropical fruits, along with dried raisin and apricot and a bit of ginger pepperiness. The whisky is smooth and creamy with an oily, pronounced palate weight. As the whisky opens up more pronounced vanilla and some milk chocolate notes emerge, along with cinnamon and nutmeg.

The finish is long, creamy, with lingering sweet dried fruit notes.

This is an interesting whisky. Incredibly fruity, it makes an excellent sipping whisky. It reminds me of the Glendronach 18 YO or the Glengoyne 15 YO. It’s smoother with a touch of water. Price varies dramatically, depending on where it’s bought.

Speyburn 18 YO, 46% ABV, 750 ml, $100-110.

Like the 15 YO, the 18 YO Speyburn is matured in a combination of Spanish and American oak. The bottling commemorates the 18th anniversary of Speyburn’s distillery manager Bobby Anderson. Only 9,000 bottles were made available.

The colour is dark amber. On the nose, there is the classic rich, sherried Speyside aroma of nuts, citrus zest, raisin and fig. There is a slight medicinal note of eucalyptus and camphor, think Vicks VapoRub ointment, along with caramel, spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, also some biscuit and a hint of marzipan and some smokiness.

On the palate, the sherry notes are so prominent you could mistake it for a Macallan. There are flavors of dried orange and lemon zest, along with apricot, dried tropical fruit, walnut, milk chocolate and biscuit. There are also spice notes of black pepper cinnamon and nutmeg. There is a noticeable smoke and peaty note that hangs in the background.

The finish is exceptionally long, smooth and very flavourful. This is a classic sherried malt, with lingering notes of smoky, sweet dried fruit that ends on a bittersweet note.

Additionally, there are several higher proof expressions that are available only at travel retail. There is also the Speyburn Companion Cask expression, which is a NAS whisky matured exclusively in ex-bourbon casks from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky.

Speyburn is an exceptional whisky, especially the 15 YO and 18 YO expressions. These are outstanding whiskies, reasonably well priced, which offer the depth and complexity that sherried whiskies can offer. The 10 YO and the NAS expressions lack the complexity of their older siblings, but they are excellent whiskies, make excellent aperitifs and are phenomenally well priced. It’s a shame these whiskies are not better known. They all merit further exploration by the Scotch whisky enthusiast.

A Speyburn Classic: The Speyburn 2008 Scyfion 10 YO

Category: Single Malt
Distillery: Speyburn from Speyside
Bottler: Berry Bros & Rudd bottling Series: Scyfion Choice
Cask type Muscat Dolce Passione Cask Finish
Strength 46.0% vol
Colour:  Amber

Nose: Restrained, moist, fresh boards, stale smoked meat, rotting foliage; sulphur-mineral shades, window putty, locksmith's workshop - machine oil, metal shavings, dusty steel tools, grease; creamy tones - boiled condensed milk, toffee; dry herbs.

Body: Rounded, fluid.

Palate: Intense, calm, oaky, sweet creamy notes mixed with tropical fruits, candied citrus fruits, mango, pineapple, nuts, lemonade tones, lollipops, honey, metallic sulphur and caustic mineral shades, in development it becomes extremely sweet, but at the same time prickly -mineral.

Finish: Light, spicy, candy-oak, tropical fruits, pineapple, mint, mango, juniper, lemon peel, ginger, grapefruit, hydrogen sulphide mineral water.

This is a very rich whisky, with a vast palette of derivatives, both in breadth and in shades and half tones, very multifaceted with industrial notes/ sulphuric/ tropical/ creamy and oakwood. Everything is very high quality brought into a single whole, class , in the style of the best industrial releases from Speyburn.



Craigellachie Distillery Status: Operational

Established: 1891

Owner: Bacardi Limited

Capacity: 4,000,000L per annum

Craigellachie Distillery has been producing very characterful, heavy and sulphurous malt whisky for more than 125 years, but has managed to slide under the radar, keeping itself fairly insular and protected. Sulphur has become an emotive subject in recent years, but it is one which is also misunderstood. There are two ways in which you can get sulphurous notes in whisky. One is through the burning of sulphur candles in casks to stop bacterial infection. Although this was once standard in Jerez with the rise of bespoke casks for the whisky industry the practice has now been outlawed.

The second form of sulphur comes from barley and is naturally produced during the whisky-making process. If you cut down the amount of copper available to spirit vapour the higher the sulphur levels in the new make will be. What appears to not have been understood is that this sulphur disappears in time. It acts as a marker; an indication that once its cloak has been lifted a spirit will emerge either as meaty (Cragganmore, Mortlach, Benrinnes) or fragrant (Glenkinchie, Speyburn, Balblair, AnCnoc, and Craigellachie) In other words, sulphur can be desirable.

Craigellachie revels in its sulphurous nature. The first thing you smell as you enter the distillery is the notes of cabbage and beef stock. This is rising from the worm tubs which sit at the back of the distillery. It is the small amount of copper contained within them that helps to promote this character. They also add weight to the palate of the mature spirit.

Long fermentation has however fixed fruitiness within the spirit and this tropical/floral note emerges in the mature spirit. It’s this character: full, yet aromatic which has made Craigellachie a prized malt for blending: it has been a major contributor to White Horse since the late 19th century – with the result that it had to wait until 2014 to receive its promotion to the rank of front-line malts.


Craigellachie Distillery was born off a collaboration between blenders and merchants led by Alexander Edward and Peter Mackie. The two were whisky legends of their time, both with solid experience in establishing and running distilleries and building brands. Craigellachie was one of Edward’s first ventures away from his family which had a long tradition of distilling in Banffshire, with Benrinnes under the control of his father since 1864. Edward, though only 25 when the distillery was built, was already the lessee of Benrinnes. He also owned a local brickworks, built new villas in the growing village and, in 1896, constructed a large hotel. He would go on to build Aultmore, Dallas Dhu and Benromach.

Mackie, of Lagavulin fame, also came from a distilling family: his father was a farmer, grain merchant and distiller while his uncle, James Logan  Mackie, co-owned the Lagavulin Distillery in Islay, which was where Peter Mackie found himself working in 1878. Just twelve years later – a year before his collaboration with Edward – Mackie would help his uncle’s company set up its own blend, called White Horse, to which Craigellachie’s fortunes would be tied over the coming decades.

Craigellachie’s distillery, however, was built in 1890. The original Craigellachie Distillery was designed by Charles Doig of Elgin and sported one of his iconic pagoda-style roofed chimneys, which to this day protrudes proudly above the surrounding buildings. As one of his earlier designs, it’s an example of his classic E-shape pagodas, if somewhat compressed. It was built with all modern conveniences with the express intention of making a lighter fruitier character than the older distilleries – one of the earliest descriptors of Craigellachie mentions pineapple as a desirable aroma.

Edward pulled out in 1900 to concentrate on the other interests, leaving Craigellachie in White Horse’s ownership. It was the core malt within Mackie’s Old Smuggler and Old Gaelic brands which were hugely successful in Australia and South Africa. White Horse – and therefore Craigellachie – became part of DCL but when that firm merged with IDV in 1998, the Monopolies Board insisted that it sell off some of its estate – specifically John Dewar & Sons and five distilleries, one of which was Craigellachie. They were snapped up by Bacardi which still owns the distillery.

Two years after being founded, Craigellachie was incorporated as a limited company and in 1896 it was reconstructed as Craigellachie-Glenlivet Distillery Ltd. The year before, following James Logan Mackie’s death, Peter Mackie had become chairman of his uncle’s company, in charge of its White Horse blend.

Despite this activity, some sources have suggested not a drop of whisky was produced before 1898. To the contrary, tasting notes from Alfred Barnard, who visited Craigellachie in 1893/94, suggest at least some whisky was being produced. He stated that 2,000 quarters of barley were waiting to be steeped, and noted “the chief characteristic of the Craigellachie brand is the pineapple flavour it develops with age”. However, the Pattison Crisis starting 1898 – a period when whisky was overproduced with the Pattison brothers, owners of multiple distilleries, artificially inflating prices and caused a crash- saw Craigellachie largely unscathed despite Alexander Edward being caught up in the drama and forced to temporarily close some of his distilleries which had supplied the Pattisons. The market was flooded with too much whisky, leaping from an annual output of two billion gallons to 13 billion, Craigellachie’s first few years were slow ones.

That the distillery survived was perhaps something to do with the conservative Peter Mackie who remained organisationally cautious. He described his business sense as one that favoured independent status, personal authority and familial recruitment. He believed traditionalism and predictability were just as important as sales.

After Edward withdrew from the partnership, Mackie and the remaining blenders and merchants carried on with Craigellachie’s production. The early years of the new century were quiet but the distillery underwent its first reconstruction when a reservoir and filter beds were added in 1902 – designed to put an end to periods of short-term closure due to draught. By the time war came, Peter Mackie’s company had total control of Craigellachie, which was forced to close due to barley shortages, reopening in 1919 - the same year Peter Mackie was given a baronetcy. Before his death, in 1924, he spent time trying to organise the company to unite with Buchanan-Dewar, and while this was something that never came to fruition, he finally decided to take the company public as White Horse Distillers Ltd.

After the death of the founders, life continued ut semper for the workers at Craigellachie.  Change was coming and in 1925 the big three whisky companies – John Walker & Co., James Buchanan & Co., and John Dewar & Sons – united to form Distillers Company Ltd. Two years later DCL bought White Horse Distillers. In 1930, the whisky distilleries from all four companies where transferred to a subsidiary of DCL, known as Scottish Malt Distillers. Craigellachie, like all Scottish distilleries, was most likely forced to close during World War II due to barley shortages, although this isn’t recorded anywhere. Two years after the war ended, in 1947, the Speyside Cooperage was established on the south side of the distillery and remained there until 1992 when it moved further down the road due to the need for expansion.

The 1950s were another quiet decade for whisky production, especially at Craigellachie where not much changed. It was during the 1960s, however, that the whole distillery was overhauled: from 1964 to ‘65 many of the original buildings were torn down and rebuilt, leaving only Doig’s floor maltings, kiln and the pagoda roof.

A second pair of stills were also installed in 1965, doubling the capacity for distillation. The branch line through Craigellachie town was scrapped under the Beeching rail reforms, leaving a picturesque walking track today known as the Speyside Way. Craigellachie continued its production under Scottish Malt Distillers throughout the 1970s and managed once again to escape unscathed by the bust in the market during the 1980s. Many other distilleries were forced to close, some never to reopen.

In 1987, DCL merged with Arthur Bell & Sons, both owned by Guinness, to become United Distillers & Vintners. Ten years later United merged with Grand Metropolitan to form what we know today as Diageo. Deemed to hold too great a monopoly on the whisky industry the company was forced to sell Dewar’s whisky company, including Craigallechie, alongside John Dewar and Son’s, Aberfeldy Distillery, Aultmore Distillery and Royal Brackla Distillery. The package, plus Bombay Sapphire Gin, was snatched up by Bacardi for £1.15 billion.

For much of its history, Craigellachie supplied most of its production to the White Horse blend, but as part of the John Dewar & Sons group of distilleries (incidentally a move Peter Mackie had tried to engineer back in the 1920s). Craigellachie is now available as a single malt. The first official single malt expression from the distillery was released in 2004 as a 14-year-old, and Craigellachie is a respected single malt in its own right, as well a component in the Dewar’s blend.

Craigellachie Distillery has been producing very characterful, heavy and sulphurous malt whisky for more than 125 years, but has managed to slide under the radar, keeping itself fairly insular and protected. The journey from field to bottle for Craigellachie whisky is similar to the majority of Scotch malt whisky brands. It is the nuances in malting, fermentation, distillation and maturation that shape the individual nature of the whisky’s character, and in the case of Craigellachie it is the malting process that particularly stands out. 


Malting: Craigellachie sources its water from underground springs by the Blue Hill Quarry, adjacent to the distillery, fed by a pipeline directly into the distillery. It uses Concerto malted barley from Glenesk malting in Angus, with the specific requirements from John Dewar and Sons to only use barley grown in the UK, preferably Scotland. Importantly for the character of Craigellachie whisky, during malting, rather than a gas burner being used to spread hot steam through the grains, heavy fuel oil is used, producing steam with sulphur in it. The oil-fired kiln at Glenesk maltings is only used for Craigellachie and the malt produced in it kept separate from those destined for other distilleries.

A Richard Sizer Porteus Mill processes 10 tonnes of malt per grind, taking a little over two-and-a-half hours to process. The old mill, dating from the 1860s, is kept working by the mill engineers. Two grist bins, rather than the typical one, allow Craigellachie mill to process two millings by the time one mash is finished.

Fermentation: Every Tuesday morning the yeast tank is refilled with a cream MS-1 strain. Craigellachie uses 192 litres of yeast per batch, with a capacity in the tank of 4,500 litres. As a ratio, it works out at 19 litres of yeast per one ton of mash. The use of liquid yeast represents a transformation from the situation pre-2008 when the distillery still brought yeast in dry form in sacks, mixing it with water to create a ‘slurry’. The use of liquid yeast eases handling and has speeded up the process.

Mash Tun: The old mash house has a large stainless steel plate in the floor covering the hole where the mash tun was historically situated. The new mash tun, installed in 2001, sits in an adjoining purpose- built mash house. This 10 ton Steinecker mash tun is a full lauter, meaning the rakes can move vertically as well as horizontally, while computer control and monitoring for pressure differentials negates the need for an underback. The temperature of the mix of malt, yeast and water in the mash tun is raised until it reaches 67.3°C, considered the optimum temperature to start sugar extraction. At this temperature, the enzymes needed in fermentation are preserved – in Scottish whisky production it is illegal to add enzymes, in contrast to American or Irish whiskey, hence all enzymes must come from the malt. Having collected the first water (wort) containing the extracted sugars and precious enzymes, the temperature is gradually increased in subsequent waters to tease as much sugar out of the malt as possible.

The mash tun produces 47,000 litres of wort which is pumped to one of the eight larch wood wash-backs where fermentation takes 55-65 hours. Craigellachie typically operate 21 mashes per week.

Wash back : The fermented wash is pumped into the two wash stills – one mashing produces enough to charge each of pair of stills with 22,730 litres of wash. Another element that distinguishes Craigellachie is its use of worm tub condensers – a coil of copper tubes lying in a large iron container filled with constantly flowing cold water. The vapour coming off the stills is directed through these tubes and is cooled and so condensed by the surrounding water.

Wash stills : Many companies have phased out worm tubs in favour of modern shell-and-tube condensers as worm tubs are notoriously prone to leaks, meaning water coming through the spirit safe and alcohol being lost in tub – and then consequently down the drain where the used water flows from the tubs. To guard against this, workers regularly drain down each tub, gas test it and then run water through it to see if there are any leeks. The continued use of worm tubs not only maintains distilling tradition; they also beneficially affect the character of the distillate produced. Worm tubs offer less copper contact than shell-and-tube condensers so produce more complex spirits with a heavier mouthfeel.

At Craigellachie, 20,000 litres of wash at about 8% alc./vol. enters the first still, which produces low wines at about 27% alc./vol. The low wines from both wash stills are combined along with feints from the previous 2nd distillation to charge the spirit stills with 22,730 litres. In the spirit stills, foreshots (heads) are allowed to run for around half-an-hour until the distillate reaches 72% alc./vol. at which point the run is switched to spirit (heart). The spirit run lasts between four-and-a-half to five hours and the final cut to faints (tails) is made at around 63% alc./vol.. Inside the still house, the scent of sulphuric malt is evident in the air – a smell specific to Craigellachie.

Spirit stills: The new-make spirit is sent by tanker to Dewar’s maturation and bottling plant in Glasgow. Here the whisky is stored mostly in ex-American bourbon barrels, with around 10% refill European oak, for a minimum of three years and anywhere up to 21 years, before blending and bottling.

A little bit of sulphur in a spirit can be a good thing, giving it a full body and a savoury, meaty character. Age goes a long way in polishing sulphur’s ragged edges, so intensely sulphurous new make doesn’t necessarily mean a finished whisky will share its rustic qualities. Starting in 2014, the distillery released a series of new official bottlings, including 13, 17 and 23 YO expressions, with others expressions having since followed. Although it’s still Dewar’s primary blend malt, Craigellachie is quickly becoming a single malt of some renown. The distillery’s 31 year old expression was named World’s Best Single Malt in the 2017 World Whiskies Awards.

Craigellachie 13-Year-Old

Single malt, 13 YO, non chill-filtered, 46% ABV, no E150a

Appearance: Pale gold.

Nose: Astringent. Green, plenty of alcohol burn, which dissipates fairly quickly. A pretty rugged aroma of sweat, salt, raw peanuts, dried limes, herbs, pepper and mild spices, bitter phenol and burn toast meets the nose. Barley sugar. It’s not particularly enticing, and smells a little like a dive bar. A half-teaspoonful of water segregates the components. Camphor, mint, chlorophyll, grapefruit, quite Irish.

Palate: Fiery, with toasted nuts, model airplane glue, dry vanilla and salty peanut brittle. It’s very sweet, with an almost liqueur-like mouthfeel.Then the sour funk. Slightly smoky barrel char. Candy oak, lozenges, the sour funk again, demanding. Much like Tyrconnell.

Finish: Long and lingering, clean. Tannin crispness. Ends with sweetness and chemicals.

Fruity and funky, savory and sour, Craigellachie 13 is a robust dram with quite a bit of complexity. The sour notes are more pronounced when the bottle is initially opened—exposure to air seems to knock some of these notes out, but they still remain lurking a bit. And I should be clear—this is a good type of sour. The type of funky sourness that holds your attention and brings everything together, not the type of sour that makes you think something is wrong with the product.

This is really quite an enjoyable single malt. It’s not peated and it’s not heavily sherried (although I think there is a small sherry influence), but it is a dram with a ton of old time Scotch whisky character and complexity. Throw in the fact that it’s very reasonably priced, and the end result is a fantastic bottle that I highly recommend. Excellent value for money.

Craigellachie 17-Year-Old

Single Malt. 17 YO 46% ABV, Un Chill-filtered No E150a

This whisky was awarded Whisky Advocate's 2014 speyside malt of the year after Dewar's rolled out an impressive selection of single malts from distilleries which didn't have much in the way of official bottlings before that point. This is an unpeated single malt, with a focus on the cereal notes in the blend - the malt is ground very finely, and is drained to be quite a cereal-laden wort - as expected, the malt notes to be quite central to the character of the blend.

Colour Bronze.

On the nose: Here’s something curious. All of the “elements” of this whisky seem to be on show, but somehow they feel individual, rather than melded into a harmonised whole. Vegetal, almost dieselly touch of sulphur and tyre rubber from the worm tubs: check. Honeys, melon and cooked apple and pear from the casks and spirit: check. Quite mellow and behaved. Rich, dried fruit right off the bat. You soon see that the malt is coming together, growing in body, complexity, and integration. Rummy, with some light molasses, light brown sugar, lightly heavy and meaty – but not as much as the 13, it is quite a different malt – raisins, apple, sweet malt, spices (clove, nutmeg), and light dusty earthiness. Dried pineapple, dried papaya. The malt is so central, and it is brilliant. Elderflower. Bourbon cask notes tend to come with time, and the oak grows.

Palate: The palate again carries malt centrally, with very slight malty acidity- lightly floral and more herbal than the nose. Oily and full-bodied. The flavours more or less pick up where the nose left off, with perhaps less input from the sulphur and fruit, and more from the honeys and malt. Flapjacks, custard creams, and millionaire’s shortbread. A sugary cereal finish – like a cross between branflakes and frosties. And we have some nice peach, and spices which meld really well with the malt – cinnamon, and something a bit sharper, cloves, nutmeg. Papaya comes in at the end. The oak is quite present, but very well integrated.

Finish: The finish is relatively short, but complex with a slight bite similar to the 13 year old. A malty influence, as from a decent lager, and light menthol on the end. The dry glass yields some wonderful sweet oak. Wisp of sulphur returns at the death.

Craigellachie 23-Year-Old

Craigellachie 23 Y O 46% ABV Non Chill-filtered Natural Colour

Colour: russet, but very vibrant.

Nose: that’s lovely: a nice oily, slightly dirty and industrial note balanced by orchard fruits. And it’s in that baked apple, heather honey and mead zone that the dram settles. Sulphur – just a hint, just enough. Slightly soapy too, with a flash of tarragon and something meaty, like a chicken broth. I would say that despite the age and interesting presence in the glass, it isn’t too complex. No smoke so rest easy.

Palate: baked apples, pears and a heft of meatiness dominate the palate. Oily, and the characterful sulphur comes to the fore. Herbal, and slightly ashy. Honey, but it’s not that sweet. Nutmeg. I think this one just feels too heavy on the refill casks; so there’s a lovely texture that comes through, but the complexity doesn’t follow. And there’s an oaky, tannic bitterness with cloves and pepper that unbalances things on the finish.

Finish: Medium length. Nutmeg and cinnamon linger the longest, with mild oak spice. Some dried apple. Faint bitter cardboard note also persists to the end, unfortunately. Water adds some additional simple sugar, but doesn’t help with the bitterness on finish. This is an interesting experience, and one that seems driven by both the distillate and the cask aging (or some combination thereof). It has a lot of character for a light malt, but some of the notes may be off-putting. Serve on any occasion or buy as a gift for whisky lovers.