Arran Distillery’s Burns

The Isle of Arran distillery produces some of my favourite spirit. As the island’s only distillery it is a very unique enterprise that is most intriguing for the whisky tourist but also releases some very tasty whisky. Here is the Robert Burns expression of the Arran malt that commemorates the life and work of Scotland’s poet.

A very light and delicate looking whisky, it doesn’t have the same depth of colour as the 10 year old, so the age of this whisky could well be a wee bit younger. It is a barley straw colour gold which allows the light to sparkle through the spirit. The bottle (miniature 5cl) is pleasantly presented with good artwork and displays a portrait of Burns in a striking background on the label.

The nose is slightly citrusy with a little prickle, the 43% abv could well play into the spirity aroma though this is by no means a cask strength whisky. Hints of grapefruit with a whiff of gorse wine mingle into the aromas.

On the palate this whisky is ever so slightly sharp but is matched with a creaminess similar to a vanilla custard. Apricot and a little pepper roll into the mix with a tip of the hat to Arran’s coastal flavours. The flavour profile is a little underwhelming but its delicate floral notes are pleasant; hints of cereal and lemon tart linger.

The finish is short, warming and not too obtrusive. Is it as iconic and ageless as Robert Burns? I don’t think so, but it would definitely appeal to the tourist who wants to purchase a decent dram with some good Scottish branding.

Not my favourite Arran release but it compliments the existing lineup of Arran malts. Would be a good gift or a nice malt to have for less enthusiastic malt drinkers.


Wolfburn Langskip Review

Recently I interviewed Shane Fraser from the Wolfburn Distillery in Thurso, Caithness. Today I review the newly released Langskip expression from the distillery which has been bottled at a, not to be sniffed at, bold 58%.

Natural colour and non-chill filtered being a benchmark of the Wolfburn range, this expression is no different. Lovely rosy amber colour which glistens and has a hue of an amalgamation with a sherry cask.

The nose is punchy and the alcohol really tickles the nose, after that the aromas of spices and stewed fruit come through with backgrounds of creamy vanilla.

Sultanas and creme brulee notes wash over the palate with a slight pepperiness in the background. Treacle and banoffee flavours linger on the tongue with a warming dryness from the alcohol pinching the sides of your mouth.

The finish is smooth and long with a slight medicinal quality that warms the throat.

An exceptional young whisky that delivers a flavour profile of a much older spirit. Beautiful notes that merge into a lively combination and makes for a pleasant and exciting dram. Thank you, Wolfburn!


Glen Moray: Peated

In the past I have reviewed the standard release Glen Moray which was a lovely classic speyside malt with delicate but well balanced flavours. Upon seeing the peated version, and with the increase in popularity of peated speyside whisky, it was necessary to try Glen Moray’s offering into the peated malt world.

The colour is light and straw like, very similar to the standard expression. Maybe subtle tones of elderflower cordial glint in the glass?

The nose is smoky with that peat making itself known straightaway. A slight prickle even with just a waft of this spirit. There are some citrus aromas mixed in there too, with tart grapes and apple sauce.

On the palate this whisky flaunts its peat with a heavy but not harsh influence of smoky flavours and some black pepper. Lemongrass and rhubarb custard boiled sweets are in the background with floral notes carrying the harmony of flavours on the tongue.

The finish is fairly short but warming and leaves the mouth with a residual smoke and citrus combination. For a Speyside whisky this really surprises with just how influenced by peat this expression is. It could easily be compared to a lighter Islay whisky.

If you like Glen Moray and the peated nature typically found in Islay whiskies, this one is for you!


Bowmore Darkest

Bowmore is an iconic Islay distillery producing wonderful malts and boasts Scotland’s oldest maturation warehouses still in use. Out of the many lovely expressions I have tried this happens to be a personal favourite. Bowmore Darkest 15 year old is a dark, fruity spirit.

The colour loves up to its name with a dark Amber hue. Shades of a dark maple syrup or a light sherry give this a wonderful colour straight into the glass. It would be a shame to have to add any water to this spirit.

On the nose there are bold vibrant aromas treacle, mulling spices and salted caramel. There are hints of dark chocolate and banoffee whiff in the background.

Moving onto the palate this whisky is an explosion of dark fruit flavours and spice. Peppery smoke, smooth salted caramel, mulled citrus, a hint of peat and lots of rich sherry tannins.

The finish is long and warming leaving notes of pepper and fruity dry flavours.

A truly notable whisky that will hold a favourite spot in my collection in the near future. Seldom do whiskies that look this good live up to their looks; this spirit hits the nail on the head. This whisky would suit the coming winter season very nicely. Well done Bowmore.


Shane Fraser on: Whisky, Wolfburn, and The NC500.

Wolfburn is one of North Scotland’s newest distilleries, it has been producing some very fine spirit that promises a lot and delivers even more. I speak to Shane Fraser, distillery manager and master blender at the Wolfburn Distillery in Thurso, Caithness.


Hi Shane, tell me a little about your role here at Wolfburn Distillery?

Well, I am the distillery manager here at Wolfburn, and I pretty much have a hand in everything in the distilling process. The cask choices, the bottling, as well as all the paperwork involved, I’m involved with making sure we have consistency in the spirit we produce from administration to bottling all the way to the customer.

And am I right to think you have the role as master blender as well?

Yes, so my role in very much all of these things is rolled into the title of distillery manager.

So how did you come to work at Wolfburn?

I literally just applied for it, I was working at Glenfarclas at the time and really fancied the opportunities this role would give me. Everything appealed to me, starting a new distillery, it really was a “must-do” in my career. The role itself is great, relaxed, and I have a really good work/life balance. So yeah, I applied, and the owners came in from Cape Town for the interview, and I was given the job a wee while later.


What drew you into the whisky distilling industry?

Well it has to be said it wasn’t my original plan. I was going to go to college and study but then I got a Summer job as a distillery tour guide which eventually led to me being offered a full time job. It entailed a real mixture of distillery work from repairing casks and sweeping the yard to basically being a general dogs body. That was in Oban, and then later I became the manager up at Glenfarclas Distillery.

What would you say is the best part about working at Wolfburn?

I would say the variation in the role is what gives me a lot of satisfaction. Most managers would usually spend most of their time sorting compliance and paperwork but the job here is far more hands on. It’s also great having a sense of balance between work and down time. The job is so good I actually enjoy going to work.


Brilliant to hear. As they say, if you enjoy your job you’ll never work a day in your life. So, like any job there are difficulties to work through. Have you faced any particular challenges here at Wolfburn?

I think the fact that we are starting a distillery, and wanting to get things right, has been a challenge. We want to create a really good product, an excellent spirit. Thankfully we got our spirit where we wanted it within a few runs. The challenge in particular to starting this project was ensuring everything was finished and getting the sprit running in time to meet deadlines. Luckily it was under a year when we filled our first cask, which is pretty good going.

What do you think makes a good single malt?

Good question, so many things come into play. I think most importantly the spirit needs time. Throughout the process from the distillery attitude, the fermenting, the distillation; it all needs time to work. I would also put a huge emphasis on the quality of casks. You need good casks if you’re wanting a good spirit. You can have the best spirit in the world but if the casks aren’t of good quality then your final product won’t be as good as it could be. A good warehouse is also important to get that consistent maturation. Honestly, I don’t think age matters, young whiskies can taste better than more mature whiskies if they’re made right. As for taste and character of a whisky I would say something not heavy would be my character preference. I like a nice maltiness with a hint of sherry; that’s perfect.

Do you think the introduction of the NC500 has had an impact on the distillery here?

Absolutely, we’ve noticed a really big increase. I’m not sure of exact figures but I’m sure if we looked at the paperwork we would see a significant climb in interest since the NC500 started becoming popular. At the moment we see 40 to 50 people a day coming into the distillery to buy our spirit and to get a tour which for a new distillery is really good going. We’ve also noticed good takings for a small distillery and this is only us in May. With time we’ll get busier, and I think it will be the same with other distilleries around the NC500. I do think the tourism interest from the NC500 is generally good for the whole area.

There has been a significant rise in gin consumption in recent years, a resurgence maybe, has this had an impact in the whisky industry?

No, I wouldn’t say so. Gin appeals to a very different drinker and the two products really aren’t comparable.

Would you ever diversify and produce a Wolfburn gin?

No, I don’t think so. We were given the opportunity at the start but no we were always very clear that our aim was to make our whisky.


Does Wolfburn have any plans to tap into whisky tourism?

Well tourism with an interest in whisky has just kind of happened. The distillery is open for visitors, and we offer tours, Monday through to Friday. Charlie Ross, a retired policeman also is available for booking tours, at any time of the week. We also have the new signs outside to direct passers-by to us. I guess we’re slowly getting involved with tourism, but it wasn’t the original plan; We always said that we wouldn’t be an open distillery or be involved with tourists but the NC500 changed our minds seeing as it was on the doorstep. We’ve had opportunities to showcase our spirit at different shows around the area. This year we will be at the Mey games and the Halkirk games as well as couple other wee shows. It’s quite good because these shows give publicity and people can learn more about what we’re doing.

So yes, I guess maybe it’s not an actual strategy but we’re just slowly tapping into outlets to get our product out there. We have run promotions through social media which is always a good way to get the word out.

Where do you see Wolfburn in 10 years’ time?

To be honest I think we can only go from strength to strength. We have a good spirit, we’d like to see that develop and hopefully produce something with an age statement which I know a lot of customers like. It really will just kind of take-off from there. We’re only going to get busier! We’re hoping to introduce miniatures at some point, so, watch this space.

What is your favourite food whisky pairing?

Something I have really enjoyed is the pairing of crystallized ginger. We used this at Oban and it’s been one of my favourite whisky pairings ever since. Admittedly, whisky and chocolate also go well together. I also found that in Japan they swear by soda water in whisky. I’ve tried it in the “Northland” and it really elevates the taste and the character; definitely worth trying.

And finally, who came up with the branding of Wolfburn?

There were a couple of artists who collaboratively came up with the idea. They were friends of the owners and it just stemmed from there. The branding really works for us and I know the wolf appeals to the German and Scandinavian customers, in particular. Our design guys really got the branding with the bottling bang on and it definitely helps to sell it. We’d quite like to see our spirit in the travel retail market. Already when I’ve been on trips I’ve seen Wolfburn in airports. Japan are mad for it and I was recently in LA and found some Wolfburn. It’s crazy to see something you’ve worked on thousands of miles from home. It really makes me proud of what we’ve accomplished so far.

Thank you for your time, Shane. Great to hear of some of your work here at Wolfburn and I wish you all the best on the next chapter of the distillery’s evolution!


Highland Park: Dragon Legend

Highland Park distillery create so many lovely expressions of their award winning Orcadian spirit. This time we’re reviewing the Highland Park Dragon Legend which was initially released as a way to capture the distillery’s Viking routes and dragon mythology.

The bottling is actually one of my favourites and it has been branded very well in a black glass bottle which alludes to smoke, charred wood and a wake of dragon fire (dragons existed right?).

The colour of the spirit is a lovely almost greyed amber and is a little oily in the glass.

On the nose there is a clean smokiness; the peat is very much present but doesn’t overpower or smell like antiseptic. Aromas of lemon drizzle cake, a slight creaminess of scorched vanilla beans.

Spices and more smoke burst onto the palate with the first sip. The peatiness is not overpowering but is matched up nicely with a vanilla and star anise flavour. The spirit coats the mouth well and is somewhere in the middle in terms of body, a slight oiliness but still a light spirit. Suggestions of honey and that lemon drizzle cake linger in the mouth as it’s sipped back.

The finish is long and warming, a slight sharpness when first swallowed but that dissipates into a spicy smooth warmness.

Altogether a well orchestrated dram. The peat is by no means subtle but conveys a smoky message to the drinker. I do get a wee feeling of being a Viking when drinking this! At around £40 this spirit is pleasant for the price; that being said you can see it on occasion in supermarkets for around the £35 mark in which case I would say ‘go for it’! Highly enjoyable, another smooth dram from Highland Park!


Highland Park: Viking Honour

The Highland Park distillery in Orkney is one of the most well established distilleries of recent years, though it finds its history as early as 1798 when it was founded by David Robertson. In the last 6 years the distillery has produced some lovely expressions of their spirit following a period of low sales due to stocking issues. For many people Highland Park is a scotch drinkers staple and a must have for any whisky cabinet.

Highland Park Viking Honour is a newer release of the classic 12 year old expression. In a reimagined bottling, but in keeping with the original 12 year, it is a lovely entry level whisky into the Orkney distillery flavours.

The spirit is a light straw colour with a golden syrup hue. Light and delicate with a subtle oiliness in the glass, this whisky behaves well and looks like a delicious dram.

On the nose there is a deep malty honey aroma with floral notes and a subtle smokiness; like standing on moorland and getting the Heather, Gorse and peat smells.

Honeyed malt with citrusy notes spark off on the palate with smoky suggestions lingering on the tongue. There is a slight pepperiness mixed with a suggestion of dark chocolate moving into the finish.

The finish is smooth and of medium length, no sharpness just pleasant citrus and light peat smoke lingering for a savoury flavour left on the palate.

A good wee entry into the Highland Park range. Admittedly, this wouldn’t be one of my favourite malts but it is very pleasant and fairly complex for a 12 year. Any Highland Park would be a must try so at around £25 from some supermarkets this expression is highly recommended.


Strathisla 12 Year Old

The Strathisla distillery in Speyside is possibly one of Scotland’s most beautiful distillery buildings. You really should Google it! Owned by the Chivas brothers, the distillery produces a lot of spirit for the Chivas Regal blended malt whisky. The distillery has also released some very pleasant single malts too and this lovely 12 year old expression is a fine example of the distillery’s spiced fruity character; a cliché speyside?

Dried forest fruit gateau and a sweet spiced cider make up the majority of the nose as whiffs of rhubarb and custard boiled sweets with a hint of creme brulée formulate some background. Really very complex and more aromas jumps out of the glass as you breathe in the smells.

On the palate this whisky is fairly slow to start messing with your taste buds, but when it does expect more of those spicy and fruity flavours. There is a slight pepperiness on the tongue and hints of maltose that counteracts it with a sweet grassy edging. Vanilla fudge, dates and walnut whip suggestions linger in the mouth with a crispness in the finish denoting green apples.

The finish is quite short in this whisky but not unpleasant. Simple red grape aromas smooth out the finish with a slightly acidic flair.

At around £25 this whisky can be purchased in many online retailers fairly inexpensively. The packaging is also quite pleasant with it being bottled in a stumpy bottle rather than the traditional tall bottle; helpful if you have a smaller shelf and can’t fit in those tall bottles!

Definitely worth a try, and if you are traditionally a blend drinker and like the Chivas Regal, this single malt could definitely wet your appetite.


A Brief History of Scotch Whisky

Scotch whisky is a special spirit that is relished by drinkers globally for its heritage, distinctness, sophistication and for its all-out Scottishness. Many countries around the world even treasure this beverage even higher than their own national drink; France, for example, drinks more Scotch than Cognac! For many people though, the history behind a bottle of malt may be limited to the date on the bottle for the year it was distilled and, at a push, maybe the date the distillery was founded. However, there is so much more behind the packaged bottles we buy from whisky shops and supermarkets. I want to share with you a little bit of the history of the famous Scottish tipple and where it is today.

Scotch whisky has been produced since the 1700s as a professionally crafted product, though distillation of whisky probably took place earlier than this in farmhouses and crofting barns around the country. In its early years whisky was a spirit made as a way of preserving excess grain harvests, not as a relaxing sipping drink. It wasn’t until the 18th century however that Scotch whisky became a commercially available commodity; though a fairly crude product, Scotch whisky was gaining popularity as an attractive tipple, not just a medicine as it had been in times past. More distilleries started producing spirit which meant the process of distilling underwent some changes to make it more efficient and cost effective. Going into the 19th century there were huge advancements in the way distillers were operating. The introduction of the continuous still, later the Coffey Still in 1831, meant that a more consistent product could be made rather than using the traditional batch process which could be hit or miss depending upon subtle changes in the distilling process.

One of the biggest factors in shaping the whisky industry over the centuries has been the changes in excise duties and taxation. Certainly, right up into the late 1800s smuggling and illegal distilling was very much prevalent in Scotland to avoid the excise officers. With different governments having a slant on moderating whisky distilling there would be long periods where the production of whisky would rollercoaster into highs and lows. In different parts of Scotch whisky history there has been times when distilling was banned due to food shortages; the precious grain would then be spared for conventional food production. In 1823 the Excise Act came into place which set the Scotch whisky industry on a course of consistent success; the introduction of a levy for distillers meant that the distilling process could go about with relative ease after a fee was paid.

It was in the late 1800s and early 1900s that Scotch whisky shifted its class attraction. Where before it had been the drink of poor people, dubbed “the poor man’s strong drink”, it was moving into being a staple of upper class society. Dewar’s, Johnnie Walker and Ballantine’s blends moved Scotch into a more sophisticated product that was appreciated by a wealthier clientele, even as far as being enjoyed by monarchs. The American prohibition saw a spike in Scotch imports to the USA as American distillers were on lockdown.

Scotch whisky production seemed to wain a little towards the end of last century. It was as though Scotch whisky was a dated product that was only enjoyed as a blend by old men. Towards the turn of the century though, distilleries caught on to a new customer base; the millennials. With their hipster taste and crave for authentic nostalgic products, a millennial fanbase for Scotch whisky has quickly grown over the past decade or so. Many distilleries now produce single malt whiskies, which in commercial Scotch whisky history, hadn’t really been done before. It is perhaps this new niche in Scotch whisky that has attracted people that don’t want to drink “your grandad’s Scotch” but want a more bespoke experience.

Undoubtedly, Scotch Whisky has had an interesting life so far, with its humble beginnings and plunge into grandeur, the evolution of whisky has been an interesting story to watch. In recent years the diversion of whisky into a craft product again calls for a renaissance of past distillation methods. Many new distilleries have opened in the last decade and there has been a new way of marketing the Scottish spirit; whisky tourism is becoming increasingly popular.

With the opening of visitor centres, cafes and other attractions at many Scottish distilleries, a world of tourism has been allowed to come through distillery doors. This influx of visitors, often from around the world, has meant great things for the whisky industry in Scotland. It is evident that a new era of whisky production and whisky drinkers has brought about a reenvisaged market for Scotch. The same farm distilleries that attracted quarrels with excise officers in times gone by have now enticed a different crowd of visitors; the tourist.

The Bartender’s Malt: 1st edition.

The Auchentoshan distillery have created a genius concept of not just an expression of whisky, but also a way to create something truly original. In The Bartender’s Malt, bartenders from around the world, experts in their field, have come together to create a special limited edition single malt; a creation worthy of not only being a stand alone sipping whisky, but also a whisky to be enjoyed in every cocktail that even suggests a whisky inclusion.

The Bartender’s Malt is a unique expression that is capable of living up to the Auchentoshan name but also introduces an interesting new characteristic to the Auchentoshan range. This malt can be found around the £35 mark online and in some select stores though this particular edition, being the first, may not be available for a huge amount into 2018 so grab it when you can.

A straw copper colour that is appealing and similar to many of the expressions in the Auchentoshan range; nothing out of the ordinary here yet.

The nose is creamy with a delicate grassy hint. Egg custards with an extra dusting of nutmeg make up the creamy but spicy edge in the aromas.

The palate is complex with the creaminess opening up different flavours, green tobacco leaf, pear drops and a heavily candied citrus note, a background subtlety of baked banana. There’s a suggestion of vanilla and significant spiciness that lingers on the palate, use of bourbon casks and possibly some rum casks mixed in there?

The finish is long and smooth with a mouth warming creaminess, this is about as advocaat you can get in whisky.

A truly lovely malt that retains some lowland character but seems to be a really eclectic mix of malts that make up a complex and slightly crazy single malt. Not to be scoffed at this is an Auchentoshan I can highly recommend.