I am a proud member of a private Twitter group of whisky fans called The Whisky Circus, created at the beginning of the lockdown my Sorren “@ocdwhisky” Krebs, a well-known whisky blogger and now a brand ambassador for The English Whisky Company. The Whisky Circus is about 50 members big from several countries (UK obviously, but there are also people from Ireland, France – this humble writer included, Belgium, Sweden, Norway…). We meet every Sunday afternoon on Zoom and thanks to Sorren’s relations in the whisky industry, we now have one or more guests from the industry who come to discuss with us every week. Though you cannot participate in those Zoom sessions if you’re not a member of the group, you can watch the replays on Sorren’s Youtube channel, as our sessions are recorded for their most serious part. All the secrets from the trade, however, are not, sorry-not-sorry!
A few weeks ago, Sorren, with both his Whisky Circus ringmaster and The English Whisky brand ambassador hats, contacted the most regular members of the Whisky Circus to offer an English Whisky tasting with a then yet unannounced new release: the new English 11-year-old single malt. So I guess it was an English Whisky Circus Tasting. After all, the English language loves contractions. Julien tasted an English whisky bottling by SMWS before and liked it a lot, but we didn’t introduce the distillery then. So let’s talk about The English Whisky for a moment before diving into the samples.
On the 20th of May I was one of the lucky people who were selected to participate to another Tweet Tasting. Hinch Distillery was the centre of the attention for that evening. Hinch is a very young distillery (so young that their own liquid doesn’t flow off the stills yet) from Northern Ireland, south of Belfast, in the town of Ballynahinch. The distillery obviously takes its name from the city’s name, which translates in Irish as “town of the island”. The distillery is in fact still on construction (a project of a mere £15 million!) and they plan to start distilling in 3 months’ time.
So, in order to have cash flow while waiting for their spirit to 1, flow, and 2, be old and mature enough to be called whisky, they do what many new Irish (and Scottish) distilleries do: they bought casks elsewhere. They sourced malt and grain whiskies from another distilleries : Great Northern Distillery, aka GND, or Cooley for the older stock (before it was sold to Beam Suntory) and blended and finished them, playing around with different casks for the finish.
On Friday the 10th of April, I organized a small blind tasting with friends I had sent samples to almost a year ago. Lockdown due to the Covid-19 crisis is keeping us to meet and go to festivals, but it does not prevent us for sharing whisky with friends. Back in November 2019 we did our first kind-of-blind tasting with 4 Yoichi, and last Friday we went to another country, my (and Julien’s) country: France. On the lineup: an Armorik and Eddu, from Brittany, and an Elsass from Alsace. So like last time, we knew what drams we were going to taste, but had no idea of the order. Myself included. But let’s start by introducing the distilleries.
Whisky is not a simple drink, at least for many people. For many of us whisky amateurs, this is a social drink. Sure we drink whisky alone more or less often, by ourselves, in our home, be it because we’re a whisky blogger or just someone who enjoys a good dram. But we crave for drinking whisky with friends, having the same passion, or at least the same interest. Drinking with friends, sharing a dram, that’s what makes whisky alive. And that’s what makes us alive too. In these strange times of pandemic, confinement and isolation, pubs are closed, clubs cannot organize their usual whisky tasting sessions (and the whisky club I’ve founded with a couple friends had to cancel its… second tasting, we had just started with difficulty and already we have to stop, at least for now!), and so the social side of whisky must be on hold as we need to stay home to stay safe. But whisky fans are obstinate. We can’t drink in the same room? Pff, hold my glass: we’ll do it online. And for that, we can count on Steve Rush to organize even more Tweet Tastings. And so, on Wednesday the 25th of March, we were two dozen people to join Steve and the Cù Bòcan team to taste their range for this Cù Bòcan Tweet Tasting.
A few weeks ago, I drank the 500th whisky I was able to track since the passion for whisky took me. I had been drinking whisky and enjoying as a very slightly enlightened amateur for years, but got completely and utterly hooked only starting early 2018. Why? What changed? Absolutely no idea. But it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I’m now hooked, “at last”, and that I became a bit nerdy about whisky, even keeping track of what I’ve tasted in a Google Sheet created by my good friend Brian @MaltMusings. And thanks to this sheet, seeing my 500th dram approaching, I knew what I wanted to drink to celebrate this milestone, another unicorn whisky (at least for me): my first ever Brora, from a sample very generously given by Franck aka @LaCaveDeCobalt in the form of a Brora 9th release with a respectable 30yo age statement. But before talking about this dram and seeing if I enjoyed it, let’s talk a bit about Brora.
Nowadays, distilleries love to play around, more than ever, with casks used to mature their whisky. In some countries, for example Scotland, if distilleries go “too far”, the regulatory bodies give a big frown. And “too far” is more “it’s not on the allowed types of casks list hence it’s forbidden” than “what you did gave a crappy whisky because your cask was spent or was virgin oak ruining a good but fragile spirit”. In some other countries, let’s say Sweden, distilleries can experiment and do as they want. Moreover, Mackmyra is a Swedish distillery that loves to experiment. Their latest experiment is a whisky called Grönt Te, but before reviewing it, let’s give a quick presentation of Mackmyra.
On Saint David’s day (the 1st of March for those who don’t know all the saints by heart, myself included), I participated to a Penderyn Tweet Tasting organized by the unmissable Steve Rush. Saint David was a Welsh bishop of Mynyw (now St Davids) during the 6th century. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales. Fast forward to the end of the 20th century. A group of friends while having a dram, decided to start a distillery, and in 1998, The Welsh Whisky Company was born. Two years later, it started distilling, and this was the first time a Welsh distillery did this in more than a hundred years. Finally, in 2004 on Saint David’s day, Penderyn Whisky was launched in the presence of HRH Prince Charles. Penderyn distillery is located in the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales.
A few days ago was my birthday, so I wanted to mark it with a celebratory dram. I thought it was the perfect occasion to taste and enjoy a dram from a lost distillery (not for long though). My choice went to a Port Ellen 1982 Old Malt Cask from the independent bottler Douglas Laing, a dram being 26 years old. But before talking about the dram, let’s talk about the famous Islay distillery.
Dalmore is the crown jewel of Whyte & Mackay and the target of love and hate. Millionaires love this distillery and can reach new heights with extremely expensive and limited very-old bottlings, with a 60-year-old released in 2019 with an outturn of… 3 bottles to celebrate the reopening of the distillery after a refurbishing and their 180th anniversary, and many whisky fans hate Dalmore as this distillery cannot stop themselves to add caramel to fake tan their whisky up to a ridiculous point. But before finishing the quick review of the Dalmore 12-year-old, let’s get quickly to the history of the distillery.
Dailuaine is one of the numerous Diageo distilleries located in Speyside. In 1852, William Mackenzie founded Dailuaine, but died only 13 years later. His widow leased the distillery to a banker from Aberlour, James Fleming. After Mackenzie’s son and Fleming founded Mackenzie and Company in 1879, it evolved in 1891 into Dailuaine-Glenlivet Distillery Ltd. A few years later in 1989, Dailuaine merged with Talisker and formed Dailuaine-Talisker Distilleries Ltd (nice couple isn’t it?). Unfortunately, in 1915 Thomas Mackenzie dies without heir and the next year, Dailuaine-Talisker is bought by its previous customers John Dewars & Sons, John Walker & Sons et James Buchanan & Co (nope, not “& Sons”, sorry). After a fire, a closure, and a reopening, it’s bought in 1925 by Distillers Company Limited (DCL) that will later become the company known today as Diageo. Fast forward nowdays, Dailuaine is still active and has a capacity of 5.2 million litres of pure alcohol per annum.
The bottle we review today is a 11-year-old Dailuaine bottled by SMWS under the number 41.104 and the name “Some like it hot”. It was released in 2018 in the Spicy and Sweet category. Matured in an refill bourbon barrel, it was distilled on the 23rd March of 2006. Bottled at cask strength at 58.1% abv, it gave an outturn of 186 bottles.