Posts Tagged With: Distillery

Distillery Visit: Glenfarclas

When the WU guys were putting together a trip to visit Speyside, needless to say that we were spoilt for choice. With over half of Scotland’s distilleries being based in the area surrounding the meandering River Spey, and none of our 4-strong troop having been to the region before, we were living and breathing the grown-up equivalent of being kids in a sweet shop.

Between us, we had found a great looking cottage in the village of Archiestown for a long weekend in March (yes, that’s how long it’s taken to write this up) which we then used to triangulate a Speyside visitor centre hit list. With the cottage being roughly equidistant from Cardhu, Aberlour and the region’s giant, Glenfiddich, that had pretty much settled it without having to look much further, but as the title suggests, we couldn’t visit the region without also going to Glenfarclas.

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Double Thumbs Up for Glenfarclas

What had particularly attracted us to the distillery – other than having enjoyed their whiskies on numerous occasions throughout the years – was the fact that it was still a family run distillery and hadn’t succumb to the big money ownership that many distilleries have (and that many have had to). What that meant to us was that we were expecting a smaller distillery with more humble staff than your standard big-budget-backed whisky-maker, and it certainly delivered.

Located just off the A95, the roadsign to the distillery was almost too easy to miss, but luckily enough the classic red font of the Glenfarclas logo stood out from the snow-covered roads and fields, directing us up a narrow farm lane to the car park. As we shimmied and skidded our way along the icy track we noticed a giant tour coach parked just outside the visitor centre (which we narrowly missed) and as we drove around an old and ornamental still, we managed to find one of a few dug-out parking spaces.

Glenfarclas Visitor Centre

Having taken some 9 hours of travelling from our southern England starting point, we bundled out of our car and looked on in awe at the picture perfect distillery. Covered in snow and with the warmly-lit interior beckoning us inside, we entered the visitor centre to welcoming smiles and hellos from the staff – and this was with just 45 minutes left on the clock of their working day.

The visitor centre is of course, first and foremost, a gift shop and upon walking in you are instantly drawn to the remains of another still and the multitude of glass cabinets adorning the room’s walls. Each cabinet was themed with past releases and current offerings all nestled amongst the rare and ancient drams from the distillery’s past. These were also accompanied by price tags that ranged from reasonable to eye-watering. Our attention was particularly drawn to the distillery’s “Family Cask” section, filled with bottles in chronological order from the date that they were first distilled from 1952 onwards. We each sought out the bottle from our respective years of birth, and were content with just looking through the cabinet doors, rather than shelling out the £3,500 each!

Family Cask Display

Given the timeframe, we were not in time to undertake any tour, but we had plenty of time to enter the tasting room, and join up with the coach trippers (who were probably all 40-50 years our senior) now at the fun end of their tour: the tasting. The room itself was like a Victorian dining hall, with a set of long tables down the middle, with a few smaller tables dotted around and more wooden cladding than Ron Burgundy could ever have wished for. The whole room was covered with old advertising posters and newspaper clippings from yesteryear. There was a real sense of history and nostalgia here, with a clear emphasis on family.

Tasting Room

To the matter at hand, our troop found ourselves a seat and were presented with a sample of their opening gambit, the Glenfarclas 10 year old. Our new host then reeled out a well-rehearsed but still well-delivered spiel about the history of the distillery and we were all ears. As we listened, we savoured our first dram of the day, picking out the flavours that stem from the family’s longstanding use of sherry casks. The 10yo proved to be a fairly light dram, enjoyed in no time at all with its Pear drop sweetness and pretty quick finish getting our tastebuds going.

‘Farc-ing Bliss

Our temporary curator then plied us with a serving of the Glenfarclas 15yo and that’s when the sherry influence really hit home. This whisky had a much fuller, fruitier nose, and the 46% alcohol gave for a fuller taste and body too. It wasn’t all sherry flavourings though as a little bit of time and water released sweet vanilla and a little citrus into the mix. An excellent whisky that seemed to knock its younger sibling out of the park.

Please!!!

As the history lesson turned into more of a flowing Q&A session, we were presented with the third of the distillery’s post-tour offerings, the mighty Glenfarclas 105 (Unfortunately not 105 years old – can you imagine?) Whilst I had experienced and loved this whisky before, my senses still took a battering, as did the other guys’, as it’s 60% ABV natural strength delivers a real punch. It has a BIG nose leaving you fighting the alcohol but some fruitiness (raisins?) and sweetness still manage to poke their way through. Without the aid of water, the 105 pretty much attacks the palate but not the throat strangely enough. After some taming though that fruitiness really comes through with faint sherry this time.

It was at this point that the coach group were being hustled up by their weary-looking driver, and a little bit of minesweeping was afoot. As the congregation filtered out though, we keen-beans had pretty much settled on acquiring a bottle of the 15yo but our host didn’t seem to want to rush us out and after a little cajoling he went to the backrooms to bring us samples of their 21yo! Despite its years, this dram was still surprisingly light and whilst it had a good nose and those sherry-like fruity and sweet flavours were still present, it didn’t quite meet the standard that the 15yo had set. With our conversation starting to wind down and the 25yo or older expressions remaining firmly locked away for the evening (we tried) we were fully sated and couldn’t leave without making a purchase or four…

Whatcha Doin’?

By the time it came for us to leave, we realised that the staff had actually kept us indoors well after their closing time and were still happy to talk (mostly). Their head honcho however was starting to purposefully look at his watch and with our purchases having already been made before they had to close the till, we were also ready to head off and set ourselves up for the long weekend at the cottage. With some parting pleasantries and a few snaps, so ended a brief but memorable trip to Glenfarclas. If you get the chance to go, then you should definitely do it! We certainly will. Again. And again.

Categories: Glenfarclas, Tasting Notes, Venues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Evening with Mackmyra

On Wednesday 24th May, courtesy of the good folk at Chester Beer and Wine, I recently attended a Mackmyra tasting evening. The session took a couple of hours and saw the assembled collective taste our way through 7 of Mackmyra’s current expressions. The evening was curated by a locally-based rep, Alex Johnson, who really packed the two hours full with facts about the establishment of Sweden’s primary whisky distillery and their various offerings.

The running order for the Swedish drams ran as follows:

  1. Vit Hund (46.1%)
  2. Brukswhisky (41.4%)
  3. Svensk Ek (46.1%)
  4. Svensk Rök (46.1%)
  5. Mackmyra Ten Years (46.1%)
  6. Malström (46.4%)
  7. Vinterträdgärd (48.4%)

With a complementary spread of tasty nibbles laid out in front of us, courtesy of our hosts at the Hoole hooch house, the proceedings were kicked off with an opening story about the distillery’s formation as the first drams were poured… as the story goes, the distillery came together when 8 friends met up for a skiing holiday and each took a bottle of whisky. By the end of the trip, with the booze probably doing the talking, the idea had formed to create Sweden’s own whisky distillery and in in 1998 that idea came to maturation (so to speak).

 

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Vit Hund

Vit Hund

Up first was their youngest dram “Vit Hund”. This translates to “White Dog”, and the drink gets its name from the American distillers’ nickname for new-make spirit. No surprise then that this was a clear liquid and had a very pure and rich boozy nose. Having been to a few distilleries where you can sample the new-make spirit, this dram was nowhere near as raw a product as I was expecting though, and the use of their very pure water to cut the booze down to 46.1% ABV (seemingly a favourite percentage for the distillery) made a big difference but it still packed bit of a punch for your first drink of the evening! Once past the boozy burn you could clearly smell the barley, mixed with sweetness and a little citrus fruit. The taste was surprisingly fruitier still, particularly without any aging in a barrel, which really goes to show the importance of the original raw ingredients and their influence on a whisky. The dram also left a nice softness on the finish, The strong pear taste and barley sugar sweetness in this spirit made for a really good start and interesting dram, and Alex also tipped us to keep a bit aside to compare against the whiskies as a comparator of their base spirit to the final, aged or smoked whiskies to come. What was also a pretty nice touch was that the bottle of the moonshine-esque spirit comes packaged and housed in a brown paper bag, reminiscent of your classic contraband hooch.
 

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Brukswhisky

Brukswhisky

The second dram of the evening was the Swedish distillery’s youngest “whisky” on offer within their core range. This is matured mainly in first full Bourbon barrels and is a light, fresh and crisp dram, described by our rep as a “picnic whisky”. Whilst I probably wouldn’t have described it in those words, I did get what our man was talking about. It had a really fresh and fruity nose, with citrusy (agave according to our curator) and grassy notes. The taste was nice and sweet with a fresh vanilla and nutty flavour blending into those citrus fruits, with a nice, soft, finish. A real easy-drinking (and more-ish) dram. Apparently Mackmyra prefer to concentrate on good fermentation and maturation to get flavour, rather than set aged expressions but this was clearly a young dram – aged approx 6 and a quarter years we were informed – and is one of their best sellers, and understandably. What was pretty cool to do was then compare the Vit Hund as the base product and see how those original flavours have developed with the wood starting to offer sweetness and nutty flavours along with a light golden colouring.  The bottle also had some cool crude sketches of their original materials, including their tiny first pot still crafted for them by Forsyth’s of Rothes.

 

 

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Svensk Ek

Svensk Ek

Next up was the Svensk Ek, which translates to “Swedish Oak” and is a slightly older expression (a mixture of 7-9 year old whiskies) and the name is indicative of the flavours on display. Despite the name, the dram is a marriage of 50% 1st fill Bourbon, 40% sherry oloroso and then 10% Swedish oak casks. The nose itself was a bit more vitriolic than the first two drinks and the fruitiness having given way to butterscotch sweetness. There was also a definite woody influence, which makes sense for the longer maturation, and the liquid is also a lot darker for it. The butterscotch flavours got even stronger when tasting it, with the sweetness of Demerara sugar and vanilla fudge upfront, then the oaky tastes took over, leaving a slightly woody and black pepper spiciness on the finish. Again, it was probably just down to the age, but this was a more complex dram than the former and, certainly was the most traditional, “scotch-like” whiskies of the evening – if that makes any sense?! – and proved to be the tasting attendees’ early favourite.

 

 

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Svensk Rök

Svensk Rök

The fourth drink of the evening, and the final expression in Mackmyra’s core range, brought about another significant change in characteristics and flavours as this represents their principal peated whisky, with “Rök” translating to “smoky”. Unlike some distilleries who look to make their peated expression as powerful and phenolic as possible, this dram was really well balanced with a manageable peat load and gentle vanilla notes throughout. As ever, when talking about whiskies in a group, someone will say something that strikes a chord with your own tastes, and when our narrator explaiend that the distillery burned juniper on top of their peat fires, sure enough everyone could smell that distinctive flower note underneath. For me, I though there a nice orange fruit smell with it too and the taste and finish just continued that through with a soft, vanilla coating once the peat had faded away. A very well-balanced whisky… and time for snacks. It was also at this point that we noticed that the base of each of the Mackmyra bottles were embedded with 8 dimples, which we were told represented the thumbprint of each of the original 8 founders, proving again that their attention to detail is just fantastic.

 

 

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Mackmyra Ten Years

Ten Years

Peronsonally, this was the whisky of the evening that I was hopning would be on show, as it was only released a couple of weeks before the tasting and represents a bit of a milestone for distillery. The dram itself is not the oldest dram that they have released, but is the first time that they’ve focussed on having an age statement, ableit sadly, this is only a temporary release, sitting with Mackmyra’s “Seasonal” range. Did the dram live up to my expectations? No. It exceeded them. The nose had a bright and sharp vanilla smell with that syrupy bourbon barrel tang. This continued into the taste, which brought out more of that sweet vanilla creaminess to the palate. Beyond that there was not much to talk about, but that wasn’t a bad thing, as it just tasted like a balanced development of the original Vit Hund. Only the finish started to bring about those original fruity flavours at the end. I was surprised to find out that about 30% of the dram had been matured in oloroso casks, as I couldn’t really pick up much of a sherry fruity influence, but maybe that was just my palate. What the dram did remind me of though  was the simplicity and purity of the Laddie Ten released by Bruichladdich (one of my all time favourites) because whilst it wasn’t  drowning in “complexity”, it did have lots of subtle flavours on board which just worked well together to make a nice, clean, vanilla-sweet whisky.

 

 

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Malström

Moments: Malström

Even more ‘rare’ than their seasonal releases, Mackmyra release their limited “Moments” small batch expressions whenever they believe that they’ve hit on a good dram to sell. The malström (or “whirlpool”) was deep, dark and rich expression, made from a marriage of 5 different cask types and having been subject to their smaller 30 litre cask maturations. Taking our samples from bottle #889 of 1600, this whisky delivered the “complexity” that some of our crowd were after, and it did so in spades. Lots of thick, rich fruit cake smells on the nose and dark currants and a sherry on the palate made for a more of a Christmassy, heavy and oily whisky. The rich fruit flvaours lingered for a while on the finish and left a rum-style vanilla coating of the throat long after the liquid had gone down. This was really great example of mixtures of maturation and influences to create a ‘complex’ dram, and the “whirlpool” imagery conjured up some of the fruitcake influence in Ardbeg’s Corryvrecken, albeit without the peat monster looming around. It seemed to be quite the deviation from the whiskies that the distillery must be proud to house in their core expression and I can imagine that Swedish malt fanatics would be eager to get one of these into their collection, but for over £100 a bottle, there wasn’t quite that desire for me.

 

 

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Vinterträdgärd

Moments: Vinterträdgärd

Our final dram of the evening came from another of Mackmyra’s limited release small batch expressions and this brought about something different enterly. This dark expression had a velvety texture, much more like a smooth liqueur than a single malt whisky and displayed some truly Scandinavian influences having been housed in lingenberry wine and raspberry wine casks. Very different. The nose was sticky sweet and full of red berry smells and the taste was just a juicy as the smells had anticipated. The finish was thick and sweet like syrup packed full of berries, which they must have cultivated from their “winter garden”. An excellent dram to finish off the evening, or any evening for that matter. Like a dessert wine really. But boozier. And better.

As the tasting evening closed, we had learned an awful lot about how the distillery started out from a an idea amongst friends, to the acquisition of an intiial mill, all the way to the influence of the “terroir” of the Swedish landscape and ingredients. The success of the distillery has since resulted in their “gravity distillery” being built whereby all ingredients are prepped at the top of a large multi-story building and make their way down through the process to then be matured in their own storage space in the Bodås mine, some 50 metres underground. I think what the evening displayed in equal measure was the importance of the intial ingredients and that first raw sprit or Vit Hund, and then the importance of the maturation process and the different types of barrel used, given that all of these presumably started off life as the same distillate and breathed in the influence of their encasing within the constant and cool temperatures down in the depths of the Swedish subterranean. Overall, one happy group of whisky drinkers and a job well done by our Scandinavian friends.

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Distillery Visit: Oban

It’s fair to say that whenever I get to visit a Scottish town then the trip is usually based around the distillery. With Oban, this happens to be the case for the entire town itself!

Oban distillery was legally established in 1794 and the town has since been very much built around it. Set in a beautiful, naturally occurring bay and sat at the bottom of a steep bank overlooked by the iconic McCaig’s Tower, the distillery is nestled in the heart of the harbour town. To be honest, it is so settled in that, if it wasn’t for the distinctive chimney and lingering malty scent, you could easily miss the distillery altogether when walking through the streets. Luckily, with enough signage (and sat nav as a potential backup) I was able to stroll up the waterfront road and stumble across the near-camouflaged building, tucked just behind a row of shops.

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Oban Distillery

Immediately within the cold-looking, grey stoned building lies a warm, wood-panelled gift shop with an equally warm and friendly group of staff awaiting to tend to your every whisky-related need. Having attended a couple of Diageo-owned distilleries, I’d learned to present my ‘whisky passport’ – like the true whisky geek that I am – keen to get another stamp and get ready for the upcoming tour. Speaking of which, the gift shop itself seemed to be filled to the rafters with all of Diageo’s other staple offerings and a few gems from the Flora and Fauna range, plus the serious connoisseur/bankrobber’s Lagavulin 37 year old.

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Oh, I’ll have two please…

After a little wait in the gallery area the tour was presented by a young local lass by the name of Emily and she’d gotten her patter and knowledge down to a tee. Unlike other tours, which usually talk in generalities about their range of products, the Oban tour focussed almost exclusively on its core 14 year old output, and in particular, its four distinct flavours: Sea Salt, Honey, Orange and Smoke. I’ve enjoyed an Oban 14 on many occasions, but whether or not it is the power of suggestion, since visiting the town, I can no longer drink it with ticking off each of those four flavours along the way. The other flavour that I often pick up is the grist-like malt itself.

The tour took you through the whisky making process from start to finish as you got to smell the grist, walk between the tuns and through the stillhouse before ending up in one of the warehouses. Here we got our first taste of the Oban signature liquid, followed quickly by another short measure straight from the barrel – an 11 year old cask strength, dram obviously, which was delicious (see notes below).

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How to make Oban

One thing that I’d read about the tour in advance on trip adviser (and was happy to see as still ringing true) was that they offered to put your dram into a miniature travel cup with lid for those not able to enjoy the dram onsite, i.e. the conscientious drivers. Fortunately for me, I was with my wife and she later kindly donated her dram after the drive too (double thumbs up).

At the end of the tour, Emily was all too happy to answer any questions and we were not simply rushed out of the premises, like you can feel sometimes when there’s a chain of tours and tastings going on. Of course, the tour ended up by having to make your way out of the building via the gift shop and once again the combination of alcohol and enthusiasm resulted in a swift purchase – not forgetting the all important £5 discount for having been on the tour!

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Oban Visitor Centre

Just before leaving, nature was calling for us two travellers and I’m glad that it did because we then happened upon the distillery’s small bar upstairs, above the gift shop and this resulted in sampling the Oban Distillers Edition (notes below).

All in all, it was a really nicely polished tour, as you would come to expect from such a revered distillery and I would heavily recommend it to anyone going to the Argyll area. I would also strongly recommend the Oban Whisky and Fine Wines Shop (click here) adjacent to the distillery and the Cuan Mor pub nearby – excellent drams and food, respectively.

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Some appropriate reading

Notes from the tour:

Oban 14yo

N: Pretty honey-sweet smelling after the fruity alocholic burn

T: A little salty. A little malty. Then the sweetness makes way for the zesty, orange and citrus flavours

F: Damn fine with a little smoke to finish off the orange zest

V: Absolute solid dram and worth the little extra money for one of Scotland’s most time-honoured whiskies

Oban 11yo Cask Strength (Tour)

N: Sweet marzipan and Christmas flavour

T: Very light and sweet – after the 55.7% punch and burn of alcohol

F: Sweet and tingly – very warming

V: Nice, tour only tasting and very indicative of the original flavours to come in the 14yo

Oban Distiller’s Edition

N: Slight Christmas and sherry fruitiness

T: Sweet fruit cake

F: Slightly treacle like texture

V: It is the 14 plus 8(ish) months in a sherry cask, and does exactly what it needs to – adding that additional festive flavour

Categories: Oban, Tasting Notes, Venues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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