15/07/16 saw one of the most epic whisky days, ever!
Straight after an enthralling visit to the new Ballindalloch distillery [blog] in the morning, Whiskylounge ‘Backstage’ [link] found ourselves sat in the lounge/music/snooker room/ of Diageo’s Drummuir Castle [link], spoilt for choice over Chesterfields and gawping in amazement at the selection of OPEN! bottles on OPEN! shelves round the room!! We were all staggered when given licence to pour ourselves “WHATEVER WE WANT!!!” from a bewildering display of Diageo’s special releases, Rare Malts and other choice malts & spirits. Whilst processing our individual concerns over how much/little to pour and how many, predictably there was immediate & immense activity centred around the Brora’s, the Port Ellen’s etc… After some deliberation [and given what id tried before], I plumped for a Glen Albyn from the Rare Malts series as I’d never tried one from this distillery at that point. I poured myself a modest measure, a bit too modest really, in those stupidly inappropriate & pompous brandy balloon glass. With my whisky, pen & notebook in hand, I sat down in a scrolled Wingback Chesterfield and rather awkwardly attempted to take notes.
In all the excitement and with some of our party yet to commit to a dram, none of us had noticed the man nonchalantly leaning against the fireplace, bemused/amused? at what was akin to flustered kids on the starting line of a pick n mix supermarket sweep. Without warning, he begun addressing us. I didnt catch his name at the time but he had introduced himself as Douglas Murray – master distiller for Diageo. Still juggling pen, paper & balloon glass in my huge chair, Douglas speedy launched into explaining the complexities of Mortlachs partial triple distillation process using an array of small coloured Britvic [style] bottles to demonstrate said process. I think the green lemon coloured bottles represented wash stills, the orange the spirit stills – or maybe it was the other way round, or not at all. Totally lost by this rushed, vibrant & no doubt brilliant Britvic demonstration [*do Diageo own Britvic?], i continued to examine the Albyn.
- N: Given the balloon glass, nosing was next to impossible. It smelt fairly straight ahead/natural, doped/supercharged by a strong & oily abv.
- T: Rich, glassy, natural dram. Adding water in the mouth gave for a hugely oily, herbal and sublimely clean/refreshing palate experience. Neat or not, it widened, developing notes of runny toffee.
- F: A light finish after a long diminuendo with notes of heavy mineral, herbal liquorice and porridge from neutral/clean/refill wood with a light saline tail.
- C: i found this rather sublime in an archetypal kind of way and sourced a bottle [reasonably priced at auction], as soon as i returned home. A style i like.
Scores 89 points
Meanwhile, i looked up to see coloured bottles strewn all over the mantlepiece & tables. Douglas concluded by saying that the Mortlach spirit is effectively distilled five times, whilst presenting to us the completed Britvic model in all its glory. He added that Benrinnes has a similar approach to Mortlach with their first distillation essentially split in two, making their spirit a triple distillation.
Before we could get too comfortable [and pour a second], it was announced that dinner would shortly be served, causing some panic amongst the ranks and raising concerns over:
- whether we would ever return to this room and should we take our glasses?
- how likely a freak July weather storm to snow us all in would be?
- why Drummuir castle has so many Britvic bottles?
As we shuffled into the dinning room, our designated driver passes me his unfinished Brora 30yo – i did say this was an epic day!
- C: Ive had this 9th release three times before so felt a license to focus on the bigger picture today. Also hungry & zoning out/in as per usual [low blood-sugar level], i muse over how Brora, especially, serendipitously mastered the knack of combining the basic whisky elements [barley, peat, water etc,..], and transcending those constituent parts to create a whole array of exotic complex push-me pull-me flavours that in turn lead to an emotional, poetic and often ethereal experience – even from a brandy balloon! Regardless, the nose is nigh-on perfect. It finishes with a long clean hum after a very fine journey. Aside from those near out-of-body experiences, Brora is equally [sublimely] simple stuff [its only whisky right?], with a mouthfeel you simply cant get enough of. The nose & mouthfeel alone stop me in my tracks.
[Scores 91 points]
Sat at a huge/long dark oak table fit for kings with servants/staff effortlessly attending to all our needs [seriously], we were taken through the numerous buffet-style dishes – paired with whisky, naturally. There was simply too much to take in at this point but i managed to jot down a few basics.
- C: This has the same composition as the ‘Rare Old’ i.e. made up of refill & first-fill US & European casks. My thoughts on the Rare Old are thus: It is without age statement & neither rare nor old, and yet its relatively pricey – por qué? But I can’t grumble much right now, i just had a Glen Albyn & a Brora 30yo compliments of Diageo, and I’m just about to tuck into some epic food in their castle. Furthermore, this NAS whisky is a higher strength version exclusive to duty free and today was served with a brick of ice and paired with mushroom pate amongst other things. The pate was tasty though the consistency was a tad loose. The whisky certainly held its own but simply couldn’t compete with what had gone before. With ice [a Rare Old highball], it was truly gluggable & refreshing. Given we were all ravenous and tipsy by now, the opulent food & whisky pairing quick descended into getting as much in as fast as we could.
Scores 83 [highball] points.
Made up of US & Euro refills and paired with, amongst other things, smoked crab.
- N: Rich, clean, varnished and confidently consolidated.
- T: More, rich consolidation. Lots of [full Lauter tun] movement – left to right & up & down.
- F: It’s impossible to talk of finishes when engulfing smoked crab and with so many other flavours still fresh on the palate, demonstrating exactly the problem[ I have] with food pairing. Meanwhile, everyone is tucking in like totalled toffs at a posh picnic.
- C: This is good stuff I believe. Remarkably, I scored it similarly before  when i wasnt stuffing my face.
Scores 86 points
Snippets from Douglas over dinner
- On Sherry: Diageo require lots of sherried whisky, so naturally they have their own Bodega – a huge sherry oak vat that is buried in the ground in a [secret location], somewhere [in Spain]?
- On Sulphur: Smelling [and tasting] sulphur in whisky can de desirable but may make for a light spirit.
- On Terroir: Terroir in modern whisky making is BS, its the spirit that makes the whisky.
Paired with broccoli & salmon quiche/everything! This is proper-old, stupidly pricey [currently £575 for 50cl!] Mortlach, and is made up from refill US oak.
- N: Despite all the things, its so grand & convivial and effortlessly stands out from the crowd[ed smorgasbord]. On further inspection i get soapy hairspray, but given im eating dozens of things, all at once,….. Its a fine malt.
- T: Aah, taste that old sherry. Theres a delicacy to this, yet its not soft. Darker tannins develop later on.
- F: ,… despite the amazing circus going on around me, everything here appears to be in order.
- C: A luxurious malt that came through [nearly] all the obstacles – i found it best paired with the mushroom pate but not at all with smoked crab. I hear Speyburn works well with fish.
[Scores 90 points]
And if you thought that was it for the day, there was even more! Ill save it for another time.
* Diageo dont own Britvic, though their CEO [Simon Litherland], previously had a career spanning 20 years with Diageo.