2020 has been an inopportune time for Speyside Distillery’s 30th Anniversary year. Celebrations are on hold yet the release of their new single malt range goes ahead in earnest.
A number of things have changed since my impromptu visit to the Speyside Distillery in 2016:
- A thoroughly rebranded single malt-devoted range, all bottled at 46% [or higher], non-chill filtered and with no added colouring.
- Speyside Distillery now seems to favour the moniker ‘Speyside Distillers’, and the brand name ‘Spey’ over Speyside Distillery [single malt]. Good idea!
- Then there’s ‘The Snug’ – a dedicated visitors centre & PR team.
This is all very different to the previous state of affairs which involved phoning an answering machine in the hope of organising a distillery tour if & when the distillery was allowing visitors – a 4-6 week window in the summer so I’m told – or at the very most, permission to walk around the distillery grounds. And now?
There’s no denying Speyside Distillers’ commitment to the ever-surging single malt market. When some sense of normality from the ‘situation’ returns, visitors will be able to tour the distillery and enjoy a number of single malts in comfort of The Snug. Spey’s whiskies are ticking all the boxes too – on paper at least – which is to be commended and supported, and hence my interest in tonight tasting. The Speyside Distillery is now firmly on the single malt whisky map. Perhaps even a more visitor-friendly sign has since been erected and the ‘private road’ sign taken down?
A quick distillery refresh before we get stuck into their range:
- Despite already owning North of Scotland grain distillery [another far-reaching/innocuous distillery name], Speyside Distillery was the dream of submarine captain George Christie who [it is said] built the distillery by hand.
- Meticulous planning and consequent building of the Speyside Distillery began in 1962, yet the distillery wasn’t finished until 1987 [25 years later], with whisky production subsequently starting in 1990.
- After George Christie passed away in 2000, the distillery was taken over by an International drinks group before being acquired by Harvey’s of Edinburgh in 2013 [with considerable International backing].
- The distillery itself has a capacity of 600,000 litres, though according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook, that’s due to increase to 1mlpa in 2021.
- Long fermentation is between 70 – 120 hours.
- Stills are from the closed Lochside distillery.
- The spirit is mostly aged [off-site in Glasgow] in refill bourbon.
[Speyside Distillery] Spey Tenne  Ob. [18000 bts] 46% WB79.51
Initially aged in bourbon casks, this bottling has been finished for 6 months in tawny port casks from the family-run winery, Quinto de Filoco. As a batch of 18000 bottles, that’s a serious commitment to a finish.
Tasting note by Charles MacLean: ‘Copper / rose wine appearance, with notes of faint raspberry jam and rose wine, pot-pourri and pale fruits on the nose. Light in texture, sweet & faintly fruity, before drying slightly, leaving a trace of almonds in the finish. A light aroma & taste, very easy to drink. A quaffing malt‘
- N: Charles’s notes are, typically, resplendent. Without repeating or stepping on his shoes – though in total agreement – we’ve a pleasing light-fruity-jammy and floral potpourri nose with a dry hessian and coppery note. This is young chatty whisky, much like the Trutina to come.
- T: Fruity floral coppery and lightly malty, the tawny influence takes over the baton where the underlying spirit may well have already run its course.
- F: Pleasingly, it doesn’t come across as overly engineered. Remaining fruity and coppery [with a chocolate-y liqueur-like touch], it’s slightly more malty savoury > bitter by the tail.
- C: The ‘Hebes’ of whisky, on the nose at least, this works well enough overall. With 18000 bottles, and currently at around €30, it’s a whisky that’s going to be available to try and enjoyed.
Scores 82 points
[Speyside Distillery] Spey 12yo  Ob. Tawny Port Finish [3000 bts] 46% WB84
Another bourbon-matured malt with a tawny port finish, this is Speyside’s only age-stated expression in the current range.
- N: This is candidly candied, the port cask’s sweeter influences effortlessly falling/melding into the firmly established bourbon-centric roots for a malty confectionary nose. Going further, the port influence lends a medicinal/fruity cough sweet suggestion, offering a strong illusion of this being [part] actual bourbon. However, time allows the maltiness to come through and these suggestions disappear. Now settled, this is malty fusty single malt whisky with some good age behind it.
- T: Seemingly bold with a rather short/sharp cutting middle/muddle, this seems like right old hangover juice. The tawny influence, whilst providing sugar-sweetness, offers less top notes than the Tenne, the resinous bourbon base ploughing on regardless.
- F: Some side cheek & top-palate heat builds up from a fairly consistent and true-to-form direction, finishing as if the bottom fell out. Where did it go? I may find out in the morning!
- C: Great single malt for bourbon drinkers [and grain fans] perhaps, though at €60, this 12yo has some serious competition.
Scores 83 points
[Speyside Distillery] Spey Royal Choice  Ob. 46% WB84.16
Originally a limited edition whisky, this is regarded as Speyside’s ‘flagship’ malt. By far the most costly malt in their range, it consists of some of the oldest casks in their warehouse, back when the distillery officially opened in 1990 [and when sherry transport casks were still available]. Some of these casks are coming to fruition now.
- N: [Old, stored/hard] biscuit-based cake decoration sweetness, sweet [almond flake] nuttiness, sweet larder fustiness,,… there’s certainly plenty of [refill] bourbon-aged juice in here. Given time, the shoe polish, fertiliser notes, tomato leaves and > home-dug potato notes appear as true indicators of underlying age.
- T: Almost hesitant in comparison to the 12yo. Even though the abv strength is the same, this feels far more gentile with a delicate mouthfeel and a ‘naturally’ subtle saltiness. Nothing much happens, journey-wise, but it’s a pleasant if short experience.
- F: Oily < nutty crispy olive-y > snackage, slightly coppery, oily barley juice to the end. Concludes rather malty-chalky-woody-dry with more of those cake/biscuit decoration sweets thrown in for good measure.
- C: Given the timing and time in space – i.e. a whisky boom and the Speyside distillery’s relatively short history – one has to assume this is some of the best juice the Speyside Distillery has to offer. It’s certainly good whisky, just rather uneventful at £145.
Scores 86 points
[Speyside Distillery] Spey Trutina  Ob. Cask Strength Batch 2 [1500 bts] 59.1% WB85
Trutina was first released in 2017 with the CS version appearing in 2019. The original batch of Trutina was 100% bourbon cask-aged for eight years and saw a 6-8 month finish. For batch 2, between 6- 8 years of age is typical.
- N: Fresh, robust-yet-relaxed, young light floral & [orange-y] fruity barley spirit. Less bourbon-like than the 12yo, yet also less fruity, this smells of [very] young, new-age spirit~whisky all the way.
- T: Immediately very raisiny,… then towards coppery tempered new make-y maltiness. The raisin vibes settle down a little though the driving resinous cask activity along with formidable lively-yet-focused spirit keeps the momentum up. This needs water no end. Diluted, however, same same, only slightly improved form and profile.
- F&C: Very peppery on the turn with more coppery raisins. Wow, that heat!! Add water to counteract, but why bottle at 59.1%?
Scores 79 points
Fumare was first released in 2017. This was likened to Balvenie’s Peat Week with regards to the production of Speyside’s peated malt that occurs just before the distillery’s ‘close & clean’ programme at Christmas.
- N: Aromatic phenolics over abundant barley spirit, how peat brings out that maltiness is a wonder. Those phenols, those oils, the saltiness, the brine, the ‘slick’,.. and yet light youthful playfulness remains.
- T: An accomplished arrival [from a malt that could be from a plethora of distilleries], that soon falls away, similar to its non-peated siblings that proceeded it.
- F: Peppery and spirity once again, though with a more tempered smoky and chalky-resinous-oily-dry finish.
- C: Me wonders how submarine captain George Christie’s vision of his distillery’s output differed from the current owner’s, and what direction the distillery and its spirit would have taken if he’d remained at the helm?
Scores 78 points
Arguably, it’s taken 30 years and a whisky boom for the Speyside Distillery to present a concise and comprehensive single malt whisky range alongside a PR-forward hands-on experience for its customers and visitors. Whether they continue to provide for this niche-yet-significant market in addition to their hugely successful blends operations in Asia & beyond, only time will tell. For now, we are seeing significant moves in the right direction for the whisky enthusiast, from Speyside Distillers.
Further reading and watching: