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Balblair Distillery – True Highland Spirit

Balblair distillery made it into the news recently for their change in packaging and labelling of their whiskies. Instead of vintages, the distillery decided to follow the conventional method of stating the age of the whisky on the bottle. It is a welcoming change for drinkers who are too lazy to count the years (like us)!

We wanted to see how things may change with the new packaging, and Lady Luck shines on us – SAMPLES! Our friend over at AsiaEuro kindly gave us some samples to try, and of course, we gladly took over. Who says no to whisky, right? Before we go into the tasting, let’s take a look at the history of the distillery.

History of Balblair Distillery

Balblair was founded in 1790 by John Ross in the Highlands of Scotland. As a Highland distillery, Balblair uses water from the Ault Dearg burn. Even though the distillery moved its location in 1895 when Charles C Doig rebuilt it, the water source remains unchanged to this day. It is important to note that water source for a distillery is crucial, and we applaud the efforts that Balblair takes to maintain the integrity of its water.

John ran Balblair from 1790 to 1824 singlehandedly as a striving business. Andrew Ross, his son, joined him at the distillery in 1824 and it remained in the Ross family for another 70 years. In 1894, Alexander Cowan took over the tenancy of Balblair distillery. The business remained as a small-scale distillery until 1948, when Robert Cumming bought it. Robert expanded the distillery and increased production and ran the bigger distillery until he retired in 1970.

By this time, Balblair is known as an excellent Highland single malt whisky producer, and it is no wonder that the distillery attracted buyers. When Robert Cumming retired, he sold Balblair to Hiram Walker. Finally, Walker sold it to Inver House Distillers Limited in 1996, where it remained till this day.

Whisky Production at Balblair

We do not get a lot of information on the actual whisky production methods at Balblair as the information is not available. Let’s move on to the tasting notes!

Whisky Reviews

Credits: balblair.com

Balblair 12 Years Old

Nose: confectionary sweetness, lemon zest, sour mash
Palate: lemon zest, vanilla sponge cake, resin,
Finish: heather, resin, lemon zest, vanilla
*We did not add water to the 12 Years Old.

Balblair 15 Years Old

Nose: cookie dough, brioche, chocolate, cinnamon, black pepper and honey. With water, we get a hint of ginger too.
Palate: chocolate cinnamon honey and yellow pears. With water, there are more honey, cinnamon and black pepper.
Finish: vanilla citrus, cinnamon and milk chocolate. With water, we get dark chocolate, walnuts and marzipan.

Balblair 18 Years Old

Nose: hints of new magazines, cinnamon, milk chocolate, rich honey, vanilla sponge,
Palate: cinnamon, chocolate, brioche, walnuts, cashews, lemon zest, grapefruit zest
Finish: cinnamon, black pepper, lemon zest
Again, we did not add water to the 18 Years Old.

Our team was quite divided on our favourites after the tasting. Suffice to say, we enjoyed all three expressions, but the 15 Years Old did win the vote with a 2 out of 3. Have you tried these yet? What are your thoughts?

 

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The Glengoyne Way – No One Takes More Time & Care

Glengoyne Distillery nestled deep within the beautiful landscape of Dumgoyne, north of Glasgow, Scotland. Within the surroundings of the distillery, a hidden waterfall waits to surprise first-time visitors. The miniature glen that Glengoyne sits is an amazing sight to behold. There is no wonder that visitors often named Glengoyne Distillery as the most beautiful distillery in Scotland.

History of Glengoyne

George Connell was the founder of Glengoyne distillery. History has it that Connell began distilling at Burnfoot Farm – the current Glengoyne distillery – in 1820. Safe within the miniature glen that hid the farm from the Exciseman, Connell escaped the notice of the law. Connell was not the first man to distil at the farm illegally as he learnt the trade from his grandfather.

In 1823, the law changed with the introduction of the Excise Act. Many underground distilleries took the license to operate, but Connell did not. In 1833, he finally decided to work with the law and obtained his license. He named the distillery Glenguin of Burnfoot. Connell took a 99-year lease on the land where Glenguin sat in 1836. It gave him the right to use the water of the property at any future time. Critically, Connell also made the decision not to use peat in his distillation process. His decision to deny peat in his whisky behold his legacy until today.

The Distillery Changed Hands

The distillery changed hands in 1876 to the Lang Brothers in Glasgow. History has it that the Lang brothers wanted to change the distillery name to Glengoyne, but a clerk made a mistake, and the distillery became Glen Guin. The name Glengoyne did not take effect until 1907. Did you know what Glengoyne means? It comes from Glenguin, which means Glen of the Wild Geese.

The Lang brothers took ownership of Glengoyne until 1965 before selling it to the Robertson & Baxter Group. The R&B Group eventually becomes Edrington Group. Under Edrington, the distillery underwent a rebuilding project between 1966 and 1967. They added one more still to the distillery, expanding it from two to three stills.

In 1984, Glengoyne became suppliers of whiskies to the then Queen Mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s household. The Royal Warrant can still be seen on all the Glengoyne products today.

The Beginning of the Modern Era

Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd acquired Glengoyne Distillery in April 2003. The taking over included both the “Glengoyne Single Malts” and “Langs Blended Whisky” brands. Under the family-run company, Glengoyne expanded rapidly regarding output capacity and sales. Ian Macleod keeps to the traditional way of making whisky at Glengoyne, and instead, increase the equipment onsite to increase output. Today, Glengoyne has eight working warehouses with a total capacity of nearly two million litres.

Before we move on from the history of Glengoyne, it is worthy to mention that Glengoyne distilled whisky in the Highlands and matures its whisky in the Lowland. What? Yes, it is true because the distillery sits upon the Highland Line, which divides the Highland from the Lowlands. Glengoyne, however, is still regarded as a Highland Whisky.

The Glengoyne Way

We spoke of the Glengoyne way of making whisky, but we have yet to tell you what it is. The Glengoyne way is six guiding principles that keep the distillery true to their past and the original decision that George Connell made in 1833. The distillery team believes that to change one element would alter the bold and complex flavours of Glengoyne.

Principle #1 – Unpeated

Glengoyne’s whisky is always unpeated. In 1833, the decision was one that was out of necessity. There was no peat in Dumgoyne. Unpeated whisky defines what Glengoyne stands for today – it produces only the most exceptional sherried whisky. The distillery uses Golden Promise barley, similar to The Macallan in Speyside. Perhaps that is why Glengoyne tasted somewhat like The Macallan. Is that the barley making its stake in the whisky?

Principle #2 – Patience

Glengoyne runs the slowest stills in Scotland. The distillate interacts immensely with their copper stills to eliminate the undesired chemical compounds. The result is a smooth, hugely complex spirit that the distillery is known for.

Principle #3 – Sherry Oak Casks

Before the 1870s, Glengoyne did not use sherry oak casks for maturation. However, the boom in sherry in London during the 1870s yields high-quality sherry casks and Glengoyne took the economical route by utilising the sherry casks for maturation. The result was stunning; taking Glengoyne whiskies to new heights and new depths. In today’s market, sherry is not so readily available, and Glengoyne needs to make a decision. They did by sticking to their principle. They use only the best sherry casks and control the process from oak forest all the way to the distillery.

Principle #4 – Maturation

The warehouses at Glengoyne are traditional. Made of stone walls and earthen floor, each warehouse protects the maturing casks from extreme temperature changes. The casks are not stacked close together either. By giving them the space needed for maturation, the distillery creates the consistent evaporation rate that they want in each of their casks.

Principle #5 – Natural Colour

By taking control of the sherry casks they procured, the distillery ensures that the colour of each whisky is natural and without added colour. The clear spirit from the distillery takes on the colour of the cask that they matured in, before getting bottled and released to the market.

Principle #6 – Tradition

It is hard to keep to tradition, but Glengoyne does it, every single day. From 1833 when Connell took the license to operate the distillery legally, the intricate steps he chose to make the whisky are still in use today.

The Glengoyne Whisky

The range of whisky from Glengoyne Distillery is impressive. Starting at ten years old, the core range moves up to 25 years old and a NAS cask strength edition. In between, we have the 12, 15, 18, and 21 years old. The distillery is moving away from the ten years old in recent years and in the future, the 12 years old will be the entry point of the core range.

Besides the core range, there are also rarer whiskies to be found. The Glengoyne 30 years old and 35 years old are expressions to behold. The 30 years old boasts of intense sherry notes with cinnamon, cloves and tangy marmalade. The 35 years old (distilled in the 1970s) boasts of tropical fruits, liquorice and a dark chocolate finish. It also comes in an artistically-designed decanter. Only 500 bottles are available worldwide.

What to Expect Next

Ian Macleod plans to focus on Asia for the Glengoyne brand shortly, so we can look forward to tasting events and food pairing sessions. While the organising committee is getting the logistics sorted out, let us wait patiently for the news. We will inform our readers when the events are ready!

 

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Whisky Review #47 – Deanston 14 Years Old (Quaich Bar)

Deanston has an interesting history. Established in 1785 as the Deanston Cotton Mill, it was responsible for employing 1500 people. A self-contained village formed as the mill flourished, with buildings that survived up to today. During the Napoleonic wars, the village even had its own currency called “Deanstons”.

Deanston Cotton Mill closed in 1965 but it was not the end. A joint effort by James Finlay & Co, Brodie Hepburn & Co, and A.B (Sandy) Grant converted the mill into a distillery. Known as the Deanston Distillers Ltd, these guys instilled new life into the defunct cotton mill.

Deanston distillery officially opened in January 1967 and started bottling in 1971. Deanston was largely used for blends at first. Invergordon Distillers purchased Deanston in 1972 and bottled its first single malt in 1974 bearing the name Deanston. In the years of low demand, Deanston was closed for 8 years from 1982 to 1990. It was bought by current owners Burn Stewart Distillers Limited (part of Distell Group Limited) in 1990 and production starts again.

The object of this review is a special release by Deanston as an in-house bottle. This means that the bottle is available only at the distillery. The friendship between Quaich Bar Singapore and Distell translates into the availability of 200 bottles of this expression in Singapore.

Let’s dive into the tasting notes now.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Soft Gold
ABV: 57.9%

Nose: The nose is a pleasant surprise. At 57.9% abv, the expected nose is spice, but what wafts into the nose is light and fruity with a slight grassy note. Honeyed notes appear after a while, giving the nose a slight sweetness. Spice lingers pleasantly in the background. (17/20)

Palate: Honeyed notes settled in the palate immediately with light, fruity notes of green apples. Gentle spice combines perfectly with the sweet honeyed notes to create an immensely pleasant palate. (18/20)

Finish: Medium to long finish with green fruits and pleasant spice lingering in the mouth. (18/20)

Body: Light and well-balanced whisky! It is a pleasant and easy to drink whisky even at its high abv. The appeal of the whisky is heightened by the contrast of high abv and gentle spice. Definitely a worthy dram! (34/40)

Total Score: 87 / 100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I love this expression. The brandy finish has given the whisky the unique character of being light and fruity despite the high abv. The fact that the spice is gentle and soft is also a big selling point for me. I am keeping at least 2 bottles of this, if not more.”

 

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Royal Brackla Distillery – Once the favourite of the King

Picture Credits: geograph.org.uk

The Brackla distillery, or more commonly known as the Royal Brackla distillery is not always wearing the prefix “royal”. It was given to the distillery by the King of United Kingdom, King William IV in 1833. How did it come about and what happened between those years and now?

History of Brackla Distillery

Captain William Fraser of Brackla House founded the Brackla distillery on the Cawdor Castle estate in 1812. He was a hugely unpopular man, but his whiskies were received as one of the best in its time. King William IV came to hear about it and tried it personally. He loved it so much that he decreed the whisky to be his chosen drink in the Royal Court in 1833. The King granted a Royal Warrant to Brackla Distillery. That warrant gave the distillery the permission to add a prefix “Royal” to its name. Therefore, Brackla distillery became Royal Brackla distillery since 1833.

Royal Brackla distillery is one of the three distilleries in Scotland to ever bear the prefix. The other 2 distilleries are Royal Lochnagar (active) and Glenury Royal (mothballed).

William Fraser passed the distillery to his son Robert Fraser in 1852. He disposed it to the firm Robert Fraser & Co in 1878. The firm promptly changed its name to the Brackla Distillery Co Ltd the following year. The distillery remained with the company until 1919.

Royal Brackla in the 1900s

Picture Credits: www.potstills.org

John Mitchel and James Leith of Aberdeen bought the distillery in 1919 and sold it to John Bisset & Co Ltd of Leith in 1926. The Distillers Company Ltd took over John Bisset & Co in 1943 and the distillery went along with it. Shortly after that, the distillery closed down due to the restriction on the use of barley for distilling during World War II.

Royal Brackla distillery reopened in 1945. During this time, it became closely associated with blends. The distillery closed again in 1964 to 1966 due to renovations and rebuilding, where the owners changed from direct firing of the stills to internal heating. The distillery also expanded the number of stills from 2 to 4 in 1970 and built new warehouses in 1975.

Royal Brackla distillery closed again in 1985 but the whisky remained on site where they continued to mature and use for blending.

The Royal Brackla distillery reopened in 1991 with John Bisset & Co Ltd getting the license to the distillery in 1992. It remained with them till 1998. During the short period, 2 expressions were released – a semi-official 10-year-old by Fauna & Flora and a 20-year-old UD Rare Malt.

In 1998, the Royal Brackla distillery was sold to John Dewar & Sons – the subsidiary of the Barcardi. The distillery released an official bottling of Royal Brackla in 2004 and that was probably the end of it. Nonetheless, older bottles released during the 1970s and 1980s are available. One such example is our review of the Royal Brackla 12 Years Old.

The distillery continued to be a producer for the Dewar house blends such as Johnnie Walker and the various Dewar blends all through the 1990s.

Royal Brackla Today

Picture Credits: www.forbes.com

Dewar announced a surprise for Royal Brackla’s fans in 2014 with a range of single malts that released in 2015. Among them were the Royal Brackla 12, 16 and 21 years old. The originally closed to public distillery are also open to the public with distillery tours. We believe that more plans for Royal Brackla may be underway. Let’s wait for it!

 

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Whisky Review #34 – Royal Brackla 12 Years Old

Royal Brackla Distillery has a long history that dealt with Kings and Queens. It started with the Highland whisky winning the heart of King William IV of the United Kingdom. Captain William Frasers of Brackla House founded Brackla Distillery on the estate of the Cawdor Castle in 1812. After King William IV chose the Brackla whisky as his whisky for the Royal Court, the distillery was granted a Royal Warrant. This precious warrant allowed the distillery to wear the word “Royal” in its name, making it one of the three distilleries ever honoured with such a title.

This particular Royal Brackla expression is bottled specially for John Bisset & Co. and made available only in the Italian market.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: White Wine
ABV: 43%

Nose: Freshly cut grass with aromas of wild flowers and spicy toffee opens the nose. A little peat comes through as you nose it longer. (18/20)

Palate: Sweet toffee comes through with the first sip, with bbq meat sauce becoming more evident as you savoured it. Slight smoke but yet grassy and mellow on the palate. (17/20)

Body: Well balanced with a good mix of smoke and grass. A pleasant old style malt. (35/40)

Finish: Short finish. Pleasant toffee sweetness lingers just a while. (17/20)

Total Grade: 87 /100 

 

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