Whiskey Hotline Hits the Road: Scotland 2016
We paid our yearly visit to Gordon & Macphail to look at barrels for the fall, had a great visit with Stuart Urquhart and company. They never fail to put forth great barrels that always make our job difficult, a good problem to have! I couldn't narrow the field down, so I brought back selections from Miltonduff, Glenburgie, Mannochmore, Craigellachie, Glen Keith, Balblair, Ardmore, and of course Caol Ila. In another bit of exciting news, they are expanding Benromach, one of my personal favorites, to meet the rising demand of single malt in general and this gem in particular. An early highlight was a visit to Wolfburn, one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland. Wolfburn lies in Thurso, a coastal town hard on the northern shore. This efficiently compact facility kicked off distilling in January of 2013, using new equipment and repurposed pieces from Caperdonach, another longtime Whiskey Hotline favorite. Shane Fraser is at the helm, a seasoned distilling vet of 26 years who started at Royal Lochnagar at the ripe young age of 17 before moving on to Oban and Glenfarclas. After our visit to Wolfburn, we made one of the longest possible drives in Scotland. We headed south, passing through Wick, across the Dark Isle, through Inverness, along the western length of Loch Ness (no monster sightings, but we were going quite fast) through Fort William, past Oban on the west coast, all the way down to the bottom of the Campbeltown peninsula to the town of Campbeltown, home of Springbank. Total elapsed time: 9 and a half hours. Luckily the pub was still open when we arrived. We spent a day at Springbank catching up with Ranald Watson, Sales and Marketing Manager for Springbank and Mark Watt, same position with Cadenheads. By "spent the day," I mean we walked around warehouses and popped barrels to sample. Quality control is tough, but we were up to the task. Springbank/Cadenheads are adding a warehouse to allow them to continue to press production, much needed as we can never get enough Springbank. If anyone has the chance to visit the distillery it's a must see, it is completely run by hand, no electronics save a temperature gauge on the hot water tank that is actually boxed in so you can't see it. Apparently the distiller (now elsewhere) that installed it almost got fired on the spot. This is a visual, working history of how Scotch whisky developed, run proudly by local residents. It also has one of the most complicated distillation flow charts I've ever seen, more of a compliment to the people who can follow it consistently. Cadenheads is the oldest independent bottler, owned by the same family that owns the distillery, and the source of the whiskies for the iconic Cadenheads shops sprinkled in Scotland and other parts of Europe. Besides Scotch, Cadenheads also bottles other whisky types, as well as Rum and Gin. Highlights of what we tried include a 1974 Inchmurrin, a 1989 Glenrothes, a 1997 Springbank from recharred Sherry Butt, which was actually a sister cask to the same Butt we bottled as a Binny's handpick back in 2007 (this one was stunning, and a unique chance to see how things age). We also were able to try a 19 year old Heaven Hill, distilled in Bardstown that was aged for 3 year in Kentucky and has been aging in Scotland since. Subtle, rich depth but surprisingly rounded for its age, which speaks to the cooler damp climate, fully aged in Kentucky this would have shown far more wood because of the heat. We also got to try some potential future releases of Kilkerran, watch this space for more on that soon. We had a pleasant day at The AD Rattray Whisky Experience and Whisky Shop, always a pleasure to see owner Tim Morrison, past owner of Morrison Bowmore and a legendary figure in the trade. Tim is not slowing down at all. In fact he gave us the great news that final planning has been set and his project to open the Glasgow Distillery on the banks of the Clyde River will break ground very soon. Many standout whiskies were tasted with Nick White, the Managing Director of AD Rattray, keep your eyes peeled for the 2003 Craigellachie, 2000 Glendullen, 2007 Glen Moray, and 1988 Bunnahabhain, the tops of a stellar field. A great day was spent at Edradour and Signatory with our close friends Andrew Symington and Des McCagherty. They have received final planning permission to build a second distillery on site, a mirror image of the iconic Edradour, as well as more than doubling their maturation warehouses. The warehouses have already begun, distillery starts soon. We tapped into over 40 barrels in our search for our 2016 handpicks, decisions here never come easy as the quality is consistently excellent. Since we can't take them all we had to trim down the field, potentials are: 2008 Clynelish, 2008 Mortlach, 2008 Craigellachie, 2008 Caol Ila, 2009 Ledaig, 2008 Ardmore, and 2008 Linkwood for our ongoing series of younger, vibrant malts; as Edradour Straight from the Cask the candidates are a 2008 First Fill Sherry Butt and a gorgeous 2006 FF ex Bourbon; and on the older side 2005 Ledaig, 2006 Tamdhu FF Butt, 1991 Mortlach, 1992 Glenlossie, 1988 Fettercairn, 1995 Imperial, and a possible follow up of a 1995 Glenlivet FF Butt, sister to the smash hit from 2015. Please keep us in your thoughts as we struggle with these agonizing decisions. More content to come, covering Douglas Laing, Hunter Laing, Murray McDavid, Dewars Blending Facility.