Just when the Scotch Bucket is almost down to the bottom, salvation arrives in a surprise package.
It may have been a coincidence, but moments after clearing out the empty bottle bin, in readiness for a journey to the recycling centre, and weeping over a couple of dead soldiers of truly noble whisky, a courier delivered a mysterious wooden box. Embossed with a fine logo and the rubric “Last Great Malts of Scotland,” its too thin to contain even a small sample bottle. Its sole content was a sealed brown envelope. Carefully extracting an engraved invitation, I almost overlook a single ticket, number 12 to be precise, to what is promised to be “an immersive and exclusive grand theatre experience” where, it says, I’ll savour “five of the finest single malts I haven’t yet tasted.” Intrigued, I read on. The malts are Aberfeldy, Royal Brackla, Craigellachie, Deveron and Aultmore, packaged into a good marketing push by John Dewar & Sons, now part of the Bacardi empire.
The first ‘A’ I know. I wrote about Aberfeldy in my story Three whiskies walk into a bar in December 2015. Now my bottle of the 12-year-old is almost depleted, but I enjoyed every drop. The Aberfeldy Distillery is on the River Tay in the Scottish Highlands, where allegedly one can pan for gold, but where the salmon fishing is superb.
Most of Royal Brackla’s whisky goes into blending Dewar’s White Label and other Bacardi Scotch blends, so even though its an old and historic brand, not much is released, though sometimes independent bottlers get their hands on a cask or two. The whisky received the industry’s first Royal Warrant in 1835 from King William IV, hence the suffix, and was supposedly a favourite of Queen Victoria. It will be interesting to see what Dewar’s have in store for us in a couple of weeks.
Craigellachie comes from a distillery in Aberlour, Banffshire, near the village of Craigellachie, across the River Spey from The Macallan distillery. It was built in 1891 and passed through several hands until 1930. After a long period in which little happened, it was sold to Dewar’s in 1998.
Aultmore gets its water from the Auchinderran burn or stream in Keith, Banffshire, and its name comes from the Gaelic phrase An t-Allt Mòr, meaning big burn. The distillery was completed in 1896, and was powered by a water wheel until 1898, when a steam engine took over. This engine was in almost continuous use for nearly 70 years and was only decommissioned in 1969, when electricity finally arrived. The entire distillery was rebuilt and expanded in 1970 and reopened in 1971. In 1998 the distillery was sold back to Dewar’s, which had previously owned Aultmore between 1923 and 1925. Bottlings of Aultmore are pretty sparse as most of the production goes into blends. The last was a 12-year-old released in 2004. I expect we are in for a treat.
Glen Deveron is made at Scotland’s most easterly distillery, on the wild north east highland coast beside the banks of the River Deveron. The venerable whisky is matured for a minimum of 16 years in oak sherry casks, to produce a fuller and fruitier taste, and is usually only available at international airports in UK and Spain, so it will be interesting to see if it makes it onto the shelves of our provincial liquor monopoly stores after the event.
Speaking of airports, passing through Manchester airport, I had a nice chat with Ian, the in-house expert at the whisky shop, who convinced me that nine in the morning wasn’t too early for a breakfast dram, especially as I wasn’t going to be driving the plane back to Canada. After much consideration I bought two bottles, only available at airports – The Glenlivet Nàdurra, a light single malt, and a limited edition grain whisky from Haig, in honour of my late father, whose favourite tipple was Haig & Haig. Haig whisky was one of the first ever commercial Scotch whiskies, distilled near Stirling. Haig Club Single Grain Scotch Whisky was launched in 2014.
Nàdurra, meaning “natural” in Gaelic, is The Glenlivet’s range of small-batch whiskies made using traditional 19th-century techniques. The Nàdurra First Fill is drawn from casks made of American white oak which have never before been used to mature Scotch whisky. These oak casks, which they have favoured since the early 1900s, impart hints of creamy vanilla to a rich single malt. It’s strong stuff for breakfast. The Nàdurra First Fill Selection is bottled at 48 per cent for airport sales. It will make a pleasant replacement for my almost empty bottle of Glenlivet French Oak Reserve 15-year-old.
In the little Derbyshire town of Bakewell, we come across a charming whisky shop, The Wee Dram. That’s all they sell and since I’m in a shopping mood, I decide to try a bottle of English malt whisky. The resident expert tells me it’s made in Norfolk, where the water is pure and barley grows in abundance. St. George English Whisky is batch made by hand, matured in bourbon oak casks, sherry oak casks and various other wine casks. It has a long maturation until it is bottled, again by hand, one bottle at a time. I’ve acquired a bottle of Chapter 14. I hope it tastes a quaint as it sounds and I’m glad England has finally entered the lists against usurper whisky brands from Japan, India and Canada.
Once I discover what’s in store for me at the theatre experience in a couple of weeks, I’ll break down and crack the seals of the three new whiskies, still hiding in my bookcase, inviting some whisky loving sailors for a taste, or two, and deliver our verdicts.
Categories: Scotch whisky