A Sweet Night
Sweet Sixteen Tasting – 25th April 2014
Last year we did a very successful 15 year old tasting so this year we decided to do a “Sweet Sixteen“ tasting with sweet and 16 year old whiskies. By the time whisky has spent 16 years in the cask the spirit has smoothed off really well, the whisky is rounded, flavoursome and not too woody. As I’ve said a few times the ages around 15, 16, 17, 18 have some of the best whiskies.
Situated on the Moray Coast, near the town of Nairn. Originally founded in 1812, it was granted a “Royal” prefix in 1835. Today it is owned by John Dewar, who in turn is owned by Bacardi. One of the guys that work there called into the shop a year or so ago, and said, quite rightly that Royal Brackla is a very underrated malt not marketed as a single. It is quite a big distillery that can produce 4m litres of spirit a year. Lot of reflux (contact with the copper still) an upwardly inclined Lyne arms and a long Middle Cut, gives a lighter sweeter flavour. Almost all of the spirit is used in Dewar’s Blends, some finds its way into bottles as single malt. This bottling from Gordon & MacPhail is part of their Connoisseurs Choice range.
The Isle of Jura is a great place to visit, you need to travel on two ferries, one over to Islay and then one across the sound of Islay to Jura. The Island has only a couple of hundred inhabitants, 2000 Sheep, 4000 Deer, 1 shop, 1 pub, no Policeman, and 1 Distillery. The 16 years old has been a favourite of ours since we first tried it in the Distillery Manager, Micky Heads’ office back in the last Century. Micky is now Manager at Ardbeg – even the office has gone, it’s part of the visitors centre. The distillery was originally founded in 1810, but closed in 1901. In the 1960’s some of the major landowners on Jura got Scottish & Newcastle Breweries to rebuild the distillery. Built by Architect, Delme Evans, who lived in Surrey and commuted by plane. Re-opened in 1963. Today owned by Whyte & Mackay and produces 2.2m litres a year.
BenRiach 16 y/o – Sauternes Finish.
This whisky is 16 y/o and very sweet, in fact it was invented for this tasting. BenRiach is a Speyside distillery, their house style is a butterscotch, honeyish very succulent whisky. If that isn’t sweet enough they have finished the whisky in casks that previously held sweet Sauternes wine. BenRiach is owned by industry legend Billy Walker and his 2 South African partners, Geoff Bell and Wayne Kisswetter. Billy has over 40 years of experience in the industry.
Situated in the Orkney Islands on the banks of Scapa Flow. Had a chequered history, founded in 1885 the distillery was mothballed in 1994. Between 1997 and 2004 it was run a couple of months a year by the staff from nearby Highland Park. In 2004 the then owners Allied Domecq spent £2.1m on a refurbishment and launched a 14 y/o single malt. The next year Allied sold the distillery to Chivas Brothers – Pernod Richard. Pernod have spent more on it and it is now producing about 400k litres a year with a view to bringing this up to 1.1m litres. This bottling was made by Highland Park staff back in the 1990’s and couldn’t be more different – it’s more tropical fruit and gentle oakeyness. The Whisky Writer Dave Broom describes this as “Bouncy and eager to please a bit like a puppy.”
Charlestown of Aberlour is a great town situated on the banks of the river Spey. At the southern end of the village is the distillery, at the northern end Walkers Shortbread factory, I may retire there. Also there is a cracking Pub there called The Mash Tun with a great whisky bar– the landlord, Mark Braidwood, came into the shop and was amazed that I knew his pub – I called in for a drink once while my daughter Jade played on the park nearby. The distillery dates back to 1826, today it’s part of Chivas Brothers – owned by Pernod Richard. Produces 3.8m litres a year about half of which is used for single malt bottling’s. They use a combination of both sherry and bourbon casks – this 16 year old has been finished in sherry casks. All the whisky is matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks then spends a few more months in fresh ex sherry casks. Gives a sweet chocolate flavour from the European oak and vanilla from the American white Oak.
From the magical Isle of Islay. You just couldn’t do a 16 year old tasting without this one. 16 years in second fill sherry casks – if they used fresh sherry casks the oak would overpower the peat too much. Founded in 1816 by John Johnson but there has been brewing and most likely distilling around Lagavulin bay since the middle ages. Dunyvaig Castle next door to the distillery was an important stronghold and naval base for The Lords of the Isles since the 13th Century. The distillery was owned by the Mackie family in latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century and it was a key component in the very successful White Horse Blend. Lagavulin is a big peaty earthy rich complex dram. They fill the stills to 95% capacity which is really full – they also have very tight bend on the lyne arm – so there is a less copper contact so a heavier – richer more complex peatier oiler spirit.