Winter Warmers Tasting 2013 - This year it was really needed!

Our annual Winter Warmers Whisky Tasting is always one of my favourites, it does exactly what it says on the tin (well Ticket actually). We pick six Single Malt Scotch Whiskies which have exceptional warming qualities, all are big bodied and rich. Just what you need given the weather around these tastings.
This year we did two of these tastings, using the same whiskies. The first, on Friday 22nd February, at the Historical Rutland Arms Hotel in the centre of Bakewell, the second a week later at The Telmere Lodge, Chesterfield. The Rutland served an excellent lightish buffet after the whiskies, at The Telmere we had a Pea and Pie supper.

The Whiskies

First of the evening was MacPhails 10 y/o – 40%. This whisky is the house malt for Gordon & MacPhail the independent bottlers based in Elgin, Speyside. The whisky is actually made at Mortlach Distillery the oldest in Dufftown, right in the heart of Speyside, Dufftown has 7 working distilleries. Mortlach is a big distillery – 3.8 million litres a year – They have six stills all of different sizes and they use them to do a unique method of distillation – partial triple distillation. No 1 Spirit still is called “The Wee Witchie? you need some spirit from The Wee Witchie in every cask filling. This still only produces spirit every 3rd charge. They fill the still with low wines from the Wash stills and tails, the weak spirit from the end of the spirit still runs, making a weakish charge. The first two runs are called dud runs and distil without removing any spirit so build up the strength for the 3rd charge, when spirit is collected normally. This bottling has only been available since November last year. This is not a typical floral Speyside whisky this is big, robust meaty dram, lots of flavour, well that’s what we are looking for at this event. One of my favourite releases from 2012.

Wee Dram BlogSecond was Arran Port Cask Finish – 50% this small distillery is situated on the isle of Arran and was opened in June 1995 so quite young. The founder Harold Currie wanted to make a lighter fresher spirit that was different from the other heavier Islay, Island and Campbeltown whiskies. This expression has spent the last part of its maturation in a cask that previously held Port – this is called Finishing or sometimes double maturing. Because Arran is light bodied it picks up the rich berryish port flavours very well. I visited this distillery back in June to check on the quality, the lengths I go to for my customers.

Back onto the mainland for Edradour 12 y/o – 46%. It is situated near the town of Pitlochry in Perthshire. I’m not sure if this is still Scotland’s smallest Distillery, Daftmill in Fife produces 65,000 litres a year and Abhainn Dearg on Harris produces 20,000 litres are both smaller than Edradour’s 90,000 litres a year. However both of these are part time operations – Edradour is a serious distillery. It’s owned by our friend Andrew Symington who also owns Signatory Vintage Independent Bottlers. This bottling is named after the song “Caledonia? written by Dougie MacLean about coming home to Scotland. Dougie, who also comes from Perthshire, helped pick the casks for the original bottling. He is quite good at this and writing songs scruffy hair though typical folk singer. I think this might be my favourite of these malts. I love this 12 year old, it’s 46% Unchilfilltered so has all the natural oils which is important as the small stills and worm tub condensing give a heavy rich complex spirit, it really is the essence of this distillery.

So onto the back nine (well three actually slight Golfing reference crept in there)Clynelish 14 y/o – 46%. Situated at Brora in the far north of the Scottish Mainland, Clynelish was founded in 1819 by the then Marquis of Stafford who later became Duke of Sutherland infamous for brutal Highland clearances. Today Clynelish is owned by Diageo, the world’s largest drinks company, it is running flat out, in 2012 they added an extra mash per week and it now producing 4.8 million litres a year. This whisky is quite peaty unusually for a Highland whisky smoky, complex fruity and of course warming.

Our penultimate Dram was GlenDronach 15 y/o – 46% Ok we are doing whiskies from distilleries owned by mates, well in this case our mate Alistair Walker’s father Billy owns this Distillery along with his two partners Wayne Kieswetter (whose son Craig plays cricket for England) and Geoff Bell. Billy brought the distillery in 2008 because when he started work in the 1960’s GlenDronach was the whisky that everyone on Speyside looked up to. This 15 year old shows you why, very rich, Oloroso Sherry cask matured proper old fashioned malt. I take it back this is my favourite of these whiskies, no wait The Edradour – oh too hard to choose.

Wee Dram BlogAnd finally across to the magical Isle of Islay Port Charlotte 10 y/o – 46%. Made at Bruichladdich distillery with heavily peaty barley. Laddy is normally a lighter style with very little peating of the barley. This peaty style is more like the style of whisky which would have been made at Bruichladdich when it was founded in 1881. It is named after the next village down the road, which did have a distillery which closed in the 1920’s. Bruichladdich was itself a closed distillery, when in 2001 it was reopened by a consortium of around 120 investors. They paid £6 million for it including stock. Over the past 10 years they have grown the company from zero sales to 50,000 cases a year, reinvesting all the profits, with no investors seeing a return. However in July this year Bruichladdich was sold to the French company Remy Cointreau for £58m. There is the slight matter of £10m bank overdraft but it’s still a lot of profit. The Managing Director of the distillery is Simon Coughlin who has been with laddie since reopening, so it looks good for the future. I take it back this is my favourite?.. Let’s not start that again! This Port Charlotte expression has only been made since 2001 its typical big smoky, peaty medicinal style Islay whisky – guaranteed to keep you warm until Easter.