Holiday buying guide for the Scotch lover, 2020

If you have someone who is a fan of Scotch (and that’s all you know) this is the guide for you.  You want to offer a nice present that is appreciated, and not pushed to the back of the cabinet or mixed with Coke (unless that’s their thing). You want a smile on that day. You have come to the right place.

Buying Scotch can be intimidating because of the multiple styles, regions (which do not always coincide!) and sometimes strong flavor profiles. Scotch drinkers vary from those appreciating a subtle array of delicate aromas and those who like a pugilistic nose like the air in a WW2 battleship’s boiler room.

Note: I am US-based and this guide refers in the main to whiskies you can buy in the US.

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Whisky and Words Number 50: Bunnahabhain 12 re-review!

It’s been a long time since I reviewed my old fave Bunna 12, and since then they have revamped the packaging, making it a good choice for the 50th review. The new packaging introduces a new style, new palette and a new Bunna captain as well.

The new 12. We expect great things.

Of the whisky inside, the features remain the same: 46.3% ABV, natural color, non-chill-filtered, “Double Matured in Ex Bourbon and Ex Sherry Casks.” What does that mean? The folks at Distell tell me Bunnahabhain “is made using 70% sherry casks with 30% bourbon casks, these casks are married (mixed) together in a vatting.” In this case, both sherry and bourbon casks will have been aged for at least 12 years. This is contrast to other part-bourbon, part-sherry offerings, like Glenmorangie’s Lasanta, where they start in bourbon casks and move to sherry for a final (shorter) maturation. So, Bunna is not actually ‘double matured,’ but the Bunnahabhain approach should result in a richer, more sherry-influenced profile.

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Distillery Tour: Bunnahabhain

This being a dream come true, I hoped for a good experience. I had a great one. We were picked up after a restful night at our inn (the Bridgend, highly recommended) by Uncle Charlie, the proprietor’s ex-merchant marine uncle. A great guy was Charlie and full of information. He worried me a bit, explaining that Bunnahabhain was getting a bit frayed around the edges He was more animated by the prospect of a new distillery being built on the same one-track road where Bunnahabhain lies.

And on arrival we saw a distillery that looked like distilleries did before they were tourist attractions: a working factory, with the dark grey coating the distilleries get from the odd collection of microbes that flourish around the Angel’s share. And out front, stacks of casks. Besides a crop, I have not retouched the photo. It was that grey and gloomy.

Bunnahabhain, a working distillery. Click for hi-res.

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Whisky and Words Number 16: The Balvenie Doublewood 12

A tale of two Grants

Balvenie's DoubleWood 12-year-old is tastefully presented.
Balvenie’s DoubleWood 12-year-old is tastefully presented.

The distance from J&G Grant’s Glenfarclas distillery to William Grant & Sons’ Balvenie location is but 13 miles by road; it’s a much shorter distance by helicopter. Both are Speyside distillers, and both offer whiskies finished in sherry casks. Like J&G Grant, William Grant & Sons is an independent company. Both started in the 19th century: William laid down his distillery in 1889 (finished in 1892); John Grant of J&G Grant bought Glenfarclas distillery (built in 1836) in 1865.

However, the William Grant company has since grown into the largest independent distiller in Scotland. In fact, with over 10% market share, William Grant and Sons represents the third largest producer of Scotch, behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not bad for a family company.

The Balvenie distillery is a bigger operation than J&G’s Glenfarclas by about double (5.6 M litres vs 3 M litres per year)  and William Grant have a more varied range. Furthermore, they achieve their market share by operating a constellation of associated distilleries. This was pointed out in the Monkey Shoulder review, as that blend from this same distiller boasts of 25 composite single malts. Similarly, Grants Family Reserve blends a similarly numerous number of malts. This Grant is a giant. We know from these reviews they make respectable blends, so let’s investigate a single-malt whisky.

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Whisky and Words Number 13: Glenfarclas 12

Glenfarclas 12. Unassuming packaging, excellent whisky.
Glenfarclas 12. Unassuming packaging, excellent whisky.

I’m an engineer of sorts…I don’t hold an engineering degree but my entire post-military working life has been designing, writing, testing and explaining software and computer systems. There is a natural dynamic between the messaging folks (marketing) and the engineers. We techies like to know what’s what and make our own decisions. Marketing’s job is, as we see it, to spiff up, deflect, and entice. That might be fine for the hoi polloi, but we engineers like to think we’re immune to such blandishments.

Well, of course we aren’t, marketing is a powerful force and here to stay, but it sets my heart all aflutter to encounter a company like Glenfarclas. To say they are transparent about how they create their product would be an understatement. This starts at their website, which is professional but not the most visually stunning. It’s probably considered a couple years behind the times as far as design, yet I appreciate it for the amount of information they place at your fingertips. It is amazing. Furthermore, their brand ambassador manning the email trenches is similarly forthcoming (thank you, Myriam). This is a huge benefit to those of us who want to know just what it is we are drinking, how it is made, why it tastes as it does.

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