This is my wife’s ‘so good I had to bring it home’ whisky from our trip to Islay. It was an offering of our post-tour tasting. Being a big Caol Ila fan, my wife really took to it. Maybe because (besides Caol Ila 12) she tends to prefer more civilized stuff like Glenmorangie, and the Moch is presumably a dialed-back Caol Ila. But is it? Let’s find out…
This expression is another NAS whisky – no age statement. Since my last screed on NAS whiskies, I have reviewed a couple more and liked them. NAS whiskies can be good and bad, and all over the map as far as price. I do not remember what we paid for the Moch, but on Master of Malt it’s about $55, a pretty moderate price for a special expression.
I like to start with what the company says about its product. The box proclaims this spirit is “Soft, smooth clean and fresh…the dawn of a new day.” An odd way of introducing a whisky, sounds like the ad for a bar of soap. For this whisky in particular I find the marketing understated (for a change). This is a spirit that makes its presence known immediately on the bottle being opened. It won’t clear a room like Laphroaig but the peat and seaweed produce a lively bouquet. A better image might be ‘a breath of sea air’ but they called it Moch (‘dawn’ in Gaelic) so we get the ‘dawn’ thing.
I have wanted to visit this distillery ever since I came upon this photograph on the web. With those big windows looking onto the water, the facility struck me as a particularly attractive still house. Being my wife’s favorite single malt, it became a primary destination for our Islay visit.
Caol Isla, a big distillery, is owned by Diageo, a massive multinational. You might expect an experience like we had at Glenmorangie: scripted, restricted, slick but shallow. Well, nothing like that on the shores of the Sound of Islay. We had a fun and altogether rewarding tour, especially the tasting—the Caol Ila Cask Strength Experience. Highly recommended! Sadly, as with the Glenmorangie folks, no photographs were allowed inside. Too many lawyers with these big firms. However, our guide was a really lively, fun local lady, Hazel, who invigorated the experience with wit and panache.
This was a gift from a very considerate member of the family. It sure beats getting a tie! But of course, then the giver risks the chance I’ll critically review the gift. In this case, they can rest easy. The Singleton 15, an American-only release, comes from Glendullan distillery in Dufftown. You won’t find much about the place online, though the folks at Malt Madness have a pretty good history of the place here. It’s a modern Diageo operation, producing 5M litres of spirit a year from six stills. I found it interesting that it has larchwood washbacks. Does it matter? Probably not; you can read more at ScotchWhisky.com.
The Singleton 15 presents well for its price, and offers a very compelling value in a 15-year whisky, about $50 locally (Oregon). What you are hoping for in a 15-year is a noticeable step forward in maturation over a 10 or 12-year: a gentle nose, complex flavors, and depth as the flavor profile moves from taste to finish. In this case, the malt master has gone for a gentle and sweet dram, very approachable even for a non-Scotch-drinker. For the Scotch aficionado, this dram lies on the lighter side.
I first encountered Clynelish 14 at the Whisky Library in Portland. I had taken a group of whisky-loving friends there for an end of year celebration. We tried a number of whiskies and the Clyne 14 caught my eye as at that time I had not had many highland malts. I found it quite pleasing, interesting on the palate and went to buy a bottle a few weeks later. The salesman directed me instead toward the Oban 14, and I went for the Oban. But I’ve been on the hunt for the Clynelish ever since and recently picked up a bottle. Time for a comparison—does it stack up against the Oban?
The parallels between the two are interesting. Both are owned by Diageo, and presented in similarly classic packaging. Both are coastal Highland distilleries (Oban west coast, while Clynelish is not far north of Glenmorangie on the east coast), both are 14-year expressions. There is quite a difference in output. About 4.8M litres produced yearly, the modern Clynelish facilities produce about seven times the output of Oban. (ScotchNoob has a great writeup on the history of the distillery).
Both malts have a dry, nutty nose, with Clynelish being drier, and the wood shows more. Oban has a more complex nose loaded with more fruit and extends the palate considerably. The 46% ABV makes itself known with the Clynelish, as it can sting the nose, while the Oban 14 is, at 43%, completely gentle on the nose. I have to hand it to my local beverage store guy, he was right. Oban is like Clynelish, but more so. More so in price too, by about 45%.
I laid eyes on the Isle of Jura for the first time last year on my trip to Islay. From the Bunnahabhain distillery, our driver, Uncle Charlie, pointed out ‘the Paps of Jura,’ two mountains rearing up from the southern lobe of that island. (The shot at left is from Caol Isla distillery, just to the south of Bunnahabhain.) We did not make it to the island, nor try the whisky while we were there, but we bought a couple tasters in a whisky shop in Edinburgh. And they are what you see below.
This review will be a microcosm of the NAS vs. ‘standard’ 10 or 12-year old debate — whether the Non-age-statement whiskies represent a good value and experience for the whisky taster. (Note, both of these whiskies are listed as limited release.)
Oban distillery is a petite operation by Scottish standards. Comprising only two stills, their output is listed on Wikipedia at 670,000 barrels a year. That’s about half the rate of Ardbeg, itself a distillery of modest output. With such limited production, Oban concentrate on their 14-year old, though there is a Distiller’s edition and some older releases.
Oban distillery is located in the seaside town of Oban. That’s a good place to stop and spend some time if you are working your way to the islands. Oban is a port of call for Caledonian MacBrayne, the ferry service. (You can get to Jura and Islay from there, though it’s a much longer trip than from Kennacraig.) The town has a lively main street, with lots of shops, hotels, and restaurants. There’s even a really nice bookshop, Waterstones. The distillery, shop and visitor’s center are right off the main drag. The visitor’s center is nice and spiffy but not lavish like the LVMH joints like Ardbeg and Glenmorangie. The Oban distillery is owned by Diageo, which is foremost a spirits company, not a luxury brand like LVMH. It is interesting to note that the other Diageo facilities we visited — Caol Isla and Lagavulin — were similarly nice and modern, but not lavish and marketing-forward like LVMH.
I like Glemorangie’s products a lot. They are well-finished, consistent and pure to their style. Their basic 10-year is a smooth dram worthy of quiet moods, some good cheese, contemplation and relaxation. It’s also reasonably priced. Their finished expressions, using port, Sauternes and sherry casks take their 10-year expression and finish for an additional two years, result in intense, well-married flavors. Note to self, I have yet to review these…coming soon.
It was with some disappointment then that we encountered our first truly industrial-scale distillery tour at Glenmorangie. The tour buses in the vast parking lot should have tipped us off. The Glenmorangie distillery produces 6 million liters per year, a bit more than the Balvenie. Their tour trade, however, must be many times that of the Balvenie or Glenfarclas. On the plus side, the tour is inexpensive: £7, and that includes a taste at the end. Also, they have a big, modern, well-stocked shop with a lot of special bottlings available. On the down side, the tour is short, with few photo ops, and starts with a healthy dose of marketing.