Monthly Archives: January 2020

Scenes from a Scottish buffet

A few whisky highlights from the past few months

First published in Prestige Magazine (Issue 100)

Old stock

If you’re even slightly familiar with whisky then you’ll know about maturation, and its importance.  This is the process by which whisky is “aged” in casks, thereby acquiring the most part of its eventual flavour.  Older whiskies aren’t necessarily better whiskies of course, but there’s something special about them.  The individual flavour that they’ve cultivated is scarce.  It can’t be replicated without the long passage of time, and even then maybe not at all.  When a whisky reaches an epic milestone, like 50 years of age, or say 51, then it becomes a rare privilege to be able to experience it, one that should be seized with both hands.

These opportunities are usually few and far between.  Whiskies of such ancient vintage are gut-wrenchingly expensive, out of reach for many, and albeit intriguing not worth the cost for others.  Sadly, those who can afford them often make such purchases for investment or collection purposes, with the result being that many of the world’s oldest and most prized whiskies never get put to palate.  They’re destined to sit encased in glass for eternity.

Cragellachie Single Malt, renowned for its popular 13YO and 17YO whiskies, has recently launched a crusade towards redressing this injustice…well maybe not a crusade, but a damned good initiative.  The self-proclaimed “bad boy of Speyside” is going against the malt, so to speak, by taking a cask of 51 year old whisky and offering it to whisky lovers around the world…for free!  In a world of cynical and rehashed marketing campaigns this is as sincere and creative as it gets – well done to them.  Dubbed Bar 51, the South African leg of these events, a pop-up bar disseminating the epic tastings, took place in Joburg at the WhiskyBrother bar on 21 and 22 November 2019, and in Cape Town at the Athletic Club & Social on 26 and 27 November 2019.  May the dram be with you and may it be a Craigellachie!

Balanced peat

Does anyone remember the transition of Black Bottle from the former green glass to the current black glass version?  The step-up in flavour, richness and quality was remarkable.  In particular the balance of the blend was spectacularly improved.  This may not have been as pleasing to hard-core peat freaks as to the rest of us, but most I think will agree that the mellowing of its trademark smoke with dark fruits and anise was a boon.  There is little to be faulted in Port Charlotte’s Scottish Barley, but the brand’s latest exponent, a 10YO launched recently in South Africa, has followed a similar (if less pronounced) trajectory to Black Bottle. It still showcases the big peat, make no mistake, but it’s accorded more prominent roles to the other players, toffee, sweet oak, and vanilla in particular.  The 10YO perpetuates Port Charlotte’s (and indeed Bruichladdich’s) infatuation with wine casks to great effect, especially with its extended maturation.  Long may it continue.

Big sherry

Glendronach has been on the local scene for a while, but it recently underwent a change of ownership, the reins assumed by industry giant Brown Forman.  The upshot for us whisky lovers is that the brand now wields distribution clout that is considerably stronger.  You’re significantly more likely to find its core range, comprising a 12, 18 and 21YO, in your preferred bars and liquor stores.  If you’re partial to the traditional sweet, spicy Pedro Ximenez flavours in your whisky (and who wouldn’t be) then this is great news for you.  Glendronach is noteworthy for employing the highest percentage of PX casks in the industry.  Caramba!