Spirited Matters https://spiritedmatters.com One man's excuse... Sun, 27 Sep 2020 09:13:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.5.3 168003762 Dràm Mòr Glen Garioch 2011, Glenrothes 2009 and Benriach 2008 https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/dram-mor-glen-garioch-glenrothes-benriach/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/dram-mor-glen-garioch-glenrothes-benriach/#respond Mon, 15 Jun 2020 12:42:27 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7830 Continue reading "Dràm Mòr Glen Garioch 2011, Glenrothes 2009 and Benriach 2008"

This past couple of years have seen lots of new independent bottlers hitting the scene. With industry veterans from Italy and groups of mates from St Albans all joining in the race to find and bottle great whiskies, the new independents are a varied crowd. Surprisingly, one of the places without as many newbies is Scotland, so it’s nice to see Dràm Mòr stretching out from its Dumbarton home to expand into the world of bottling its own whiskies.

Big Dram

Dràm Mòr has been around for a while in one guise or another, and if you’ve been to a whisky show somewhere in mainland Europe recently, then you’ve almost certainly met one half of the husband and wife team behind the company – Kenny Macdonald’s quite noticeable, even at a distance: he’s a big chap who’s invariably wearing a kilt. He’s a mainstay of European whisky festivals, pouring drams for a variety of distilleries from around Scotland and the rest of the world.

Viktorija and Kenny Macdonald

The other half is Viktorija Macdonald, who has been working in the whisky world for ages, both front of house and behind the scenes. Between them, they’ve been doing export, distribution and brokering, but have now taken the plunge into the world of independent bottling, and are working with their own whisky.

The first set of bottlings has recently launched and Kenny and Viktorija even managed to get in a whisky festival before lockdown came in. I didn’t get a chance to try the whiskies then – the show was in Ghent on the weekend of my birthday and I was in the pub in London – but Viktorija sent me down some samples to keep me going.

Dràm Mòr Glen Garioch 2011 8 Years Old Cask #2698

Dram Mor Glen Garioch 2011 8 Years Old Cask #2698

Bottled from a single bourbon hogshead at 58.4%. 240 bottles. ~£50.

Nose: Stewed orchard fruit, buttery pastry and a handful of marshmallows – Fluff-topped apple tarts? Sharper apple skin and crunchy barley sugar notes develop, along with butter lemon pith and peel.

Palate: A burst of Dolly-Mixture sweetness is balanced by sharp apple and rich butter toffee. Bitter apple pip and barrel char notes sits at the back. Travel sweets and apple Jolly ranchers build, along with grassy notes.

Finish: Peel and char notes face to leave of alcohol heat.

A punchy dram with a lot of youthful character – it’s got heat, but it’s got fruity spirit untempered by the cask. Its a solid young Glen Garioch.

Dràm Mòr Glenrothes 2009 10 Year Old Cask #5280

Dram Mor Glenrothes 2009 10 Year Old Cask #5280

Not much info on the wood, but it looks and tastes like ex-bourbon-matured whisky finished in a sherry cask. 348 bottles. ~£60.

Nose: Fruity caramel, rhubarb and custard sweets, Fox’s Glacier fruits and malted milk biscuits. Butterscotch and sherbert lemons follow, with a touch of buttermint and spiced shortbread.

Palate: Spiced sponge cake and raisin jam lead – hello sherry cask. The mint is now choc chips and the butterscotch is Daim bars. Dark leathery notes emerge from the depth, with juicy raisins, mixed spice and a cinnamon tingle.

Finish: Dark and spicy: buttery chocolate-dipped spiced shortbread and black liquorice.

This one surprised me – the nose hinted at sherry, but the palate dove head-first into sherry-cask character. Dark, fruity and unforgiving.

Dràm Mòr Benriach 2008 11 Year Old Cask #196

Dram Mor Benriach 2008 11 Year Old Cask #196

Ex-bourbon for 9 years and then a 2-year finish in oloroso. 87 bottles. ~£80

Nose: Funky orange peel – clove-studden pomanders left by a radiator for a bit too long – pond weed, raisins and fig. Malt and fruit loaf buttered with funky cultured butter develop, along with pine-needle-covered forest floors, nearby ponds and damp bark.

Palate: Big, rich and sweet – a brown-sugar-and-raisin punch to the frontal lobe. Barrel-char notes balance things out and spice runs through the middle: nutmeg and allspice with a hit of hot cinnamon. Dates, liquorice and freshly cracked black pepper develop

Finish: Dark brown sugar, cinnamon fireballs, char and tar. Hot spice and liquorice linger.

This is a divisive dram: I do not like it, but I know a load of folks who will. It’s got a sulphury tang to it and along with the brutal sherry-cask punch – it steam-rollered my palate. However, if you like silly sherry casks and don’t mind a bit of ‘struck match’ then jump on this. You’re a monster.

You can find links to buy all three of the above on the Dràm Mòr website.

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Laphroaig Càirdeas 2020 Port & Wine Casks https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/laphroaig-cairdeas-port-wine/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/laphroaig-cairdeas-port-wine/#respond Mon, 08 Jun 2020 13:46:10 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7802 Continue reading "Laphroaig Càirdeas 2020 Port & Wine Casks"

While this year’s Islay Festival of Malt and Music – Fèis Ìle – has been rather different to other years thanks to the joys of the global pandemic, some things have stayed the same – a load of special whiskies have been released. Most distilleries keep their festival releases for visitors of the island, but a couple regularly send theirs a bit further afield. One of those is a whisky that I grab every year and have become an obsessive collector of, despite not always liking the dram: Laphroaig’s release. This year’s is one that wears its ‘Billy won’t like this’ credentials on its sleeve, but as ever, I’ll give it a go – Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine Casks 2020: Port & Wine Casks.

Care Chase?

Back in 2008, Laphroaig decided to fully embrace its fan club – the Friends of Laphroaig – and launched Càirdeas – pronounced a bit like ‘care chase’ – as a yearly bottling to celebrate its existence. Uncoincidentally, its name is gaelic for ‘friendship’ and it’s launched at Fèis Ìle every year, the time when they get more Friends visiting than at any other time of year.

However, bucking the trend of other distilleries on the island, it’s not specifically a festival bottling. It’s the yearly Friends release, and as such it makes its way slowly around the world, available from the Laphroaig webshop as well as popping up in some markets they can’t ship to.

There’s been an array of releases over the years, each showing off the distillery’s focus of the moment. While they started out with more interesting vattings of casks, they have become a little more pedestrian in recent years, focusing on fan favourites and finishes. This year’s release is one of the latter.

A Brief History of Laphroaig Càirdeas

Laphroaig panorama
2008Laphroaig CàirdeasQuarter casks finished in first-fill bourbon plus a pair of sherry butts
2009Laphroaig Càirdeas 12yoEx-Maker’s Mark casks
2010Laphroaig Càirdeas Master Edition50% ex-bourbon hogsheads (11yo), 50% first-fill ex-bourbon (15, 17 and 19yo)
2011Laphroaig Càirdeas Ileach EditionDunnage-matured, first-fill ex-Maker’s Mark casks, 8yo.
2012Laphroaig Càirdeas Origin50% casks of the 2008 Cairdeas left to mature for a further four years, 50% 7yo fully matured in quarter casks
2013Laphroaig Càirdeas Port Wood EditionBourbon matured finished in port casks
2014Laphroaig Càirdeas Bottled 2014First-fill bourbon finished in Amontillado sherry hogsheads
2015Laphroaig Càirdeas 200th Anniversary Edition100% barley floor-malted at Laphroaig, matured in ex-bourbon casks
2016Laphroaig Càirdeas Madeira CaskEx-bourbon finished in Madeira casks
2017Laphroaig Càirdeas Cask Strength Quarter CaskUndiluted bottling of Laphroaig Quarter Cask
2018Laphroaig Càirdeas Fino CaskFirst-fill bourbon finished in Fino sherry casks
2019Laphroaig Càirdeas Cask Strength Triple WoodUndiluted bottling of Laphroaig Triple Wood
2020Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine CasksEx-bourbon and second-refill ruby port casks, married and finished in ex-red wine casks.

Ruby port…and red, red wine?

Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine

My general lack of fondness for both port and red-wine casks is well known. They are blunt tools, often not wielded with the finesse they require, creating overly jammy drams packed with over-the-top sponge-cake notes. A whisky combining both of them in a single bottling is one that I am wary of. However, when I do like red-wine- or port-matured whisky, I really like it, so…

Colour: I don’t usually comment on a whisky’s colour, but this one deserves a mention: it’s pink. A distinctively rosy hue showing off its winey provenance.

Nose: Rich and creamy toffee, with a touch of light beery coulis and, of course, a kick of tarry, medicinal Laphroaig smoke: TCP, burning pine, old ropes and bandages. Minty dark chocolate develops. Ashy smoke hides at the back with fudgy sweetness, and a touch of bitter lemon pith and peel.

Palate: Thick and oily in texture with a delay before impact. Slick and syrupy at first without much going on and then: boom. Peat, lemon and sour berries. A big whack of burning pine rolls through the middle, followed by dark chocolate and a touch of singed raisin. The fudge sweetness and tar from the nose sit underneath, with hints of cherries and fruit cake.

Finish: Mint, menthol and anise lead to tar-covered sponge cake.

Give me a little time, let me clear out my mind

Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine is a port- and/or red-wine-matured whisky that I like.

I’m as shocked as you.

For me, this not only works but shows other whisky makers how to use often overly influential casks without swamping the spirit. There are several parts to this:

  • using second-refill port casks, which are going to give less cask influence than a first-fill
  • vatting that whisky with ex-bourbon-matured spirit before finishing
  • careful finishing to add character without overtaking the underlying whisky
  • Laphroaig is a ballsy spirit that can take a punchy cask.

The red-wine cask has added some sweet sponge-cake and fudgy character, along with a touch of berry fruit. The underlying whisky has a core of toffee-forward Laphroaig with some sticky cherry – the thing that I find often gets too much in many port-matured drams – without going too far. In the end, it’s all balanced, with Laphroaig’s distillery character taking centre stage.

It’s a dram that has pleasingly confounded my expectations. It’s a bit sweet and might dip a bit far into the wine-cask cakiness for some, but it works for me. And it’s pink. One day I’ll get enough bottles do a pink whisky tasting…

As I write, Laphroaig Càirdeas Port and Wine is still available from the Laphroaig webshop for Friends of Laphroaig. It’s €102.37 plus delivery.

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Mackmyra Grönt Te https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/mackmyra-gront-te-green-tea/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/mackmyra-gront-te-green-tea/#respond Wed, 03 Jun 2020 06:45:00 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7791 Continue reading "Mackmyra Grönt Te"

When it comes to the wider world of whisky, there are a few names that have risen to the top. Some are the oldest whisky makers in their part of the planet, some have well-known people, and others make weird and wonderful things. Mackmyra is rare in that it does all of the above: it’s the first Swedish whisky distillery, headed by master blender Angela d’Orazio, who is famed for creating craziness. Just like this latest release: a dram that is about as unnaturally composed as you can get, but still feels perfectly appropriate for the distillery – Mackmyra Grönt Te, Green Tea.

Tea time

Green tea and whisky are more common bedfellows than many people in the west think. While this side of the world is used to whisky mixed with ginger ale, lemonade, soda water and even Coke, over in Asia they see nothing strange about mixing whisky with cold green tea.

But how do you get green tea flavour into a whisky without turning it into something that is no longer whisky? Fortunately, Mackmyra master blender Angela d’Orazio is the right kind of crazy to work this kind of thing out.

All the tea in Japan

Angela started out with four different types of Japanese tea, chosen with the help of one of the only specialists in Sweden, Yuko Ono.

Read more about the collab on the Mackmyra blog >

  • Yame Sencha – classic Japanese whole-leaf tea from Yame on Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island. The area is well known for tea growing, with nearby Kagoshima being a powerhouse of production and Yame known for producing especially good teas.
  • Yame Gyokuro – more from Yame, but this time a sencha-style tea which is grown under shade for three or four weeks before harvest, creating a sweeter and more aromatic leaf. It’s one of Japan’s highest grades of tea.
  • Kaoribo Hojicha – a tea which is roasted rather than steamed, like other Japanese teas. Specifically, this one seems to be a combination of a small amount of roasted sencha along with a lot of roasted kukicha – stems, twigs and stalks. I’m a fan of this kind of tea, and it’s a rich, nutty and smoky experience quite unlike regular green tea.
  • Yame Matcha Shinobi – again from Yame, this is matcha, the other main style of tea in Japan as opposed to sencha. This is tea that you might know from tea ceremonies. It’s grown with some shading before picking, like gyokuro, but the leaves are flattened to dry, unlike sencha. This makes them a bit crumbly, so the veins are removed and the leaves slowly ground to create a flavoursome green powder.

So they have tea, but how do you get the flavour into the whisky? Obvious: season a cask with it. But how do you get the flavour into the cask? With sherry, of course…

A matcha made in Jerez?

Firstly, they steeped the teas in neutral spirit to create four infusions. Then they filtered out the leaves and mixed the resulting tinctures with oloroso sherry.

The sherry-and-tea mixture was used to season new casks for two months before they were emptied and refilled with 7-year-old Mackmyra – a vatting of first-fill Swedish oak, first-fill ex-bourbon and first-fill sherry-cask matured whisky* – for a 19 month finish.


Mackmyra Grönt Te

The resulting whisky just looks like whisky, as you’d hope. It’s not green. It’s golden. Like whisky. But what does it taste like?

Nose: At first it has Mackmyra’s signature cream and fruit character, but the fruit keeps building and overtakes the rest: apple-and-pear purée to start, with sweet orange and lemon not far behind. There’s a flash of leafy green herb in the middle before grainy biscuits roll in: digestives, shortbread and fruity Garibaldi.

Palate: Grain and cream up front, with a bit of green apple sharpness – very Mackmyra. There’s some char at the back, and the middle is soft, squishy and muddled: vanilla cream, spring flowers, a touch of hand soap, pine needles, sappy twigs and ginger.

Finish: A burst of soapiness quickly fades to leave ginger biscuits and freshly scraped vanilla pods.


I’m not entirely sure what to make of Mackmyra Grönt Te. The nose is excellent, happily fusing the distillery’s balanced grain-and-fruit character with a touch of something herbal, while amping up the fruit. However, the palate just feels a bit confused: the fruit is dialled back, the herbal notes are piney, and while there are floral notes, they tip over into soapiness.

I’d be intrigued to see if there are more Grön Te casks in the Mackmyra warehouses and would like to know the plans for them. As a first iteration, this is pretty good if slightly confused. I hope there’s a second batch.

* The product sheet says ‘new and first-fill oloroso’, which makes me wonder what they mean by a ‘new oloroso’ cask.

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Hernö Pnk Btl Gin – a pink bottle of gin not a pink gin https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/herno-pnk-btl-not-pink-gin/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/herno-pnk-btl-not-pink-gin/#respond Tue, 21 Apr 2020 08:48:20 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7766 Continue reading "Hernö Pnk Btl Gin – a pink bottle of gin not a pink gin"

It’s a strange time for gin. It’s more popular than ever, with new bottles and distilleries appearing on a weekly basis. However, as the world of gin expands, so does experimentation within the category. New techniques, new flavours and new styles are all emerging, pushing against the legal definition of gin. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of discussion by gin makers and fans over whether this is a good or bad thing, and the latest shots to be fired have come from Sweden with the launch of Hernö Pink Btl Gin.

The legal bit

EU regulation defines gin as:

(a) Gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit drink produced by flavouring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.).

(b) The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of gin shall be 37,5 %.

(c) Only flavouring substances or flavouring preparations or both shall be used for the production of gin so that the taste is predominantly that of juniper.

(d) The term ‘gin’ may be supplemented by the term ‘dry’ if it does not contain added sweetening exceeding 0,1 grams of sweetening products per litre of the final product, expressed as invert sugar.

REGULATION (EU) 2019/787 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 17 April 2019 on the definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks, the use of the names of spirit drinks in the presentation and labelling of other foodstuffs, the protection of geographical indications for spirit drinks, the use of ethyl alcohol and distillates of agricultural origin in alcoholic beverages, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 Annex I, Paragraph 20

The important bit for us is paragraph c), which can be roughly translated as ‘you can’t call it gin if it doesn’t taste of juniper’. Something which has been an increasingly large issue in the world of gin, with new releases adding in fantastic new flavours, but not necessarily embracing the juniper-forward character the regulations call for.

How now Hernö?

Herno Pink Btl Gin Letter

Hernö master distiller Jon Hillgren really loves gin. It’s the first thing he said in the letter that accompanied my bottle of Hernö Pink Btl gin, and it’s been evident since his first gin appeared at the end of 2012.

That said, he’s not above playing about with it himself. Hernö has cask-aged versions and a blackcurrant-infused release available, but they are still focused on gin – the casks used are made from juniper wood and the blackcurrant liqueur is marketed as a spirit drink rather than a gin, the unsexy legal term for something that doesn’t quite fall into any of the other specific categories.

What is Pink Gin anyway?

Hernö’s latest release is Jon’s reaction to the current spate of gins that are moving away from the traditional (and legally required) gin-forward character. It’s also poking fun at one of the most obvious signs of the new wave of gins – pinkness.

A Pink Gin is a simple cocktail of gin and bitters, but a wave of strawberry-, rhubarb- and random-berry-infused drinks of various natures have appeared on the market, trumpeting their ginny origins. It’s starting to become unclear exactly what gin is, and Hernö Pink Btl Gin is Jon’s comment on the situation, in liquid form.

Hernö Pink Btl Gin

Firstly, Hernö Pink Btl gin isn’t pink, but its label is. The gin inside the bottle isn’t a particularly classic gin, with a selection of non-traditional botanicals and a two-part production process: juniper, coriander and strawberries were steeped in diluted wheat spirit at about 60ºC for 18 hours before rose petals, cassia, black pepper, lemon peel and vanilla were added and it was distilled.

That said, Jon jacked up the juniper content to make sure that no one mistook this for what it was – a statement about gin and juniper.

Nose: Juniper, and a lot of it. Zingy and citrusy with a bit of candied lemon, and some developing spice – ground coriander and a touch of cinnamon. A touch of sweetness balanced by green leaves.

Palate: Surprisingly soft to start, with candied citrus getting sharper before a whack of freshly smashed juniper. The juniper stays spicy, with a chunk of ginger nut biscuit and spiced cake joined by waxy petals and a touch of fruit.

Finish: Green leaves with an undercurrent of buttery spice.


Unsurprisingly, Hernö Pink Btl Gin has quite a lot of juniper character. It pulls together what I think of as juniper’s two sides – zingy citrus and rich spice. The spice is a big backbone and the fruity, floral notes sit gently on top. It’s well balanced and rather tasty.

The bottle has a few recipe suggestions, so I started with a pink gin: 60ml gin with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters, stirred with ice. It was exactly as you’d expect: the Pink Btl Gin with the spice dialled up, which definitely worked.

It also has a G&T suggestion, switching my normal 3:1 tonic:gin ratio for a 2:1. While I usually find 2:1 a bit too ginny, here it worked, with the spice softening out the booziness.

Then again, I drink Schweppes tonic, so I’m a G&T pervert and your mileage may vary.

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Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask Virtual Tasting https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/aberfeldy-20-exceptional-cask-virtual-tasting/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/aberfeldy-20-exceptional-cask-virtual-tasting/#respond Sun, 12 Apr 2020 08:21:56 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7771 Continue reading "Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask Virtual Tasting"

With the world on lockdown, it’s difficult to get together to drink booze. However, while we might be siloed and self-isolating, that’s not stopping us drinking in company. During the past three weeks, I’ve been ‘out’ drinking with friends more than I have in the past three months, all from the comfort of my own flat – the virtual tasting is very much a thing.

To celebrate Easter, Dewar’s single malt ambassador Georgie Bell dragged together a random band of whisky fans, colleagues and her parents on Zoom to try one of the latest distillery-only bottlings from the distilleries she looks after – Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask.

Aberfeldy 12 Year Old

One whisky does not a tasting make, so we kicked off with Aberfeldy 12. It’s a mixture of first-fill bourbon, first-fill sherry, refill and recharred casks. It’s also a dram I’ve not tried in a while.

Nose: Floral and fruity, with travel sweets, candied flower petals and red apples. Musky honey and toffee notes develop. Soft spice sits at the back, with a touch of green banana, creamed coconut and sultana.

Palate: Very soft and creamy, with a touch of apple peel quickly swamped by toffee. The spice is very soft with a touch of honey. Fruit notes build: stewed apple and sultanas with a dusting of nutmeg.

Finish: Heather honey and green apples.

A big kick of orchard fruit backed up by the honey and toffee that I more normally associate with Aberfeldy. This surprised me, as I don’t remember it being quite so fruity. Eminently drinkable, with well-balanced fruit and sweetness.

Aberfeldy 20 Year Old

The main event. This was matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks, before reracking for a final four years in a single first-fill oloroso sherry butt. It was distilled on 27 April 1998 and bottled on 11 July 2019. The cask yielded 618 bottles at 54.1%. We drank bottles 203 and 204.

Nose: Rich sherry-cask dried fruit with a contrasting apple sauce note – red and green apples stewed down to a sweet and sour sauce. A touch of polished oak, incense and stewed orange with honey follow. The citrus continues to build, with orange pomanders and dried orange peel.

Palate: Big spice and rich milk chocolate lead, with the orange from the nose quickly catching up. Glacé cherries and dark, dusty oak develop, along with even more chocolate, cinnamon heat and fruity travel sweets. Bitter liquorice pastilles, charred oak and a touch of blackcurrant hide underneath.

Finish: Raisins, cherries and sultanas with a bit of chocolate – Rocky Road with a liquorice edge. That fades to leave char and fruit cake, and lingering toffee apples.


I’ve had some Aberfeldys where the distillery character has been entirely driven off by sherry, and many of them were very nice. However, this 20-year-old Exceptional Cask is much more my style of whisky – there’s still some Aberfeldy in here, with apple and honey notes carefully balanced against a decent and not-too-active sherry cask.

A very good dram, although it feels a little pricy at £250. Aberfeldy 21 Year Old (my usual favourite of the distillery’s range) comes in at around half the price and despite this one’s extra strength and complexity, I’m not sure it quite justifies a doubling. If you want to grab one and can’t get to the distillery (which at the moment goes without saying), you can buy online – Aberfeldy 20yo Exceptional Cask.

However, the surprise for me was Aberfeldy 12 Year Old. It’s one I’ve overlooked and a whisky I will now be popping into tastings when I need something with a bit of orchard fruit and honey. An unexpected winner.

Thanks to Georgie Bell, and whisky-liberator and Aberfeldy visitor centre boss Jonno Wilson for sorting the tasting. And to Georgie’s parents, just in general.

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Redbreast 27 Year Old – the oldest ongoing Irish whiskey https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/redbreast-27-oldest-ongoing-irish-whiskey/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/redbreast-27-oldest-ongoing-irish-whiskey/#respond Mon, 06 Apr 2020 08:51:04 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7749 Continue reading "Redbreast 27 Year Old – the oldest ongoing Irish whiskey"

Redbreast is the biggest name in a small niche – pure pot still Irish whiskey. It led the charge as the category was rebuilt into the flagship of Irish whiskey for the booze connoisseur, and it has had more attention lavished on it than Irish Distillers’ other brands. So if you’re looking to break the final taboo of Irish whiskey – price – what better range of whiskeys to choose to do it with? Introducing Redbreast 27 Year Old, the oldest and most expensive ongoing whiskey in the Irish Distillers stable.

Pot Still: in ye olden dayes

Adam, Neil and I – Adam and Neil have not aged; I definitely have

Jameson was the first Irish whiskey I tried, and I continued to drink it throughout my university days. Redbreast was, however, the second, poured for me by my otherwise non-whisky-drinking flatmate Neil. He told me it was peaty. I agreed. Neither of us knew what that word meant. We were very wrong. We’ve both learned now.

Pot Still is a style of whiskey very much from Ireland. Created when the English started taxing malt, it’s traditionally a mix of malted barley, and tax-beating unmalted barley and other grains.

However, it began to disappear when the Irish whiskey industry collapsed in the middle of the 20th century. In 1961 three of the remaining distillers – Jameson, Powers and Cork distillers merged to form Irish Distillers, and closed all but one of their distilleries – Midleton. They soldiered on as the industry further contracted, one of the last whiskey makers still distilling.

Jameson had been making Redbreast for brand-owner Gilbey’s since the beginning, and Irish Distillers continued to do so, despite having stopped selling whiskey to other companies in 1970.

In 1985, Irish Distillers finally cut off the supply, and Redbreast disappeared, leaving just Green Spot as the single remaining pot still whiskey available, and then only to folks in the know.

Redbreast: the rebirth

It wasn’t gone for long. In 1986, Irish Distillers bought the brand from Gilbey’s and relaunched Redbreast in 1991 as one of its own whiskeys.

By 2005, the Irish whiskey market had recovered enough to support a second bottling, and Redbreast 15 Year Old was released, initially to celebrate La Maison du Whisky’s 50th birthday.

Over the next few years, Irish whiskey’s popularity began to soar, and in 2011 Irish Distillers launched Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength. They followed it with Redbreast 21 Year Old in 2013, and the limited-edition Redbreast Mano a Lamh – ‘hand in hand’ in a combination of Spanish and Irish – in 2015. The popularity of this even more sherried Redbreast inspired Redbreast Lustau, which dropped in 2016, matured in bourbon and sherry casks and finished for a year in Lustau sherry casks.

Limited-edition 32-year-old and 20-year-old whiskeys – the Dream Casks – followed in 2018 and 2019 respectively, leading us to the present day, and the latest release.

Redbreast 27 Year Old

The line running through all of the Redbreast releases from the late 1800s onwards is sherry maturation. However, Irish Distillers and its predecessors have been looking beyond bourbon and sherry for more than a century, and the company has stocks of wine casks filled with pot-still spirit hiding in its warehouses.

To make Redbreast 27 Year Old, blenders Billy Leighton and Dave McCabe combined first-fill and refill bourbon casks, first-fill Oloroso and ruby-port-seasoned casks. The port casks come from Tanoaria Palaçoulo – aka Tacopal – the family-owned cooperage that Irish Distillers have been sourcing their port casks from for the past 30 years.

Nose: Red, purple and orange jelly babies, sweet and fruity with a touch of the tropical. The fruit sharpens slightly as underripe mango and papaya develop, joined by a spoon of scooped out passion fruit innard. A hint of spicy grain rolls through the middle followed by rich, dark fruit cake.

Palate: Thich, rich, oily and intense. A compressed ball of tropical-fruit jelly surrounded by flashed apple, pear, gummi bear and jelly baby. Gentle spice builds, followed by a hint of mint and menthol. Vanilla toffees hide out at the back with a handful of tarragon.

Finish: Tropical fruit and toffee fade to leave a tingle of menthol.


I’ll happily admit that I didn’t have high hopes for this whiskey. In the main, I find wine casks to be a blunt instrument when used to mature whisky, and while port is one of the lesser evils, it’s still rare that I find a port-matured dram that I like.

I really like this one.

The port hasn’t been laid on thick, and the bourbon casks in the mix give the whiskey the fruity, old-Irish-whiskey character that I’m looking for in something that’s been aged this long. The port and sherry casks add another dimension without swamping the spirit. For me, this is what blending is all about – layering and combining flavours to give a balanced whiskey that isn’t dominated by one component.

Price-wise, €495 might at first seem quite steep. However, it’s not far off the going rate for the rare but still relatively common single-cask Irish single malts of a similar age, and this is positively wizened when it comes to regularly available pot-still whiskey. While it’s definitely expensive, it looks to be priced appropriately and, from what I’ve heard from Irish whiskey fans online, is selling well.

The Future

Unfortunately, I think this is a sign that the age of comparative innocence is now over for Irish whiskey. With JJ Corry’s The Chosen clocking in at £6,000 at retail, the Redbreast Dream Casks pulling in thousands at auction, and indie-bottled 1990s’ Irish single malt starting at around the £500 mark, the days of Irish whiskey always being affordable are gone.

A €495 ongoing bottling in the Irish Distillers range is evidence that Irish whiskey’s challenge to the dominance of Scotch single malt at the pricier end of the whisky spectrum continues, and it looks like Redbreast is leading the way.

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The Mash Tun, Tokyo https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/the-mash-tun-tokyo/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/the-mash-tun-tokyo/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:05:29 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7713 Continue reading "The Mash Tun, Tokyo"

Tokyo is full of great bars and their reputation for whisky is second to none – if you want to drink interesting, then its the city for you. I only had time to visit one whisky bar during my trip to Tokyo, but, fortunately, the choice wasn’t difficult. Among the city’s bars, there’s one that has stood the test of time and is a must-visit for any whisky fan – The Mash Tun.

The Mash Tun Tokyo

Hidden down a side street near Meguro station, The Mash Tun is on the first floor of a block that you might walk past if you’re not used to Tokyo’s bars. I wasn’t, and walked straight past when I visited. An easy way to know that you’re in the right place is the saltire hung in the window – this is a bar which doesn’t hide what it’s about: Scotch whisky.

The Bar

The Mash Tun isn’t a very big place. There’s a table, some boxes of bottles, the bar itself, and very little else. But that’s all it needs, apart from whisky.

The bar at The Mash Tun Tokyo

Owner Toru Suzuki has a lot of whisky. Enough that he’s run out of space on the shelves, and it the collection has escaped to cover the bar as well. With a focus of independent bottlings, it’s almost impossible not to find something new that you want to try.

Overwhelmed by choice, I asked Suzuki-san to recommend me some bottlings that had been done specially for the bar – he picked me three.

Craigellachie 1990 26 Year Old from The Whiskyfind

Craigallachie 1990 bottled for The Mash Tun Tokyo
Distilled 1990, bottled 2016 by The Whiskyfind. Cask #5401. 26yo. 287 bottles. 50.1% ABV.

Bottled for The Mash Tun by The Whiskyfind, a Taiwanese bottler whose whisky doesn’t get much further than Hong Kong.

Nose: Fruity and meaty. Gooseberries with a hint of gas hob, custard tarts and baked apples, Cadbury’s fingers of fudge, and a hint of spicy oak. Grapefruit and butterscotch follow with a hint of sour CO2 fizziness.

Palate: Soft and creamy in texture. Cake spice leads, with milky coffee, orange and grapefruit peels, and liquorice following. It’s lighter than expected from the nose, with polished at the back, and pineapple sponge draped with tinned peach in the middle.

Finish: Brown sugar leads to fruity toffee, apples and liquorice. The sweetness fades to leave fruit.

Cragganmore 1989 27 Year Old for The Mash Tun and Club Qing

Cragganmore 1989 bottled for The Mash Tun Tokyo and Club Qing
Distilled 1989. 27yo. 160 bottles. 48.7% ABV.

A join bottling with Hong Kong whisky bar Club Qing, featuring the cats of The Mash Tun’s Toru Suzuki and Club Qing’s Aaraon Chan – Ribbon and Bubee.

Nose: Freshly polished boots, forest floors and raisins. Brown sugar and lardy cake build, with fruit following: apples, unripe pears, bitter oranges and sweet mandarins. Baked bean hints follow with a touch of struck match. Apple pie notes build.

Palate: Creamy and apple-y – baked and freshly sliced. Butter toffee and caramel build, with liquorice touches and increasing tropical fruit: pineapple and papaya. Caramel covered apples (on a stick) are joined by Trio bars (from the 1980s), and Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut without the nuts but with blackcurrants.

Finish: Hints of orange and raisin are covered with chocolate. That all fades away to leave fruit and polished oak.

Williamson 2005 14 Year Old: There You Are!

Williamson 2005 bottled for The Mash Tun Tokyo
Distilled 2005, bottled 2019 by The Whisky Find. Hogshead #800103. 14yo. 174 bottles. 51.5% ABV.

Williamson is the name given to a teaspooned whisky from Laphroaig – this is strictly speaking a blended malt, but it’s almost certainly almost entirely Laphroaig. It has an excellent label, combining Hong Kong trams with the obligatory cats.

Nose: Meaty, medicinal and minerally. The meatiness slowly rolls back to reveal fruit – generically tropical – with a touch of freshly painted creosote. Gravelly notes build, raked on a driveway leading to the ocean. Nose clearing menthol pushes through the middle, along with a scoop of black tar. As the nose acclimatises to the smoke, sweet apple and pineapple cubes grow, although hidden under a coat of tar and bobbly liquorice allsorts.

Palate: Soft and surprisingly easy-drinking after the intensity of the nose, and unmistakeably ‘Williamson’ – thankyou Bessie. Strong ash and TCP notes are swamped by orchard fruit and a touch of the tropical. Menthol notes waft about – a tub of Vicks Vaporub sits open in the wings. Pine and pineapple push in, but the tar creeps in around the back along with a stack of sticks of liquorice.

Finish: Sweet and leafy, with apples and menthol slowly dying away to reveal damp and earthy peat smoke.

Should I visit The Mash Tun, Tokyo?

Yes. Simple as that.

Other bars may have rarer or more expensive whiskies, but The Mash Tun combines a great selection, great atmosphere, great customers – you’ll always find someone interesting talk to at the bar – and an excellent host. If you’re in Tokyo, go – Suzuki-san will find you something interesting to drink.

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Rosebank 1993 Cask #625 and #433 https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/rosebank-1993-625-433/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/rosebank-1993-625-433/#respond Thu, 26 Mar 2020 09:36:40 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7718 Continue reading "Rosebank 1993 Cask #625 and #433"

The past few years have seen three lost distilleries announce that they’re on their way to reopening. While Port Ellen and Brora have got the most coverage – not least from me – it is the third which has taken the most positive steps and looks like it should open its doors first: Rosebank.

Along with the project to reopen the distillery, new owners Ian Macleod have also decided to release some of Rosebank’s old stock, with the first two casks already starting to trickle out into the public – a pair of bourbon hogsheads from the distillery’s final vintage: Rosebank 1993 casks #625 and #433.

A strong beginning

When it comes to the pantheon of closed distilleries, there are definitely several tiers. Port Ellen and Brora stand astride the rest, while Inverleven inspires ‘Who?’s from even ardent whisky fans. Standing just below the mighty pair, and maybe using St Magdalene’s shoulders to push itself above the herd a bit, is Rosebank.

Rosebank during the 1980s

While the distillery claims to have opened in 1798, it didn’t really get going until the mid 1800s. Sat on the Forth and Clyde canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it had excellent transport links and flourished in the golden age of whisky production. It was part of the portfolio of Scotch Malt Distillers when it was founded in 1914 and went on to be part of the Distillers Company Limited (which in turn went on to become Diageo) when it started in 1925.

Read more waffling about Rosebank’s history over on The Whisky Exchange blog >

Whither Rosebank

But the Lowlands lost their lustre, and in 1993, the distillery shut, after 198 years of almost continuous operation.

In the end, it was a choice for its owners – the market was down and they only needed one Lowlander. Would it be Glenkinchie – near to Edinburgh, surrounded by fields and ripe for future expansion – or Rosebank – squashed up against the canal on an industrial estate?

Bye-bye, Rosebank.

The classic Lowlander

While the Lowlands is starting to fill with distilleries again, until recently, there were just three: Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie and Bladnoch, and only the first two were operating at a properly commercial level. Against that backdrop, Rosebank’s are some of the last obtainable examples of old-school whisky from the region.

While Glenkinchie does make a light, sweet and grassy dram, it’s not quite up to the standard of Rosebank and St Magdalene/Linlithgow releases of times gone by. New kid on the block Daftmill has made a solid stab at the style, but with such small production and so many bottles disappearing, unopened, into whisky collections, it’s not introducing drinkers to a taste of history.

However, the distillery’s reopening could herald a return to that style.

The Revival

Back in 2017, after long-running negotiations, independent distiller, blender and bottler Ian Macleod – owners of Glengoyne and Tamdhu – finally obtained the rights to the Rosebank name from Diageo, and announced that they had acquired some of the original site and would rebuild the distillery.

An artist’s impression of the newly reborn distillery

Unfortunately, it’s been more than 20 years since the distillery was closed, and there’s not a lot of distillery left. The estate has been turned into a combination of apartments and a Beefeater restaurant.

But, research has been done, land has been acquired, stills have been ordered, building work is being sorted and the company hopes to (re)open the new distillery later this year – viral pandemics allowing.

New Rosebank and old Rosebank

The new distillery is based on the plans of the old one, and the three stills are to be used to create an old-school , triple distilled, worm-tub-condensed Lowland spirit. However, with the first whisky at least another three-and-a-bit years away still, the owners have another trick up their sleeve – stock from before the distillery closed.

Releases of Rosebank have become increasingly rare over the past few years. A couple of Special Releases from Diageo, an annual Roses bottling from m’colleagues at Elixir Distillers, and a few single casks all that Whiskybase remembers. Ian Macleod has decided to start the year of the new distillery by releasing a pair of single casks from its pre-closure stock.

Ballot time

Rare whisky is becoming increasingly hard to get hold of, as the word ‘rare’ suggests. But the interest in rare whisky has now grown to the extent that the old ‘first come first served’ approach to sales is increasingly unfit for purpose. Bottles sell out online in seconds, and people queue for hours to grab the new releases in person. The standard way to try and make things fairer is to ballot bottles, and that’s what Iain Macleod has done with casks #433 and #625.

The ballot went live in February 2020, and folks could put the name in the hat to buy each of the two bottles. There are 280 and 259 bottles available of #433 and #625 respectively, but only 100 went up in the initial ballot. They sold out despite something that shocked many whisky fans, myself included: the price – £2,500 a bottle.

The Whiskies

Both distilled in 1993, the final year of Rosebank’s operation, they are as young as whiskies from Rosebank can be, but are also about as old as you find whiskies from the distillery – there’s not a lot of it about. Both casks were refill bourbon hogsheads, and while they are similar, as you’d expect, they are both very much their own dram.

Rosebank 1993 Cask #625

Nose: Sweet and sharp fruit. Crunchy green, floury and rich, stewed apples, with a touch of freshly-mown grass, the rhubarb bit of a rhubarb and custard sweet, crisp barley sugar, a hint of sultana and a handful of crushed spring-flower petals.

Palate: Rounded and sweet with a pleasantly oily texture. Green leaves chip away at the sweetness, with buttery toffee balancing everything out. Menthol hints rise through the middle, with banana cream, dry oak and aniseed following.

Finish: A gentle tingle of aniseed and cinnamon lingers, with toffee sweetness fading slowly to reveal pear skin.

Rosebank 1993 Cask #433

Nose: Zesty citrus – orange and lemon – with sweet meadow flowers and cut grass in tow. The citrus sweetens, and is joined by barley sugar pips, Love Hearts and travel sweets. Meringue sweetness hides at the back.

Palate: Vanilla cream and toffee starts, with sharp apple and oak spice not far behind. Darker notes of caramel and cappuccino are balanced by a touch of fruity peach. As the fruit fades, more dark notes build: damp oak and bittersweet dark chocolate.

Finish: Oaky spice, toasted fruit loaf and blackcurrant jam. Black liquorice slowly builds.


Firstly, they’re both great whiskies – I like really Rosebank’s old-school Lowland style, and these show two different but similar sides to it. Cask #625 has a solid fruitiness, with orchard fruit complemented by more zesty flavours, floral notes and a touch of green – very classic. Cask #433 delves into darker notes, with creamy coffee and liquorice joining the flower-and-grass Rosebank core.

However, there is a ‘secondly’: they cost £2,500 a bottle. That’s very expensive. Even the latest in the Elixir Distiller’s Rosebank Roses series (disclaimer: they are a sister company of my employer) ‘only’ went for £875. That was a vatting of several casks, rather than a single cask from the now-official owner of the renascent distillery, but that’s still a very big jump.

If you really like Rosebank and have the money to spend, you’ve almost certainly entered the ballot and have either a bottle or two on your shelf or in transit. Unfortunately, most Rosebank fans are very much now priced out of the market, but such is the way with the upper echelons of the closed-distillery world.

So, it seems that Rosebank might be about to sit at the lost-distillery top table alongside Port Ellen and Brora. For now, I’ll just keep bad-mouthing Inverleven until I’ve cornered the market.

With thanks to the team at Ian Macleod and Hamish Maclean at Wire for the whisky samples.

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Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/ardbeg-blaaack-committee-release/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/ardbeg-blaaack-committee-release/#respond Tue, 10 Mar 2020 08:30:00 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7699 Continue reading "Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release"

The annual Ardbeg Committee release has become an inevitability in many ways. Firstly, owner LVMH aren’t going to miss the chance to launch a special, limited-edition whisky to the Ardbeg fan club that will definitely sell out. Secondly, the members of the Ardbeg fan club aren’t going to miss the chance to complain about a special, limited-edition whisky released for them that will definitely sell out.

In a dance as old as time…

This year’s offering at the altar of whisky fan consumption and internet abuse is the most quirkily named yet: Ardbeg Blaack.

The Ardbeg Committee

Formed back in 2000, the Ardbeg Committee is the official Ardbeg fan club. It was the start of a new era for the distillery, which had closed in 1996 as an unwanted part of the Allied portfolio and reopened a year later as the third distillery in the Glenmorangie gang.

The distillery was up and running and the launch of The Committee helped grow the cult that supported it through the early years of new management. A members’ rulebook forbidding the mixing of Ardbeg and a variety of other ‘crimes’, an irreverent take on whisky, and nods to history all contributed to The Committee’s and the distillery’s popularity. Over the past twenty years, Committee members have travelled the world to go to tastings at Ardbeg Embassies – favoured retailers, endorsed by the distillery – chased branded tractors and motorbikes, and got Ardbeg tattoos. So many Ardbeg tattoos…

Committee Releases

As part of The Committee, members get access to special bottlings. While these started out with single casks and special vattings, they quickly settled down into a rhythm of preview releases with occasional extra special releases.

You can find a complete list of the Committee Releases at the excellent Ardbeg Project website.

The Committee Releases have featured legendary whiskies like the lightly-peated Kildalton and the Octomore-inspiring Supernova – Ardbeg’s final shot in the ‘world’s peatiest whisky’ wars, before they left Bruichladdich to compete against themselves – but it’s the regular Committee versions of other whiskies it’s become best known for.

First up was Ardbeg Very Young For Discussion – some of the first post-acquisition Ardbeg spirit, bottled at 6 years old to give the fans something to try. It went wider than The Committee with a later regular Very Young release, which led a series that continued until the first release of Ardbeg 10: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance – the first 10-year-old Ardbeg consisting entirely of spirit distilled since Glenmorangie bought the distillery.

Since then, we’ve had Corryvreckan For Discussion, Supernova and Alligator, as well as a yearly special edition of the annual bottling for the Islay Festival of Malt and Music, Fèis Ìle: Ardbeg Day, Ardbog, Auriverdes, Perpetuum, Dark Cove, Kelpie, Grooves, Drum and now Blaaack.

Blaaack. Blaaaack. Blaaaaack!

Blaack has been specially selected as a celebratory release for the 20th anniversary of the committee and celebrates ‘the flock’. The thin thread tieing the whisky to the (potentially insulting) concept of the sheep of the Ardbeg Committee is New Zealand, its 7:1 ratio of sheep to people, and the country’s Pinot Noir.

The whisky is a now-standard ‘finished for an unspecified amount of time in wine casks’ – in this case New Zealand Pinot Noir – release, a classic Lumsden creation. Dr Bill Lumsden is the Glenmorangie/Ardbeg Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks, a teller of filthy jokes, and lover of both wine and wine-cask maturation.

Learn more about him in Anton’s interview with Dr Bill Lumsden.

Bill says: “Ardbeg Blaaack knits together velvety summer fruit pudding and bitter cherry, with a deeper edge of soot and Ardbeg’s hallmark smoke. It’s the perfect dram for toasting our legendary Committee.” But what did I reckon?

Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release

Nose: Vanilla sponge cake, buttered fruit loaf, apple jam and a hint of sweet, bacony smoke. Behind the sweetness and smoke hides a gently-blowing sea breeze, freshly baked bread and green veggies: freshly shelled peas and pea shoots.

Palate: A kick of stony minerality tends to sweetness and intense citrus: sweet orange and sour lemon. Leathery notes build and mingle with the ever-present smoke: sweet and earthy. Hiding behind the peat is the cake and fruity bread from the nose, black liquorice and dark-chocolate covered mint fondant creams.

Finish: Mint choc chips fade to leave damp embers and liquorice torpedoes.

While the Committee Releases have received a bit of a kicking online over the years, this one definitely doesn’t deserve that treatment – it’s my favourite of the recent releases, even though it’s been finished in a red-wine cask, usually one of my least-favourite of things that can be done to a spirit. I await the delivery of my bottle. Actually, I should probably check the tracking…

The Ardbeg Blaaack Committee Release was available from the Ardbeg website, but is now sold out. It was 70cl, 50.7%, £94 + £8 postage to the UK.

Many thanks to Ardbeg and Emily at May-Fox for the sample.

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Daftmill 2006 Sherry Cask #039/2006 – Berry Bros & Rudd https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/02/daftmill-039-2006-berry-bros-rudd/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/02/daftmill-039-2006-berry-bros-rudd/#respond Mon, 03 Feb 2020 08:55:00 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7554 Continue reading "Daftmill 2006 Sherry Cask #039/2006 – Berry Bros & Rudd"

Daftmill is a distillery a bit different to the rest. More than a decade of anticipation of its whisky have created a bit of a monster, with bottles selling out in seconds, websites going down in flames at the first sign of a new release, and auction websites rubbing their hands in glee. However, one thing that seems to be missing in a lot of the dialogue around the distillery is what its spirit tastes like. I’m lucky enough to have tried a few releases, including the first single-sherry-cask release – Daftmill 2006 cask #039/2006.

A brief history of Daftmill

Back in 2005, farmer Francis Cuthbert fired up the stills at his distillery for the first time. His family had been growing malting barley for distilleries for years, so he decided to build a distillery in the farm buildings next to his house and see what the fuss was about.

Daftmill distillery
The distillery

And then we waited.

Unlike most distilleries, releasing youthful whisky, new spirit or gin to keep cash coming in, distilling is not the primary business of the Cuthberts, and they didn’t need to rush anything to market. The distillery fills only a small number of casks per year and Francis only distils when he isn’t farming. When asked when whisky would appear, he’d simply answer, ‘when it’s ready’.

In the years since spirit first flowed from his stills, Francis has welcomed lots of visitors to the distillery, run occasional tastings of his spirit, and turned away offers of bottling or representation. He finally gave in to the pestering of Jonny McMillan of Berry Bros. & Rudd, who’d pop in to say hello whenever he was driving past, and Berry’s now look after the bottling and distribution of Daftmill’s whiskies.

The first whisky appeared in May 2018 and sold out via a massively oversubscribed ballot.

Daftmill now

The Daftmill stills
The Daftmill stillhouse

The past year and a half has seen Daftmill explode onto the whisky scene, although maybe not in quite the way Francis would have wanted. Due to the distillery’s limited stocks, bottles are being released as small batches and single casks, and they’ve been snapped up in minutes each time they’ve gone on sale. Unfortunately, it’s not always been to drinkers.

The inaugural bottling launched at £240 and now fetches upwards of £1,500 a bottle at auction. The subsequent releases have been around the £100-150 mark and now go for up to five times that. With so many bottles appearing at auction, it’s rare to hear of them being opened.

This bottle was picked up via the Berry Bros. ballot, specifically for opening at Whisky Squad’s 2019 high-end tasting. It may have only cost me £150 to buy it, but with bottles now fetching more than £500 at auction, it fell squarely into the high-end camp for the tasting.

Daftmill Sherry Cask #039/2006

It’s quite dark in colour…

I went to the distillery for the launch of the inaugural bottling, and while there, tried some of the other casks that had been laid down – Francis had run around the warehouse and pulled a few samples from each of the 13 years since the distillery opened so that we could see how it had developed over time. In among them were a handful of sherry-casks – Francis hasn’t filled very many – and one of them stood out: cask #039/2006.

A year later, it was bottled and sold as a Berry Bros. exclusive – 621 bottles at 57.4%:

Nose: Cherry Bakewells and pine needles – royal icing, buttery almonds and pastry with a sticky glacé cherry on top, all sat on a pile of dropped Christmas-tree needles. Fruit builds: fresh, stewed and baked apples with sultanas and raisins. The buttery notes become Danish pastries and pains au raisins. A core of blackcurrants emerges – Ribena, jam and tart, freshly squished berries.

Palate: Dark thick and raisiny – singed fruitcake, juicy Eccles cake innards and a kid’s lunchbox box of sticky Sunmaid. The pine needles from the nose are back, with a hint of mint and freshly stripped pine bark. Spice develops along with jammy fruit – cinnamon and cherry jam with a spoon of blackcurrant jelly on top. Leafy notes build underneath.

Finish: Softer and longer than expected: cherries and icing from the nose reappear and slowly fade away.


This is a very silly whisky. While the sherry cask this was matured in was obviously a good one, and that shows in the whisky, Daftmill spirit is delicate and the distillery character is all but hidden away by the wood. That said, if you want a big, rich and fruity sherry monster, you won’t go far wrong with this, just don’t expect it to reveal the soul of the distillery.

Opened at and poured for Whisky Squad’s late-2019 High-End tasting.

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