Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan

After 25 years of visiting Aviemore, one of Scotland’s biggest skiing resorts, it still surprises me when there’s enough snow to ski and not so much that you can’t get up the mountain. This year, however, we were treated to the most perfect snowy weather that I’ve heard of in Scotland – good powder on top of deeper snow, clear blue skies and enough coverage to get you from the top of Cairngorm to bottom of the ski slopes without having to walk. I was eventually convinced to go skiing for a day and despite my natural inability when attached to skis I rather enjoyed myself. Annoyingly, one final fall onto my not-quite-padded-enough bottom put an end to my day of activity and I repaired to the top of the mountain for a dram in the early afternoon. While wandering around the obligatory shop I found a couple of Cairngorm Mountain Ltd whisky bottlings and decided to grab a sampler of each – The Ptarmigan 15 year old blended malt and 16 year old single malt.

At first I thought the 15 year old was a regular blend, but as the name implies it is instead a blend of single malts of at least 15 years old each. On the nose it has hints of pear, pineapple and a malty toffee, and to taste this turns slightly sugary with hints of lemon and a touch of oiliness. With water the oiliness develops into a light linseedy flavour that compliments the rich sweetness. All in all a fairly drinkable whisky – nothing to raise eyebrows, but perfectly decent.

The 16 year old is much lighter in colour, which suggested to me at first that it might not have picked up much from the wood – I was wrong. On the nose it has salt, pepper and floor polish along with a slug of smoky leather. In the mouth there was still a lot of peaty leather, but also an unexpected oaky wood taste and a touch of sharp fruit. Water softened the wood to bring out vanilla and banana, but the peatiness remained. Again, not what I expected at all and quite pleasant. My little sample went down surprisingly easily, despite the smokiness.

There’s not much information about them online, but it seems they are bottled by the Edrington Group, owners of local(ish) distilleries Tamdhu and Glenrothes. I’ve not tried either, but from the descriptions I’ve found online it seems that the single malt may well be from the former – it’s certainly added Tamdhu to my list of whiskies to try.

The Ptarmigan 15 year old Blended Malt
40%

The Ptarmigan 16 year old Single Malt
40%

Both available from the Shop at the Top and Mountain Shop on Cairngorm mountain, near Aviemore.

Cairngorm Brewery

The Cairngorm brewery hides on an industrial estate at the northern end of Aviemore, conveniently a mere 5 minute walk from the timeshare village that my family have been visiting for the last 25 years – longer than the brewery has existed. It first came to my attention when I noticed a sign up offering a brewery tour and tasting for the princely sum of £1 a few years back. I obviously jumped at the chance and was shown around the then small warehouse of brewing equipment by a man with an impenetrable scottish accent and a hyperactive love for his work. We repaired to the shop afterwards where we sampled the beers they had on tap, loved them all, and left with a polypin of Trade Winds (still one of my favourite beers of all time), the first of that batch that left the brewery. The sad tale of one my holiday companions pulling the front off the polypin twice, spilling all but a couple of pints on the floor, need not be mentioned again, other than to say that he knows who he is. He has still not been forgiven…

With only a couple of beer drinkers up this year we decided against the polypin and by the time I was picked up from Aviemore station there was a mixed case of their bottled beers waiting for me. In the interest of science I have drunk my way through at least one of each beer in the box, so as to be able to enlighten you all.

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Trade Winds
My favourite of the beers, to start. It’s a light brew, light gold in colour and floral on the nose. To taste it has oaty grain flavours and a nice hoppy finish. In bottle it’s a bit more pronounced in all of its flavours than on tap, but that doesn’t dissuade me much. A great bottled or draft beer, and one I thoroughly recommend.

Wildcat
A Tomintoul brewery brand brought into the Cairngorm brewery when they bought them out in the mid 2000s. From what I’ve heard there wasn’t much to take from Tomintoul apart from their recipes and expertise, with the buildings an equipment in bad repair, but the remaining beers are worth a look. Wildcat is a solid best bitter – full flavoured, with a slight sweetness and a bit of an alcoholic kick. This is one that I’ve never found a really good pint of on tap, but in bottles it’s a solid straight down the line bitter.

Blessed Thistle
Brewed with thistles rather than hops in the wort, the label claims that this was a method used in Ye Olden Dayes. They also late hop it with Goldings and add some ginger, which all sounds quite interesting. I’m not sure what thistles taste like, but the beer is quite thick in the mouth and has a nice late bitterness, a small nod at the ginger and a generally full malty taste.

Stag
Another Tomintoul acquisition (if I remember correctly) the label doesn’t give it much description, and the flavour doesn’t take much. It’s a bit hoppy and a bit malty, finishing quickly. However, it’s quite nice and one that I could happily drink all evening, even if it’s not overly distinctive.

Black Gold
This is the brewery’s stout, and very black it is too. It’s thick and has a chunk of chocolate malt, but it is also quite light in flavour. A strangely refreshing stout that retains some the stomach filling nature. My younger brother used to drink it on nitrokeg draught instead of Guinness at a pub in the next village along – he reckoned it easily beat Guinness, even with gas pumped through it.

Cairngorm/Sheepshagger Gold
After concerns from some of the establishments they sold the cask version of this beer to they decided on a dual naming – Cairngorm Gold for the more reserved pubs, Sheepshagger for those who didn’t care. It’s a very light golden beer, brewed (if my memory of the long ago tour is correct) as a cask lager. It’s lightly flavoured with hints of lagery dryness and subtle fruitiness at the end. It’s less fizzy on tap, but a bottle or two of this could certainly turn a lager drinker’s head.


Cairngorm/Sheepshagger Gold
4.5%

Blessed Thistle
4.5%

Black Gold
4.4%

Stag
4.1%

Wildcat
5.1%

Trade Winds
4.3%

All available directly from the brewery, selected branches of Tesco in Scotland, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms in Edinburgh and occasional other places that sell beer. I’ve seen some in Royal Mile Whiskies in London before and as Trade Winds is an award winner it pops up quite often.