Saturday, July 31, 2010

Distilleries improved

We all have our favourite distilleries, well most of us I guess. We also have some distilleries we have some problem getting along with. Well I do...or did

Things change. A distillery might change their production, or the company owning them might change their bottling style, that can be a change in age, a new bottling range, alcoholpercentage, they might drop chillfiltering their whiskies, or just vat different types of casks together. And my palate changes as well. First time someone gave me a Laphroaig I thought it was the worst thing I ever tasted..that opinion changed fast.

Here's a list of some whiskies which I used to find very bad, just bad, or just plain boring. Bad whisky is often due to some kind of fault in the production, boring whisky can be caused by bottling from casks thats too plain, that is casks that haven't given as much to the whisky as they should, maybe they have been used too many times.

1. Bowmore
Bowmore bottles some fantastic stuff, but in the eighties, something went wrong at the distillery. A lot of bottlings from this era is too soapy and too floral. Any soap is too soapy. These flaws goes for both OB's (The distillery's own bottlings) and IB's (Independant bottlings). This became so bad, a PLOWED Bowmore fan coined the tasting note FWP : French Whore Perfume to describe his experiences with Bowmore. Employess associated with the distillery usually denied this, and some even took offense (You're just a of self-styled connoisseurs was a reply to above when he questioned the distillery, self-styled whisky connoisseurs is now the offficial PLOWED logo)
Well Bowmore isn't like that anymore. I did avoid them for something like a 5 year period, but visiting them in 2007 and trying a few of their drams made me realise that this distillery was worthy again. Avoid anything disitilled before 1994 and after 1979 just to be safe :-)
It must be a company flaw as I have experienced the same flaws in Glen Garioch occasionally and Auchentoshan rarely. Visiting Auchentoshan in 2007 I mentioned this to one of their staff and it was quite entertaining watching this poor lad pretending he never heard about it before
Anyhoo, its 3 great distilleries that has overcome these troubles

2. Isle of Jura
I went to Islay in 2001 and at a bar I ordered the 10, 16 and 21 if my memory is correct. They all tasted of sour socks to me, really really bad. I'd actually revisited these bottlings and other Juras occasionally, the 10 at Fringe 2009 and it was still the same. I must have been complaining too much about Jura, to such an extent, that several of my friends has caught me praising Jura's when serving them blind to me, much to the fun of the donator. So therre is good Jura around. I've tried good Jura at SMWS (better than good actually, it was brilliant). At the entrance to a whiskyfair in Hadsten, Denmark 2009, the welcome dram was a 10yo Jura from Chieftain's, another brilliant bottling. Recently the distillery has changed their line, added some peated malts to their vattings etc.. I like the Superstition and its on my to-do list to try their new bottlings, especially their boutique barrel series which have been praised to me by trusted whisky friends

3. Tobermory/Ledaig
The products from this distillery gave me similar troubles as Jura. Sour socks whisky. I tried some awesome old bottlings, but the general production just seemed bad from one end to the other. Well that didn't stop me visiting the distillery last year. Mull is a fantastic Island and Tobermory (the town) is one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland. At the distillery I had the pleasure of getting spotted by the guide showing us around. Two friends and I, who was on the tour, and never asked a question still got pulled aside from the rest of the group when we enjoyed our compulsary dram after the tour and offered a few more. Somehow we looked like people who like whisky :-)
We had the pleasure, and it WAS a great pleasure, to try their new Ledaig and new Tobermory, both bottled at 46.3%. Nothing wrong with any of these, which was a bit of surprise to me. I gently commented that this was a lot better than what I remembered coming out from the distillery. The guide straight away admitted that the quality of their whiskies had improved and that it used to be feinty. No denials here
Well - there's another distillery for you all to go out and try again.
The same Company also relaunched Deanston at 46.3%. I didn't find the old version of Deanston flawed, just pretty boring. The new version is a lot better

5 years ago I went through a few whiskybooks, magazines and online blogs and made a comparison of ratings of standard bottlings and took an average. The result can be seen here :

The post is in danish, but download the xls-document for the result, here's a key to the columns :
1st column is Jim Murray's Bible 
2nd column is MM Matrix 
3rd column is Whisky Magazine, recalculated 
4th colum is  Jacksons Companion
5th column is an average

As you can see Deanston is last. That wouldn't be the case with bottling available today 

4. Tomatin, Balblair, BenRiach, Imperial and others

Disitilleries can reinvent themselves or get some new owners that cares a bit more about the bottlings coming out. Or an independant bottler might put a distillery on the map

First time I tried the above malts it was something I drank and forgot about 5 seconds later. The distillery bottlings weren't anything worth remembering

Well Tomatin decided to revat their 12, 15 and 18 and going 46 on the last two. Well what a pleasant surprise. Going straight from below average to one of the best OB ranges available
My collection of 18yo Tomatins. Old and new OB's to the left

Balblair relaunched their malts as vintages around 2006 and what an improvement. Another great set of OB's

BenRiach had a change of owners. Billy Walker has been putting out one excellent bottling after the other ever since (except the Birnie Moss..but that wasn't even released as a BenRiach so I suspect they didn't fancy it that much themselves either)

Imperial. Anyone ever paid any notice to this ?. Well, Duncan Taylor did. They hoped they could purchase the distillery, which failed, but the sale was so close to coming through, they actually stocked up on a lot of Imperial Casks. And a lot of the stuff they bottled from Imperial the last couple of years has been awesome. 2nd distillery Duncan Taylor put on the map for me, first was Caperdonich.

5. Arran
Arran bottles a lot and they did so since their malt was 3 years old. Most of this wasn't very good in my opinion. A lot of the terribleness has been hidden by finishes, well, in my case, as I quite often don't like the winery taste of finishes it has been double faulted. I know others liked this, but whisky won't get worse than the Arran Champagne finish.

Arran Peacock and Arran Rowan Tree

Well things are changing. Arran is a young distillery, and some distilleries just need some years in casks before they start to work. As Arran has started bottling whisky 12years and older, it is the ugly duckling turning into a swan peacock. Recent bottlings has been very good. The 12yo OB is a huge huge improvement to the 10yo (look out for a 14yo coming out soon). As well as some excellent single cask bottlings, both from ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks I do regard The Arran Peacock as one of the best bottlings of whisky ever bottled in it's catagory (Single Malt, several casks - around 12yo)

So, it might be time to retry some of the distilleries you abandoned years ago ?


  1. Excellent post, Steffen :-)

  2. Very nice post indeed. Keep them coming!

  3. My knowledge of Bowmore is unfortunately limited to the bottlings of the past few years. That said, I've like the Mariner and Dusk quite a lot, though I'll admit that my love of the Dusk is peculiar. I've referred to it as the "crazy ex-girlfriend" of whiskies - unbalanced but fun, and oddly memorable. I like the more recent claret\bordeaux finish, yet prefer the Dusk more for it's lack of restraint.

    As for Arran, I think their basic 10-year expression is a perfectly fine and enjoyable - if uninspired - whisky. If I see nothing better on offer at a bar, I'm glad to get the Arran 10, and if someone buys me a dram of Arran, I'm always grateful. Then again, if you buy me a dram of just about anything I'm grateful. :) Their cask-strength wine finishes are nice, but suffer from their youth. They're quite nice, but I can only take them at cask strength and with tiny sips - water seems to hurt and dilute the whiskies too much. Still, I enjoy what Arran has to offer and they're not a distillery I'll shy away from.

    One distillery that frustrates me is Edradour. I've had a couple of wonderful expressions - the Gaja Barolo and Madeira finishes from the Straight From the Cask series. I've also had some oddly waxy expressions from them (10-year and some Ballechins).

  4. Looking back at posts from the early 90s it looks like Bowmore FHP was something you made up.
    The posts from everyone else say there is no such thing.
    Another blogger tells me that you were called a "so called connoisseur" because you would not send a sample to the distillers to back up your claim.
    FHP is just an urban myth!
    I love all the Bowmores. Especially the early Darkest, Dusk etc which all came out at that time.
    I like a lot of your posts but this early 90s FHP stuff is just wacky!!
    You just need to stop knocking Bowmore. They are a great distiller.
    Don't think you have ever really understood the peaty whiskies of Islay. And, from what I can see you never proved anything to anybody but yourself.
    I think you lose all credibility talking about FHP and a period of time where you think Bowmore whiskies were tainted. What rubbish!
    Or just stop blogging altogether, and leave things to "real connoisseurs"

    1. If you meant French Horse Perfum, you are right, there was none in Bowmore...

      Now go trash this blog :

  5. Oh. I feel flattered. But if you read the post I didn't invent the term FHP. I am a bit curious who this "anothet blogger" you mention is?


  6. I didn't invent but can attest to the FWP phenomenon. think 1982 through 1989. It is floral and soapy. It varies to its intensity. I will admit that there were some casks that were very good through this period but I hesitate to buy anything from this period.

    The Ganga

  7. Soap is the 4th ingredient in whisky nobody talks about.

  8. I too have tasted Bowmores that have been tainted with soap. Not so long ago I held a tasting where we talked about this, and one of the participants said he stopped buying Bowmore some years ago, because they tasted "funny". I have read that Bowmore shifted from wooden washbacks in 1980 to stainless steel, and back to wooden ones again in 1995. If this has something to do with mentioned phenomenon I dont know. But in my opinion, Bowmore has gotten better again the last few years.