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Speyside Crackers

Five more excellent whiskies from Speyside

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Arguably the most famous of the whisky regions is Speyside, situated in the North East section of Central Scotland, incorporating Morayshire, Nairnshire, Banffshire and part of Aberdeenshire. Part of the reason for its popularity as a region was its ready supply of high quality water and good access by the railways which provided transport of manpower, raw materials and the finished product into and out of the distilleries. The lifeblood of the region is the river Spey, its tributaries and adjoining rivers, such as the rivers Deveron, Isla, Fiddich, Findhorn, Dullan, Livet and Lossie, which flow like veins through the region. Half of all Scottish distilleries are situated in the region and include some of the most famous distilleries on the planet, such as Macallan, Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie.
Although the Speyside style is considered to be creamy, honeyed, fruity and easy drinking, distilleries situated along the various tributaries produce subtly different malts. The river Livet, for example, has Glenlivet, Tamnavulin and Tomintoul, all noted for their gentleness. In addition to these creamy and honeyed Speyside malts are produced famously robust and heavily-sherried whiskies such as Macallan, Glenfarclas and Glendronach. And, just to show that Speyside can also do peat, you need look no further than distilleries such as Knockdhu, Ardmore and BenRiach.
The names of many Speyside whiskies are justly famous around the world, with brands such as Glenfiddich and the Glenlivet being found in homes and bars from Trondheim to Tokyo, but it’s fair to say that many of the region’s distilleries will be unfamiliar to most people. The reason is that a majority of Speyside distilleries exist solely to produce malt for blended whisky (which accounts for approximately 95 per cent of all whisky sales). Distilleries such as Allt-á-Bhainne, Braeval and Royal Brackla may not be well known in their own right as single malts, but are crucially important constituents of blends.
It would be fair to say that, as good as they are (and some really are), if the majority of Speyside distilleries were to close tomorrow, most whisky drinkers probably wouldn’t even notice. Despite their rarity, however, many of the lesser-known malts occasionally pop up as official bottlings through, for example, Diageo’s Flora and Fauna series; others can be found through independent bottlers such as Cadenhead, Douglas Laing and Gordon & MacPhail.
This pack celebrates both those Speysiders you’ve heard of and those that you’ll probably never have heard of, let alone tried. Included are two old favourites, albeit one in a different guise: Glenfiddich’s wonderful and inexpensive Rich Oak 14 and Tomintoul’s peated Old Ballantruan. Also included are the Benromach 10 and two rarities: Glenglassaugh’s Revival (so called because the distillery recently reopened after years of being mothballed) and an independent bottling of a Glenallachie, arguably Speyside’s least-known distillery.

Benromach 10 year old

Purchased by Gordon & MacPhail in 1998 after a period of closure, Benromach is the smallest working distillery on Speyside, although there are plans to double production to meet increasing demand. Like BenRiach and Tomintoul, it also produces excellent peated malts. This unpeated expression was released in 2009 and is matured in 80% bourbon casks, 20% sherry hogsheads, before a final period of 12 months’ maturation in first fill oloroso casks.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Soft, mellow and sweet with a hint of richness. Lightly-spiced. Oranges and lemons. Cocoa powder.
Palate: Sprightly and soft, with more of the citrus and chocolate and a light spiciness. A medium, sweet and spicy finish.

Retails for around £34

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Old Ballantruan

A bit of an unusual beast, this. Distilled at the Tomintoul distillery, this is one of a handful of heavily-peated Speysiders available. Like the BenRiach Curiositas, it shows that it isn’t only the islanders that can produce good peated whisky. This is also bottled at an unusually high strength of 50% and unchill-filtered, which should make it a serious contender for peatheads everywhere who want to cast their nets that bit wider.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Bonfire toffee. Farm-yardy. Dry, sweet peat with a hint of coconut milk.
Palate: Heavy and yet in many ways restrained and chocolatey peat with more than a nip of oak. Once the peat recedes, it descends into a long, fruity, coconut and vanilla finish.

Retails for around £35

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Glenallachie 1999 Connoisseurs Choice

Glenallachie must rank as one of the least-known malt distilleries in Scotland, despite having a capacity that puts it in the top 30 in terms of output in Scotland, almost all of which goes into Chivas blends.
In some ways, it’s very unusual to drink a whisky where you have absolutely no idea what to expect, making it arguably easier to be objective about the qualities it does have, rather than what you think it should have. This is incredibly soft but hugely drinkable, particularly on a summer’s day.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Incredibly light and soft. Spicy. Melon. Shortbread.
Palate: Spicy, sugary and fruity. The blue licorice (you know, the disc-shaped ones you get in packs of licorice allsorts) holds the oak in check. Orange zest.

Retails for around £35

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Glenglassaugh Evolution

Another distillery hit by closure, Glenglassaugh was purchased and reopened in 2008 after being closed since 1986. In 2013, it was purchased by BenRiach, and, if it turns out half as good as their whiskies, we’re in for a treat. It is pronounced Glen-Gla-Soch for those who were wondering (all of us, probably) although there is some confusion as to whether it is actually a Highland and a Speyside malt, not that it really matters. This expression is matured in first-fill, George Dickel, Tennessee casks. It is always great to see a mothballed distillery brought back from the dead and given the investment it deserves.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Vanilla ice cream. Limes. Oak. Buttery. Apple drops.
Palate: Buttery and spicy, then an apple and blackcurrant crumble with lashings of cream and a citrus twist.

Retails for around £58

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Glenfiddich Rich Oak 14 Year Old

Another cracker from the people who made the single malt the success it is today. This expression is matured in American bourbon casks for 14 years, before two further periods of maturation: 12 weeks in virgin European oak and a further 6 weeks in new American oak. As usual, Glenfiddich has surpassed itself. The combination of finishes in virgin American and European oak is a first for the industry.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Clean, fruity and fragrant (jasmin?). Oranges. Stewed apples and cloves. Ripe grapes.
Palate: Mellow, soft and rounded. Aromatic. Ginger cake. Light spice. Sultanas. Fabulous balance. Proof that for a distillery at the top of its game, look no further than Glenfiddich.

Retails for around £35

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