The Whisky Tasting Club The Whisky Tasting Club

Speyside Obscura

Five obscure Speyside whiskies you may not have heard of before.

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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 (as is the case with two of the whiskies in this pack: Glenburgie and Miltonduff).

This pack celebrates those Speysiders you’ve probably never heard of, let alone tried, but which deserve better promotion as single malts. Included is a brand new expression from the Speyside distillery, and four old favourites that rarely see the light of day: Tormore, Glenlossie, Miltonduff and Glenburgie. The latter four distilleries were set up, like many, to produce malts for blending, and their malts have consequently proved relatively elusive on the High Street.

Spey 12 year old

The idea for the Speyside distillery was born in 1956 but it took another 21 years for it to become reality. Its previous releases had been a no age statement (Drumguish), and 8 year old and a 10 year old. Now the distillery has released another three expressions, including this, a limited edition expression 12 year old, of 8000 bottles (not that limited, then). Although not a particularly well-known brand in the UK, it is big in Taiwan with sales of over a million bottles per year.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Beautiful rich honey with a sherbet and melon note.
Palate: Vanilla, coconut, citrus, rich honey, toasted nuts, cream with a lightly spiced egg custard finish.

Retails for around £40-45

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Tormore 12 year old

Tormore was the first distillery to be opened in Speyside in the twentieth century with production starting in 1960. If someone was going to give out an award for the prettiest distillery outright, the chances are it would go to Tormore with its splendid architectural features, including a belfry, fountain, curling lake and musical clock which plays four Scottish songs every fifteen minutes. How odd, then, that this most beautiful of distilleries doesn’t play the tourist game. It has no visitor centre and there are no tours for the public, although industry tours can be arranged.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Crisp, clean and zesty. Hint of green apples and sour fruits.
Palate: Pleasant, light and fresh with more green fruit. Slightly vegetal, with an increasing oakiness to the finish.

Retails for around £40-45

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Glenburgie 10 year old

A criminally underrated malt, Glenburgie has been active since 1810 and is one of the signature malts in Ballantine’s blends. Old distilleries may have the romance but they rarely have the efficiency, so the old distillery was demolished in 2003 to make way for a replacement which produces over four million litres of spirit per year. This expression is not an official one, instead being released by independent bottlers, Gordon & MachPhail. The only official release from owners Chivas Brothers has been a cask strength 17 year old. Go find!

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Butter, toffee, raisin milk chocolate, sherry and an earthiness with a sherbet note underneath.
Palate: Rich, voluptuous and a light earthiness with an Eccles cake element. Vanilla and dark chili chocolate with light spice to the finish.

Retails for around £40-45

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Miltonduff 10 Year Old

Not often seen as a single malt, Miltonduff is, like many Speyside distilleries, used primarily for blending purposes. Built on the site of the meal mill of Pluscarden priory near Elgin, Miltonduff was founded in 1824 and was one of the first distilleries to be granted an official licence. It is also one of the ten biggest Scottish distilleries in terms of capacity. Along with Glenburgie, it is a key component in the Ballantine’s blend. Ordinarily, this would be recommendation enough and yet, when it is found as a single malt, it can be a highly rewarding experience for those who like their whisky light, fragrant and elegant.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Fruity, light and gentle with a touch of fudge
Palate: Sweet, firm, grassy and malty with more than a hint of vanilla and spiciness. The finish is rounded, warming and lightly nutty.

Retails for around £40-45

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Glenlossie 10 year old

The older neighbour of Mannochmore (which we will see in the very near future), Glenlossie is a component of the Haig blend. Two years ago, in answer to the increasing thirst for scotch, Glenlossie increased its production to 7 days a week and three million litres of spirit per year. Despite this increase, this “Flora and Fauna” bottling is one of only two official releases, the other being one of Diageo’s Manager’s Choice series. As with most distilleries, though, you can find plenty of other interesting Glenlossies from independent bottlers such as Douglas Laing.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Initially aromatic with meringues and red fruits and a hint of banana and lime. Fading to a soft honeyed sweetness.
Palate: Not as sweet as you’d expect from the nose. Savoury and earthy. Salt and pepper. Full On through to the end.

Retails for around £40-45

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