Translate Caskstrength!

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Let's Spey Together.... Part One

Enough is enough. In our 2 year existence and after so many good Speyside drams, it was time to brace the wallets and hit Northern Scotland. Yes, we’re back on tour! Joel and Neil hit Speyside (...and one Highland distillery ;-) )

Our journey starts at Aberdeen Airport...’s an Airport in Aberdeen. That’s about all we can say about Aberdeen Airport (no Bruce Grobbelaar this time, sadly)

One hour later, driving through windy back roads of the Scottish Highlands, we spied our first Distillery of the tour: Royal Lochnagar!

Royal Lochnagar is a beautiful distillery with only 2 stills, knocking out around 450,000 litres of alcohol a year. To put that in to scale, that’s just under half the 1,000,000 litres Ardbeg pumps out, but much more than Edradour’s 90,000!* The tiny distillery sits on the edge of the Balmoral Estate, which is where it gained its Royal Warrant, although it no longer holds this.

There are stories dating back from Victorian times of various members of the Royal household popping in for a wee dram and a chat. Unfortunately for the staff, all they got today was two slightly over excited English bloggers.

(*figures courtesy of the Malt Whisky Year Book)

We set about a tour of the distillery with manager Donald Renwick, who has an incredible wealth of experience in distillation, including a recent stint as manager of Lagavulin. There are many unusual quirks to Lochnagar- Check out the open mash tun below, which turns the stillroom into a Turkish Bath!

As well as some superb cask samples, Donald treated us to a vertical tasting of the Royal Lochnagar range, including the 12yo, Select Reserve and the wonderful Distillers Edition, extra matured in ex- Muscat casks, which gave the whisky a wonderful nutmeg/rice pudding aroma.

Royal Lochnagar - Distillers Edition - 40%

Nose: Immediate fruitiness, with mandarin oranges, stewed fruits and some sharp citrus elements giving a very fresh and summery feel. With water, some dried grass notes come to the fore, with a floral lavender and over time, a wonderful warming nutmeg covered rice pudding. (Oh I could so easily eat a bowl full right now... better have another dram!)

Palate: Pine nuts, more nutmeg, into a sweet, but slightly aromatic licorice flavour, reminiscent of Bassett's Allsorts (the ones covered in little blue bobbles)

Finish: Drying wood spices, but the floral and licorice notes linger for a very pleasing conclusion.

Overall: Not as well known as the other Distillers Editions, like Lagavulin, Caol Ila or Clynelish, but certainly up there in terms of enjoyment. The effect of the final maturation in the Muscat cask has done little to dent the distillery character but has enhanced the overall flavour and aroma profile. Highly recommended.

The effect of cask type was high on our agenda for this trip and we were very keen to experience as many good and bad examples of maturation (including a cask sample drawn from an old and rather overly woody Cardhu which had almost certainly seen better days)

In our next post, we visit Speyside Cooperage and take our mild obsession with wood to flaming extremes!

Our time in Lochnagar was woefully short but many thanks to Donald and his colleague Stuart for their time, experience and most of all, excellent whiskies. The shop at Lochnagar is a real treat in particular, with a huge collection of the Rare Malts range, which had us both slavering.

The drive to Dufftown is supposedly around an hour if you take the most direct route, but who wants to be efficient, when you're surrounded with scenery like this....!

So we kicked back and literally took the high road, passing by one of Scotland's better known ski resorts- Lecht. Having never been skiing, it is pretty terrifying to see just how steep the runs actually are as we pass by them in the car. I think a winter Caskstrength field trip should be on the cards for later this year when the season opens again- we'll certainly be needing a few drams of something decent though to steady our nerves!

In our next post, Joel eats a record number of Findus Crispy Pancakes, we catch up with Glenfiddich's Ian Millar and we watch a very cool man set fire to some wood, all in the name of great whisky....