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Saturday, 3 May 2014

Singleton Of Dufftown - Single Malt Scotch Whisky Tailfire and Sunray

The newspapers in the UK are alive with stories of the British music scene from the mid-1990’s, when ‘Britpop’ lit up the world. British music has always been a major cultural export ever since Wings, only the band The Beatles could have been, released their debut album Wildlife in 1971. They got the ball rolling and it hasn’t stopped since...

From Punk, through to New Wave and beyond, it was through bands like Oxford’s Ride and London’s Lush that Britpop took shape, with highlights coming from Blur, Pulp, Suede, Oasis, Elastica, Ash, Supergrass, Radiohead and a few chosen others.

But, as with any cultural movement, there were a lot of people who jumped on the bandwagon, releasing music which never quite made it. Bands like Menswear, Northern Uproar, Rialto, These Animal Men, Whiteout, Sharkboy, Ultrasound, JJ72, King Adora, Seafood, The Llama Farmers, Sleeper, Marion, Heavy Stereo, Gene, Gaydad, Powder, Salad, 60ft Dolls and other acts whose CD’s and 7” releases when on to be filed under ‘indie landfill’.

The problem with these acts, the almost-rans, is that they didn’t provide any point of difference; nothing unique to make them stand out from the crowd.

The single malt whisky category is in danger of becoming like the Britpop-era music scene. At that time, you could pop into the Good Mixer pub in Camden and meet the lead singer of any band you wanted, good or bad. It was rammed with second hand clothes shop wearing indie hipsters, arguing over the merits of a cravat and brogues or tracksuit top and gazelles. Not much talk of the music was happening.

A similar situation occurs in whisky’s own ‘The Good Mixer’ today: The Whisky Exchange in London Bridge. The shelves are crammed with an ever expanding range of single malts, all vying for your attention and ‘share of throat’ as it is known in the business. But which expressions will win? Which will be the Blur and which the Marion?

Two new expressions which have recently been released by the folk over at Diageo are from the Singleton stable. Singleton is an interesting beast: in a niche of its own when it comes to the malleability of the liquid inside, having bottled single malts from Dufftown, Auchroisk, Glenn Ord and Glendullan so far.

The ‘standard’ release here in the UK is the Singleton of Dufftown 12 Year Old, a whisky which is designed to be easy to drink and doesn’t stray far from that objective. It has a 15 year old sister bottling which gives a little more depth of flavour, but doesn’t push any boundaries or ask any interesting questions.

They have now been joined by two more expression, Sunray and Tailfire (themselves sounding like Britpop almost-rans).

The Singleton of Dufftown – Sunray – NAS – 40% abv - £39.00

Nose:  A nice nose of apricot, honey, some fresh pine notes, a hint of tonic water, tinned pineapple and red apple.

Palate: A slight green veg note at first which develops into cream soda, dried apricots, peaches and pears. Not quite tropical fruit but it flirts with it. Easy and smooth.

Finish: An excellent finish of runny clear honey, more pineapple (chunks this time) and peach melba.

The Singleton of Dufftown – Tailfire – NAS – 40% abv £35.00

Nose: Much more earthy than the Sunray, this has a serried tone to it of dunnage warehouse floor and bung cloth. Fruitier than the Sunray, it has bigger elements of blackcurrant leaf, strawberry and blueberry.

Palate: A spicier palate which takes the red fruits from the nose and adds cinnamon and nutmeg. Some oak tones which add body and complexity to this palate, but do add a bitter overtone as well.

Finish: The nutmeg takes over and leaves a ‘used sherry’ impression at the end.

Overall: We both preferred Sunray, which gives a lighter, more palatable expression of the Singleton of Dufftown and, with a higher proportion of toasted ex-Bourbon casks, this way of maturation seems to be a more comfortable fit for the spirit from Dufftown. Tailfire, with a higher proportion of whisky from European oak casks, seems a little tired, a little too earthy for us. A clear winner at Caskstrength HQ was the Sunray edition. For under £40, this is actually a decent slug of single malt and, to be fair, the comparison between the two is an interesting exercise.

In the past we have discussed how we feel the Singleton of Dufftown at 12 Years Old is a little too underwhelming; an artist taking the popular bits of everyone’s songs and constructing a tune which hits the middle of target but with no personality or appeal. Coldplay, if you will.

However, these two new expressions do indeed show a different side of Dufftown’s output and the Sunray bursts through the clouds to really shine on their spirit; a good, solid release from this distillery. The Tailfire however feels like a bootlegged copy of a good album: lacking in a certain clarity. Ultimately, we are still waiting to see this distillery play live, to really excite us.