On the current single malt whisky market, one can quite easily think of the standard bearers of the Highlands. Distilleries like Dalmore and Glenmorangie can be found on most shelves, bearing the Highland designation proudly. What may be a little more difficult is going beyond the fold, name another ten Highland distillers (if you’re feeling confident go for twenty). It shouldn’t be too hard, there are around fifty to choose from. Barring the big name malts, the Highlands of Scotland are home to vast swathes of land containing a milieu of anonymous distilleries, quietly producing malts for blends, independent bottling companies offering the intermittent release of names you have yet to see on the shelves in many other formats. Though these producers are creating malts for the blenders at large, the secret single malt bottlings of these distilleries are something to be marvelled at. Further to be considered is the age of a large portion of these distillers, many dating back to pre-1900s. The Highlands are home to the earliest documented legal whisky producers on the market, many of them still producing spirit in a similar arcane fashion of old. It should be considered that if said distilleries can survive for more than a century, they must be doing something right.
Here are the hidden gems we tried:
Aberfeldy 21 Year – $115
Originally intended for the Dewar’s White Label Blend, this stock nicknamed as “The Golden Dram” has grown into a beautiful distillery offering silky, soft whiskies with just a kiss of smoke in the traditional Highland style. Honeyed, full of Summer and blooming fields of flowers. The smoke in the background doles out a bit of contrast for a sweet-savoury tang. This stuff is delightful and I would reckon it is great as a patio whisky, perfect for a sunny day.
Lismore 21 Year – $150
A release produced by a secret distillery, but rumour has it that this bottling is produced by those whose name rhymes with Ben Cutlass. Traditionally considered to be a Highland distillery as designations go, but technically it falls into the Speyside region if the rumours are true. Sherry cask matured, this release is full of savoury tones ranging from mango sweet onion chutney to mince meat pie. The underlying tones are of basement fruit preserves from the orchard, long forgotten and oxidised. Old and wharf like wood compliment the assortment of savoury tones. A very engaging spirit.
Berry Bros. & Rudd Deanston 1997 – $170
One of my favourite and most varied distilleries, Deanston has a scope of flavours like no other. This offering from our friends at Berry’s is akin to baked apple pie on a windowsill, ready to be served alongside a spoonful of butterscotch drizzled ice cream. The usual farm/barnyard tones aren’t present, instead those of dried nectarines and apricots, cinnamon and nutmeg sprinkled atop the fruits, almost lending to a light handed sherry cask influence. Delicious whisky, a favourite of mine for the night.
Eiling Lim Glenlossie 23 Year – $475
This is a distillery I have tasted all of a dozen different examples of, each one quite unique and slightly enigmatic. Through the usage of a purifier following the spirit still, the distilled vapours will at points be sent back into the still to be re-stilled. In doing so, the spirit becomes grassier and, potentially, more refined. This release is a wild combination of tropical fruits, lemongrass, Asian cuisine, and, as an attendee mentioned, crustacean leftovers. Absolutely wacky, this release is ever changing offering strange and delightful experiences with every taste.
Cadenhead Blair Athol 1997 – $175
Another for the blend market, Blair Athol is generally intended for Bell’s blend. Far from being just another blend in the bottle, Blair Athol is also the best selling single malt in England. This release holds an experience like foraging for blackberries and currants, woodsy, ground foliage, juicy dark berries freshly picked accompanied by a splash of light, lifting citrus. Chewy density and oddly oily, this whisky has character akin to a camel hump, up-and-down rollercoaster.
Cadenhead Royal Brackla 1997 – $160
Only two “royal” distilleries exist in Scotland, the cost to ride the royal train is being a favoured house malt to a recognised royal family. Brackla became King William IV’s court whisky in 1832, since then holding it’s royal title. Whiskies of Brackla don’t generally reflect the opulence of royalty, instead developing understated characters of lemon lime jujubes, delicate seaside brine, hints of peat, heather and pear slices. Easy going yet multi-faceted, enjoy while watching the sun go down.
Cadenhead Tullibardine 1993 – $215
This was my other favourite of the event. Tullibardine, though a new distillery still in it’s younger years, has shown a huge amount of potential through this release and a handful of other independently bottled bombs. This release offers the full range of grain experience, showing barley - freshly hauled from the field, accompanied by dirt clods and earth. Next, the grinder, barley dust everywhere. Somewhere nearby a cooper is making barrels, fresh oak and sawdust mingle with the barley dust. Lastly, tinned pie crust, doughy and comforting, hearkening to an age of four tasting notes ago, pie cooling on a windowsill. This is a bottle I look forward to adding to my collection.
Signatory Glenturret 1987 – $255
For a long while my whisky buying philosophy has been ten dollars a year should start no earlier than 25 years old. Unfortunately, in the current market this rule is slowly becoming untenable, but, this Glenturrent still holds true to Hunter Law. This release is phenomenal to boot, all around a good deal. It’s a ringer, confirmed by the crowd who declared this bottle their favourite whisky of the night. Funny enough this is the main single malt used for Famous Grouse. Maybe we should all drink a little more Fam…no. This whisky is all about spicy decadence, sweetness accompanied by a blast of top notch barrel proof intensity. Blackberry jam, marmalade, butter tart, juicy orchard fruits, black pepper, candied almonds, crystalline demerara, hot spices, my goodness. Just drink the stuff, it’s great.
(To clarify, in my first years at the Wine Market the rule went out all the way to 40-year-old whiskies. If said whiskies were around ten dollars a year, that was a bloody good deal. As time progresses and popularity rises this rule has to be adapted to new age standards. I reckon that 25 years at ten dollars a year is not a bad deal – if anything a great deal in the current climate)
Cut, this movie is bad.