Tag Archives: single malt Scotch

The Glengoyne 12 vs. the Springbank 10

Aaaand in this corner….

OK, so this really is not some kind of “scotch vs. scotch” duel to a single malty death, I merely decided to share observations from a side-by-side tasting I did with expressions from two of the three distilleries I visited last summer. In practice the two distilleries are quite different: Glengoyne prides itself on the “slowest” distillation process, and Springbank has an odd two-and-a-half times distillation method. Glengoyne fervently proclaims that their malt is never peated, and Springbank produces two lines (“Springbank” and “Longrow”) that are either lightly (the former) or heavily (the latter) peated. And maybe it is also not fair to compare a twelve-year-old to a ten-year-old single malt… the more time they spend in the cask, the more the flavor matures and absorbs a greater amount of the character of the wood. But again: this is less of a side-by-side comparison than it is a celebration of the unique traits of each malt. On to the notes!

Glengoyne 12-year-old

A light yellow-amber color. The nose features a pleasant oak aroma, a good deal of pear and some light vanilla characteristics. There is a noticeable burn in the nose when the malt is first poured, this mellows a bit as the malt stays in the glass. The taste is fairly delicate, with more of the pear effect and some other notes of tropical fruit; the oak stays in the background, and the overall sensation is quite smooth. The finish is long despite a somewhat thin texture, and the lingering aftertaste is very clean.

Springbank 10-year-old

A very similar light yellow-amber color, perhaps just a shade darker. Light peat smoke is immediately present in the nose, giving way to some dark stone fruit suggestions and a touch of toffee sweetness. Very little if any alcohol burn is present when the malt is poured. The immediate sensation in the mouth is of a somewhat viscous liquid in which the toffee character becomes predominant; plum notes and a slight peatiness feature in the second layer of taste. The finish is long, and the peat/smoke character lingers considerably more than any of the other taste elements.

Summary: two excellent drams which I will enjoy for quite some time. Which one will I have? It will depend upon my mood… the peatier (Pete-ier?) I feel, the more I will go in the direction of the Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhona – definitely the smokiest of the malts currently in my possession, with the Springbank 10-year-old being perhaps the least peaty. The Glengoyne 12-year-old is quite delicious, and with its smooth texture and lack of peatiness it makes for an excellent change of pace. Sláinte!

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The End of the Quest

So perhaps I have become a little bit of a single malt snob… I tend to purchase whiskies from distilleries I have visited, although I am always happy to drink a dram from parts known or unknown in bars or with friends (don’t let that deter you from the occasional gift of scotch or bourbon!). One particularly memorable single malt that I enjoyed during my visit to Islay two and a half years ago, the Bunnahabhain Cruach Mhòna, had proven impossible to find in the United States. Even the distillery’s website makes no mention of this expression, although I fondly remember how this quite peaty single malt capped off the in-the-dark/no-power tour of Bunnahabhain… was it no longer in production? Did I have a sip of the last batch that was ever produced? That would be a shame. Preceding a trip to Europe over the holidays (which, as usual, would take me through London) I checked into the World of Whiskies website and discovered the Cruach Mhòna among the whiskies for sale… was this a current product that would actually be on the shelves of one of their airport locations? Time to check in with Bunnahabhain directly.

wofw-heathrow

the Heathrow location… will I find it there?

I received a very detailed reply from David at Bunnahabhain, assuring me that Cruach Mhòna is still currently in production. It is a “travel retail exclusive,” meaning that it is not sold at regular liquor stores but is only available for purchase in duty free shops in airports. David explained that Cruach Mhòna is a “non-age-statement,” consisting mostly of whisky that has been aged in bourbon casks for less than ten years; a small amount of older Sherry-cask-aged whiskies are blended into the mix to “sweeten” the overall taste, and the “peat factor” comes in at 25 phenol parts per million (not terribly high when compared to some of the smoke monster whiskies produced by the southern distilleries). He could not give me a reason why it is not listed on the website (as is Eirigh Na Greine, also a travel retail exclusive)… so even though batch no. 9 was recently released, perhaps Cruach Mhòna is a secret….

Armed with this affirmation/information, I visited the Gatwick World of Whiskies on my way to Germany to see if the whisky is actually available – and it was! But I decided to risk waiting to buy a bottle until flying back to the US from Heathrow; fortunately there was no shortage of Cruach Mhòna (from batch no. 8) at this location. A one-liter bottle, it is not an inexpensive whisky, but thanks to a friend who rewarded me generously for proof-reading his dissertation I was able to complete a two-and-a-half-year search for this elusive dram. I was able to take it onto my flight to the US, but thanks to odd TSA liquids regulations it had to be put into checked baggage for the connecting flight despite the fact that it had been packed in a tamper-proof bag at the point of (duty-free) purchase… too bad Bunnahabhain does not have transparent bottles. All’s well that ends well, and the whisky is now “home.”

cruach-mhona

cruach-mhona-description

As wonderful as I remember: a pungent smoky-sweet nose gives way to a more subtle peat flavor complemented by sweet honey notes and hints of pear with a spicy but smooth finish. A beautiful golden color in the glass, Cruach Mhòna is truly a pleasure for the senses – and was well worth the “quest.” Sláinte!

cruach-mhona-dram

The Take

The collection of products that my trip to Scotland yielded…. Sadly, none of this panoply of flavorful malt beverages will accompany me back to the US as I traveled with only a carry-on – but they will be shared in good company before my return trip! I am still curious about the Icelandic birch “whisk(e)y,” bottles of which I may be able to stash in the carry-on… provided that it is good enough to purchase. The folks at the Glengoyne shop pooh-poohed the very idea of a distilled spirit from Iceland, so the gauntlet has been thrown down.

the take

back row: Drygate Ax Man (rye IPA), Drygate-Yeastie Boys Yeastenders (pale ale with kiwi)

front row: Glengyle (mixture of 10- and 11-year old), Glengoyne 18-year-old, Springbank 12-year-old (I think…)

Slàinte mhath!

The Glengoyne Afternoon

The Glengoyne distillery outside of Glasgow makes several unique claims: 1) it is the most scenically located distillery; 2) it has the slowest distillation process; 3) it is the southernmost “Highland” distillery; and 4) it is historically responsible for the Scotch Whisky Association “rule” that a spirit cannot be called a “whisky” until it has matured in a wooden cask for three years and one day. The final claim can be attributed to a taxman who worked at the distillery in the middle of the 19th century, and the third claim is verified by the fact that the road that one must cross from the car park to the distillery is the dividing line between the Highland and Lowland whisky regions (interesting aside: most of Glengoyne’s warehouses are on the other side of the road, making it the only whisky distilled in the Highlands and matured in the Lowlands). The second claim rests on the process by which the temperature of the spirit still is raised very slowly, allowing the alcohol vapors to have a longer amount of contact with the copper sides; this is thought to impart a greater variety of fruit notes upon the finished whisky. Perhaps all distilleries could be polled for the length of time the low wines spend in their respective spirit stills in order to verify this claim, but certainly the first claim is entirely subjective. Not having visited every distillery (and still remembering the scenic farmland location of Kilchoman on Islay), the rolling countryside, forest, and mountains surrounding Glengoyne (and it is pretty much in the middle of nowhere) do make for a scenic location –perhaps one of the most scenic, but as they say: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Lacking the ability to take aerial photographs, this is the best I could do to capture Glengoyne’s setting.

distillery

Before going on the tour (during which photographs inside the distillery were unfortunately not permitted) I took a walk around the back of the visitor centre to have lunch by a pond and within sight of a little waterfall. This was the original water source for the whisky, and it is still used to condense the alcohol vapors back into liquid form as they exit the stills. (The water source for the waterfall is the same as for the reservoir from which treated water is pumped to the distillery.) Spied on the ground was an odd little stone tablet inscribed with the date of the distillery’s “legal” beginnings.

reception

visitor’s reception building

reception & pond

pond behind the reception building

waterfall

waterfall

memorial slab

memorial slab

The distillery is a fairly large complex, with several buildings that may have at one time served as housing for the whisky-making crew. One warehouse is on the Highland side of the dividing line, while the majority of the maturing does take place on the Lowland side.

distillery house

distillery house

garage & sign

garage?

warehouse

main warehouse

warehouses

warehouses

The only inside photographs I was able to take were of the stills (from just barely outside the building): there are three of them, with the leftmost being the wash still and the other two both being spirit stills that run in parallel to distill the low wines… and apparently very slowly.

stills

stills

One of the more interesting features of the tour was a brief stop in the Highland warehouse where bottles of whisky were on display, showing the change in color as the whisky matures in various types of oak casks (each bottle represents one year of aging, from left to right and top to bottom). Also noteworthy is the decreasing amount of liquid in each bottle as the years progress, indicative of the percentage of liquid that escapes the cask during each year of the maturing process (the “angel share”).

warehouse diagram

Most distilleries (and breweries) make claims that the spent grain after the mashing process has been completed is picked up by farmers to use as feed for their livestock; while I know this to be true firsthand from the brewery where I have been working (let me tell you – shoveling the spent grain out of the mash tun and cleaning the false bottom through which the wort progresses into the next stage of the process is not the most fun job!), this may have been the first time that I saw the “draff” being collected at a distillery.

draff pickup

And yes, the Glengoyne whisky is very good. Normally the usual 40% abv (with some cask strength expressions around 58.2% abv and higher), it is totally unpeated, has a clean, crisp flavor with a variety of stone fruit characteristics and some vanilla-caramel notes, and a long finish with just a bit of bite at the end. I had the pleasure of having a dram of the 12-year-old at the beginning of the tour and a dram of the 18-year-old at the end; well worth investigating if/where it can be found in the US.

The Campbeltown Day

A rainy day for distillery tours… at least they were quite informative and yielded two “miniatures” which I can take with me. The tours also included free tastings at the Cadenhead Whisky Shop in “downtown” Campbeltown afterwards, but I only took advantage of the Glenglye dram offer since I had to retrieve my suitcase from the hotel and scamper to the bus stop in order to catch the 3:00 P.M. CityLink no. 926 back to Glasgow (since this bus only runs every two hours being on time is imperative). Having already had a dram of the Longrow (which I doubt would have been the expression offered as a sample) and a tiny bottle of Springbank in hand, it did not seem that I would be missing out on much for the sake of a planned departure.

A quick history of Campbeltown as a Scottish whisky “region”: in its heyday of production, the town had about 1,900 inhabitants and 37 (legal) distilleries. During this period, Glebe Street (right behind Springbank distillery) was considered one of the richest streets in the entire U.K.; as single malt scotch was not a big money-maker at this time, pretty much all of the distilleries were simply making spirits for blending. But demand for Campbeltown spirit was so high that some of the distilleries started to make production short-cuts, leading to an inferior product – at one point a rumor circulated that Campbeltown spirit was being aged in used herring barrels, an explanation for the “off” flavors that were suddenly appearing! When Prohibition was declared in the U.S., whisky sales plummeted (blame the Americans!) and all but two of the distilleries – Springbank and Glen Scotia – went out of business. Fast forward to the early 21st century when single malt scotch has become all the rage: the Scotch Whisky Association declares that for a whisky region to be recognized, it needs to have three operating distilleries; wishing for Campbeltown to remain a distinct “region” due to its history, the owner of Springbank buys the Glengyle distillery up the road – essentially “ending” a family feud during which one of the Springbank heirs had opened up his own distillery (Glengyle) after a falling out with the rest of the family. Interestingly, when the original Glengyle distillery went out of business, the Loch Lomond distillery group (which owns the Glen Scotia distillery) bought the name “Glengyle”; the “new” distillery is called “Mitchell’s Glengyle,” and the whisky they produce is sold under the name “Kilkerran.” And only this year is Glengyle finally able to release a twelve-year-old Kilkerran, after years of experiments and limited releases. (A spirit must be aged in a wood barrel for three years and a day before it can be called “whisky.”) Glengyle is not a full production distillery just yet, as all of the maltings for Kilkerran are done at the Springbank facility – which has been owned by the same family and completed all phases of the whisky-making process (malting, mashing, fermenting, distilling, ageing, bottling) on the same site since 1828!

On to the tours! Glengyle was up first, although it began with a visit to the Springbank maltings floor (see below).

G-sign

G-courtyard

G-Boby mill

an antique “Boby” mill

G-washbacks & mash tun

washbacks; mash tun in the back

G-stills

two stills

G-spirit safe

the spirit safe – the distillery was not in operation the day of my visit

Springbank

SB-signs

SB-floor maltings

floor maltings… the grain had just been spread that morning

SB-malt turner

a malt turner – prevents the germinating barley sprouts from clumping together

SB-furnace with peat

that’s not coal next to the furnace, but peat – sourced from Inverness, it smells different than Islay peat

SB-mill

close-up view of the mill

SB-mash in

mash-in… that “antenna” (remember the Star Trek episode “Shore Leave”?) rotates in the mash and keeps doughballs from forming

SB-mash tun

it’s not a ship, it just looks like one

SB-washbacks

a total of six washbacks; they last for approximately fifty years before the wood begins to warp and leak

SB-stills

three stills: double distillation for Longrow, triple distillation for Hazelburn, and the odd, I-still-can’t-wrap-my-brain-around-it double-and-a-half distillation for Springbank

SB-spirit safe

this spirit safe was in operation

SB-warehouse

a “dunnage” warehouse, meaning that the floor is earthen – the various barrels are not arranged in any particular order on purpose (obviously this is not a German operation)

SB-barrels

barrels are waiting to be used… Springbank (Glengyle) prefers to use sherry casks in order to age all of its whisky, and no barrel is used more than three times

The Day Before

Long train trip, long bus ride… and thanks to mostly grey skies, not the most agreeable weather for soaking in the sights along the way. But all of the connections were timely, and taking the bus along Loch Lomond and along Loch Fyne brought back good memories from the trip to Islay two years ago.

Inverary

Inverary on Loch Fyne (an admittedly crude panorama)

Kennacraig

ferry arriving at Kennacraig

Campbeltown is a pretty little village (when the sun shines); lots of quaint shops and totally walkable, at least as far as the major points of interest are concerned. The harbor is quite scenic, and the view from my hotel room nods to the town’s nautical heritage – from the window the Springbank distillery and one of its warehouses are also visible.

Campbeltown harbor

hotel view

I recommend the Black Sheep Pub (inside the Royal Hotel, where I did not stay) for a good meal and atmosphere; it was here that I made my first local Campbeltown whisky discoveries. The Springbank distillery produces three basic styles in various bottlings, the eponymous Springbank (lightly peated), Longrow (heavily peated in the fashion of an Islay malt, but with a noticeable sweet pear character – pictured below, it was delicious) and Hazelburn (completely unpeated). And much to my surprise, it turns out that there is a third distillery in Campbeltown, Glen Scotia! Too bad my brief visit will only allow me to tour Springbank and Glengyle… next time? When I could add the distilleries on Arran and Jura to the mix, just to check off all (?) of southwest Scotland from the whisky list. So many drams, so little time….

Longrow

Longrow

The Return (not exactly…)

In just over two weeks another trip to Scotland gets under way… distillery tours will again be the primary focus, but this time I am unfortunately not making it all the way to Islay. During the trip two years ago I ran into some (fellow) German whisky tourists who raved about their visit to the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown; they were touring Islay (and the adjoining mainland) by van, so they were able cover a slightly wider geographic range – and also got around a little more quickly than yours truly on a bike. (They had time to take the ferry from Port Askaig across to Jura and visited the lone distillery on that island… Germans tend to be quite organized and efficient.) Even my dad is aware of the Springbank distillery: some time ago he sent me a link to an online article discussing their unique two-and-a-half-times (?!?) distillation process. Well, curious as I am, I have wanted to visit Springbank for some time and will finally do so in mid-June. A second distillery in Campbeltown – Mitchell’s Glengyle – has also recently begun producing whiskies, making the long trip (four hours by bus from Glasgow, after a four-hour train ride from London) “worth the journey.” Passing by the ferry terminal at Kennacraig will bring back fond memories… as long as I am not asleep when that stop is made.

EUS-GLC

Glasgow-Campbeltown Continue reading The Return (not exactly…)