Friday 17 May 2013

Comparison: Scapa 16 Year Old versus Scapa 14 Year Old

Scapa 16 Year Old (40%, distiller's bottling)

nose: light, dry(-ish) and fruity. Not smoky
palate: sweet and easy. Marzipan, battenburg cake. It's somewhat empty in the finish. Coming back to it later, it is noticeably light bodied. There's a definite attractive marzipan sweetness.

Scapa 14 Year Old (40%, distiller's bottling)

nose: slightly smoky (a rooty kind of peat), gristy, with lots of raw cereal notes. Over time, richer fruit notes evolve.
palate: sweet and rounded. There's a slight marzipan note, but less so than in the 16. Very easy to drink. hardly any smoke except late in the finish.


I wasn't really expecting to find any peat in either dram - I know that I'm sometimes deceived by the wood flavours in teenage or older drams, and I wondered if that's what has happened here. However, consulting the Malt Whisky Yearbook I learn that Scapa practices fermentations of up to 160 hours (the longest in Scotland), which can lead to the presence of acrolein, which is said to have a burnt smell.

These are both decent drams, no more, no less. I have a slight preference for the (discontinued) 14 year Old, because of the smoky woody burnt note.

About Scapa

The distillery, which is a near neighbour to Highland Park on Orkney, is owned by Pernod Ricard, who have not really promoted it (understandable,since they also own Glenlivet and Aberlour, amongst others).

It was built in 1885. After various changes of ownership it was taken over in 1954 by Hiram Walker who then proceeded to install a Lomond still (in 1959). The distillery was mothballed from 1994 to 2004. Following extensive renovations it was sold to Pernod Ricard. The 16 Year Old is the only readily available bottling, while the 14 Year Old was discontinued in 2008.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Distilllery Visit: Tamdhu

Tamdhu is a Speyside distillery which was built by a cross-industry group of investors in 1897 just as the late Victorian whisky boom was peaking.

The new owners, Ian Macleod Distillers, took over two years ago in 2011. The brand has now been relaunched, and to mark the occasion they invited me to lunch at the distillery (there might have been a few other people there too).

Tamdhu was built to provide malt for blending purposes. Indeed, it wasn't released as a single until 1976. And even in more recent times the previous owners, Edrington, didn't really do much to promote Tamdhu as a malt whisky, which is understandable seeing as they have the distractions of Macallan and Highland park to play with.

They did, however, pursue a policy of filling the spirit into sherry barrels, which means that the newly launched 10 Year Old  is 100% sherry matured, a rare distinction amongst core whisky brands these days.

We are told by Leonard Russell, managing director of Ian Macleod, that as of 2013 there are ten years of sherry cask stock on hand, that the policy of filling exclusively into sherry barrels is to be continued, and that Tamdhu will be repositioning itself upmarket.

It's interesting to note that Tamdhu fills at 69% rather than the industry standard 63.5% - perhaps as a way of economising on the use of ever more expensive sherry barrels.

Not the prettiest distillery in the world

Distillery manager Sandy Coutts explaining how Tamdhu does things

Some of the stills - I couldn't fit them all into the shot!

After the presentation we were shown round the distillery, which isn't open to visitors at the moment. Perhaps as a consequence of that, the place isn't quite as spruced up as, for example, Glenfiddich. To my mind, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Distilleries are busy factories, and if they're sometimes a little worn round the edges, never mind - as long as the whisky tastes good.

At the end of the tour we were led through a tasting of the new ten year old expression, along with a limited edition (how limited I'm not sure. Certainly we won't be able to stock it in the shop).

The Ten Year Old is a good solid example of sherried whisky. The nose has brown sugar, raisins, sherry, and a sweet toffee note. The palate carries on from the nose, adding a generous dose of beery malt to the sherry, raisins, and brown sugar. What I find most interesting is that the sherry character seems qualitatively different to expressions of Highland Park and Macallan I have tasted recently Different, and to my taste, better.

This difference in sherry character, I believe, can only be due to Ian Macleod's cask selection criteria, since these barrels were filled by Edrington. To speculate, I'd suggest that since there isn't the same sort of demand for Tamdhu as for Highland Park or Macallan, Ian Macleod are able to reject lower quality barrels which Edrington would be forced to use.

(I'm well aware that I'm comparing apples with oranges here. Nevertheless)

However it came about, I like the sherry character of Tamdhu 10. It's a tasty drop; quite middle of the road, but very well put together in a way that will have wide appeal. And it looks like it's going to be a pretty decent price too - somewhere in the mid to upper thirties I believe.

Well done to Tamdhu for producing this tasty malt, and well done to Ian Macleod for not messing about with it. Long may they continue.