This was the fourth official Toronto Whisky Society event of 2017. Gordon Stephenson is the global spirits ambassador with International Beverage Holdings and is here to walk us through a tasting of various their whiskies. Their five distilleries are represented here. Putleney, Balblair, Speyburn, Knockdhu (anCnoc), & Balmenach – their largest distillery, exclusively used for blends and their gin. They used to do drum maltings at most of their facilities but no longer do their own maltings at any of their distilleries. They have brought a large selection of bottles that they import for us to try. There are some new releases and special selections that are not going to be available at the LCBO.
Here are some details of each dram we tried tonight:
James Catto’s 12 yr blended , 40% ABV
Founded 1861, James Catto owned a grocery store and made his own blend- which may sound similar to another blends history. One of the first exported across the world as his friend owned a shipping company. No peated whisky in the blend at all. Includes malt from all 5 distilleries with a high malt content – above 30%.
Quick Notes: Flowery, light, easy drinking with a bit of mineral flavour.
Speyburn Braden Orach, 40% ABV
Their entry level single malt. Speyburn was founded in 1897 by John Hopkins for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Its unique water source is a tributary into the river Spey which is on the other side of the hills from other distilleries. They doubled the capacity of the distillery last year and have 3 stills and a larger wash pot still. They are building up stock and are going to be able to launch a 15 and 18 year old version within the next year. This bottling is NAS, and the name is Gaelic for Golden Salmon. It’s matured in ex bourbon casks and is around 6-8 years old.
Quick Notes: Grass, easy drinking with soap, light citrus fruit and enjoyable finish.
Balblair 1997-2013, 46% ABV
Their super premium brand and is the oldest distillery in the highlands at 1870. The name means battlefield. They aim to release their whisky as “vintages timed to perfection”. The distillery manager noses each barrel and decides when they are ready, then they bottle it and release as a vintage. They’re not tied to releasing anything at a specific time and will do multiple releases of the same vintage with different times spent in the barrel. This will show the evolution of the vintage over time. These are batches from each vintage and they try to get batches that will last 2-3 years. This was matured in 2nd fill American bourbon casks. They find 1st fill for Balblair is too strong and can overpower the whisky. The movie Angel’s Share was shot at Balblair.
Quick Notes: Honey, flowers, fresh, chocolate notes, long finish, very easy drinking at 46%
Balblair 1990-2017, 46% ABV
An older vintage from Balblair, this whisky spent 21 years in 2nd fill ex-bourbon and was then finished in 1st fill Spanish Oroloso for 6 years.
Quick Notes: Rich with chocolate, raisins, figs, thick mouth feel, caramel, cashews.
Old Pulteney New Make, 68.9% ABV
This distillery was founded in 1896 in Wick by Pulteney, who was the governor, and is one of the most northerly distilleries in Scotland. Wick was known for exporting whisky and herring, often referred to as their gold and silver. At the time the average person was drinking half a litre of new make a day straight from the still. in 1947, The town was dry due to prohibition, but the distillery was still operating. Wick has 8000 people in the town with 60 bars during the peak of fishing season. The distillery is right on the coast and is largely influenced by the sea. Old Pulteney is their flagship brand and typically has Big fruit and vegetal flavours, salt, fish and maritime notes and those were evident in the new make as well.
Old Pulteney 1990 Triple Matured, 51.2% ABV
Gordon brought a special treat for us, straight from the Old Pulteney lab. He had people make a special blend from 3 different casks. Those three casks held whisky from at least 1990 that were ex-bourbon, ex-oloroso and ex-peated (Laphroaig). He doesn’t know if they’ll be bottling anything like this, but the general consensus was they should!
Quick Notes: Medium on the peat with a big coastal note, sea spray and warm raisins and plums. Heavier peat and smoke on the palate. Malty finish which lingers a long time.
anCnoc Rascan, 46% ABV
anCnoc is made at the Knockdu distillery, in a town with a total of 38 people. As Gordon put it, “Everything about it is a little different”. Founded in 1894 and is looked at as a more modern distillery. Knockdu is Gaelic for ‘black hill’ and anCnoc means ‘hill’. The distillery has 8 people working there and operates 24 hours a day with only 2 weeks off a year: at Christmas and one week in the summer, in case Scotland gets some sun. Generally one person in the distillery at a time and they work in shifts. They only have 2 stills, same as Balblair, but are aiming to produce 2 million litres of alcohol a year. This is a very green distillery and they have a potted plant filtration system to send water back into the river. It’s a Highland single malt right on the edge of Speyside.
Originally they were a peated distillery had gotten away from that over the years. They decided to get back to their roots and started a peated series and this is the 9th release, each of which are named after a tool used in peat production. About 6000 bottles were released of each globally. Their peat is different from a lot of peat on Islay with less iodine and more campfire giving off sweet and floral notes. This release has 11.1 PPM of peat, and is about 11 years old, aged in ex-bourbon casks.
Quick Notes: Very floral and light with a hit of peat and peat more on the nose than palate. Easy drinking peat with a bit of vegetal notes.
Old Pulteney Stroma Liqueur, 35% ABV
Liqueur made at Old Pulteney. Stroma is an island nearby known for its bad currents and no one lives there now as its previous inhabitants abandoned it. The farmer that owns it keeps his sheep there. It’s made from Old Pulteney single malt whisky plus a few additives to make it sweeter. They bottle it at a higher strength of 35% vs some other liqueurs, so that it keeps more of the whisky profile. The whisky in it is a mix of 3 year old and some 12 year old. Malcolm the head distiller and manager says it’s great to cook with and perfect on ice cream.
Quick Notes: Very sweet lots of fruit with banana strawberries. Surprise of the night as it is very sweet fruity. Syrupy and delicious.
Overall, everyone was impressed with the tasting and the event as a whole. The Balblair 1990 and Old Pulteney 1990 Triple Matured ended up splitting votes for the favourite of the night. The Stroma also impressed everyone, and after the formal tasting, some of us mixed it together with the peated anCnoc to make a cocktail Gordon referred to as a Rusty Sail. Big thanks to Trevor and Gordon for the great line-up of whisky, the informative descriptions and stories, and for spending a few hours with a group of whisky geeks from Toronto!