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Sep 14

Newcomers Whisky – September: Berry Bros & Rudd whiskies

 

Is there a better way to wrap up a long, hot, humid summer than with a Newcomers Whisky Club meeting? I think not! And especially if you have a special treat in store!

2015_09_NWC_Berrys_Cover
The theme for the evening was Baseball Whisky Been Berry, Berry Good to Me! (an obvious and very blatant co-opting of the Saturday Night bit by Garrett Morris, and, yes, I finally got the right character and photo!) So how did the theme link to whisky? Simple, really, we had a line-up of whiskies bottled by Berry Bros & Rudd, the very respected and long-established Wine & Spirits Merchants based in London, England.

With over 300 years operating from their St. James location, Berry’s has become a renowned supplier of wine, whisky, rum and all sorts of spirits worldwide. And yet, despite their global presence, the company remains personal enough that their Spirits Manager, Doug McIvor, responded to an email request the day after it was sent, providing additional information pertaining to the whiskies in our line-up! Thanks, Doug!!

 

 

So, what was IN our evening’s line-up?

We had a rather special selection of single cask whiskies, including a single grain whisky from one of Scotland’s largest, grain whisky distilleries, a distillery with a massive output but that is relatively unknown as a stand-alone whisky as most of their production goes into a number of blended whiskies. We also tasted two Speyside whiskies, one Highland whisky, and two whiskies from the island of Islay!

2015_09_NWC_Berrys

The whiskies ranged in age from 14 years-old to 25 years-old and were all bottled unchillfiltered and without the addition of e150a caramel coloring – natural spirits, YEA! The Single Grain whisky was matured in a refill ex-sherry hogshead and bottled at a cask strength of 57% abv, the others were all from refill hogshead casks and bottled at 46% abv. All of the whiskies were purchased from Total Wine & More.

 

We started out the with a Single Grain whisky, produced by the North British Distillery Company Ltd.  This whisky was 18 years-old, distilled in 1996 and bottled 2015, and came from Cask #224751. Total Wine: $99.99

Next up, we had one of two whiskies from the Speyside region, a a 14 year-old Speyside single malt whisky from the Dailuaine distillery, owned by global drinks giant, Diageo. Dailuaine is one of two whiskies in that line-up from distilleries that the club had never sampled before – at least as a single malt – as much of the whisky produced at the distillery goes into Johnnie Walker blends. The bottle that we sampled was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2013, from Cask # 10477. Total Wine: $64.99

Our third whisky of the evening was a 17 year-old single malt from the Benrinnes distillery, another “first-timer” distillery for us and another Speyside distillery owned by Diago that produces whisky mostly for the blended whisky market. Our bottle was distilled in 1997 and bottled 2015, it was from Cask #9631. Total Wine: $99.99

The fourth whisky in our line-up was from the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay. This whisky was a 20 year-old single malt distilled in 1992, bottled in 2013 and coming from Cask #3793. While the Bruichladdich distillery produces peated whiskies under their Port Charlotte and Octomore labels, the core ‘Laddie” whiskies, like this one, are unpeated. Total Wine: $109.99

Fifth on our list was a Highland single malt whisky from the Glen Garioch distillery. Located in the town of Oldmeldrum, Glen Garioch is considered to be the easternmost distillery in Scotland; it is also arguably one of the oldest, dating back to 1797. Total Wine: $129.99

Our final whisky was a 25 year-old, unpeated, single malt from the Islay distillery of Bunnahabhain. This whisky was distilled in 1990 and bottled 2015, coming from Cask #1535. Total Wine: $154.99

 

This was a very interesting line-up. With the exception of the North British single grain, which gave us some insight into a style, or type, of whisky that is foundational to many of the blended whiskies on the market, the range of single malts we tasted offered us a unique opportunity to take a look at a series of whiskies from different distilleries, from different regions, that were all matured in the same type of cask. As a result, we had an opportunity to explore the the core spirit from these distilleries as well as to assess the impact of aging to see how they compared.

While there was a common thread in all of the single malts because of the type of cask – refill hogshead casks which brought out vanillins, soft oak spices, and ripe fruits – there were subtle, but notable variations amongst the various whiskies. It is fun to speculate on what actually drives the variations! Are they the result of singular production differences (i.e. fermentation time, length of distillation, still design, etc), or possibly the type of barley used, or do they come from the ‘terroir’ of the distillery, or is it linked to the length of maturation. I think it is rather obvious that all these factors likely play a role in the final product, but that is part of the fun in doing all this “whisky research!”

 

The list of whiskies offered as part of the Berry’s Own line is quite broad, at least here in Texas (at Total Wine), and I’ve had some real stunners from this range. I’ve previously tried a Littlemill, a Caperdonich, and a Mortlach that were all phenomenal, and I also have a bottle of the Berry’s Blue Hanger (7th Edition), a blended whisky produced by Berry’s that is an exceptional blended whisky that you should try if you have the chance. All I can say is that so far the quality of the Berry’s bottlings that I’ve sampled have been good to great, so I look forward to continuing to explore what they bring to the market…and highly recommend you do the same!

Anyway, it was another fun evening with some highly enjoyable whiskies. A couple of folks even said that this was their favorite tasting of all the NWC tastings we had! I call that a Success!!

 

 

3 comments

  1. David

    My father and I just tried the Berrys 17 single malt from cask 9631. We got the bottle as a gift and are both novices at drinking scotch and identifying the different notes.. We have really enjoyed it but I imagine it will take years to drink it all. You reviewed more the distiller than individual bottles and was wondering how you would rank this bottle vs other scotchs. We need a base line to make an informed decision on future scotch purchases.

    1. ESanford

      Hello David, welcome to the blog, as well as the world of scotch whisky – it’s a fun journey! There is so much variation between distilleries and even styles of whiskies from the same distillery, that this exploration can keep you entertained for a long time….which is all part of the fun!

      Doing side-by-side tastings is a great way to begin to do some comparison tastings for your own evaluations because you get immediate feedback on what you like better about one whisky over another. There are a number of great whisky sites (and maybe you’ve found some of them already) that can offer information, relative ratings, etc to help you with any future purchases you might want to make. whiskybase.com is an international member-driven site with reviews and ratings, malt-monitor.com is a site that has posted reviews from members of the Malt Maniacs group (on Facebook) who are incredibly experienced and can offer insight and information. Maltmadness.com is a site that has a tremendous amount of information compiled by Johannes van den Heuvel.

      Although you omitted the distillery name, based on the age and cask number you reference, I assume you’re asking about the Benrinnes. Understand that when I host these NWC tastings I really don’t get much time to explore or evaluate the individual whiskies because I am pouring, giving out information on the bottle or answering questions, which means that, as I’ve done here, I generally just provide a sort of broad overview with the intent that I will subsequently do post a more in-depth evaluation on the specific whiskies. Honestly, I don’t even bother to “score” the whiskies at the NWC tastings for that reason. Also, understand that the scores that I do assign on any review are my own, personal impressions – I just add that so you take care in evaluating future purchases based on any one person’s conclusions. After time you can start to see if your “ratings” of a whisky tend to coincide or differ from someone else’s reviews which is helpful as you look for recommendations or just feedback.

      With that being said, I would place this particular whisky in the low to mid-80’s range (reserving the right to change my result when I finally sit down with enough time to properly assess this whisky!), which means, based on my scoring hierarchy, that it is slightly above average. As I recall, this Benrinnes was quite enjoyable, had nice body with a good range of flavors, but perhaps lacked some complexity and finish. But it is important to remember that this Benrinnes, as well as all of one’s from this NWC Tasting, are “single cask” releases, so another cask of the same age, from the same distillery, released by the same bottler (Berry Bros) could be vastly different – and might have no similarity to any official release from the actual distillery!

      Setting a personal “base line” is good, but I’d recommend you look to some of the standard “official bottlings” – those released directly by the distillery – as you try to establish your own reference. Balvenie 12 Double Wood, Glenmorangie 10, Dalmore 12, Old Pulteney and a few others are entry-level official releases that are relatively inexpensive and will give you an idea of good quality whiskies with some differing styles. The Balvenie and Dalmore tend to lean to a sherry-maturation while the Glenmorangie and OP are more ex-bourbon cask maturations, so you can start to understand the impacts of cask-type. Ardbeg 10, Port Charlotte (PC releases from Bruichladdich), Lagavulin 16, Kilchoman are whiskies from Islay that will introduce you to the world of peated whiskies, if you haven’t ventured down that road, yet. For those, I’d suggest trying one at a bar to see how you like it before forking over the money for a full bottle. Some people aren’t fans of peat!

      Enjoy the journey!

  2. mike d

    I may have to unsubscribe from the group. You all are having too much fun while I lounge around down under.

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