Look who’s back! After a multi-month hiatus due to general business/ potential laziness, The Whisky Mafia has risen from the ashes and is born anew. When last we left off, I presented you all with My 10 Favourite Scotch Whisky Distilleries, a post that spawned much heated and furious debate. Today, I’ll be taking a more relaxed and meandering approach to whisky-related list making, and take a run through 10 of the Scotch whisky distilleries I’m currently intrigued by. Without further preamble, I present you, dear readers, with my list (presented in no particular order, and grouped by category):
Well Established Distilleries I’ve Never Tried:
10) Blair Athol
I don’t believe I’ve even seen a whisky from Highland distillery Blair Athol anywhere in the real world. A large part of this rarity is due to the fact that there are no regular official distillery bottlings of Blair Athol, apart from a 12 year old release in Diageo’s semi-official Flora & Fauna range. The malty heart of Bell’s blended whisky, this distillery is said to produce single malts of a particularly nutty and spicy character that lends itself especially well to ex-Sherry maturation (a style I’m naturally quite keen on). Touted by many as an overlooked and underrated distillery of the first order (The Whisky Exchange calls it, “a great, but sadly neglected Highlander“) , I’d be more than pleased to at long last track one of these puppies down.
9) Glen Keith
Rare as hen’s teeth, as they say, is the whisky from Speyside’s Glen Keith. While there is a fairly recent NAS official bottling on the market, sightings of Glen Keith in the wild, even from the independents, are quite rare indeed. I first became aware of the distillery’s existence reading Whiskyfun, in a post where Serge Valentin declared Glen Keith as, “usually to my liking!” before going on to rate a batch of early 1990’s indie releases in the high 80-point range. “What a weird name” I remember thinking, and one that rang no bells whatsoever. I did a little digging and found little additional information, apart from the fact that the distillery was founded in 1957 as primarily an experimental outlet for original owner Seagram. Toying with alternate distillation methods, yeast types, and even producing a heavily peated variant called Glenisla that employed the use of peated water (!?) at one time in its history, today’s distillate at Glen Keith is said to be of the exceedingly fresh and fruity variety. Intriguing stuff indeed.
Young & Recently Rebooted Distilleries:
I’ve been lucky enough to try exactly one release from Wolfburn, and must say that despite the barely-legal age of the whisky, the intrinsic quality of the spirit was able to shine through thoroughly. With production at the distillery starting in the incredibly recent past of 2013, Wolfburn famously supplanted Pulteney as the most northerly single malt distillery on the Scottish mainland. Still in its relative infancy, Wolfburn has managed to attract heaps of attention and acclaim within whisky circles, and produces an uncompromisingly bold and spicy malt to match its lupine name and branding. I’m excited to watch the continued evolution of this Highland beastie.
Landing decidedly in the “reboot” side of this category, Glenglassaugh was originally founded in 1875 before being mothballed in 1907, not to be properly opened again until 1960. After falling silent for another 22 years between 1986-2008, Glenglassaugh is more or less starting from scratch after enduring such a long period of inactivity. Firmly back on the scene and with a handful of tantalizing new releases under its belt, the distillery looks to be on the road to producing some truly memorable malt whisky in the years to come. Glenglassaugh has also become a fast favourite of my pal and whisky confidant Adam Bradshaw. Always a good sign, in my book.
Making the news just last month with a slew of brand new official bottlings, things at GlenAllachie distillery in Speyside have probably never been more exciting. While not being revived from the dreaded mothballs that have sadly doomed many a malt distillery, GlenAllachie has nonetheless undergone a recent renaissance at the hands of current owner Billy Walker. A famed whisky magician responsible for the revitalization of BenRiach, GlenDronach and the aforementioned Glenglassaugh distilleries (before their sale to Jack Daniels owner Brown-Forman for a tidy sum in 2016), Walker purchased the distillery in 2017 and set to work on a total re-brand and overall of the once obscure GlenAllachie. With an eye, nose, and palate for high quality whisky done the right way, master blender Walker and his group promise big things in the very near future.
Distilleries That Have Yet To Open:
I had the good fortune to meet Andrew Laing of Hunter Laing fame in the days leading up to the 2017 Victoria Whisky Festival, and during our conversation he casually dropped in a tidbit about opening Ardnahoe distillery on Islay. Completely unaware that Hunter Laing, an independent bottler I’ve been a fan of for years, was opening their first single malt distillery, and on the famed island of Islay no less, I was flabbergasted by the news. I’ve gobbled up every bit of information on the distillery I could find since that day, and with an opening date set for sometime this year, I must say I’m quite excited to see what the Laing family has in store. The addition of Whisky Wizard and former Bruichladdich master distiller Jim McEwan to the team only sweetens the deal.
Co-founded by my friends Kelly and Rob Carpenter (who were also my colleagues/de facto bosses while I was in charge of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society here on Vancouver Island), alongside Scotch whisky icon David Robertson, Holyrood Distillery is still in the fairly early goings of preparing to jump off the ground. With an expected opening date sometime in 2019, Holyrood will be the first single malt distillery to grace the streets of Edinburgh in nearly 100 years. I know little else about the project, aside from the fact that Kelly and Rob are good Canadian kids who know and love damn good whisky, and that’s good enough for me.
Interesting Distilleries Requiring Further Exploration:
I’ve had one dram of Tomatin that I can recall, and I will admit it wasn’t anything too special (a miniature of an older bottling of Tomatin Legacy if I’m not mistaken). I am not dissuaded by this one mediocre experience however, as all evidence points to Tomatin as a particularly multi-layered and unique malt worth delving into. One of my whisky holy grails is to track down some 1970’s Tomatin, much of which is legendarily bursting with notes of tropical fruits like mango and papaya, a style that is all but lost in today’s whisky landscape. All signs also point to a recent resurgence at this Highland distillery as well, with a slew of well-received age-stated releases making their way to market in recent years. High on my to do list, to be sure.
In contrast to my relative inexperience with Tomatin, I’ve had a chance to sample a nice handful of Balblair releases. While I’ve always been pleased with Balblair’s malts, I still feel as if I’m at the precipice of a much deeper and prettier rabbit hole. The fresh, fruity style of this Highlander is certainly appealing, and I’m fairly certain that further exploration will merit deeper love. Beautiful packaging and “vintage” age statements only add to the intrigue. I’ll chalk up some of my current interest in part to Ralfy’s recent love letter to Balblair; a tour de force of his usual rambling, esoteric monologue style. This distillery is one to watch to potentially supplant one of my 10 favourite as soon as I’m able to get some more of the stuff in my Glencairn. I’ve yet to actually own a bottle of Balblair, and that seems to be a serious hurdle in my quest to reach further whisky enlightenment.
“The Beast Of Dufftown”
With a nickname like that, it’s hard not to be immediately intrigued. Scotcwhisky.com describes Mortlach distillery as, “home of the most fiendishly complex distillation regime in Scotland.” Deliberately monstrous, meaty and sulfury, this Speyside malt is by all accounts not for the faint of heart. One of my favourite recent malt moments was stumbling across a Whiskyfun review in which Serge waxes poetic about a 1985 official bottling, delivering some of the most unexpected tasting notes I’ve ever read, “This is no whisky, it’s a sandwich!” I’ve yet to experience the weight of these super heavy offerings however; my primary experiences have been with the timid and underwhelming Rare Old, as well as a few SMWS releases, that while bold and well composed, did not quite live up to the hype surrounding this legendary cult distillery. With news of a revamped core lineup of official bottlings, my chances of doing battle with a truer incarnation of The Beast have hopefully sharply increased.