It’s nearing Burns Night – 25th January – so I thought a bit of Scotch would be in order.
You could say Rabbie Burns is one of the first ‘celebrity’ endorsements of whisky – and he’s still going strong today.
My choice of whisky is one I rarely encounter – but the vivid yellow label & green bottle always stands out from the crowd & draws me in.
Cutty Sark has dual meaning.
Rabbie Burns poem Tam o’ Shanter – a tale about drinking & chasing cutty sark or ‘short skirts’ in modern terms – still resonates today.
There was also a famous tea clipper – Cutty Sark – which just happened to be docked in London back in 1923. Berry Bros & Rudd decided to name & launch their new Cutty Sark Blended Scots Whisky on the back of this.
Marketing – when you get it right – it works.
And it’s still working today.
I picked up this miniature in a local off-licence when I spotted it.
The colour is reassuringly pale. There is added caramel – common practice for entry level blends – but not too much.
The nose is rather soft & light – with just a hint of sooty smoke & sweet grainy vanilla.
A very easy entry on tasting.
Nothing very much in the middle – before that gorgeous smoke influence wafts in and just makes this blend sail!
It’s simple yet well balanced.
None of the up to 40 different – and ever changing – single malt & grain ingredients dominate.
The particular bottle I sampled is from Berry Bros & Rudd and presented at 43%.
The brand has since passed through the Edrington Group & subsequently been acquired by French group La Martiniquaise-Bardinet.
It’s a lovely easy drinking yet suitably smoky blend that certainly floats my boat!
Living in the Heart of Ireland next door to the Bog of Allen – the largest peat bog in Ireland covering 950 square kms across 9 counties – I just had to try out this Irish Single Malt from Berry Bros & Rudd.
It celebrates the rich cultural & historical ties Ireland has with these boglands on my doorstep. During the seasons I can smell the burning turf from chimneys on my street, I can see the sods of turf drying in ricks from the motorway as well as a steady stream of tractors & trailers bringing it back home from the bog before the winter sets in.
There are 2 peat – or turf as it is called in Ireland – fired power stations within an hour of my house. A local politician was elected to office on the back of a Turf Cutter’s Association protest over restrictions to bog cutting.
Bogs are the very DNA of Midlands Ireland.
There were 2 whiskey distilleries in Athlone. 2 each in Tullamore, Kilbeggan and Banagher. Birr had up to 4 working distilleries. All within a 30 mile radius and all surrounding the bog with it’s readily available fuel source.
Turf would have been used in the whiskey making process – either to directly fire the stills and/ or to dry the malted barley – thus influencing the character & taste profile of that whiskey.
By the mid 20th century – all of those distilleries closed. Only one kept it’s licence – Kilbeggan – and is now back in production after John Teeling & others started the Cooley Distillery back in 1987.
Cooley Distillery reintroduced peat into the Irish whiskey scene with it’s own Connemara range – as well as many third party bottlings.
Sadly by that time – there were no maltsters producing Irish turf dried barley – nor used Irish turf barrels at hand. All who previously did so were long gone. Such raw materials had to be imported from abroad – usually Scotland.
Craoi na Mona is one such reintroduction.
On the nose there is only a slight welcome waft of smoke on the soft sweet & fruity barley malt.
It’s on tasting a warm roaring turf fire becomes apparent, perfectly balanced by softer fresh fruity notes which start off slightly oily before drifting into a prickly dry sensation.
The smoke lingered like a softly glowing fire at home after an evenings entertainment.
This is a delightfully fresh & almost youthful expression that pleased me no end. I could have stayed all day to embrace it’s charms.
It’s a pity it takes an outside independent bottler to salute the history & tradition of turf cutting in Ireland – but it’s one I’m glad to see.
I just can’t wait for a bottle of Irish whiskey made using Irish turf. Due to the different species of plant that make up that turf – the resultant taste profile will not be the same as Scottish peat – nor Tasmanian peat for that matter – as I found out when I visited that wonderful island here. It’s what’s called ‘terroir’ – and has sadly been missing for a while. Thankfully Nephin Whiskey in Mayo are planning to malt Irish barley with Irish peat as their inaugural release.
Craoi na Mona has been out for a number of years in various expressions. It’s not commonly encountered. But if you do come across it – go for it!
I visited Daftmill Distillery back in August 2017 along with some family members who happen to live nearby.
The visit left me somewhat confused and perplexed, as well as being very impressed all at the same time!
Daftmill is a fully functioning whisky distillery specialising in producing Scottish single malt matured in either ex-bourbon or sherry casks. There is no visitors centre – arrangements have to be made with the owner to gain access to the farm on which the distillery sits.
The farm itself is off the main A91 Cupar to Auchtermuchty road, but there are no signposts pointing the way. When you do find the right farm track to enter, an impressive array of attractive stone built buildings – along with an almost obligatory glass fronted still house – greet you – as well as a welcoming Francis Cuthbert himself.
Our party of 4 were treated to a thoroughly full & informative tour of the premises. From the fields where the barley is grown to the bins used to introduce the malt to the mashtuns. Through the workings of the Forsyth stills and finally into the dunnage warehouse to sample the gorgeous whisky.
Francis was very open & honest about the whole operation and his passion for whisky shone through. Especially in the still house where I noted the squat bulbous stills and suggested the spirit would be heavy & rich because of that shape.
‘On the contrary’ I was rebuffed. Francis countered with a marvelous explanation of the distillers art that rather than still shape dictating the spirit style & flavour, it was down to the distiller by careful use of charge times, temperature control as well as the crucial spirit cuts that influenced the final distillate.
My praise of ‘farm to bottle’ distilling also took a bit of a knocking.
Originally Francis sent his farm grown grain to a local maltings in Kirkaldy. Sadly due to ‘rationalisation’ that plant closed & the grain had to go further afield. The new plant only accepted bigger batch amounts – which put more pressure on the farm – rather than batches from individual fields – it became batches from all the fields.
I mentioned Mark Reynier‘s plans for different malts from different farms providing a degree of terroir as well as differing taste. This was somewhat dismissed as a marketing ploy.
I don’t wholly agree.
Yes – it is a marketing ploy – but one that should be aspired to.
I haven’t tasted whisky from different barley – but I have tasted bourbon from different corn.
Widow Jane Distillery in New York used a variety of colourful corns to produce 4 bourbons with the same mash-bill, distilling process & maturation regime as possible. The only difference being the corn variety. I must say I was extremely skeptical I would notice a taste difference. But I was proved wrong – it did make a difference – and a very enjoyable one at that too!
We moved into the still room. A magnificent shrine to copper, wood, glass & the mysteries (or not as the case may be) of distillation. Francis was in his element here. I was just a little perplexed that he clearly focused so much passion & attention to detail in this area of production as opposed to other areas.
Maturation in oak barrels is the final piece of the whisky jigsaw – or at least it was when I visited.
Now the wood policy at Daftmill was taken care off by a cooperage who supplied Grade A casks of ex-bourbon barrels from America & ex-sherry casks from Spain. What this means in practice is that the bourbon barrels are sourced from a number of different distilleries in America. There didn’t seem to be attention taken as to the source distillery for each individual barrel which would again result in slight taste differences.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact by the time we got round to entering the bonded warehouse for that all important tasting, the 11 year old ex-bourbon single cask simply blew me away with it’s winning combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes combined with a lovely oakiness – as well as that gorgeous dry mouthfeel associated with cask strength whisky.
A similarly aged ex-sherry cask impressed even more with a soft sweetness contrasting with the oaky tannins of over a decade in wood. Francis suggested there was a musty note on the sherry cask – which I found appealing – which should disappear with further ageing.
But here was the conundrum.
Daftmill is a wonderfully attractive distillery. It sits in the middle of a farm that grows the barley used for distillation of it’s stunning single malt whiskies, there is at least 12 years worth of stock AND it is run by the farmer that grows the barley who has a passion for that whisky. Yet there was no idea of a release date planned for the gorgeous spirit!
Or at least that’s what we were told at the time.
Because as of December 2017 an announcement was made to the effect that Berry Bros & Rudd – wine & spirits merchants, blenders & bottlers of good repute & reputation – had entered an agreement to release Daftmill whisky beginning in 2018!
I have every faith in the winning combination of Daftmill’s skills in distillation – together with Berry Bros & Rudd’s attention to detail in both ‘grain to glass’ ingredient control as well as a stricter wood policy – will not only release some stunning single malts in the months to come – but go on to produce award winning malts of distinction.
I eagerly await the first bottling.
I’d like to thank Francis at Daftmill for the hospitality shown during our visit. Congratulations to all at Daftmill Distillery & Berry Bros & Rudd for the partnership agreement. I doubt the negotiations were easy. Best wishes for the future success of all concerned.